Piracy drill off Africa larger than ever

As piracy in the Gulf of Guinea off west Africa soars, professionals from over 20 nations are taking part in Obangame Express, a naval-exercise aimed at improving maritime safety and security in the region.

The issue of piracy and enforcement is one that needs to be tackled due to the fact that it’s a growing problem. This is mainly due to lack of ships and trained personnel which is required since large areas of water need to be patrolled and watched over. The more training done with various nations and navies, only helps in curbing the problem. More cooperation and training is needed, and such exercises will only help.

Germany’s security assistance in Mali

Since the military coup last year, Mali is considered one of the most dangerous states in Africa. For several months, Germany has been part of an EU-led mission to provide logistical support and training for Mali’s troops. Here’s video report on the mission

Ongoing security crisis in Mali

The current security environment in Mali is becoming more complex and risky, given recent developments. Main cause of instability has been the March 22 coup by soldiers who were angry over the government’s handling of the crisis. President Amadou Toumani Toure was overthrown; creating a power vacuum that enabled secular separatists Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and Islamist rebels, Ansar Dine, to seize the vast desert north. The secular separatists were quickly sidelined by Islamists fighting on their flanks who had little interest in their aspirations for an independent homeland and set about implementing strict sharia.

Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith, in Arabic) along with the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) have implemented an extreme form of sharia in the cities they control, stoning, whipping and amputating transgressors. Ansar Dine has also destroyed centuries-old cultural treasures in the fabled city of Timbuktu which they denounced as “idolatrous” to their radical brand of Islam.

Fighters of the Ansar Dine, the largest of the Islamist groups that control northern Mali, at Kidal airport.

West African army chiefs have adopted a military plan to expel Islamist rebels controlling northern Mali reached at a meeting of army top brass in Bamako. The plan will be studied by regional heads of state for approval before being presented next week to the UN Security Council on November 26.

Given that Al Qaeda linked Islamist groups have been occupying territory larger than France, such events haven’t gone unnoticed by the world. France has sent drones to monitor activity.

A French defense official said Monday that France plans to move two surveillance drones to western Africa from Afghanistan by year-end, though he did not provide details.

The U.S. is getting involved as well. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton two weeks ago visited the region to lobby for support in ousting the extremists from Mali. Algeria, with its superior military capabilities and its 1,400-kilometre (900-mile) border with Mali, is seen as key to any military operation but has been hesitant to get involved, preferring a negotiated solution. Nigeria another neighboring country which has been looked at for possible assistance in taking on the Islamists lacks the capabilities and resources.

The Nigerian army is in a shocking state,” said the source, who has seen recent assessments of Ecowas’s military capability. “In reality there is no way they are capable of forward operations in Mali – their role is more likely to be limited to manning checkpoints and loading trucks.”

“The Nigerian forces lack training and kit, so they simply don’t have the capability to carry out even basic military manoeuvres,” the source added. “They have poor discipline and support. They are more likely to play a behind-the-scenes role in logistics and providing security.”

Reading through all the statements from police, army brass and politicians, war plans are being sketched out to take on, help drive out militant Islamists from Northeastern Mali.

Malian army, whose lack of training and equipment led directly to the country’s 22 March coup d’etat, which toppled the previous civilian government and allowed al-Qaida-linked Islamists to gain control of the country’s north will rely on international help. Fears in the region and among Western powers are high that the zone could become a haven for terrorists if nothing substantive is done.

Mediators have approached talks with the hope Ansar Dine will cut ties with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), whose alliance with the Islamists has triggered fears in the region and among western powers that the zone could become a new haven for terrorists.

Whether done regionally and or with help from abroad, countries in the region have to do whatever they have at their disposal to make sure that vast areas do not become sanctuaries for religious conflict fueled by Islamist groups.

Egypt looking to buy submarines from Germany?

A Class 209 submarine built for South Africa in 2005

Based on news reports, Egypt is in the process of buying German built submarines.

A German government spokesman declined to comment on an article which appeared in the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram last Friday and cited the commander-in-chief of the Egyptian navy, Osama al-Gindi, as saying: “We have agreed to a deal with Germany to procure two submarines of the latest 209 Class.”

On Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said only: “There has been no change in the German government’s position towards Israel, in the commitment the German government feels towards Israel’s security.”

But he declined to comment on the supposed deal, saying the government maintained secrecy concerning matters dealt with by the Federal Security Council, a government committee that decides on sensitive weapons export deals.

If this defense deal is finalized, the submarines will give the Egyptian navy a new dynamic in the region. Having such a weapon system will surely increase Egypt’s power projection in the region, especially towards Israel and Saudi Arabia, with the only the U.S. having superior capabilities.

Egypt’s small navy has four aging Chinese-built Romeo-class Project 633submarines acquired in the 1970s. These were to have been replaced years ago but financial constraints delayed the move.

Germany has been looking to expand its arms exports in region and this showcases how defense exports have become important for western nations amid shrinking defense budgets. Compared to France, Russia, U.K. and U.S., Berlin lags behind.  This will also give Germany a chance to enhance its strategic position in the area.

Germany and South Africa conclude joint naval exercise in Cape Town

Naval exercises between Germany and South Africa have concluded.

South Africa and Germany yesterday wrapped up the joint naval exercise Good Hope V, which was commanded by South Africans for the first time.

The large-scale exercise between the South African Navy, Air Force and the German Navy takes place off the waters of South Africa on a biennial basis. It is the largest undertaken by the German Task Force Group outside of its NATO obligations.

This year, however, financial considerations and the counter piracy commitments of both navies have meant that Exercise Good Hope V was scaled down when compared to previous years. The aim of Exercise Good Hope V was to conduct exercises that would facilitate the sharing of expertise in general and anti-piracy operations in particular, thus enhancing the SA Navy’s capability in terms of anti-piracy operations within the Mozambican channel.

As Captain Micky Girsa, Commander Combined Maritime Task Group and Commanding Officer of SAS Amatola, explained, “although the global objective of Good Hope exercises between the German and South African forces has always been to conduct joint multi-national exercises focused on conventional warfare, this specific interaction has focused more on the asymmetric threat of anti-piracy.”

“This in itself is a first,” he continued. For Exercise Good Hope V, the German Navy was represented by FSG Lübeck, a frigate returning from Operation Atalanta, the European Union’s Naval Force counter-piracy operation in the Gulf of Aden and Somali Basin. The Lübeck is equipped with two Lynx Mk 88 helicopters and a Marine boarding team.

The Lübeck was to join SAS Isandlwana, the South African frigate involved with anti-piracy operations in the Mozambique Channel (Operation Copper), with the two vessels sailing south from Durban to Simon’s Town together. The Isandlwana is equipped with a Super Lynx maritime helicopter. However, Lübeck’s arrival in Durban was delayed by two days due to tropical cyclone Irene. The crew of the Lübeck had to endure wind speeds of up to 80 knots (150 km/h) with eight metre swells.

The two frigates eventually left Durban on 9 March and performed numerous sea exercises during their passage to the Simon’s Town naval base in Cape Town. These exercises included a strong emphasis on anti-piracy operations. The requirement for such exercises was brought home when, whilst on patrol off Somalia in January, the Lübeck forced Somali pirates to release an Indian dhow with 15 Indian mariners held as hostages.

Other exercises included boarding operations (from both boats and helicopters), Maritime Domain Awareness, simulated anti-ship missile firings and seamanship and manoeuvring exercises. Time was also spent on gunnery from the ships and helicopters.

Boarding teams consisting of Special Forces and Maritime Reaction Squadron personnel from South Africa as well as Marines from Germany. These units operated as mixed teams and according to both South African and German officers, no problems were experienced and all members worked well together.

However, conventional warfare was not ignored because, as Girsa clarified, “this would be foolish on both parts.”

Once they had reached Cape waters, the Task Group was joined by the South African frigate SAS Amatola and submarine SAS Queen Modjadji 1. Together with an Air Force C-47 TP Dakota maritime patrol aircraft, the Task Group undertook numerous anti-submarine warfare sorties for the benefit of the ships, helicopters and submarine. This included engagement of simulated hostile surface vessels found and identified by the Dakota.

