By Thomas Borgsmidt
I recommend watching this video of a Candid taking off in Australia:
It is simply the way Russians fly! If you don’t take that into account, there is not a proper base for comparison.
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Indubitably, Russia is breaking up, down or sideways economically. It has only been a question of time and timing. That is very precarious when the disaster impatiently waiting to happen has nuclear weapons, inflated ego and obnoxious disposition. That needs some care to control the situation without which some nasty things may happen.
The provocations have actually started at the beginning of 2013 – principally directed against Sweden – with a mock attack by Blackjack bombers against Stockholm. These have been followed up with infringements by submarines.
The Nato response was measured in so far as the Baltic aerospace is protected on a rotational basis by other Nato-nations and Denmark had the watch at the time. The mentioned provocation was intercepted and escorted back to Russia – significantly without big fuzz.
But there was later a Danish parliamentary response and Søren Espersen (an intellectual of sorts in the local Tea-Party– movement) suggested that Denmark send a frigate to the Baltic. This led to the merest twitch of a smile on the face of Foreign Minister Lidegaard. “Oh my God!” I said to myself; “It is already there and has been for quite some time!”
Quite right! The later response and operational pattern showed that “something” was lying about 10 nautical miles east of Tallinn. The Russians apparently has been trying to get around that frigate with very little success: Generally, they have been trying to avoid it by going north a bit; but that leads to an infringement of Finnish air territory. The Finns have been well prepared to teach the Russians manners – on occasions with their F-18’s going in full burner near the Finnish capital Helsinki to get on their tail immediately.
The problem is apparently that the Russians cannot get to Kaliningrad by air without being detected. Mostly the Russians are within legal limits as it is international waters and there is a corridor where traffic can pass. The issue is that it is controlled civilian airspace and the Russians shut their transponder off so as not to be seen on civilian radar. That is unpractical and not entirely safe, as the airspace is heavily trafficked and very tight.
Nato then stepped up the surveillance with detachments from various other Nato countries. There has been Canadians and even Portuguese among others and they have stuck to the strictest interpretation of the international agreements and really brought out the tape measure. There are official protests against infringements of 500 yard in 30 seconds.
Russia: Kaliningrad or Königsberg?
What is so special about Kaliningrad? Well, it is the old East Prussia and the city is originally the German Königsberg occupied after WW2. It cannot be reached over land from Russia proper without crossing Lithuania or Poland. Never the less the Russians are insisting to put a battery of Iskander medium range ballistic missiles there.
That really annoys the USA. You simply don’t even think about bringing nuclear weapons that close into Nato-territory – simple as that: You do not!
Some time in 2014 the USAF deployed a couple of F-15’s to Ämari Air Base in Estonia. What was significant was that they were received not only by the press, but also by a USAF C-27J Spartan (I don’t know if the pictures are still on line). I mean: Who reads Estonian newspapers in English? Except Russian military intelligence – that is?
That Spartan is connected to the use of nuclear weapons is one of those things that officially is highly secret – very much so; but in reality is common knowledge for those with some sort of interest in these matters. If for no other reason: The Russians face similar practical problems when dealing with nuclear weapons reasonably safely.
This was where Russian foreign minister Lavrov slipped up! He talked about the USA having bombers in the Baltic. That statement totally missed the infinite care the USAF had performed to make sure the message was understood! The airplanes used were F-15’s all right; but they were F-15C’s from Lakenheath in England, not the F-15E’s from the same Air Station: The C’s are pure air defense – the E’s are the bombers.
If Lavrov had been properly briefed, he would have formulated himself slightly differently so as not to reveal what dolts his intelligence service is. They have been busy enough as it is with quite a number of electronic intelligence flights with Coots all over the Baltic running afoul with civilian air traffic from Denmark to Finland. Yet they didn’t get the point served to them on a plate: We can; but we won’t (for now) place nukes in the suburbs of Sct. Petersburg – any time we like!
This action was bumped by the Danish PM, which unexpectedly brought forward a Danish rotation of F-16’s – to the great relief of the Estonians – by some weeks. I really don’t think, she knows who she pushed aside on Ämari.
Following that there has been numerous attempt from the Russians to sneak the small twin-engine Coaler transport past the air defense cover in the Baltic – apparently without much success – again the Finns are pretty bored with them. The Coaler presumably fulfills the same role for the Russians as the Spartan does for the USAF: You need to get that Coaler in to the Iskander missiles or the bombers to make the nukes operational. When you can’t do that: Remove those Iskander missiles – far, far away from Kaliningrad.
The Russians still won’t listen – that brought the Lithuanians into high gear when the Russians paraded a fleet past Lithuania. The Lithuanian army went into 2 hour alert – ready to invade Kaliningrad to take out the nukes if they had to.
Only last month the Estonians have opened a radar station at the coast to cover the airspace the frigate has plugged so far – which should put an end to the charade. If the Russians keep insisting on nuclear arms in Kaliningrad there is no end to the costs they will have to pay.
Russia’s diplomatic masterstroke
It has been generally unnoticed what the Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves did!
He donated 28 tons of old Russian ammunition to the effort to arm the enemies of ISIL in Syria and Iraq. Estonia had no possible use for the machinegun cartridges, but the gift came in handy for the US. Now I don’t think it was Ilves idea – Estonians are still to cowed from oppression to exhibit that kind of impertinent chutzpa – but I do know the roundels painted on that C-130 Hercules that carried the ammunition to the Globemaster for further distribution in that operation. It was the usual busy, busy, busy “Herkeybird” that collected bits and pieces all over Europe. Things that might be useful in a Middle Eastern war against terrorists.
Now the Estonian gesture was so magnanimous in a situation, where these 28 tons were close to priceless – and they donated it simply. Here the US rose to the occasion! The USA has just donated two old C-23 Sherpa to Estonia. The plane hasn’t flown very much in US service, is probably in mint condition, and should be easy to maintain. It has extremely short take-off and landing run, is butt ugly and slow: But it is what the doctor ordered against “little green men”.
It has not escaped my attention, that the Estonians have cleared the entire boarder area to Russia from shrubbery – I would not be the least surprised it was entirely practical for a Sherpa to land there. Well, just to avoid a repetition of the Russian kidnapping of the Estonian intelligence operator by the Russians on Estonoian soil?
But what really earns the “summa cum laude” is the way it twist the knife in the Russians: The original role of the Sherpa – if I’m not mistaken – in the USAF way back during the cold war was the one the Spartan has taken over today.