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Russia Bolsters Crimean Air Defense, E. Europe Eyes Countermeasures

Jul. 12, 2014 - 04:29PM   |  
Building Its Presence: Russia is boosting its air power in the annexed Crimean peninsula, including with deployment of MiG-29s.
Building Its Presence: Russia is boosting its air power in the annexed Crimean peninsula, including with deployment of MiG-29s. (Russian Aircraft Corp.)
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WARSAW — Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine is shaping Moscow’s military priorities, but also sparking a response by some East European NATO members.

In Russia, the Defense Ministry is planning to boost the country’s air defense capability in Crimea while some East European neighbors are raising military spending to overhaul their air defense and air combat capacities.

“It’s noticeable that Poland and other [allies] in Eastern Europe have announced much-needed increases in defense spending since the conflict [in Ukraine] began,” said an analyst with a Polish government-run think tank. “Russia will use the Crimea as an outpost to boost its military presence … in the region, and these countries have taken steps … to react to this.”

The annexation of the peninsula by Russia has triggered increased focus on the Black Sea Fleet and naval aviation by Russian policymakers. The planned aircraft procurements are part of Russia’s larger military modernization strategy by 2020, as announced by senior state officials.

Russia’s Air Force in Crimea will be strengthened with the planned deployment of upgraded Su-27SM, Su-25SM and MiG-29 fighter jets to the peninsula, as well as Il-38N anti-submarine planes, Ka-52K, Ka-27 and Ka-29M helicopters, and Tu-22M3 long-range bombers.

In addition, an undisclosed number of new Su-30CM fighters ordered for the Navy’s air units will be deployed to the Russia-controlled peninsula.

The ministry also is planning to upgrade the peninsula’s military airfields and set up new training facilities, reported Russian pro-government daily Vzglyad. Additional aircraft have already been deployed by the Air Force, with Mi-35M and Mi-8AMTSh helicopters being stationed in the peninsula since the outbreak of the conflict.

Warsaw Takes Steps

In Poland, while the Defense Ministry is carrying out a tender for 70 helicopters to be supplied after 2015, a new helo procurement designed to replace Mi-24s with new aircraft and bolster Poland’s air combat capability has been prepared. Deliveries are to begin after 2020, according to the ministry’s military modernization strategy.

Poland’s defense policy is closely related to the developments in Ukraine, and Russia’s military expansion in the region has raised warning flags in Warsaw and across other Eastern European capitals, local analysts said.

“The Russian military is planning purchases of new fighter jets, helicopters … on a large scale, while the Baltic states don’t have their own fighter jet fleets,” the Polish analyst said. “Eastern European countries are … reacting to these developments by increasing defense spending, but they are lagging behind in terms of [armament].”

Poland’s Defense Ministry has pushed forward the tender to modernize the country’s anti-missile and air defense system. The ministry said June 30 it had shortlisted bids by Raytheon, with Patriot interceptors, and the Eurosam consortium by MBDA and Thales, with its SAMP/T system.

The country’s air and anti-missile defense program is estimated to be worth as much as 26.5 billion zloty (US $8.5 billion), local daily Rzeczpospolita reported.

Under the plan, the middle-range interceptors will be supplied by the selected contractor in cooperation with Poland’s defense industry, according to the ministry’s Armament Inspectorate, which is carrying out the procurement.

“The procurement will be implemented accordingly with the procedures related to protecting the national security interests of the Polish state,” the ministry said. “The key role in this field should be played by the Polish Defense Group, which will be responsible for coordinating industry cooperation at national level.”

Set up by the government in 2013, the group is designed to merge Poland’s state-owned defense manufacturers.

Latvia To Double Spending

The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are among the countries most wary of Russian military intervention. In a sign of increased focus on defense after Russia’s invasion of the Ukrainian peninsula, the Latvian government decided to boost defense spending.

According to the recently amended law on military expenditure, in 2016, Latvia’s defense budget is to total at least 1.1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). That figure will be gradually expanded to at least 2 percent by 2020, the Latvian Foreign Ministry said in a statement July 4. In 2012, the country’s GDP totaled $28.4 billion, according to data from World Bank.

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said that “given the current situation in the world, increasing the funding for Latvia’s national defense is essential. We are thankful to NATO allies for the initial measures taken to reinforce the security of the Baltic states. Nevertheless, we must not forget about our own responsibility for ensuring national defense.”

Some of the planned purchases by the Latvian armed forces include air defense systems and personal weapons for troops. ■


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