NewsFeed n°58

Published by Elias Ricken on

The NewsFeed is a press review with a summary of a selection of articles and events that occurred in the past two weeks. Keep track!
In our brief of the last weeks, you will find a focus on the concrete deliveries of Leopards and Abrams to Ukraine, the launch of the largest EDA R&T project, an update on the adhesion of Finland and Sweden to NATO, and more!
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Focus: Concrete numbers for Leopards and Abrams’: what is on the table?

Since the initial declaration that Germany would deliver Leopard 2 and the USA M1 Abrams Main battle tanks to Ukraine, some time has passed, so that we now have more concrete information about the number of vehicles delivered and how long it will take them to arrive in Ukraine. The easiest to assess is likely the M1 Abrams: The US government decided to deliver 31 of its Abrams tanks to Kiev. First concern about where the strange number 31 came from has been calmed: A Ukrainian tank battalion is smaller in size than a NATO tank battalion, therefore 31 tanks is just the correct number. A date for the delivery or when the training of Ukrainian tankmen will begin on the M1 Abrams is not clear yet, but is approximately set for the latter half of 2023, as the equipment is likely to be produced and not taken from stocks.

The Leopard 2 MBT will be supplied sooner. With training having already begun in Germany, it is expected that the first of these tank crews will be operational in about six weeks. Since they will most likely be deployed as tactically thought out for the Leopard 2 with the Marder 1a5 as IFV support, it is unclear whether the Leopard 2 will deploy directly after their training is complete, as it was the case with the Gepard for example. Regarding numbers, the Leopard 2 will be delivered to Ukraine in two versions: Germany will lead the provision of the version 2a6, while donating 14 of the vehicles itself. Portugal already guaranteed to participate in the delivery, but didn’t specify any numbers – four to six seems like a reasonable guess. Finland and Norway, who operate the Leopard 2a6 as well expressed strong interest, but didn’t communicate any numbers either.

For the Leopard 2a4, whose provision will be led by Poland, the numbers are already a bit more significant: Poland itself has asked for the export licence of 14 vehicles to Ukraine. It can be therefore expected as the minimum value that the country will supply. Canada has already sent two Leopard 2a4s to Poland, which have already arrived and contribute to the number of Polish vehicles. Spain, who also owns a great number of Leopard 2 (a4 and a6) is currently checking its stocks. Concrete numbers are not confirmed yet, but it seems it will be set between 4 or 6. Scandinavian countries have not yet given any specific numbers regarding their deliveries.

In addition to the Leopard 2 deliveries in general, Germany agreed to send two armoured recovery vehicles to Ukraine. These are needed to reliably operate logistics with the Leopard 2. In general, a greater number and a clearer communication of tank deliveries was expected. The deliveries made up in total for one battalion of Leopard 2, which may seem little compared to Ukrainian needs.

This was until February 6th when the German government gave clearance for the delivery of 178 Leopard 1a5 MBTs. Few days later, the Netherlands and Denmark also gave their agreements to supply Ukraine with tanks coming from their reserves or industrial stocks. The Leopard 1a5, predecessor of the Leopard 2, was in service with the German and other armies from the 1960s until the early 2000s and is therefore comparable with the T-72 or T-64. All these models from the Cold War era share the same flaw: The lack of a stabilized gun which enables them to shoot reliably on the move. In the concept of leading a tank battle dynamically and on the move, as is taught in the German Army, this difference could prove as an important point in the defence of the expected Russian offensive that might hit Ukraine. The first delivery, that is organised by Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands together will include 100 of these tanks and is scheduled for the next few months.

The biggest problem to the delivery seems currently to be the unclear provision of ammunition. Since the MBT is not in service anymore for around 20 years, the stock of 105mm ammunition used for this tank is possibly not excessive in the providing countries anymore. However, this could also prove to become a needless fear, as this same gun is still used on other vehicles as the American Stryker (also delivered to Ukraine), and the British Centurion Mk.5.

