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Pakistani army chief in first US visit

Pakistan’s army chief is holding talks with top US generals and officials this week in the first visit to the United States by the country’s powerful military commander in four years, officials said Monday.

General Raheel Sharif’s trip comes against the backdrop of improved relations between the two governments with Washington encouraged by Pakistan’s offensive against Islamist militants in the country’s northwest.

After arriving in Washington on Sunday, Sharif held talks at US Central Command in Tampa, Florida on Monday and was scheduled to meet the US Army chief, General Ray Odierno, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey and the deputy defense secretary, Robert Work, over the next two days, US officials told AFP.

It was Sharif’s first trip to the United States since he took over the post in November 2013, and the first of any Pakistani army chief since 2010.

Sharif’s predecessor had an often tense relationship with Washington amid accusations Islamabad was failing to take action against Haqqani extremists and other insurgents based in Pakistan that orchestrate attacks on American and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

A senior US officer in the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Joseph Anderson, told reporters this month that Pakistani military operations in North Waziristan had “fractured” the Haqqani network.

The Pakistani military campaign “has very much disrupted their efforts here and has caused them to be less effective in terms of their ability to pull off an attack here in Kabul,” Anderson said by video link from Kabul.

US officials are also hopeful that a new president in Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, can bolster cooperation and dialogue between Kabul and Islamabad, just as NATO’s US-led force withdraws from the fight against the Taliban.

Ghani traveled to Pakistan last week for talks with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai routinely accused Pakistan of backing the Taliban insurgency to destabilize his country as a hedge against Indian influence there.

Pakistan was one of only three countries to recognize the hardline Taliban regime that ruled Kabul from 1996 until 2001. The regime was toppled by a US-led international military coalition following the September 11 attacks by the Al-Qaeda network, which the Taliban allowed to operate out of Afghanistan.

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Defence Chief: NATO Has Committed Four to Five Times More Aircraft to the Baltics

The Commander of the Finnish Defence Forces, General Jarmo Lindberg, has taken note that activity levels on the Baltic Sea have increased of late. He says the Baltic Sea is now the scene of more military exercises, as well as more air and sea traffic.

“There has been more of everything,” Lindberg said during his Tuesday morning radio interview. “Russia has been more active and our statistics indicate an increase in volume. The same holds true for NATO,” he said.

The NATO military alliance has enhanced its air patrols of the Baltics manifold, he explained.

“Earlier there were just a few aircraft and now there are four or five times that amount. All of this cumulates into an expanded operating field in the Baltic Sea area.”

Back in April, the news agency Reuters estimated that NATO had tripled its number of fighter planes in the Baltic airspace.

Lindberg on Aranda: No need for investigation

Based on the information available, Lindberg believes there is no need for further study of the disruption targeting the research vessel Aranda.

This weekend it was revealed that the Russian Navy had twice interfered with the work of the Aranda in international waters east of Gotland, Sweden, once in early August and again in early September. Lindberg stressed in his radio interview that the Defence Forces will not assume any kind of role in the matter.

“The Aranda is a civilian ship that was sailing on international waters. We will conduct no analysis of the events.”

Some suspect that Russia was testing its submarines in the area during the incidents and requested the Aranda change course as a precautionary measure. Were the Russians following normal procedure, if this was the case?

“If so, yes,” answered the Commander.

“There are Baltic Sea basins in that area, making it an ideal location for testing submarines. In this scenario, if a submarine had to rise to the surface quickly, then of course they would want to make sure that no ships were on the surface at that time.”

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Indian Airforce Chief Concerned By Fighter Delays

Indian top-gun pilots are slowly but surely running out of combat-worthy fighters to fly. Faced with the twin-threat from China and Pakistan, the IAF has once again sounded the red-alert over the huge delays dogging all its three fighter induction projects.

Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha on Saturday said the delays in the MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) project, the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft program and the joint development of the futuristic stealth fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) with Russia, should be a major concern for the entire country.

