Saturday, 6 March 2021


By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
Qatar surprised friends and foes alike by parading Chinese BP-12A short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) during its national day parade on the 15th of December 2017. Making their public debut in the parade, the BP-12A is the first weapons system of its kind in Qatari service. Nevertheless, Qatar is only the last country in the region to come into possession of ballistic missiles. While some think-tank analysts have come out in force to denounce this ''highly aggressive move on behalf of Doha'', its introduction by Qatar is actually a more nuanced matter. [1]
For all its significance, one still could easily have overlooked the transporter erector launchers (TELs) amongst the scores of Leopard 2A7s, PzH 2000 SPGs and other highly advanced weaponry acquired by Qatar in the past decade. Originally possessing the least powerful military in the region, with even neighbouring Bahrain (which is just 6.56% the size of Qatar) proving a stronger foe on paper, Doha embarked on a massive international acquisitions spree in the early 2010s to fill in the gap in capabilities. As soon became evident, this drastic shift in Qatar's defence outlook came not a moment too soon.
On the 5th of June 2017, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt sent shockwaves through the Arab world by imposing a blockade on Qatar and cutting all diplomatic and trade ties with Doha, accusing it of supporting international ''terrorism'' and ''destabilising the region'' for maintaining closer ties to Iran than the other countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) would like. Although clearly meant to bring Qatar to its knees, the blockade ultimately achieved little but to serve as an annoyance to Doha.
The diplomatic crisis did serve as a reminder that the possibility of conflict is always looming in the background, and that a strong military is arguably the best deterrent to prevent political disputes from quickly escalating into armed conflicts. Immediately after the blockade, Qatar doubled down on expanding its military so as to also face the threat of an actual invasion of the country itself. With its armed forces exhibiting exponential growth, its efforts at creating an effective deterrent to its neighbours have been anything if not realistic. 
While Qatar is renowned for purchasing almost every type of Western fighter jet currently on the market, including the Rafale, F-15QA, Eurofighter Typhoon and with the country currently even showing serious interest in the F-35, its attempts at strengthening its capabilities have gone beyond merely bolstering its air force. [2] Most notably, Doha is completely revamping its navy through the acquisition of a multi-role amphibious ship, corvettes and patrol vessels from Italy. Less notable is the introduction of hundreds of highly mobile and heavily armed Armoured Combat Vehicles from the Turkish manufacturer Nurol Makina for its land forces.
But while the capabilities of Qatar's air force and navy merely lagged behind those of its neighbours, large parts of its ground forces could be called outright outdated. Even as recently as the early 2010s, the French AMX-30 MBT dating from the 1960s still made up the iron fist of Qatar's land forces. The situation wasn't much better for its artillery forces, where the open-topped Mk F3 155mm SPG from the same era was still the weapon of choice. Mirroring developments worldwide, a quest to introduce modern, longer-ranged systems packing a heavier punch was clearly in order.

Qatar's interest in operating short-range ballistic missiles predates the 2017 diplomatic crisis however, and its first attempt to acquire such weaponry can already tracked back to 2012, when it requested permission from the US to purchase seven M142 HIMARS multiple rocket launchers and 60 MGM-140 ATACMS Block IA T2K tactical ballistic missiles for an estimated $406 million. [3] For reasons unknown, this acquisition eventually failed to materialise. Nonetheless, it signified that its later acquisition of BP-12As wasn't merely an attempt at challenging the status quo in the region, but rather the fulfilment of a longtime requirement for such systems.

What did materialise was a Bahraini acquisition of 110 MGM-140 ATACMS in 2018, adding to an arsenal of 30 missiles of the same type already in service since the early 2000s. [4] [5] [6] To the South, Saudi Arabia made rapid strides at strengthening its own missile arsenal through the acquisition of Chinese DF-21 medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBM) and the financing of the Ukrainian Hrim-2 SRBM (which is set to enter service in 2022). To the East, the UAE acquired at least 224 MGM-140 ATACMS since 2013 while also continuing to operate North Korean Hwasong-6 ballistic missiles with a range of some 500 kilometres. More on North Korean armament in service with the UAE can be read in our article here. One of the few nations in Qatar's neighbourhood that does not operate ballistic missiles, Oman, in fact pushed eagerly for the acquisition of MGM-140 ATACMS in the late 2000s as well, though no such purchase was in fact effected possibly due to budgetary constraints. [9]