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Belgium thinks about joining the FCAS program

The Belgian Head of Defence, Admiral Michel Hofman, declared on January 24th in a press conference that the Belgian government has “a very strong political will” to join the FCAS programme, and that there were political contacts with the three partners, France, Germany and Spain. So far, Belgium did not show any preference for one of the two European 6th generation fighter programmes. In addition, the country’s last purchase of military fighter jets was 34 American F-35A. However, according to the Belgian Minister of Defence, Ludivine Dedonder, in an address to the Parliament in 2021, the participation of the Belgian industry to the Tempest or the FCAS programme could not be excluded, and could even be critical to maintain skills linked with this field. Admiral Hofman clarified that no decision had been made yet, but that the attention was more oriented toward the French-German-Spanish fighter than the British-Italian-Swedish Tempest.

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EDA launches its largest R&T project, to enable autonomous unmanned Ground Combat Systems

On February 1st, the European Defence Agency (EDA) officially launched a project to develop functional modules to be installed on existing platforms and ensure autonomous functionalities (navigation, communication, command & control, or the use of weapons). Worth €35.5 million, running for 36 months, with 9 Member States and 28 industry partners, CUGS (Combat Unmanned Ground Systems) is the largest-scale R&T project launched by the EDA. Five platforms have been identified to benefit from these modules, from Estonia, Germany or Italy. After development, the testing part will allow to test rules of engagement for autonomous vehicles, with different levels of “human in the loop” depending on the environment. A key increase of TRL (Technology Readiness Level) for a trend which appears to be more and more present on the battlefield.

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Military cooperation and external operations

Mali Update: More restrictions to MINUSMA force, while Lawrow is invited as state guest

The German contingent from the UN mission MINUSMA doesn’t have the starting permission for their reconnaissance drones (mostly MALE-Heron-1-drones, but also smaller ones such as the EMT Luna or even the hand portable quadcopter Mikado). Thereby, the task of the MINUSMA force stationed in Gao is severely limited: If no reconnaissance drones can be operated, no intel can be provided to the rest of the MINUSMA force that is operating in Mali. This however, is one of the key-tasks of the German contingent. On the 25th of January, the Malian government has now argued that take-off permissions weren’t granted, because the MINUSMA force wouldn’t share the reconnaissance data with the Malian military. The explanation can’t be verified since Germany has already decided to pull its troops out of MINUSMA by spring 2024.

In addition to the MINUSMA military force, the Malian government also hinders the work of the UN as an institution and MINUSMAs civilian arm. On the 06th of February, the Malian government declared that the MINUSMA director of the department for Human Rights is henceforth considered a “persona non grata” in Mali and should therefore leave the country in a matter of 48 hours. This harsh blow is accompanied by the information that the Russian minister of foreign affairs, Sergej Lawrow was welcomed in Bamako the same day is a clear sign that the Malian interest in participating in a western organized political world is not existent anymore. Therefore, it comes to no surprise that Germany, the country that has deployed the largest MINUSMA contingent of military personal to Mali at the time, intensify demands that the country shouldn’t be supported by the UN and its blue helmet force until Summer 2024, where the final deadline is set, but that German forces should leave as soon as possible, rather than in one and a half years.

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International relations

NATO adhesion: current status on Finland, Sweden, Turkey and the US

Finland’s foreign minister says the Nordic country is still hoping to join NATO together with Sweden, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s remarks that Ankara could accept Helsinki’s bid while continuing to block its Swedish neighbours. Ankara has refused to ratify the two countries’ NATO membership bids, primarily because Erdogan demanded Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson to extradite a list of 120 people as a condition for Sweden to join NATO. The Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway advised their citizens on Saturday to avoid large crowds and take care when travelling in Turkey. Sweden’s Foreign Ministry said the embassy in Ankara will remain closed and that visitors to the consulate general in Istanbul should be vigilant. Turkey had also reacted strongly to a decision by the Swedish police to allow a protest at which a far-right extremist burned a copy of the Koran outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm earlier in January. It has been outraged, too, by a Swedish prosecutor’s decision not to press charges against a pro-Kurdish group that hung an effigy of Erdogan by its ankles outside the Stockholm City Court. These incidents threaten the feasibility of the bloc’s hopes of expanding to 32 countries at a summit planned for July in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.

