Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Washington and Seoul ready for War Games

SEOUL — U.S. and South Korean troops are preparing for their annual joint war games in coming weeks, an official said Jan. 25, despite the sensitive power transition underway in North Korea.
The two countries “are preparing for the Key Resolve exercise,” a U.S. military spokesman told AFP, adding the schedule was not finalized.
South Korea’s defense ministry declined to comment. Media reports said the exercises — which the North blasts as warmongering — would go ahead as scheduled.
Pyongyang last year threatened a military response to the fortnight-long Key Resolve computerized drill, which is normally followed by a joint air, ground and naval training exercise known as Foal Eagle lasting several weeks.
The exercises last year involved 12,300 U.S. troops and some 200,000 South Korean service members, including reservists. They passed off without incident.
Seoul and Washington, which bases 28,500 troops in the South, say the drills are defensive and routine but the North habitually terms them a rehearsal for invasion.
It has taken a hostile tone with the South since its leader Kim Jong-Il died Dec. 17 and was replaced by his youngest son Jong-Un.
The new leader has been appointed armed forces chief and has visited several units in an apparent attempt to burnish his military credentials.
This year’s Key Resolve will start Feb. 27, the Korea JoongAng Daily newspaper reported.
“It’s true that we have weighed whether we should go ahead with the exercise or not after North Korean leader Kim’s death at the end of last year,” an unidentified senior Seoul official was quoted as saying.
“But the North’s wintertime drills are continuing and the military threats still persist, so we’ve decided to go ahead with our military exercise as scheduled.”
North Korea’s air force has conducted more training than normal this winter despite Kim’s death, Yonhap news agency said on Tuesday.
On Jan. 25 Yonhap also quoted sources as saying Key Resolve would start Feb. 27 and continue for two weeks.
Pyongyang’s new regime has vowed retaliation against Seoul for alleged disrespect during the mourning period for its late leader.
Cross-border tensions have been high since the South accused the North of torpedoing a warship with the loss of 46 lives in March 2010.
The North denied involvement but eight months later shelled a border island and killed four South Koreans.

Austria trains Conscript

BONN — Austria is launching three pilot projects to professionalize its conscription armed forces. Over the next month, three units and six military properties will be organized to work without conscripts, Austrian Defense Minister Norbert Darabos announced.
In Lower Austria and in Salzburg, two pioneer companies will be formed on the basis of a volunteer militia. Soldiers who sign up will receive a yearly bonus of 5,000 euros ($6,474). At the same time, they commit themselves to serve about two weeks per year in exercises or on operations inside the country.
The enlistment will run from February until June, and both units are supposed to be ready for operation by 2013. Darabos said this will increase the strength and professionalism of the existing militia system.
“Both companies will do more exercises, be quicker deployable and get a bonus for performed services,” he said.
Until July, the Jägerbataillon 25, an air-deployable infantry unit, stationed in Klagenfurt, will be reorganized to operate with professional and regular soldiers. Full readiness should be achieved by July 2014. More than 350 professional and regular soldiers will be added to its current cadre of 150 professional soldiers.
The 350 conscripts who perform routine jobs as so-called system upholders in different properties will be transferred to the forces and the military core business, as Darabos put it. Currently, 60 percent of all conscripts are serving as ordinances, drivers and other kinds of aides. Their current duties will be partly outsourced, replaced by technical means or civil servants and trainees. This process is to start in the second half of 2012.
“With those projects, we make the militia more attractive and stronger, we reduce the system upholders, and we increase the operational readiness drastically,” Darabos said at a joint press conference with the Austrian chief of the General Staff, Edmund Entacher, and the commander of the Armed Forces, Günter Höfler on Jan. 23 in the Austrian capital Wien.
The Austrian military wants these pilot projects to provide experience in fields such as operational readiness, recruitment and professionalization.
“Operation has the highest priority for the forces,” said Höfler: “Everything that increases the operational readiness is welcomed.”
The money needed for these projects is to come from the defense budget itself.

Austrailian Black Hawks resume Sorties

MELBOURNE — Australia’s fleet of Black Hawk combat helicopters returned to the skies Jan. 24 after being temporarily grounded Jan. 20 over safety concerns surrounding fractured bolts.
The defect was found during routine maintenance of an Army S-70A-9.
The defective bolts were found on the drive shaft between the engine and transmission, and a fleetwide suspension of flying was ordered following concerns that all power could have been lost to the engine if the bolts failed entirely.
The Black Hawk is a twin-engined helicopter.
The only helicopters allowed to operate during the period were three assigned to Joint Task Force 631 in Timor Leste to provide emergency aero-medical evacuations for International Stabilization Force personnel if required.
The Royal Australian Navy’s 16 S-70B-2 Seahawks were not affected by the grounding order.
Speaking at the time, Col. Stephen Evans, acting director general Aviation, said, “The precautionary suspension will remain in place to allow an investigation into the cause of the fracture to be completed.”
During the investigation, Chris Clapperton, director of Maritime and Asia Strategies for Sikorsky Aerospace Services, noted, “The bolt that failed is a general aviation hardware bolt that is not manufactured by Sikorsky; we are assisting the Australian Army with their investigation into the cause of the failure.”
In an announcement that flying would resume Jan. 24, Maj. Gen. Michael Slater, commander of Forces Command (Army Operational Airworthiness Authority), said, “The engineering investigation has indicated the defective bolts were confined to a single manufacturer’s batch and were not a fleetwide issue. The defective batch of bolts has been quarantined from use.
“The precautionary suspension has been lifted following airworthiness advice from the Technical Airworthiness Authority. The suspension demonstrates Army’s commitment to safety. The temporary safety precaution was affected while a thorough engineering investigation was carried out following discovery of the defective bolts.”
Australia has 34 Black Hawks, including the three in Timor Leste, but the type is being replaced by the European MRH 90 Multi-Role Helicopter, being assembled in Australia by Eurocopter subsidiary Australian Aerospace.

