Situation in the field of national security and defense of Belarus (September 2016)

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The most important events of the month. September was a month of Azerbaijan for Belarus. September 20-23, at the initiative of Azerbaijanian side, Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus Stanislav Zas visited Baku. 9/22/2016 S. Zas met with the Minister of Defense of Azerbaijan Zakir Gasanov. They discussed the prospects of development of cooperation in the military sphere between the two countries, especially in the military-technical, and in the sphere of military education.

23/09/2016 Belarusian delegation was received by the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev. They discussed issues of bilateral cooperation in the legal sphere as well as defense matters during the meeting.

A great number of domestically produced products of military-industrial complex were represented during the international defense exhibition ADEX-2016 held on September 27-30 in Baku. The products included also heavy multiple rocket launcher systems (hereinafter as MRLS) «Polonaise». The fielding of missiles for MLRS «Polonaise» with the maximum use of a range of 300 km was announced for the first time.

Belarusian military delegation headed by the Minister of Defense Andrey Ravkov visited Azerbaijan during the exhibition. 28/09/2016 the defense ministries of Belarus and Azerbaijan signed a cooperation plan for 2017. In this regard the Minister of Defense of Azerbaijan Z. Gasanov expressed his gratitude to Minsk for the support of Baku’s position on the international markets in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. A. Ravkov in his turn, noted the friendly nature of the relations between Belarus and Azerbaijan and the importance of bilateral cooperation in military, military-technical spheres as well as in the sphere of military education. It is worth noting that the Belarusian information sources decided to “forget” about the Karabakh topic while reporting about the Defense Minister’s visit to Azerbaijan.

Belarusian military delegation was received by the President Ilham Aliev. The Azerbaijanian leader said that the military cooperation between our countries is developing successfully; Azerbaijanian experts are satisfied with the high quality and reliability of the Belarusian equipment. I. Aliyev also said that the demonstration of Belarusian equipment at ADEX-2016 exhibition will allow the Azerbaijanian side to determine the possible spheres of bilateral cooperation.

The dynamics of the situation in the past month. The fact of adopting of Russian-made three-dimensional long-range radar system (hereinafter as LRRS) «Protivnik» by the Belarusian army as the initial phase of a missile defense system development is confirmed (source). The Belarusian military leaders recognized that after equipping all the radio-technical battalions with this LRRS, the reconnaissance system of non-strategic missile defense will be created.

It was reported in September that the Belarusian National Academy of Sciences works out unmanned combat air vehicle (hereinafter as UCAV) on the basis of «Burevestnik-MB». The new UCAV will be armed with two small unmanned air vehicles-«kamikaze» able to conduct reconnaissance and surveillance, and detecting a goal — will hit it. An armed version of the UCAV «Burevestnik-MB» will also receive unguided rockets.

Last month, training for the territorial defense to improve skills for the management of territorial troops was held in Gomel region.

06/09/2016 a meeting of the Council of Ministers of Internal Affairs of the CIS countries took place. By the results some decisions were taken: the establishment of a united mechanism for the investigation of stolen vehicles on the Commonwealth territory; provision of security during the international events; approval of the algorithm of cooperation to combat trafficking of new psychoactive, psychotropic substances and narcotic drugs as well as other hazardous chemicals similar by the effects on the human body. One of the topics of the meeting was the question of reacting to the extremist threats and opposition to the involvement of CIS citizens into participation in the armed conflict in the Middle East. Today the countries of the Commonwealth search for over 5 thousand persons related to the terrorist activity.

14/09/2016 during an interview with the Russian news agency, Alexander Lukashenko said that the current number of the Belarusian army amounts to 75 thousand people. And it’s planned to be reduced to 55 thousand.

The most large-scale event of the month was the command post exercise (hereinafter referred CPE) which involved almost all security agencies of Belarus. CPE was held at dozens of landfills across the country. We have dedicated a separate article to this event (source). However, some features of the training are worth reviewing more.

The topic of CPE: «Management of grouped Armed Forces, other troops and military formations during a special operation aimed at the stabilization of the situation in some crisis areas of the country». It was emphasized that the plan regarded the stabilization of the situation by own forces without applying to the allies. Also the exercise concentrated mostly at opposition to internal threats rather than external.

For the first time so many UCAVs were used: «Moskit», «Berkut-2», «Formula» and «Busel».

At the airport Borovtsy near Polotsk the army practiced the occupation, possession and release of the object. In the role of «invaders» were the servicemen of the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (hereinafter referred MVD). After taking an object, they tried to restrain it, practicing the aspects of security and defense of critical facilities. Whereas members of the Armed Forces practiced actions to block the conditional enemy and to release the airfield.

Mechanized divisions together with paratroopers practiced the release of the populated area. For which the means of radio detection were used. In this case the opponent (illegal armed group) used a UCAV.

The training regarded practice of the management of army divisions and MVD in the course of joint operation for blocking the conditional inhabited settlement occupied by illegal armed groups, the withdrawal of the civilian population and the subsequent clearing operation.