“Every project, be it acquisition or design and development, is taking longer than it should. We have lost timelines. We have quite a few fleets which are on their last legs. It’s definitely a concern,” said ACM Raha, ahead of the IAF’s 82nd anniversary on October 8.

Down to just 34 fighter squadrons, which includes 14 of ageing and virtually obsolete MiG-21s and MiG-27s, IAF is obviously worried about its fast-depleting air combat power when both China and Pakistan continue to flex their muscles along the borders. It requires at least 44 squadrons to be at ease against both.

Responding to the military standoff with China in Chumar and Demchok sectors of eastern Ladakh last month, which coincided with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to India, the IAF chief said it was “mysterious” how such border incursions took place during high-profile visits.

“In diplomacy, some signaling is done. I am not going to guess why it was done. But we are not giving ground to anyone,” said ACM Raha, who is also the chairman of the chiefs of staff committee. He admitted it would take four to five years to plug all operational and infrastructure gaps in Ladakh and the north-east.

The new Modi government is showing “great urgency” in “expediting” processes and projects. With all the three Service chiefs meeting the PM on a one-on-one basis every month, every project is being reviewed and accountability being fixed, he said.

But it will take a lot of doing. The indigenous Tejas fighter, in the making for over 30 years now, for instance is still far from becoming fully combat-ready. Tejas also cannot replace the need for a MMRCA since the light-weight fighter has a shorter-range and less weapon-load carrying capability. It will not, for instance, be capable of deep-penetration attacks into China.

Similarly, the final commercial negotiations for the almost $20 billion MMRCA project — the global tender for which was floated in August 2007 – for 126 French Rafale fighters have proceeded at a glacial pace.

Though the work of three sub-committees dealing with technical maintenance, offsets and transfer of technology has been completed, sources said Dassault Aviation is still reluctant to take responsibility, with warranty and liquidity damages, for the 108 Rafale jets to be made in India by Hindustan Aeronautics.

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India Can’t Afford Delay In Rafale Deal, Says Air Chief

By on Thursday, September 4th, 2014

Air chief marshal Arup Raha has said that it is critical to keep the $25 billion (Rs 1,50,000 crore) French Rafale fighter deal on schedule as the IAF cannot afford any more delays.

Raha’s comments are significant as the Eurofighter consortium, backed by four European countries, is trying to re-enter the race to sell its Typhoon fighters to India.

The Germany-led consortium has come up with a revised proposal — sweetened with a discount — to sell 126 Typhoons to India, despite losing the world’s biggest fighter contract to Dassault Aviation, which makes the Rafale fighter, two-and-a-half years ago.

In an exclusive interview to HT, Raha said, “It will not be appropriate to make any changes in the process. The current government has set the pace of work and things are moving fast enough on the fighter deal.”

The IAF chief refused to set a deadline for signing the Rafale deal but said “it’s going to happen soon”. India had selected Rafale fighters over Typhoons in January 2012 after Dassault Aviation emerged as the lowest bidder.

“Rafale has run through the finish line. It’s too late in the day to parachute into the race. The door is closed,” a senior defence ministry official said on the counteroffer made by the European consortium.

If India were to sign the Rafale deal today, the IAF will induct the last of the 126 fighters only by 2025. The acquisition is crucial as China is modernising its air force at a ripping pace.

The official said there was no provision in defence procurement rules to re-open the fighter competition at this stage to the consortium — backed by Germany, the UK, Italy and Spain. It can make a comeback only if India is willing to scrap the deal and start from scratch.

The process of buying advanced fighters began in 2001, leading to the defence ministry floating a global tender to six foreign vendors in August 2007.

The consortium had made a counteroffer to the United Arab Emirates to sell 60 Typhoons but talks to seal the deal collapsed last December. It was competing with Rafale for the UAE order.

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Pentagon chief to head to Saudi, Israel next week

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will fly to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel next week for talks that are expected to focus on Iran’s nuclear program and Syria’s civil war, officials said Friday.

“This trip will be the secretary’s third to the Middle East in just over a year, and it will advance America’s regional strategy in that region,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby told a news conference.

