Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Sudan's commitment to Operation Decisive Storm, navigating the restless Middle Eastern political landscape






By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

Sudan's commitment to the Saudi-led Operation Decisive Storm, aimed at regaining stability in Yemen and bringing the internationally recognised government of President Hadi back to power, perfectly represents the current foreign policy of the Sudanese government. Sudan floats somewhere in between being Iran's major ally in Africa, and the other end of the spectrum where it is trying to present itself as an ally of Gulf countries, in particular Saudi Arabia, in a bid to get not too distanced from these economically important countries. A difficult political game to play, especially so in the increasingly restless Middle Eastern landscape.

Sudan can be seen as Iran's most trustworthy ally in Africa, and probably one of its most important allies in the whole world. Sudan first opened its arms for Iranian economic and military aid in the late eighties, and both countries continue to enjoy a warm relationship, which expresses itself mainly in the form of military cooperation nowadays. This close relationship between the two countries has been a source of much worry to Saudi Arabia.

Sudan has always denied the presence of any Iranian military advisors in the country, and continued this policy on an official visit to Saudi Arabia in May 2014. A leaked audio-recording of a high level meeting between the Sudanese Minister of Defence and several generals in September 2014 revealed that Iranians not only serve as advisors to the Sudanese Armed Forces, but are in fact mainly concerned with trafficking arms throughout Africa and the Middle East, with most of the weaponry destined for Hamas and Libya Dawn.[1] [2]

Members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard in Sudan take care of the weapons shipments from the point they arrive in Sudan until they travel to Gaza via Egypt. Sudan functions as a middle man here, as they allow the shipments to arrive and agree to see them transported over Sudanese soil. A number of past Israeli raids on ships transporting the weapons to Sudan and on convoys and storage depots inside Sudan thus comes as no surprise.

But an unexpected recipient of some of the arms makes the whole situation even more complicated, as Sudan reportedly also provided arms to the Houthis in Yemen, the exact same forces it is targeting now as a part of Operation Decisive Storm.




The following was said by the Sudanese Minister of Defence, Abdul-Rahim Mohamed Hussein:

''We have a problem with Saudi Arabia because they found out about the weapons we sent by way of the Red Sea to Abd al-Malik Al-Houthi’s Shia group in Yemen,” said Major General Hashim Abdalla Mohammed in the meeting.''

The leaked audi-recording also covers Sudan's relationship with Iran in detail:

''I shall start with our relationship with Iran and say it is a strategic and everlasting relationship. We cannot compromise or lose it.

...

They opened the doors of their stores of weapons for us, at a time the Arabs stood against us. The Iranian support came when we were fighting a rebellion that spread in all directions. The Iranians provided us with experts and they trained our Military Intelligence and soldiers. 

...

There is one full battalion of the Republican Guard still with us here and other experts who are constructing interception and spying bases in order to protect us, plus an advanced Air Defence system.''

The military officials agreed to ''maintain good relations with the Gulf States in principle, yet work strategically with Iran, in total secrecy and on a limited scale, through the Military Intelligence and security.'' General Siddiq Amer stated: ''We will not sacrifice our relations with the Islamists and Iran for a relationship with the Saudis and the Gulf States. What is possible is a relationship that serves our mutual economic interests in terms of investment and employment. We must have a foothold in both camps.''

Another perfect example of this complicated foreign policy was the sale of man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS), anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) and ammunition to Qatar, which subsequently delivered them to Syrian rebels via Turkey. This while Sudan's longtime ally Iran is the primary reason the regime of Bashar al-Assad is still in power, and even supplied Su-22 fighter-bombers to the Syrian Arab Air Force.

Back to Operation Decisive Storm, which now also includes a contingent of four Sudanese Air Force (SuAF) aircraft based at the massive King Khalid airbase. The aircraft (one of them seen in the header), likely totaling four Su-24Ms, were put under the command of the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF). Sudan also pledged to deploy 6.000 troops to Saudi Arabia for a possible ground invasion of Yemen.

Omar al-Bashir, president of Sudan stated the following:

''Sudan expresses unlimited support to the coalition supporting the legitimacy and confirms its active participation on the ground amongst the coalition forces in order to maintain peace and stability in the region''

Colonel Al-Sawarmy Khaled Saad, spokesman of the Sudanese Armed Forces said the goal of the operation was ''protecting Islamic holy sites and protecting the region''.

Claims that one the Sudanese aircraft was shot down during one of their operations over Yemen turned out to be false, the supposed pictures of the wreckage of the SuAF Su-24 actually displaying pieces of a destroyed Yemeni S-75 surface-to-air missile instead. The image showing the captured 'Sudanese pilot' reveals a person not reminiscent of any Sudanese, and the faint smile on his face failed to make the situation look any more convincing.