Army units and Special Forces of MVD jointly protected the important facilities. This problem was solved in view of the protest of the local population and aiding the enemy on the part of members of the protected object.

The training regarded the protection and defense of the conditional state border, the organization of checkpoints and roadblocks to prevent the penetration of enemy forces. UCAVs were used for the protection of the border.

One of the episodes of CPE should be highlighted: some radical extremists captured the equipment and weapons, including artillery, in one of the military units. With its use they began combat operations. Artillery positions of extremists were destroyed by combat training aircraft Yak-130.

Belarusian military was opposed by the illegal armed groups, sabotage and reconnaissance groups as well as by «…the so-called self-defense forces». We should also mention practicing of fire strikes on human settlements with the task of applying the least harm to the civilian population and infrastructure. It is noted that this was the main feature of the artillery training during the last CPE.

Army Corps conducted the engineering reconnaissance of highways in order to prevent acts of sabotage on the main road arteries of the country.

Radio-electronic reconnaissance of radio network of conditional enemy was constantly conducted. Different forces and means were used to find and destroy enemy units (radio electronic reconnaissance, air reconnaissance using UCAVs, ground and helicopter search assault groups).

Although training was supposed to eliminate the internal threats to national security, however, air defense systems were actively used during the CPE. And also training simulated an attempt to stop the violation of the state border not only on land but also in the airspace.

The illustrative parameter is the share of representatives of different branches of service in the CPE. So, the Special operations forces involved about two thousand military men and more than one hundred pieces of equipment. Communication units were actively involved: more than 1500 of soldiers and 300 pieces of equipment. This was the largest involvement of communicators both by the expanded communications capacity, and by the area coverage. New means of communication, including the national system of satellite communication «Belintersat», were tested during the CPE.

The greatest attention of media was attracted by the formation of territorial forces (hereinafter referred to TF) in bordering with Russia Gorki district, Mogilev region, as well as working out measures to strengthen border security with its participation.

It is declared that the objectives of CPE were achieved. Especially in the area of interaction between all security agencies. Although this is not the first training of interdepartmental character (interdepartmental feature is common for most large-scale trainings after 2000), the first command posts of the enforcement agencies worked in the fields.

20/09/2016 in New York, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus Vladimir Makey met with the Deputy Assistant of the Minister of Defense of USA Michael Carpenter to discuss questions of interaction between Belarus and the United States in the military sphere, as well as the establishment of a direct dialogue between the military departments of the two countries in the context of rising tensions in Eastern Europe. The situation in the region became a topic of discussion during the meeting of Vladimir Makey and the Assistant of Secretary of State of USA Victoria Nuland.

Shortly after the CPE since 27.09.2016, the revision of the 147th air defense missile brigade of the Air Forces and Air Defense Forces started, accompanied by a call for military service of reserve.

September 28-30, A. Lukashenko was on a state visit to China where a number of bilateral documents were signed, including the cooperation agreement (the road map) between the State Military Industrial Committee of Belarus and China Corporation of Aerospace Science and Technology (CASC).

29.09.2016 the 15th session of the joint Belarusian-Vietnamese commission on cooperation in the field of defense industry was held. Under discussion were already achieved results, the performance of current projects and future spheres of cooperation.

Summary. It is worth paying attention to the extremely poor information on the visit of Secretary of Security Council of Belarus S. Zas to Azerbaijan. It is clear that the parties could not ignore a recent aggravation in the Armenian-Azerbaijani front and Armenia rearmament for new, including strike arming systems. Baku does not hide the intention to find a balanced response to the supply of Russian tactical missile complexes «Iskander-E» to Armenia. One of the options for Azerbaijan could be the purchase of Belarusian MLRS «Polonaise» equipped with a new missile with a launch range of 300 km.

It is likely that the possibilities of technology transfer from China to Belarus, as part of MLRS «Polonaise» development, come to their limit. This is due both to the requirements for control Regime for missile technologies and political factors. China avoids a direct connection to the Regime, but has taken the appropriate obligations in the framework of political dialogue with the United States. Although the mass of the payload of missiles used in the MLRS «Polonaise» is obviously less than 500 kg (established by the Regime terms as a limiter), the political consequences of the transfer of technologies and components for the munitions with a range greater than 300 km may be sensitive for China. It should be remembered that the MLRS «Polonaise» – is just one of the directions of the national missile program. And China – is just one of the potential partners on a par with Ukraine, Turkey and Pakistan.

The fact of receiving of Belarusian military delegation by Mr. Aliev is not just a protocol event. The President of Azerbaijan personally received delegations of just three countries within the exhibition ADEX-2016: Turkey, Pakistan and Belarus, which means a high level of cooperation between Minsk and Baku.

LRRS «Protivnik» shipped to Belarus can track up to 200 targets at altitudes of up to 150 km and 450 km range. It should be mentioned that according to other official information, LRRS can detect targets at altitudes of up to 125 km. However the manufacturer specifies the maximum altitude of target detection of 200 km. Inconsistency in parameters can be explained as the difference between the stated and the actual confirmed characteristics as well as by the fact that Belarus was provided by the LRRS of export (limited) version.

