Tuesday, 13 April 2021

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By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
 
Most of the Gulf countries are generally reticent when it comes to showing off their defence capabilities and recent acquisitions of military hardware. Although a high degree of secrecy surrounding the acquisition of ballistic missile systems from North Korea and China by the UAE and Saudi Arabia is to be expected, in the Gulf region this secrecy often also applies to conventional weaponry such as artillery and even small arms. For Qatar, the situation is slightly different: while it does showcase most of its weaponry during its annual National Day parades, surprisingly little equipment gets shown during military exercises and other events. 
 
In similar vein, Qatar's acquisition of the Russian AK-12 assault rifle remains largely unreported, and imagery indicating their presence outside military parades so far appears to be nonexistent. Its relative elusiveness set aside, the delivery of the AK-12 is a testament to the increasing flow of Russian-made weaponry reaching countries in the Gulf region, which almost exclusively relied on arms sourced from Western countries in the past. Qatar is the first confirmed export customer of the new assault rifle, which only entered serial production in 2017.
 
Qatar's interest in Russian-made weaponry first came to light in 2016 and 2017, when it signed a series of agreements with Russia on military-technical cooperation during bilateral visits to Doha and Moscow. [1] [2] [3] Although what exactly these agreements entailed was at the time still unknown, the first sighting of Russian weaponry in Qatar already came a year later in December 2018, when hundreds of AK-12 rifles were seen in the hands of Qatari soldiers marching through Doha Corniche during that year's National Day parade.
 
Months before, in July 2018, the Russian envoy to Qatar confirmed reports that Qatar and Russia had signed an arms deal for small arms and anti-tank missiles. [4] Included in the deal were large numbers of AK-12s, 9M133 Kornet anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) and even 9K338 Igla-S (NATO designation: SA-24) MANPADS. Another type of Russian weapon system Doha showed interest in was the S-400 surface-to-air missile (SAM) system, although an actual acquisition of the S-400 by Qatar is highly unlikely due to the threat of sanctions by the U.S. [4]
 
 
Forging new friendships
 
Traditionally a customer of arms and equipment from France and later the US, the Qatar diplomatic crisis that lasted from 2017 to 2021 saw Qatar diversifying its procurement efforts to now also include Russia as a supplier of weaponry. This was a notable change in relations from the early 2010s, when fundamental differences over the course of the Syrian Civil War significantly strained Doha's relations with Moscow. Qatar's warming ties with Russia can in this respect be seen to be underlined by the acquisition of weaponry. Today Qatar and Russia are working together in a joint attempt to achieve a political solution to the conflict in Syria, showing just how swiftly relations can shift in this diplomatically competitive corner of the globe.
 
 
Familiar shapes, novel features
 
The 5.45×39mm AK-12 is the latest in the series of highly popular assault rifles designed and produced by the Kalashnikov Concern (formerly known as Izhmash). Entering production some 70 years after the inception of the original AK-47, the shape and design philosophy of the first AK can still be readily appreciated in the new design. Nonetheless, the AK-12 represents an improvement in almost every aspect versus the AK-74M it replaces. Most notably, the AK-12 has a free-floating barrel (allowing for increased accuracy), a modular design with picatinny rails and improved ergonomics compared to past iterations in the AK series.
 
Some might still know the AK-12 for its prototype design, which suffered from a number of defects and was later abandoned in favour of the more basic AK-400 design, which ultimately became the finalised model of the AK-12. As it was the prototype design that almost exclusively featured in video games, to many a casual observer the AK-12 designation will still belong to this progenitor. In addition to Qatar, Armenia has also been speculated to be a possible customer of the AK-12, potentially even setting up a production line for the type. [5] At the same time, since it is currently in the process of reequipping its military with license-produced AK-103s any large scale acquisition of AK-12s as well as the latter theory appears unlikely.
While the actual number of rifles bought by Qatar remains unknown, it is almost certain that the AK-12 isn't destined to become the new service rifle of its armed forces. This has as much to do with the fact that Qatar doesn't have a main service rifle, with units making use of the FN FNC, M4 and M16, as with a 2018 agreement with Italy for the local production of ARX160 and ARX200 assault rifles. [6] The ARX160 has enjoyed significant success in the Gulf region, with neighbouring Bahrain even adopting it as its main service rifle. In addition to the ARX-160 and AK-12, several more types of modern assault rifles are fielded by Qatar's Armed Forces, mostly with its special forces units.
 
 
Based on the parade footage alone, it appears that most of the AK-12s were distributed to the Qatar Special Operations Command (Q-SOC) and possibly the Qatar Amiri Guard as well. It is possible that the AK-12 will see limited usage by special forces units only, by which its robustness and reliability in water, sand and dusty environments should be especially treasured.
 

Though the acquisition of AK-12s from Russia is notable, it doesn't necessarily signify the start of a wholesale shift in its allegiance as an arms customer. Instead, Qatar is likely to continue to diversify its procurement efforts in the future, which could entail more arms purchases from other sources, with NATO weapons operating alongside an arrangement of weapons sourced from Russia and China as a result. As Qatar looks to expand its indigenous defence industry most notably through Barzan Holdings  – at least a portion of such weaponry will likely be produced or assembled in Qatar as well, as is the case with the ARX160 and ARX200. To Qatar, such projects will be attractive as a means to increase its independence as much as to increase its military prowess – to which end the AK-12 will certainly not be the last means.