As it remains unknown if Sudan acquired any guided air-to ground weaponry for its Su-24Ms, or if its pilots are trained to use them, it is likely that the Su-24s will only be used when large targets of opportunity present themselves, or when the chance of collateral damage is minimal. The integration of Soviet-built aircraft into the Saudi-led coalition, which flies Western-made planes exclusively, would also be extremely difficult.

Yet it could also be that none of the Su-24s will see action, and that the move to deploy them in Saudi Arabia is purely politically motivated. Sudan thus carefully tries to balance its loyalty between the Gulf countries and Iran. During Operation Decisive Storm, Sudan chose to follow the other Arab countries in joining the Saudi-led Coaltion, and while it might have not been persuaded by Saudi Arabia to do so, the possibility of economic exclusion, sanctions and expulsion of the around three million Sudanese expats working in the Gulf countries was an important consideration, and likely the reason behind Sudan's decision to participate.

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Monday, 30 March 2015

Is the Saudi-led coalition sparing the Yemeni Air Force?

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

Although several news outlets and even a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition were quick to report on the total destruction of the Yemeni Air Force (Y.A.F.) by the coalition's airstrikes, it now appears that the series of attacks on Yemen's airbases were never aimed at neutralising the Yemeni Air Force, but rather to serve as a warning to the Y.A.F. not to enter the conflict on behalf of the Houthis instead.

The first raid on al-Dailami airbase, which shares the runway with Sana'a International Airport, saw the runway and a hangar housing one CN-235, one Beechcraft Super King Air, one AB-412 and one UH-1H destroyed, not the most important assets of the Yemeni Air Force to say the least.[1] On the contrary, these four aircraft had already been stored as the Y.A.F. was dependent on Saudi Arabia and the U.S. for spare parts, which now refused to deliver them out of fear the Y.A.F.'s assets would end up serving the Houthis' goals. The other U.S.-designed products still in service with the Yemeni Air Force, such as the F-5Es, were on their last legs due to a lack of newly delivered spare parts, and had to be cannibalised to keep at least a part of the fleet running.

This first attack could thus be seen as a warning to the Y.A.F. not to participate in the conflict, and to remain dormant at its airbases instead. If Hadi returns to his post, he will surely need the air force as a tool to strike numerous pockets of resistance in a country in chaos. This could mean the Saudi-led coalition will want to spare the Y.A.F.'s precious airframes as much as possible while simultaniously preventing they enter the war on the Houthis' behalf.



The runway was repaired within a day after the initial strike however, which made it possible for the Yemeni Air Force to take off again. In reply to the Houthis' decision to repair the runway and the fact that the Y.A.F. still continues to move its assets around the airbase, making it look as though they're gearing up for a fight, a second raid was flown against al-Dailami. This raid, flown on the 29th of March 2015, saw Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) fighter-bombers targeting eleven adjacent shelters designated to house the pride of the Yemeni Air Force: Its MiG-29s. Footage of the raid (2:09) can be seen below.


However, the image showing the freshly repaired runway of al-Dailami indicates at least six of the shelters were empty instead of housing MiG-29s. Yemen's MiG-29s, numbering just under 20 airframes, are divided between their main hub al-Dailami airbase and al-Anab (al-Anad) airbase, which sees a permanent detachment of a couple of MiG-29s. This means that not all of the aircraft shelters on the MiG-29 part of al-Dailami airbase are actually occupied by MiG-29s.

The Y.A.F. has experienced increased problems with keeping their fleet of aircraft operational; especially the highly sophisticated MiG-29s have suffered due to a lack of funding and maintenance. A mass exodus of personnel not interested in serving Yemen on behalf of the Houthis put a bigger strain on the already fragile Y.A.F. In 2013 only a part of the fleet remained operational, with the others stored in the hangar where they usually receive maintenance, meaning only a part of the twenty shelters were actually housing aircraft. It is likely that the targeted shelters were in fact not housing any aircaft, but that the MiG-29s were instead housed here.

The second raid should thus again be interpreted as a warning seeing as it has clearly been proven by now that the Saudi-led coalition is able to strike any target they deem necessary, but still these targets haven't included Yemen's combat aircraft and helicopters yet.

A spokesman of the Saudi-led coaltion had the following to say about the last raid:

''Through our constant reconnaissance of Yemen’s territory, we knew that the Houthis moved some aircraft to an airbase outside Sanaa. We targeted them in the past 24 hours and they were completely destroyed as is shown in the video.''

