News Briefs – October 14, 2016


Russian military test-fires 3 ballistic missiles in same day

The Russian military has test-fired three ballistic missiles in one day, drills that come amid a U.S.-Russian rift over Syria.
The Defense Ministry said a nuclear submarine of the Russian Pacific Fleet launched an intercontinental ballistic missile from the Sea of Okhotsk off Russia’s far east at a military firing range in the northwest Oct. 12.
A Northern Fleet nuclear submarine later fired a missile in the opposite direction from the Barents Sea, in the far north west.
Separately, a ground-based Topol intercontinental ballistic missile was fired from the Plesetsk launch pad in northern Russia at the Kamchatka range in eastern Russia.
The launches come as U.S.-Russian relations have hit their lowest point in years after the collapse of a truce in Syria, where Russian warplanes are backing the Syrian army. AP

Remains of sailor killed at Pearl Harbor returning home

Nearly 75 years after he died during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the remains of Navy Fireman 3rd Class Edwin Hopkins are coming home to New Hampshire.
Hopkins was one of 429 men who died when the ship they were on, the USS Oklahoma, was hit by torpedoes Dec. 7, 1941, and sunk. Thirty-two men were rescued, but 14 Marines and 415 sailors were killed. Many of them, including Hopkins, were buried as “unknowns” in a Hawaii cemetery.
The 19-year-old from Swanzey, N.H., was tentatively identified through dental records a few years later. But it took until 2015 before a DNA match with a distant cousin provided a positive ID.
Hopkins’ remains returned to the mainland Oct. 13. He will be buried next to his parents in Keene. AP

Russian, Egypt troops to hold drill on Mediterranean coast

Egypt’s military announced Oct. 12 it will host Russian troops for war games along the Mediterranean coast, the latest step in the two countries’ rapprochement and another sign of Moscow flexing its muscles in the Middle East.
The drill, due Oct. 15-26 in the coastal city of El-Alamein and dubbed “Guardians of Friendship,” will include “elite units” from both sides. Russia’s defense ministry said it would be the first ever joint paratrooper exercise for the two and would involve armor being dropped from planes.
Egypt has increased cooperation with Russia under President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the former army chief who ousted his elected but divisive Islamist predecessor in 2013, with several projects, including a preliminary agreement to build a nuclear power plant.
Meanwhile, Russia under President Vladimir Putin has revived its military presence in the region to levels not seen since the Cold War, intervening with an air campaign to shore up Syrian President Bashar Assad against opposition forces trying to oust him, and the extremist Islamic State group.
It’s unclear how the joint exercises in El-Alamein would be interpreted by some of Egypt’s main backers — including the United States, which provides some $1.3 billion in annual military assistance, and Saudi Arabia, which has helped prop up el-Sissi’s rule with billions in key loans and grants. Egypt still needs several billion dollars in loans as a condition to meet an IMF bailout package to get the economy back on track.
El-Sissi has splashed out on big-ticket military hardware, from naval vessels to advanced fighter jets from the French and Americans. He has largely contained violence on Egypt’s mainland, although an insurgency in a far corner of the Sinai Peninsula flared after he led the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi, with an IS affiliate forming in Sinai.
Soldiers and police officers in Sinai are frequently killed by roadside bombs and snipers in the area, while the army says it kills dozens of militants every month.
The insurgency risked upsetting ties with Russia last October, when IS militants brought down a Russian passenger plane in Sinai, killing all 224 on board. Russia suspended flights to Egypt and has yet to return them, waiting for better security measures to be implemented first. AP

Singapore’s leader visits Australia to improve defense ties

Singapore’s prime minister has begun a visit to Australia to upgrade a bilateral free trade agreement and to finalize a deal that will double the capacity of Singaporean military training facilities in the Australian tropics.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told the Australian Parliament on Oct. 12 that China is the biggest trading partner of both nations, which ae also allies of the United States.
Lee says “both see the United States as a benign force playing a major role in fostering peace and stability in Asia.”
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says both countries share a strategic outlook.
Australia announced in May that Singapore will spend up to $1.7 billion to double the capacity of its facilities in military training areas in Queensland state. AP

Russia, China to mull joint response to U.S. missile shield

Amid escalating U.S.-Russia tensions, the Russian military said Oct. 11 it will cooperate with China on efforts to fend off a threat posed by the U.S. missile defense program.
Lt. Gen. Viktor Poznikhir of the Russian military’s General Staff accused the Pentagon of developing the shield as part of planning for a possible first nuclear strike. “The missile defense system considerably shifts the balance of offensive weapons, allowing the planning of a more efficient pre-emptive strike,” he said at a security conference in China.
Russia and China have frequently expressed concerns about the U.S. missile shield, but Poznikhir dropped any diplomatic reticence in his blunt speech that reflected a widening rift between Moscow and Washington.
“Russian military experts believe that the U.S. hopes to gain the capability to strike any region of the world, including Russia and China, with nuclear-tipped missiles with impunity,” he said. Poznikhir argued that Washington’s calculus would be to launch a first disarming strike and then rely on the missile shield to shoot down the remaining enemy missiles launched at the U.S. in a retaliatory strike.
Poznikhir said that both Russia and China have taken countermeasures in response to the U.S. missile defense program, but he didn’t elaborate.
He noted that Russia and China held drills earlier this year to simulate a joint action to fend off missile strikes under the protection of a missile defense system near its borders. Poznikhir added that Moscow and Beijing will conduct a similar exercise next year. AP

Poland says Airbus helicopter deal was bad for its security

A dispute between Poland and a France-based helicopter producer over a scrapped multi-billion-euro deal broke into the open Oct. 11, with the company insisting it had made a perfectly good offer and Poland saying it was bad for national security.
Poland’s conservative government unexpectedly ended negotiations with Airbus Helicopters last week over a $3.5 billion deal to purchase some 50 Caracal helicopters to modernize air forces. The decision raised questions over how Poland negotiates its foreign deals and also strained ties with the French government, which partly owns parent company Airbus Group.
President Francois Hollande put off a visit to Warsaw planned on Oct. 13, allegedly to show his discontent. Poland’s opposition politicians were saying that the one-year-old government was alienating one of the few allies it had in Europe, and called for a special probe into the decision.
Instead of the Caracals, Poland will buy Black Hawk helicopters made by U.S. company Sikorsky, part of the Lockheed Martin group. The move seemed to stem from the country’s long-standing military cooperation with the U.S. and from a concern that jobs would have been lost at a local Sikorsky plant and at another major site in Swidnik.
The first two aircraft are to be made this year, Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz said Tuesday.
Airbus Helicopters wrote an open letter to Poland’s Prime Minister Beata Szydlo Tuesday to protest the decision. It said its offer had met all the requirements and would have created some 6,000 new jobs in Poland and the transfer of modern technologies. The issue the sides disagreed over was an offset agreement that was supposed to see France invest in Polish defense industry.
Macierewicz said the Airbus deal would have allowed the company to take over a servicing plant in Lodz, in central Poland, something the government was against. He spoke at the plant, where he and Szydlo assured workers they won’t lose their jobs. AP