Cherming eyes growth in Mid East and Asia

LONDON — British-based Chemring, which produces munitions countermeasures, managed to grow its non-NATO business on the back of a huge rise in munitions sales in the Middle East and Asia, the company announced as it rolled out 2011 results on Jan. 24.
With austerity measures reducing defense spending across the alliance, Chemring said it is succeeding in building its non-NATO order book, but the downturn is threatening further rationalization in its key U.S. business, the company said.
Companies’ abilities to grow their businesses outside of depressed North American and European markets will likely be a growing theme as they turn to burgeoning spending in South America, the Middle East and Asia.
“The continuing problems of the Eurozone and the impact of possible sequestration in the U.S. indicate that our traditional markets will not be any easier this year. We continue to pursue our policy of reducing our dependence on these markets,” Chemring chairman Peter Hickson said in a statement.
Chemring reckons there will be a boom in the South Asia market until at least 2015 and says the major economies in South America will see defense budgets grow between 6 and 16 percent a year. The Middle East will see a 3.5 percent rise in defense budgets until 2015, Chemring said
“It’s encouraging to note that 44 percent of today’s order book emanates from non-NATO markets, compared with 33 percent at the same time last year,” Hickson said.
Overall, the company-reported revenues rose 25 percent to 745 million pounds ($1.16 billion). Non-NATO revenues rose 81 percent to 29 percent of total revenue compared with 20 percent in the previous year. Organic growth accounted for 9 percent of the total revenue growth.
Underlying profit before tax was up 6 percent to 125 million pounds ($194 million) even though the company reported pressure on margins across all of its business sectors.
It wasn’t all good news in the non-NATO markets, though. Chemring had to rely on a 216 percent rise in munitions sales to the Middle East and Far East to achieve its figures with countermeasures and pyrotechnics, both registering hefty reductions across the regions.
The company said it is looking to form a countermeasures joint venture in Saudi Arabia later this year and is looking for a similar arrangement in Brazil in a non-specified sector.
The picture is not so positive in its principal market. Chemring said it is looking at further possible rationalization of its business in the U.S.
The company closed an Alloy Surfaces countermeasures plant in the U.S. last year with the loss of 120 jobs and said it was reviewing further site rationalization at Alloy and Niitek, its strong growing counter-IED business.
Chemring was hard hit by a 31 percent slump in helicopter and transport-aircraft flares demand from NATO nations. The reduction was more severe than anticipated, said the company.
The U.S. markets accounted for 43 percent of Chemring revenues last year.

Yemeni Soldiers seek Air Chief 's Dismissal

SANAA — Thousands of soldiers continued sit-ins Jan. 24 for a second day in Yemen demanding the “official” ouster of the Air Force commander they accuse of corruption, AFP correspondents and military officials said.
They are demanding the dismissal of Gen. Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmar, a half brother of President Ali Abdullah Saleh who left Yemen on Jan. 22 for the United States following a year-long uprising against his 33 years in power.
A military panel formed to restructure Yemeni forces based on a Gulf-brokered power transfer plan signed by Saleh has replaced Ahmar, appointing retired Gen. Abdullah al-Yadoumi in his place, the opposition said Jan. 24.
But the soldiers insist on continuing their protests until Ahmar is dismissed by an official decree.
“We want a republican decree appointing a new Air Force commander to ensure” Ahmar does not return, protesting officer Abdullah al-Harbani told AFP.
The soldiers gathered in Sanaa’s northern district, outside the residence of Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi — who will replace Saleh following Feb. 21 elections — AFP correspondents said.
Similar sit-ins took place at military bases in the provinces of Lahij in the south, Hadramawt in the east and in Taez — Yemen’s second-largest city located southwest of Sanaa, military officials said.
“We demand the departure of Mohammed Saleh al-Ahmar. We will not negotiate with anyone as long as this corrupt commander is in office,” said a soldiers’ spokesman, accusing him of having “transformed the army into a private institution.”
Dozens of soldiers who have participated in the protests were arrested Jan. 23 at the bases of Anad in Lahij and Tariq in Taez, military officials said.
Anti-corruption strikes have spread across several military and government departments in the impoverished country where the economy is on the brink of collapse after a year of protests.
Since Saleh took office in 1978, he has carefully chosen members of his regime, appointing his relatives to head the country’s military and security apparatus. In addition to his son and half brother, Saleh’s nephew Yehya commands the central security services and Tariq, another nephew, controls the presidential guard.