With all of Qatar's neighbours having hundreds of ballistic missiles in their arsenals, most of which with a range that only allows them to realistically target each other if launched from their respective territories, the introduction of the BP-12A does little to alter the military balance in the region. The US incidentally affirmed this view, describing the proposed 2012 Qatari deal to acquire MGM-140 ATACMS as follows:

''The proposed sale will improve Qatar's capability to meet current and future threats and provide greater security for its critical infrastructure. The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region.'' [3]
As the marketed range of the BP-12A is actually smaller than that of the ATACMS (280km vs. 300km), with the only significant difference being the warhead (480kg vs. 230kg), what held true for the ATACMS should effectively hold true for the BP-12A deal with China as well. Although there are rumours that suggest that the BP-12A's range in fact somewhat exceeds the limits imposed by the MTCR's 300km range guideline for export control (of which China isn't a signatory), this would do fairly little to extend its actual capabilities and still falls short of the ranges of ballistic missiles operated by both Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Prior to the introduction of the BP-12A, Qatar's longest-ranged artillery assests consisted of several Egyptian Sakr and Brazilian ASTROS II multiple rocket launchers (MRLs). The Sakr, an Egyptian copy of the North Korean BM-11 MRL, was for a long time the only type of weaponry in Qatari service originating from a non-Western source. Nowadays Qatar operates several other types of non-Western weaponry, including AK-12 assault rifles, 9M133 Kornet ATGMs and 9K338 Igla-S MANPADS from Russia, FN-6 MANPADS acquired from China and Skif ATGMs purchased from Ukraine.

The BP-12A was first unveiled during the Zhuhai Airshow in 2010, and is a shortened variant of the B611 short-range ballistic missile (which is license-produced in Turkey as the J-600T Yıldırım alongside the B611M as Bora, or Khan, for export). The WS2400 chassis from which the BP-12A is launched can either carry two BP-12A SRBMs or eight SY-400 guided artillery rockets, or a combination of one BP-12A and four SY-400s.
The BP-12A missile carries a 480kg HE warhead to a range of at least 280km, making it ideally suited for targeting enemy troop concentrations and command posts located in the enemy's rear. [7] Although only the BP-12A is confirmed to be in use with the Qatari Land Forces, the SY-400 guided rockets with an estimated range of 200km can be seamlessly integrated in the future if they are not already in service with Qatar. Incorporating not only inertial, but also satellite guidance, the BP-12A also boasts increased effectiveness over older systems that use only the former with a Circular Error Probable (CEP) likely (well) below 50 metres.
To ensure that each launcher is never long without missiles, the TELs are accompanied by dedicated transporters (also WS2400-based) carrying two reloads each. To date, Qatar is the only known operator of the system, although its direct competitor (also Chinese) that uses M20 SRBMs and A200 guided artillery rockets has entered service with Belarus (under the designation of Polonez, rockets subsequently exported to Azerbaijan) and Ethiopia, where they recently saw action with Tigray seperatist forces against the Ethiopian military in the 2020 Tigray War. [8]

Qatar's acquisition of the BP-12A SRBM may easily be mistaken as an aggressive move on behalf of Doha (especially if you work for a UAE-funded think tank), posing a threat to the capitals of the KSA, the UAE and Bahrain and propelling the region into an arms race. From a slightly less narrow perspective, it fits a narrative of gradually escalating proliferation over the entire region, which has now culminated in another country attempting to level the playing field. In the shark-infested waters of a region where political allegiances can shift swiftly, and where the military balance leans ever more towards predators that manage to fend for themselves, the fact that these ballistic missiles pose a powerful deterrent is of course a benefit it will gladly welcome nonetheless. Now that ties are mending, the missiles in question may never be fired in anger at any of its neighbours, but remain simply as a stark remainder that a once defenceless guppy has suddenly sprouted teeth.

[2] Exclusive: Qatar makes formal request for F-35 jets - sources 
[4] Bahrain – M31 Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) Unitary and Army Tactical Mission System (ATACMS) T2K Unitary Missile

Tuesday, 2 March 2021


By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
Armenia's small population and limited economic means force the country to come up with creative solutions to address the obsolescence of its military hardware and to introduce entirely new capabilties to its armed forces. Through the years this has led to a highly active R&D industry that has received little media attention outside of its own borders. While most of its projects never progressed beyond prototype status due to a lack of funding, those with a more limited scope (thus requiring less financial commitment) usually had more success. 
One of these projects comprises a PKT machine gun that has been adapted to allow to fire it from cover with a thermal sight connected to a screen for aiming. This highly interesting contraption was first shown in use with Armenian forces during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war, and was examined in more detail after having been captured by Azerbaijani forces as they overran Armenian positions. [1] [2] Unsightly but efficient in its intended role, the system is a clear example of the adaptive nature that has come to typify the Armenian defence industry.