The tour was part of “our effort to work in a coordinated manner with allies and partners across the region to address common security challenges,” Kirby said.

US officials have struggled to reassure Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia, over an interim nuclear deal with Iran that the Saudis worry will embolden Tehran. The Gulf governments have also been dissatisfied with Washington’s cautious approach to arming rebel forces in Syria.

In Saudi Arabia, Hagel was due to meet with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) defense ministers, a session he proposed during his visit to the region in December, Kirby said.

The meeting will offer a chance for Hagel “to underscore US security commitments in the Middle East and to reinforce the United States’ unstinting policy of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and further destabilizing the region,” Kirby said.

It will be the first US-GCC meeting of defense ministers since 2008, according to Kirby.

The gathering of Gulf ministers will also focus on coordinating “air and missile defense, maritime security and cyber defense,” he said.

From Saudi Arabia, Hagel will travel to Jordan, where he will meet his counterpart there to discuss the raging civil war in neighboring Syria.

“This visit will highlight the US commitment to the defense of Jordan, where more than 1,000 US personnel are on the ground working closely with Jordanian defense authorities,” Kirby said.

Hagel will wrap up his regional tour in Israel, where he is due to meet President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon.

In Israel, Hagel planned to discuss efforts to bolster Israel’s rocket and missile defenses, Kirby said.

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Japan defense chief puzzled by Russian warplanes

By on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Japan’s defence minister said Sunday there have been an “abnormal” number of flights by Russian military aircraft close to Japanese islands in recent days.

The country’s air defence force scrambled fighter jets for seven days in a row through Saturday after spotting Russian military planes flying along the Japanese archipelago, according to the defence ministry.

On Friday six Russian TU-95 bombers were seen flying two by two, with one pair moving around the Okinawan islands and then going north along Japan’s Pacific coast.

The two other pairs flew over the Sea of Japan (East Sea). None of the flights intruded into Japanese airspace.

“They are continuing flights, which we deem as abnormal and were unseen even in the Cold War era,” Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters after attending a ceremony in Okinawa to inaugurate an airborne early warning squadron.

The minister, according to footage on public broadcaster NHK, added that Russia’s intentions were unclear and Japanese defence officials based in Russia have been trying to check them.

“We are closely monitoring the situation,” Onodera said.

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US would ‘help’ Philippines in South China Sea: Navy chief

The United States will “help” the Philippines in the event that China occupies disputed islands in the South China Sea, the US Chief of Naval Operations said Thursday.

Admiral Jonathan Greenert also stressed that the US would honour its mutual defence treaty with the Philippines amid a seething territorial conflict with China over the resource-rich waters.

“Of course we would help you. I don’t know what that help would be, specifically. I mean we have an obligation because we have a treaty,” he told students at a state defence college during a visit to Manila.

His remarks — one of the strongest US declarations of support for the Philippines — come as concerns rise that China will attempt to forcefully assert its claim to almost all of the South China Sea.

China’s claim conflicts with that of the Philippines, which has a 1951 treaty with the United States that officials say bind the two partners to defend each other in case of external attack.

The United States has not taken a stand on the conflicting territorial claims over the South China Sea, which also involve Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

But Admiral Greenert said that he wanted to send a “clear signal… that aggressive behaviour outside of international norms is contrary to good order.”

“You may have seen some statements coming from our policy makers exactly in that direction. You will see more of that from us,” he added.

He also said that the US Navy would increase its presence in the Western Pacific region from the present level of about 50 ships to 60 ships by 2020.

In December, during a visit to the Philippines, US Secretary of State John Kerry warned China against any move to declare an air defence zone in the South China Sea, a declaration that was seen as an affirmation of the defence ties between Manila and Washington.

Greenert also praised the Philippines’ move to ask a UN tribunal to strike down China’s claims to most of the South China Sea, saying it was “a terrific idea.”

He urged the Philippines “to stay the course and bring this to fruition,” even though China has refused to participate in the process.

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