“Amongst all the serials mentioned, one of the highlights was the inclusion of a Dipper [Lynx equipped with a dipping sonar],” Girsa espoused. “This profound ability proved to be advantageous and of great value to the combined force, especially the submarine who was tasked to evade detection and engage the force as best as possible.”

This was ably done by SAS Queen Modjadji 1, commanded by Cdr Neville Howell. Operating under home-town advantage, he was able to surprise the German participants by being extremely evasive.

“The submarine gave us a hard time trying to find them!” exclaimed Capt Eike Wetters, commander of the German Navy Task Group. This, he explained, was because the submarine took advantage of the deep water and varying temperatures at different depths.

Wetters said that it was not enough to perform anti-submarine training on simulators as live exercises were required for optimal experience. “From the German side, we are very happy to have…these anti-submarine warfare exercises. You need live exercises with a real submarine.”

Girsa concluded that as proud as he was of the South African forces that were placed under his operational control for this exercise, “I must state that it has been only a pleasure operating with the German ship Lubeck and all her affiliations. They are indeed professional in every aspect and an asset to the German Navy.”

To which Wetters added, “overall, Exercise Good Hope has been of great value, was planned and professionally led by the South African Navy and successfully conducted by all participants.”

Planning is already proceeding for Exercise Good Hope VI, which will be held in 2014.

“Despite financial pressure and training for several other operational commitments, it has been and still is the German Navy’s (commitment)…to maintain the momentum of this exercise series. I stress that because we have had to scale down the German contingent to a lone frigate here, this exercise…has been a success from our point of view, stressing that it is not always the number that counts, it’s the quality of the training,” concluded Wetters.

The South African armed forces continue to improve their capabilities with such interactions and exercises with foreign armed forces.  Such exercises build experience first hand that are hard to stimulate in a controlled environment.

Australian special forces in Africa

Australian special forces have been operating in several African countries over the past year gathering intelligence on terrorist activities. Australian special forces have been operating in Africa for some time.

Australian special forces have been operating in several African countries over the past year gathering intelligence on terrorist activities, a report said on Tuesday.

The Sydney Morning Herald said 4 Squadron of the elite Special Air Service (SAS) had mounted dozens of clandestine operations in places such as Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Kenya in a role normally carried out by spies.

Citing a government source, it said the missions by the previously unknown squadron were believed to involve terrorism intelligence gathering amid concerns about the threat posed by the Islamist al-Shebab militia.

They are also aimed at developing rescue strategies for evacuating trapped Australian civilians while assessing African border controls and exploring landing sites for possible military interventions.

The information gathered flows into databases used by the United States and its allies, it said.

The Herald added the operations have raised serious concerns among some sections of the military and intelligence communities that the troops do not have adequate legal protection or contingency plans if they are captured.

“They have all the espionage skills but without (Australian Secret Intelligence Service’s) legal cover,” said one government source.

According to the newspaper, ASIS officers are permitted under Australian law to carry false passports and, if arrested, to deny who they are employed by.

Defence Force members, such as the SAS, on normal operations cannot carry false identification and cannot deny which government they work for.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith refused to confirm the group’s existence “because we don’t want to put at risk either operations or our national security”.

But he insisted that all Australian operatives overseas did their job within the law and had proper protection.

“People would expect from time to time the SAS, ASIS, and department of foreign affairs and trade are involved in making sure Australians overseas are not at risk,” he told Sky News.

“Whenever we have our people in the field they have the proper and appropriate protections.

“Whether someone is working for ASIS or someone is operating for or with the SAS, we ensure they operate in accordance with domestic and international law and that they have appropriate and proper protection.”

Ever since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, numerous nations have expanded their special forces and or created such military units to deal with possible events. With the case of Australia, given its geographic location, one would think that it is isolated from conflicts but that isn’t the case. Here’s a video news report about the revelation.

West African, European and US navies and coast guards plan exercise Saharan Express

Navies and militaries from Europe, the U.S. and West African nations have finalized naval training exercises.