On the other hand, the issue of the Russian response to Finland and Sweden’s adhesion would be a very important strategic turning point. NATO’s challenge in the Nordic-Baltic-Arctic region is to bolster deterrence while taking care not to provoke a Russian overreaction. Though regional tension might be unavoidable, NATO states that it is important to minimize these tensions in order to avoid causing an arms race that makes the region less secure. NATO argues that the best way to accomplish this is to ensure that incorporating Sweden and Finland into the Alliance evolves slowly, predictably, and without surprises. Sweden and Finland have a long history of relations—both good and bad—with Russia and are best suited to dealing with Moscow in the context of the new security environment in northern Europe. Their guidance to the rest of NATO on this effort will therefore be crucial. More broadly, working toward regional forms of engagement after a cease-fire in Ukraine will be important to rebuild normative structures of European security.

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US and Germany against Fighter jet deliveries – Is a definite “no” still credible at this point?

Germany’s route from a country that set itself the rule not to export military equipment into crisis or warzones is astounding. Almost one year ago, in late January 2022, the then German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht, proudly stressed the delivery of 5000 combat helmets to Ukraine as a “clear sign of partnership”. To only send equipment that could be used in defensive purposes only was heavily criticised at the time. Even though today’s economy-and-climate-protection-minister Robert Habeck had started requesting arms deliveries to Ukraine as early as Summer 2021, the German government hadn’t moved from this position of not delivering actual military equipment into crisis or warzones.

After the Russian invasion struck on February 24th 2022, Germany was one of the last allies to send man portable weapons to Ukraine. Stinger-, Streela- and Panzerfaust-Manpads were the last anti air weapons that were delivered to Ukraine. This came already late and was for that time a considerable breakthrough in weapon deliveries for the German mentality. At the same time, Germany stressed out not to be willing to deliver heavy weapons. However, the term “heavy weapon” was not specified, from a vehicle with a certain weight to a system operated by more than one person. Until Germany decided, in spring 2022, to send the SPAA Gepard to Ukraine. A tracked armoured vehicle that was operated by a crew of three and weighed 47 tons. Still cautious, the German government mentioned that the Gepard was an exception and that the general heavy equipment rule still applied. But again, in the summer 2022, Germany announced to send armoured self-propelled howitzer 2000, one of Germany’s newest pieces of military hardware to Ukraine. The government then set itself on not sending infantry fighting vehicles or main battle tanks. But winter 2022/2023, Germany decided to first send Marder IFVs and then, after once more actively declaring to not send any MBT to Ukraine, gave in to the pressure of its allies and agreed to send a certain number of MBTs of types Leopard 2 and 1. Whether one can like the course of German politics or not, be happy about the sendings to Ukraine or criticize them, this history of decision making has spread an impression of unreliability, with regular self-set rules which are as much regularly self-broken.

Now, in February 2023, the new debate is about the delivery of fighter jets. Germany and the US already said no to Ukraine, Germany more for spare parts of their former MiG-29 fleet and the US more for possible F-16 deliveries. But coming back to the thesis of this article, after all these ups and downs, it may create the impression  that a definite “no” from Germany doesn’t count half as much as a “no” from the US.

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European policies

28th member state Ukraine? – The EU-Commission meets the Ukrainian government

On the 02nd of February, the Ukrainian government and the head of the EU-commission met in Kiev to discuss how the EU could help Ukraine to rebuild the country, once the war was finished. Since EU-officials had already proposed a great deal of political support to Ukraine before coming to Kiev, the word of the hour was to keep expectation low in order not to disappoint the Ukrainians with the actual negotiated political support. While it got concrete regarding the financial report, one topic above all dominated the discussion: Will there be a soon coming EU-membership for Ukraine? After all Charles Michel, who had been to Kiev two months prior promised then that Ukraine is the EU and vice versa, thereby suggesting that the decision of membership had internally already been answered. But there are also critical arguments on that matter. Is the Ukraine that comes out of the war fit to be an integral part of the EU? Corruption was one of the reasons that the EU didn’t grant a membership in the early 2000s and a recent corruption scandal in the Ukrainian ministry of defence will possibly provoke the replacement of the current minister of defence. Is a Ukraine coming out of a war won against an imperialist Russia in the right political-cultural mindset to enter a pluralistic Union? These questions, as well as the general question of EU-adhesion, have not been answered that day, but will be watched in great care not only by the EU and Ukraine, but also by those who take interest in estimating the solidarity and strength by western countries in conflict situations.

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