This statement likely acts as a cover for the real intentions of the Saudi-led coaltion, which is to save the Yemeni Air Force from total destruction for possible use in future scenarios. This theory is strengthened by the fact that the Y.A.F.'s assets are still intact, and that the Houthis have no problem showing just that.













As the Yemeni Air Force remains spared by the Saudi-led coalition, it might be set to play a role in regaining stability in Yemen. If the Y.A.F. and the Houthis are prepared to play along remains to be seen.

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Sunday, 29 March 2015

Saudi aircraft demolish Yemeni ballistic missile site

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

New footage released by the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) shows Yemen's sole ballistic missile storage depot to be the latest target hit by Saudi aircraft in a bombing campaign that enters its third consecutive day. The warehouses seen obliterated by large explosions in the video below are located in the Republican Guard's base on a hill just outside of the capital of Sana'a, and stored a large portion of Yemen's R-17 Elbrus (Scud-B) missiles and Transporter Erector Launchers (TEL).


The site was hit for a second time on the 30th of March 2015. The resulting explosions ultimately caused the destruction of all ballistic missile systems. The video of the explosions can be seen here.

The Group of Missile Forces of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Yemen, located in Sana'a, is responsible for operating Yemen's ballistic missiles. Due to the large amount of changes the Missile Forces were subject to over the past twenty-five years, it remains difficult to find their exact structure and naming. It is known that a total of thee brigades (The 5th, the 6th and 8th Brigade) form the core of the Missile Forces,

The People's Democratic Republic of Yemen, more commonly known as South Yemen, acquired its ballistic missiles in 1978, when one Scud-B brigade with twelve TELs was delivered by the Soviet Union. Also acquired was a brigade of 9K52 Luna-M artillery rockets, allowing for the establishment of two missile brigades. The Yemen Arab Republic, also known as North Yemen, introduced its first surface-to-surface missile assets only in the late eighties, when a brigade with eighteen of the more modern OTR-21 Tochka TELs and associated missiles was acquired.




The 1994 Yemen Civil War saw forces in the former People's Democratic Republic of Yemen deploying its Scuds against Sana'a, the capital of unified Yemen. While aimed at the Presidential Palace, many of the quite inaccurate missiles predictably missed their intented target, hitting civilian areas instead. Forces in the Yemen Arab Republic immediately replied to the rain of Scuds, and moments later, several Tochka missiles launched by the 1st Missile Brigade were on their way to Aden, the capital of People's Democratic Republic of Yemen. This exchange of warheads lobbed into ballistic trajectories continued throughout the rest of the civil war.

The two missile brigades of the former People's Democratic Republic of Yemen were captured after the defeat of its forces, and were taken to Sana'a to be incorporated in the Armed Forces of unified Yemen. New Missile Brigades were subsequently established, and apart from the 9K52 Luna-M operating Missile Brigade, which was disbanded at the turn of the 21st century, they remained in service until this day. The rockets formerly used by the 9K52 Luna-Ms were left to rot in the open, and were only disposed of in 2012.

On the South side: A row of BAZ-5921 TELs used for the OTR-21 Tochka.
On the East side: Discarded 9K52 Luna-M artillery rockets.

The Missile Brigades remained heavily dependant on foreign experts to operate their Scuds and OTR-21s throughout the 90s and 21st century however, and several Belarusians and Russians were permanently attached to the missile brigades to ensure they would remain operational. The amount of operational Scud TELs had meanwhile diminished to ten, with the operational status of the OTR-21s not being much better. Although the acquisition of several North Korean missiles and associated launchers might have improved the situation.

A warehouse on top of Faj Attan mountain (Sana'a), the home of Yemen's missile forces, with a single R-17 Elbrus (Scud-B) in front of it.

When the Houthis continued their assault on Yemen's capital Sana'a and ousted the government of President Hadi in January 2015, they quickly took control of all the military facilities located in and around the capital. This included the Republican Guard's bases, one of them housing Yemen's ballistic missiles. While it remains unknown how much of the technical personnel remained at their posts, and if any of the foreign experts were still present, it is unlikely that the Houthis were able to continue operating these sophisticated systems without help from foreign experts or Iran.

Saudi Arabia took no risk with these dangerous systems however and decided to destroy the site and the warehouses holding Yemen's Scud-Bs. Although no footage has been released showing the OTR-21 holding area being bombed, it is certain these were not exempt from the bombing run.