[2] Qatar looking for defence cooperation with Russia https://www.qatar-tribune.com/news-details/id/82421
[3] Qatar, Russia sign agreements on air defense, supplies https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-qatar-military-idUSKBN1CV11E
[4] Russia and Qatar discuss S-400 missile systems deal TASS https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-qatar-arms-idUSKBN1KB0F0
[5] Armenia will be the first country to purchase AK-12 assault rifles https://arminfo.info/full_news.php?id=54485&lang=3
 

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Thursday, 8 April 2021

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By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
 
Starting in June 2014, Coalition airstrikes conducted on positions, vehicles and high-ranking members of the Islamic State have taken a heavy toll on the group. These airstrikes combined with increased bombardements conducted by the Russian Air Force (RuAF) ultimately proved to be decisive in determining the outcome of many of the offensives conducted by and against the Islamic State. The Battle for Kobanî, where Coalition airpower played a decisive role in the defence of the city, first made painfully clear the vulnerability of Islamic State forces to aircraft armed with precision-guided munitions.

Monday, 5 April 2021

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By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans 
 
Turkish Airlines is one of the largest airlines in the world, flying to more destinations than any other carrier in the world. It operates a fleet of more than 350 Airbus and Boeing aircraft that serve some 300 destinations domestically and internationally today, a huge leap from its humble beginning of four domestic destinations in 1933, and just 103 destinations in 2003. Over the past century, Turkish Airlines has operated a wide variety of aircraft that haven't always been in the spotlight as much as their more modern brethrens. One of these aircraft is the German Ju 52, which has long remained elusive in imagery and footage during its years of service in Turkey.

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

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By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

Saturday, the 6th of November 2004. Two Su-25UBs of the Force Aérienne de la Côte d'Ivoire (FACI) strafe a French peacekeeper camp in Bouaké. As sudden as the unprovoked attack had commenced its tragic results would become palpable: the deaths of nine French soldiers and another 31 wounded. This grave provocation would ultimately lead to the destruction of the FACI and have drastic repercussions for Côte d'Ivoire for years to come. Just hours after the attack, all that remained of its fledging air arm was a smoldering heap of junk.
 
The events leading up to this tragedy began to unfold on the 19th of September 2002, when the government of Laurent Gbagbo found itself in a precarious situation after the rebel umbrella organisation Mouvement Patriotique de Côte d'Ivoire (MPCI) took control over much of the northern part of the country, effectively splitting Ivory Coast into two. Also captured was Bouaké airbase, which was home to six inoperational Alpha Jet light attack aircraft. Its confidence bolstered significantly by the capture of the jets, the MPCI boldly threatened to reactivate the Alpha Jets to use them against their former owners which having no combat aircraft of its own could offer little to counter this threat. [1]

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

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We are Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans, two military analysts devoted to investigating and sharing the ins and outs of conflict research, open-source intelligence and the occasional obscure piece of military history. Our independent research allows us to do objective analyses and uncover stories that might be unpalpable to other outlets, without sacrificing detail or accuracy in pandering to a broader audience. 
 
Unfortunately, it is also precisely this format that makes for a very unprofitable model - in turn leading to an inconsistent output of articles. By supporting us on Patreon, you help ensure we can devote more of our time to our blog, and release our articles on a more frequent basis. In the long run, we aspire to write articles about Azerbaijan, Eastern Ukraine, Venezuela, Vietnam, Turkey, Central and South-East Asia, and expand our coverage on Syria, Iran, Cuba, Africa, the Caucasus and the Gulf region. We appreciate any help that we can get that’ll allow us to stride closer to this goal! 
 
 
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By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

A comprehensive catalogue of weaponry and equipment supplied to the LNA can be found further down in this article.
 
Since the renewal of a civil war in Libya in 2014 a slow-burning yet at times surprisingly intense conflict has left its future in doubt, with multiple parties vying for control and their international backers not shying away from investing large sums of money to see a favourable result come about. Although a UN-imposed arms embargo (in place since February 2011) is meant to stop both sides from obtaining weapons and equipment, it has since been blatantly and consistently ignored by their foreign backers. A recently released UN panel of experts report aimed to document transgressions of this embargo since its instatement, primarily focusing on analysis of international shipments of arms and equipment by means of air transport. [1] The resulting body of work although painstakingly detailed in some aspects is a testament to shortcomings of this method, and is wholely lacking in competent imagery analysis, failing to note the delivery of a myriad of weapons systems and munitions, while misidentifying others. Its conclusions therefore are far off the mark essentially throwing Turkey as a foreign power in the region under the bus, while categorically ignoring serial offenders such as the UAE, Russia, Jordan and Egypt. This article aims to function as a counterpoint to UNSC's report not by refuting its contents (though a concise rebuffal can be found here), but by providing an actually comprehensive overview of arms transfers by the aforementioned parties to Libya's LNA since 2014.

Monday, 22 March 2021

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By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
 
Turkmenistan almost certainly isn't the first nation that comes to your mind when you consider the naval balance in the Caspian Sea. Nonetheless, a continued naval build-up has meanwhile transformed the nation into the strongest naval power in the region, even surpassing Russia in this regard. This is in no small part due to Turkey's Dearsan Shipyard, which has supplied the Turkmen Naval Forces with almost the entirety of its modern inventory of vessels.