Of course, we can't entirely blame you for opining that the device looks like a modern adaption of something that came straight out of the trenches of the Somme and Verdun during the First World War. Engaged in a bitter standoff ever since the ceasefire agreement of 1994, Armenian trenches along the line of contact were in fact reminiscent of those of World War I, with both sides separated only by a thin strip of no-man's land littered with mines and other obstacles. The network of defensive fortifications changed little over the past decades, and often still resembled temporary fighting positions rather than modern defensive structures.

While these trenches can be a nightmare for any military ground force to approach and eventually overcome, they proved of little defensive value in the face of Azerbaijani Bayraktar TB2 drones, which could fly circles above them and carefully select which positions were worth targeting either with their own MAM-L munitions or precision-guided munitions delivered by rocket artillery. As a result, most trench lines and positions fell to this invisible opponent long before the enemy it was supposed to keep at bay ever came in sight.

Still, a small fleet of UCAVs can only cover a limited area, and several defensive lines found themselves instead facing repeated artillery barrages on their positions followed by mechanised or infantry assaults. While most of these eventually succeeded in dislodging Armenian soldiers from their positions, other positions managed to keep Azerbaijani forces at bay for days or week on ends. This was true especially in the North of Nagorno-Karabakh, where the mountainous terrain and fierce resistance by Armenian forces limited advances made by Azerbaijan for the entire duration of the 44-day long war.
The weapon used is the PKT machine gun, a variant of the PK that was specifically designed for use as a coaxial mount in Soviet tanks and AFVs (hence its name, PK-Tank). Designed for remote firing from the onset (by means of an electric solenoid trigger), the PKT needed little modification for its new role as a remote weapon system. Another benefit of the PKT is the size of the magazine, which holds an impressive amount of 250 7.62×54mmR rounds. To enable long periods of almost continuous firing before having to bring in additional magazines, a basket for a spare magazine was welded on the right side of the metal structure.
Incidentally, Armenia was already in the possession of large numbers of PKT machine guns, with no apparent practical use for them. These PKTs once equipped BRDM-2 reconnaissance vehicles and BTR-60 armoured personnel carriers (APCs), but after most of these vehicles were relegated to reserve status and eventually decommissioned by the Armenian military, their weaponry was put into storage. Rather than leaving this potentially useful armament to rot, sizeable numbers were then converted to remote weapon systems.

The operating method of the system is as simple as it looks, with the PKT fitted to a rudimentary metal structure on top of a pole that can be heightened just above the trenchline when in use, and lowered back into cover when not in use or when having to reload. The gunner aims through the screen in front of him that's linked to a Russian Infratech IT-615 thermal sight located on the left of the weapon. When someone enters his crosshairs, the gunner presses the trigger on one of two handlebars, which he also uses to aim the weapon system. [3] [4] What appears to be a battery for the thermal sight is crudely fitted to the left side of the metal structure, although this doesn't appear to be installed on every example.

The PKT contraption is not the only attempt made by Armenia at designing automated gun emplacements. Another project called for the automisation of anti-aircraft guns for use against ground targets, and a prototype based on the 14.5mm ZPU-2 anti-aircraft gun was actually built. To increase the lethality of the system against armoured targets, a 73mm SPG-9 recoilless rifle (RCL) was additionally slaved to it. This combination could prove deadly against the armour of anything up to a tank, with BMP infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) loaded with infantry likely being particularly suitable targets. 
Fully remote-controlled and aimed by the means of a thermal sight, the only human intervention required would be reloading the SPG-9 after each shot and the ZPU-2 after firing off the 2400 rounds stowed in the guns' two huge magazines. Like the PKT machine guns, the ZPU-2s too had been retired from active service in Armenia. However, much in common with most other Armenian indigenous military projects, any further development and an eventual introduction into the armed forces appears to have been prevented by a lack of budget.