Military and civilian maritime professionals from West Africa, Europe, and the United States have finalized a challenging training agenda for exercise Saharan Express 2012.

Last week’s final planning conference at the Counternarcotics and Maritime Security (COSMAR) interagency operations center culminates previous months of close coordination to plan complex maritime interdiction operation (MIO) scenarios to be executed during the exercise.

“We live in a world that is confronted with many problems like piracy, drug trafficking, terrorism, organized crime,” said Colonel Alberto Ferdandes, chief of staff, Cape Verde armed forces. “It’s necessary for each of us to find a solution to respond to these problems in an efficient manner, we need to have a communal response and it is important that we are all prepared so we can produce a unified action.”

Colonel Fernandes continued to say that he hopes exercise Saharan Express will offer each partner nation the opportunity to work together and establish interoperability in the region.

Finalized last week for the MIO scenarios are visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) drills; search and rescue scenarios; medical casualty drills; radio communication drills; and information management practice techniques. These scenarios are scheduled to be executed off the coasts of Cape Verde, Mauritania, Senegal, and Gambia and will be monitored and controlled by multiple Maritime Operations Centers (MOCs) in the region.

The aim of exercise Saharan Express is to develop participant nations’ capabilities to monitor and enforce their own territorial waters and exclusive economic zones. Should these participants meet in the future to conduct combined peacekeeping or humanitarian operations, or to counter trafficking in drugs, people, or weapons in the Atlantic Ocean, they will be better able to respond and work together.

“The collaboration of West African and European nations coming together to share information is encouraging to see as Saharan Express grows each year,” said US Navy Lieutenant Commander Eric Moyer, lead exercise planner. “We’re looking forward to another great year.”

Exercise Saharan Express, scheduled to enter its second year later this year, is a continuation of West African, European, and U.S. navies and maritime agencies working to build maritime security in order to face common challenges.

This a continuation of military exchanges and training exercises between all sides mentioned in the article.  Military to military contacts are growing more in importance as various African nations become strategically important. The current events in Somalia and Gulf of Aden with regards to terrorism and piracy have shown this to be the case. The number of foreign navies in the region is an indication of the increased attempt to tackle the security issue. Such exercises and exchanges will only increase as events unfold in the region.

Russian Pacific Fleet holds joint exercise in Seychelles

Pacific Fleet ship Admiral Tributs

Russia and Seychelles conclude joint naval exercises.

Russian sailors have conducted a joint anti-piracy exercise with their counterparts in the Seychelles during the visit of the Pacific Fleet ship Admiral Tributs, which is on counter-piracy duties in the Indian Ocean.

“Our troopers have demonstrated their anti-piracy skills to the Coast Guard colleagues,” said Russian Navy Captain First Rank Ildar Akhmerov, commander of the Pacific Fleet (PF) anti-piracy task force.

The exercise was organised by the Seychelles Coast Guard and Russian marines last week.

It involved the Seychelles Coast Guard ‘pirating’ a passenger vessel and kidnapping its crew. Russian marines then ‘captured’ the vessel using their speedboats and boarding rope ladders and neutralised the ‘pirates’, RIA Novosti reports.

High-ranking officials of Seychelles Coast Guard and Russian diplomats observed the exercise.

The Admiral Tribut’s visit was the second such goodwill expedition to the Seychelles since October 2009. The Udaloy class destroyer departed the archipelago on March 5.

The Admiral Tributs, together with the Pechenega tanker and a rescue tugboat, arrived in the Gulf of Aden on January 12 to escort convoys of commercial ships. The seventh task force replaced a previous flotilla that had been stationed in the area since September 28 last year. This included the Admiral Penteleyev destroyer, a supply vessel and rescue tugboat, as well as a unit of marines.

Russian warships have taken part in anti-piracy patrols since October 2008 and successfully escorted a total of 130 commercial vessels from various countries through the pirate-infested waters off the Somali coast.

The international community runs several seaborne anti-piracy missions off North Africa, with the European Naval Forces Operation Atalanta, NATO-led Operation Ocean Shield and Combined Taskforce 151 led by Americans. Atalanta was originally set up to safeguard the United Nation’s World Food Programme aid deliveries to Somalia but has expanded to take on a general anti-piracy role. Other nations like South Korea, China, Japan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and India also have ships off the East African coast.