As the Saudi-led coalition continues bombing Houthi targets in Yemen and gears up to a limited ground deployment to ensure the city of Aden does not fall into Houthi hands, more and more of Yemen's strategic military equipment is destroyed. Wether or not this will mean the coalition is capable of achievings its goals remains to be seen.




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Thursday, 26 March 2015

Saudi aircraft pound al-Dailami airbase, destroying U.S. delivered aircraft


By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

The Saudi-led airstrikes which commenced late on the 25th of March on Yemen reportedly hit a large number of targets throughout the country, yet mainly focussed on the single S-125, three S-75 and two 2K12 SAM sites around the capital of Sana'a. Also hit early on was the airbase of al-Dailami, which shares the runway with Sana'a International Airport. Although the assets available to the coalition of nine nations is undoubtedly the most high tech in the region, a neighbouring housing block got tragically obliterated, killing at least 18 civilians.

It is as of yet unknown wether all of Yemen's air and anti-air assets were destroyed, but Saudi Arabia claims all SAM sites as well as four aircraft on the ground were neutralised. Although Houthi media reports that two Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) and two United Arab Emirates Air Force (UAEAF) aircraft were shot down, considering the state of the Yemeni air defense apparatus (which was taken over by the Houthis in recent months) and the fact that no images of these alleged shoot downs have been released this seems very unlikely.

Now pictures have emerged showing one of the main hangars on the part of al-Dailami housing a part of the Yemeni Air Force's (Y.A.F.) U.S.-delivered aircraft in ruins after a strike by the Saudi-led coalition. Among the equipment destroyed in this raid are at least one AB.412 helicopter, one UH-1H helicopter and one CN-235 military transport aircraft.



A total of four ex-U.S. UH-1H-IIs were donated to Yemen in 2010 as part of an aid deal worth $27 million. The UH-1Hs were upgraded to UH-1H-II standard before their delivery and safely arrived in Yemen in early 2011. While originally delivered to aid Yemen's Saleh government in its fight against terrorism, they spent most of their time on the ground as the Y.A.F. found its brand new Russian Mi-171Shs more suitable for the task.

The order for the CN-235 was placed in early 2011 under a $38 million military aid grant, and was thus paid for entirely by the U.S.A. While the aircraft was ready for delivery at the end of 2012, it remained in storage in Spain and was only transferred to Yemen by the end of 2013, underscoring Yemen's lack of enthusiasm about receiving the aircraft. The CN-235 entered service in 2014, and was used to ferry materiel and manpower around the country.

The completely burned-out wreckage of the CN-235 (title image) now lays sadly in it hangar, an ironic reminder of how the geopolitical field can swiftly make a ridicule of past relations. This is especially true in Yemen, where situations often develop faster than the media can track them, which has now culminated in yet another open Middle Eastern war.

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Friday, 6 March 2015

From Russia with Love, Syria's 6S8s









By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
 
The 6S8 bullpup anti-materiel rifle, more commonly known as the KVSK, the AVSK or as the Kord sniper rifle, is one of the many types of small arms still flowing into Syria on a regular basis. It sees service alongside the OSV-96 and the Iranian AM.50, both of which now in widespread use in Syria. The 6S8 entered service in limited numbers however, and appears to have been adopted only by a few elite units within Syria's Armed Forces.

The first anti-materiel rifle that reached Syria was the OSV-96, of which a limited number were acquired shortly before the start of Syrian Civil War. The continuing deliveries of Russian OSV-96s and Iranian AM.50s, which started after Iran intervened in the Civil War, ensured a solid presence of anti-materiel rifles in the war-torn country. From that perspective, either increasing the volume of AM.50 deliveries or acquiring more OSV-96s would have made more sense.

Nonetheless, a limited number of 6S8s were shipped to Syria in 2014. A request made by the Army Supply Bureau of the High Command of the Syrian Arab Republic to Russia's Rosoboronexport in early 2013 revealed Syria's interest in one-hundred 12.7mm sniper rifles, but it's likely that this actually refers to the OSV-96 instead.

This theory is strengthened by the fact that several Syrian soldiers recently received lessons on the 6S8 in Russia as part of their training here. Good experience gained with the 6S8s might have been the reason Syria ordered these rifles. One of the Syrian soldiers undergoing training on the 6S8s in Russia can be seen in the image below.


The 6S8 was originally marketed as KSVK, then as ASVK, but was officially adopted as the 6S8 by the Russian Army. To add to all the confusion, it is currently marketed as the 'Kord sniper rifle' by the Degtyarev Plant, which is responsible for the design and production of the anti-materiel rifle. Just like the OSV-96, the 6S8 is chambered in 12.7×108mm, allowing for the penetration of armoured vehicles and public housing.

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