Meanwhile a more advanced iteration of the PKT weapon system concept was also in the works, and first unveiled during the ArmHiTec 2018 military exhibition in Yerevan. [5] This version of the PKT could finally be called truly remote-controlled, with the operator of the box system sitting in the safety of an underground bunker. Perhaps unsurprisingly at this point, a lack of budget precluded the introduction of this promising weapons system.
The only real downside of the box system is that it has to be manually reloaded each time after emptying its relatively small magazine. This could be a dangerous endeavour depending on the location of the gun box, and could entail Armenian soldiers having to climb to elevated positions in the view of the enemy to reload the system for continued use. Although the magazine used likely contains up to 150 7.62mm rounds, these can be quickly spent in anger, given the weapon's firing rate of 750 rounds per minute.
Although Armenia's PKT contraptions could not turn the tide in a war which was ultimately decided in the skies, and not in trenches, they remain a first-rate example of cost-effective ingenuity in the face of limited means. With its army in tatters after a catastrophic defeat, it is likely that the nation will call on this ingenuity to provide its military with weaponry suitable for the new military balance and the type of warfare witnessed during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War. When provided with sufficient funding, Armenia's indigenous military industry could well surprise friend and foe alike, and slowly begin to return the country from the adverse condition it currently finds itself in.

Thursday, 18 February 2021


By Joost Oliemans and Stijn Mitzer 
When the Cold War ended, and the Iron Curtain was lifted, an era commenced of which the unprecedented spread of information is perhaps its most defining characteristic. The proliferation of media (primarily through the advent of the global internet), increased transparency of nations across the world, and what amounts to the commercialisation of the arms trade have all caused a wealth of knowledge to become accessible even to those with limited resources. This has caused the area of open-source intelligence (OSINT) to bloom like never before, with a vast variety of high quality works on pretty much every imaginable topic suddenly becoming available.

Friday, 12 February 2021


By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
Al-Watiya. An airbase few had ever heard of until it became a symbol in the fight of the internationally-recognised government of Libya (GNA) against Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) that seeks to overthrow it. While its capture on the 18th of May 2020 temporarily managed to put the spotlight on the severely underreported Libyan conflict, not the least because of the destruction and capture of two Russian Pantsir-S1 missile systems supplied by the UAE, the full implications of the capture of al-Watiya have gone mostly unnoticed.

More than just a local success story for the Government of National Accord, al-Watiya was a major stronghold in the LNA's offensive line around Tripoli. Tasked with protecting and supporting the Western flank of the LNA's military thrust into Tripoli, what was left of Haftar's prospects of capturing Libya's capital crumbled with the loss of this key airbase. The freeing up of GNA forces as a result of the capture and the subsequent increase in pressure on other fronts around Tripoli made the LNA's and Wagner PMC's position in this part of the country untenable, leading to a chaotic retreat from Western Libya and ending Haftar's long-held dream of capturing Tripoli and installing himself as self-proclaimed president of Libya.

Saturday, 6 February 2021


By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

The Republic of Armenia isn't particularly well known for its military industry, and its arms exports have hitherto remained undocumented. Despite being the host of a promising arms R&D scene throughout much of the 1990s, a lack of funding and orders halted further development before it ever had the chance to really take off. Although offshoots of its designs would later become popular in Chechnya and with criminals throughout the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), this is where the exploits of Armenia's small arms industry were thought to have ended. 

Monday, 1 February 2021


By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
An article covering trains on Oryx Blog? Yes, you're not mistaken. We know what you are thinking: Where are the tanks, aircraft or ships? But actually, trains are kind of interesting or some of them at least. Take Japan's Chūō Shinkansen for example, which holds the train world speed record of 603 km/h. Or the Krajina Express, an improvised armoured train used by the Krajina Serb army during the 1990s that looked like a veritable battle fortress. Still not convinced? Then how about Gaddafi's personal Italian high-speed train that's technically still owned by Denmark?

Tuesday, 26 January 2021


By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
If Azerbaijan starts a war, Armenian tanks will go as far as Baku. (Artsrun Hovhannisyan, Press Secretary of the Ministry of Defence of Armenia, September 2020)
In a way surely different from what the Ministry of Defence of Armenia had envisaged, Armenian military equipment was on full display during Azerbaijan's Victory Parade on the 10th of December 2020. Marching through Baku's Freedom Square, the parade offered a glimpse of some of the equipment used by both sides during the 44-day long Nagorno-Karabakh war. 
While the parade segment with military trophies was sizeable, with row upon row fielding yet another type of weapon system ultimately overcome by drone warfare, the Armenian equipment on display was roughly one-tenth of the total amount of weaponry and vehicles captured by Azerbaijan. [1] In fact, even if we assume double the amount of losses confirmed to have been suffered by Azerbaijan, its military would still have captured more military equipment than it lost during the war.