With the growing issue of piracy in the Gulf of Aden, Russia like other nations is taking an increased interest in the region for security reasons.  This opportunity has allowed the Russian navy to train and gain real world experience operating in a part of the world that it doesn’t usually patrol in.

South Africa sells India mine protected vehicles

South Africa has exported mine protected vehicles to India.

Police in India have begun to receive their first Mine Protected Vehicle for India (MPV-I) vehicles, which will be used for anti-terrorist/guerrilla operations.

On August 25 the Jharkhand police received the first of six MPV-Is on order. They are being manufactured by Defence Land Systems India (DLSI), a joint venture between Mahindra & Mahindra (74%) and BAE Systems (26%).

Brigadier (retired) Khutub Hai, MD and CEO of DLSI, handed over the keys of the first MPV-I to B B Pradhan, Additional Director General of Police, Jharkhand Police, late last month. “This is a proud moment for DLSI as this is the first such vehicle of its kind indigenously manufactured by the private sector industry being delivered to the Police Forces in the country,” said Hai. “The MPV-I will meet all the stated parameters and we hope it will greatly enhance the operational effectiveness of the police forces in Naxal affected areas of the country.”

This year, nearly 300 security personnel were killed or injured in 76 improvised explosive device (IED) attacks, India’s Business Standard reports. Security forces in Jharkhand recently recovered 17 landmines during a search operation. India is battling Maoist Naxal rebels as well as other security threats.

“The equipping of police forces in the Naxal-affected states with 300 MPVs will reduce casualties by some 90%,” noted Hai.

DLSI is producing the MPV-Is at its factory at Prithla, near Faridabad, which has the capacity to produce 100 MPV-Is per year. It expects to build around 20 vehicles this year.

The six-wheeled MPV-I was designed by BAE Land Systems South Africa, world renowned specialists in building mine protected vehicles, and resembles South Africa’s Casspir mine protected vehicle.

The MPV-I’s protective shell comes from Sweden and is built into a monocoque body, using kits imported from South Africa. The 230 hp engine and chassis are from Russian Ural trucks manufactured at Haldia, West Bengal, which significantly reduces the vehicle’s price.

Like the Casspir, the 14 ton MPV-I is capable of withstanding a 21 kilogram blast of TNT under any wheel and a 14 kg blast of TNT under the crew compartment. Apart from mine protection, the MPV-I’s armour can withstand a variety of bullets, including 7.62 x 51 mm NATO ball, 7.62 x 39 mm AK-47 ball and 5.56 x 45 mm INSAS lead core from up to 45 degrees from the top and up to 90 degrees from the sides at a distance of ten metres, according to Mahindra. There are 16 ports from which to return fire.

With a seating capacity of 18 people, the MPV-I can transport a complete operational team of army or police personnel.

In February 2008 BAE Systems announced it was in discussions with Mahindra to jointly develop a mine protected vehicle based on its RG-31 and in January the next year announced it was setting up a joint venture with Mahindra & Mahindra to focus on land systems for the Indian market.

Mahindra already has experience building military vehicles and since 2001 has sold around 1 500 smaller vehicles, including the Rakshak, Marksman and Rapid Intervention Vehicle, India’s Business Standard reports.

India is one of the latest countries to acquire the knowledge developed by the former Defence Research Unit of the SA Council for Science and Industrial Research in the early 1970s (which produced the Casspir). Other countries that now have the once unique SA technology include the US, Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Namibia, Russia and Serbia.

India already operates Casspirs, having bought 165 between 1999 and 2001. They have been extensively used by the Army and paramilitary units, especially in Jammu and Kashmir. Casspirs serve with a number of national armies including South Africa, Djibouti, Indonesia, Namibia and Peru, as well as private firms such as Mechem.

India is one of the worlds largest arms importers and it’s defense budget has gradually increased with no signs of slowing down. This presents an opportunity for South African defense firms to establish contacts and relationships with India for the long term given India’s importance will only grow.