China’s energy crisis went from bad to worse on Friday with coal prices hitting another record high. With winter now on the horizon and high oil and gas prices forecast, China is now in talks with US LNG suppliers to secure long term contracts. Beijing has been moving frantically to turn the tide in China’s favor. Domestic coal output was raised, and supplies to industries that use high levels of coal have been cut. The current energy crisis is having a detrimental effect on the Chinese economy, which is also suffering from crises in sectors aside from energy. Monthly industrial production is weakening and the uncertainty surrounding Evergrande continues on. These factors weigh heavily on investors and the Chinese government.
Meanwhile, on the other side of Taiwan Strait, the Taiwanese government wants to accelerate the delivery of F-16 fighters. 22 aircraft were purchased in 2019 and normally it takes an average of seven years for the delivery to be completed. Given the recent surge in tensions with China, Taiwan has inquired about the possibility of an early delivery.
Tensions between India and Pakistan are at their highest level in decades after India launched airstrikes against a militant group’s training camps in Pakistani territory. These strikes were in retaliation for the terrorist attack on 14 February that killed 40 Indian paramilitary troops in Pulwama. The militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) claimed responsibility for the attack, and it was JeM’s camps that the Indian Air Force targeted and struck. Violence in the Kashmir region increased following the 14 February attack, with militant groups on both sides making cross-border raids.
Tuesday’s air strike was the first time Indian aircraft have violated the Line of Control (LoC) since 1971. The attack was made by 12 Indian Air Force Mirage 2000s. Multiple suspected JeM camps were hit with 1000kg bombs. The Mirages were escorted by Su-30MKI Flanker-H fighters. There was no engagement between Indian and Pakistani fighters.
On Wednesday, the Pakistani F-16s violated Indian air space and struck targets in close proximity to Indian Army positions. Pakistan claims it shot down two Indian MiG-21s that responded to the airspace violation, while India is claiming it shot down a Pakistani F-16. Apparently one Indian pilot is in the custody of the Pakistani authorities or armed forces. The fate of the second pilot is unknown.
The responses to the events of the last two days from Islamabad and New Delhi and been measured, and urge restraint. Whether or not these words become action remains to be seen. Predictably, the rest of the world is also urging restraint. Pakistan and India are both nuclear powers as well as bitter rivals. The fact that both nations have nuclear weapons adds a new dimension to the current crisis.
There will be regular updates on the crisis in Kashmir in the coming hours, and if anything major should develop it will be reported.
This week will mark the end of NATO’s current Baltic Air Policing rotation which stood began in September, 2017. USAFE F-15C Eagles of the 493d Fighter Squadron spent the rotation operating from Šiauliai air base in Lithuania, and Belgian F-16A MLU Falcons flew from Amari air base in Estonia. Later this week Danish F-16AMs will replace the US fighters, and Italian Air Force Typhoons will assume BAP duties from the Belgians. The September-January time period was a busy time in the air over the Baltics. US fighters were scrambled 30 times to intercept Russian aircraft flying near the airspace of the Baltic nations. Most of the activity took place in September around the time of Zapad ’17. Overall, the numbers are similar to those of recent BAP rotations, but still significantly higher than what they were in the days before Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and involvement in the Ukraine conflict.
The Baltic States are not the only area NATO conducts air policing missions. Iceland is another. The USAF ended the practice of rotating fighter squadrons to Keflavik in 2006. Shortly thereafter, Russian aircraft began to make incursions into Icelandic airspace. As a result, NATO stood up the Icelandic Air Policing mission in 2008 and has been rotating fighter detachments from member nations ever since.
The air policing rotations safeguard the sovereignty of air space for member nations that do not possess their own air arms, as well as provide valuable experience for pilots and ground personnel deployed. In a time of crisis, the numbers of NATO fighters operating from the Baltics and Iceland would increase. Therefore, it is heartening to know that there is a good amount of aircrews and support personnel who are familiar with operating from these locations.
The next Baltic Air Policing rotation will run from this coming week until May, 2018.
With Zapad 17, the major Russian military exercise that has the Baltic states. and Eastern Europe on edge, set to begin in two weeks, US airpower is making an appearance in the region. NATO’s Baltic Air Police mission has just gone through a rotation of forces. Spanish F-18s and Polish F-16s, which have guarded the airspace of Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia over the summer of ’17 have been replaced by a contingent of 4 Belgian F-16s and 4 USAF F-15C Eagles. The Belgian -16s will be based at Amari Air Base in Estonia while the US fighters bed down at Šiauliai Air Base in Lithuania. The US will assume overall mission command for this BAP rotation, which will run from 30 August until late December, 2017 or early January, 2018. The US F-15s belong to the 493rd Fighter Squadron based at RAF Lakenheath. The squadron, like its parent unit the 48th Fighter Wing, is no stranger to deployments. Its aircraft have taken part in air policing rotations in the Baltic and Iceland in recent years.
With Zapad 17 coming closer, Russian air activity over the Baltic Sea has been increasing. The number of interceptions carried out by NATO over the summer was larger than it had been at the same time last year. Since the Russian annexation of Crimea, and the start of fighting in Ukraine, the Russian air force has kept NATO Baltic Air Police pilots on their toes. As tension goes, so does the number of interceptions. If the numbers lately are any indication, relations between NATO and Russia are anything but harmonious at the moment.
Tensions between Turkey and Russia are simmering in the wake of Tuesday’s shoot-down of a Russian Su-24 Fencer fighter bomber by a Turk F-16 after it strayed into Turkish airspace. Russia has claimed that its aircraft never crossed the border and was not issued radio warnings, as claimed by the Turks. Turkey, in response, released audio recordings that indicate the Su-24 was warned several times and did not respond to requests that it alter course.
Now, following the incident, Russia is moving forward with the deployment of a battery of long range SAMs to Syria. The SA-21 Growler (S-400) is an effective air defense system with a range of 250 miles. From where the battery is being placed outside of Latakia, its range enables it to cover a large swath of airspace over the Eastern Mediterranean, including portions of southern Turkey. Along with the SAM deployment, Russian attack jets will now be provided with fighter escorts for their missions against Syrian rebel positions. These moves, it is hoped by Moscow, will deter any future Turkish actions against Russian aircraft.
Turkey has rejected Russian demands for an apology, emphatically sticking to its position that the Russian aircraft violated Turkish airspace. Meanwhile, Russia is apparently preparing to slap Turkey with economic sanctions. This is a significant step considering that the two nations have important economic connections. Russia is Turkey’s second largest trading partner and will, predictably, feel the pinch quite soon if sanctions are placed in effect.
On the bright side, it is a a relief to see that Russia is seeking to even the score with economic measures instead of military action. But the movement of SA-21 missiles into Syria is a sign that any future clash between Turkish and Russian aircraft will run the risk of cascading into a much larger confrontation.