News Briefs – June 26, 2019

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Russia starts army drills to respond to Central Asia threats

The Russian military has launched a massive exercise to simulate a response to possible security threats in Central Asia.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the five-day drills that began June 24 will “check the armed forces’ ability to ensure security in the Central Asian region that faces serious terrorist threats.”
Russian officials have voiced concerns about the possible spread of militants from Afghanistan into former Soviet nations in Central Asia.
Russia has a military contingent in Tajikistan that borders Afghanistan and an air base in Kyrgyzstan.
Shoigu said that the maneuvers will be held at 35 firing ranges. He added that they will check the troops’ capability to fend off terrorist threats and protect government facilities. AP
 

One pilot dies, one survives after German fighter jets collide

A German air force pilot was killed June 24 after his fighter jet collided with another during a training mission in northeastern Germany, the military said.
The pilot of the other Eurofighter jet was able to eject safely and survived, the German air force said.
The two unarmed fighter jets collided shortly before 2 p.m., June 24 near Lake Mueritz, 62 miles north of Berlin. A third pilot taking part in the exercise saw two parachutes descending to the ground after the crash in Mecklenburg Western Pomerania state.
A video posted online after the crash showed two plumes of smoke rising from the ground.
Police in Neubrandenburg said one of the pilots was found alive in a forest. Rescue teams also found body parts near the village of Silz, police said.
“One of the crashed pilots could only be recovered dead,” the air force said on Twitter. “The second was able to save himself using his parachute and is alive. He is being tended to by rescuers.”
Police warned the public not to approach the potentially dangerous wreckage from the planes. Firefighters were deployed to tackle any blazes caused by the crash.
The German air force said the jets were based in Laage, near the Baltic sea port of Rostock.
The Eurofighter Typhoon was jointly developed by Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain. More than 550 of the jets have been delivered since 2003, at a cost of close to $100 million apiece. AP
 

Russian, Egyptian ministers discuss closer ties

The Russian and Egyptian foreign and defense ministers have discussed ways to expand military and security ties between the two nations.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said during the June 24 talks with his Egyptian counterpart, Mohamed Zaki, that Moscow is ready to continue helping strengthen Egypt’s defense capability.
Shoigu hailed Egypt as an “example of stability” in the volatile region, voicing support for Egypt’s efforts to combat militants in the Sinai Peninsula.
Speaking at the start of the talks, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry noted that contacts between Moscow and Cairo help “strengthen security and stability in the region and the entire world.”
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has moved to increase military cooperation with Russia, and top officials from the two nations have held regular meetings. AP
 

UK F-35 fighters fly missions from Cyprus over Syria, Iraq

Britain’s most advanced military aircraft, the Lightning F-35B, has flown its first missions over Syria and Iraq as part of ongoing operations against remnants of the Islamic State group, the U.K.’s defense secretary said.
Defense Secretary Penny Mordaunt said in a statement released June 25 that that the jets’ first operational mission from a British air base in Cyprus was made following a highly successful training period.
“Their first real operational mission is a significant step into the future for the U.K.,” Mordaunt said.
Six F-35B aircraft from 617 Squadron flown by three British Royal Navy and three Royal Air Force pilots, arrived at RAF Akrotiri on May 21 for a six-week deployment as part of Exercise Lightning Dawn.
British military officials had said there were no plans for the aircraft to conduct combat missions during their stay at RAF Akrotiri.
But it was decided that they were ready to make their operational debut as part of Operation Shader — the U.K.’s contribution to the fight against Islamic State group — because of their “exceptional performance.”
Officials said the aircraft didn’t fire any weapons when flying alongside Typhoon jets during the missions over Syria and Iraq.
The F-35 is the first aircraft to combine radar-evading stealth technology with supersonic speeds and the ability to conduct short takeoffs and vertical landings.
The 617 Squadron jets will be deployed this autumn aboard Britain’s new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, for a battery of operational tests. The tests will be carried out off the east coast of the U.S. in preparation for the aircrafts’ first carrier strike deployment planned for 2021.
The U.K. now owns 17 F-35B aircraft with plans to procure a total 138 jets.
According to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II Website, British industry will build 15% of the more than 3,000 jets that are planned to be built. British officials say the program has already generated orders worth $12.9 billion and at peak production will support thousands of British manufacturing and engineering jobs. AP
 

NATO to endorse measures against Russia over missile treaty

NATO defense ministers are set to endorse a list of measures that could be used against Russia should it refuse to comply with a major Cold War-era missile treaty, the military alliance’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said June 25.
In February, the United States began the 6-month process of withdrawing from the landmark 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty agreed with the then Soviet Union, blaming Russia for refusing to comply with the pact. The INF treaty will end unless Russia changes its mind by Aug. 2, and NATO ministers are weighing what steps to take in response.
“Tomorrow we will decide on the next steps in the case Russia does not comply,” Stoltenberg told reporters on the eve of the meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
The treaty bans production, testing and deployment of land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 310-3,400 miles.
The Pentagon has shared information with NATO allies asserting that Russia’s 9M729 missile system contravenes the treaty. It believes the ground-fired cruise missile could give Moscow the ability to launch a nuclear strike in Europe with little or no notice.
Moscow insists the missile has a range of less than 500 kilometers and counters that the U.S., itself, has been breaching the INF treaty.
Stoltenberg declined to elaborate on what steps NATO might take, but he did say some can be implemented “quite quickly.” Others, he said, “will take more time.”
Whatever is decided, it’s unlikely the measures will be made public before Aug. 2.
NATO is trying to encourage Russia to take part in a meeting of ambassadors next week to discuss the issue, as time runs out to save the INF treaty — which is considered a cornerstone of European defense.
Stoltenberg said “there are just five weeks left for Russia to save the treaty.”
He said NATO’s response will be “defensive, measured and coordinated. We will not mirror what Russia does, we do not intend to deploy new land based nuclear missiles in Europe. We do not want a new arms race.” AP
 

U.S. issues Turkey new warning over Russian missile purchase

The U.S. envoy to NATO said June 25 that Turkey will be axed from the high-tech F-35 fighter jet program if it goes ahead with plans to buy Russian S-400 air defense missiles.
U.S. Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison said “there will be a disassociation with the F-35” if NATO member Turkey buys the Russian missile system, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to do.
Speaking on the eve of NATO talks in Brussels, Hutchison said “we cannot have the F-35 in any way affected by, or destabilized by, having this Russian system.”
The United States and other NATO allies have repeatedly complained about the purchase, saying the S-400 is not compatible with other allied systems and represents a security threat, particularly to the F-35.
But Hutchison said Turkey does not appear ready “to retract on the sale.”
Indeed, Erdogan repeated Tuesday that Turkey had no intention of doing so.
“Turkey does not negotiate, seek permission or bow to pressure from other countries on the issue of meeting its security needs,” the Turkish leader told his ruling party’s legislators.
“The S-400 issue is directly related to our sovereign rights, and we will not step back (from this decision),” he said.
Erdogan also reiterated that Turkey was expected to take delivery of the Russian system next month. AP