The development of striking version of the UCAV «Burevestnik» is most likely being held in the interest of one of the Asian countries. Potential customers are Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Vietnam. Azerbaijan have experience of unmanned air vehicles-«kamikaze» made in Israel during the last aggravating conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. The advantage of Belarusian products can be lower price.

Regarding the statements of A. Lukashenko in September about the size of the national army, it should be noted that as of 01.03.2016 the nominal number of Belarusian army was 64 932 people, including 50 525 military men and 14 407 civilian personnel. During the period from February 2014 the number of the army increased by 10% (source). Thus, the statement of Aleksander Lukashenko regarding the reduction of the Belarusian army to 55 000 likely means the increase in the number of military by 10% more.

The main tasks practiced during the CPE were: the deployment of control centers of almost all law enforcement agencies and coordination of their actions by the General Staff; the formation of interdepartmental groups of various law enforcement agencies; protection of military command and control centers and important transport and economic targets; ensuring the sustainability of military communication systems and forces during combat operations; conducting continuous reconnaissance and radio air; protection against air strikes; special actions, including in urban areas, with artillery; organization of movement of large masses of civil population.

On the basis of the known facts it seems that the CPE joined together a number of scenarios which on the one hand can be considered separately, but at the same time are typical for any large-scale armed conflict: occupation and retention of settlements and important objects, moving masses of population, border security, law and order, destruction/damage of dangerous objects. CPE took into account the experience of conflicts in recent years. So, teaching episodes can include not only the Crimea and Donbas, but also Aleppo, Misurata, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan. It all depends on the level of awareness and ideological preferences of the observer.

The trainings practiced algorithms of reaction to scenarios that are usually only indirectly tied to a particular location. Therefore, the practice of working out problems in the past CPE can be correlated with any direction, not only with the eastern.

Speaking about the formation of TF department in Mogilev it is worth reminding that in recent years the trainings of territorial troops were held at all the front borders of the country except Brest and Mogilev. So nothing unexpected has happened: unified training plans for territorial defense demand the same competence from local authorities in all regions of the country.

During the CPE the military learned to interact with other security agencies in the resolution of crises situations, some of which are uncommon for the army. At the same time it was stated that the crisis situations were practiced within the country. It captures changes in the Armed Forces in the light of the newly adopted Military Doctrine (source). Now the army is responsible for a much wider range of tasks than simply protecting the country from external aggression. That does not mean the decline of confidence on the part of A. Lukashenko to other law enforcement agencies. The experience of recent conflicts, including the Russian-Ukrainian, demonstrates the need for a clear allocation of the body responsible for the coordination and management of all national security and defense system in crisis situation.

The contradiction between the statements that during the CPE the military practiced the neutralization of internal threats and active use of air defense systems, as well as practicing of measures to strengthen border protection against the penetration from the outside, may have two explanations:

— either the task was to «mask» trainings dedicated to parrying of external threats for political reasons (Belarusian military regularly exercise opposition to extremists equipped with armored vehicles, shock and transport helicopters, etc.);

— or the idea of training included armed revolts accompanied by the transition of units of the security forces on the side of the rebels.

It is impossible to determine now which explanation is preferable: Belarusian authorities are skeptical about the prospects of the national economy for the foreseeable perspective. In September, the training to suppress the civil disorder by police was held at one of the industrial enterprises of Minsk. It is common that the «rebels» chanted «Work! Work!» But actions of the police were observed by the senior civilian officials responsible for economic issues.

The Belarusian authorities are trying to get the problems of democracy and human rights out of the Belarusian-American dialogue replacing them by regional security issues. The economic crisis in Belarus, the compression of the Russian financial support and the need for additional external financing forced the official Minsk to be more active in the western direction.

Destabilization of the situation in the region is more a background than the reason. The fact that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus is discussing military cooperation with the Pentagon is an indirect evidence of receiving powers by Belarusian diplomats for cooperation between Minsk and the NATO countries. The renewal of practical cooperation on a limited number of issues (peacekeeping, language and medical training, humanitarian demining, and the like) can be expected between the Belarusian military and Alliance. However, there is no reason for talking about the turn of Belarus to the West. Rather, there is a gradual drift from Russia caused by the objective reasons. And it is far from clear that this drift is in a westerly direction.

Belarusian authorities are trying to use the current crisis of regional security as a tool to normalize relations with the West, which requires also a demonstration of independence of Belarus in the field of defense with the purpose to disavow the statements of the critical dependence of Minsk from the Kremlin in this area. It is noteworthy that in the light of September CPE, Belarusian Ministry of Defense held a briefing for the first time conducted by NATO standards for the representatives of military and diplomatic corps.

CASC is a longtime partner of the Belarusian defense industry. This corporation assisted the creation of national satellite communication system «Belintersat», which became the basis of a digital communication system of the state military organization. In addition CASC is active in the development and production of air defense systems, MLRS, different precision-guided munitions, including air explosives, UCAVs. So, of those products which are of high interest for national defense. It is worth mentioning that on the agenda — the question of increase of «Belintersat» system by 1-2 satellites.

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