Egyptian, Saudi Air Forces Conduct Joint Drill to Support Arab Action


Cairo- Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, speaking at an economic inclusion conference held in Sharm El Sheikh on Thursday, described what is happening in his country as “unprecedented.”

The world’s “most important” forum on financial inclusion kicked off in Egypt’s Sharm El-Sheikh on Thursday, with a keynote address by Sisi.

“The Egyptian people are engaged in two battles of utmost importance—the four-years-on-end battle fought against terrorism humbly, not only for self-defense, but on behalf of the world and that fought for development,” said Sisi.

The Egyptian and Saudi air forces started on Thursday the joint military drill “Faisal 11,” which Egypt is hosting for several days, the Egyptian armed forces announced.

The air forces from the two countries are engaging in military exercises including joint air combat missions using the most up-to-date tactics.

The Faisal 11 drill is the latest in a series of military exercises between Egypt and Saudi Arabia that aim to boost Egyptian-Saudi military cooperation.

More so, the forum at which Sisi spoke is the two-day 9th Global Policy Forum, organized by the International Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI), brings together some 95 states and 119 international financial institutions.

AFI has said the forum is the “largest and most comprehensive event” it has ever held.

The regional initiative uses financial inclusion as a driving force for sustainable economic and social development in alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).

During his address, Sisi stressed the importance of financial inclusion as one of Egypt’s main targets that will help include all citizens, especially women and youth. It should ensure their access to financial services and help in merging the informal economy into the formal one, Sisi added.

This should boost economic growth and improve the living standards of citizens. Sisi noted that Egypt’s budget deficit stood at 9.5 percent during the fourth quarter of the 2016-2017 fiscal year, which ended in June, down from 11.5 percent during the same quarter last year.

During the conference, Egyptian representatives will discuss the country’s experience with financial inclusion, especially with regard to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, Egypt’s state news agency MENA reported.

During his speech in front of the summit, chairman of the board of the Arab Monetary Fund (AMF) Abdel-Rahman Al-Hamidy highlighted the importance of the programs aimed at enhancing financial inclusion in the Arab world.

He also highlighted how momentum towards financial inclusion in the Arab region was reinforced by the regional Financial Inclusion Task Force (FITF) in 2012 and organizing an Arab Financial Inclusion Day to be held annually on April 27.

The official forum was preceded by three days of AFI meetings in Sharm El-Sheikh, including AFI policy working group meetings and the annual AFI general meeting.

The AFI general meeting endorsed the Sharm El-Sheikh Climate Change Accord, which mandates the AFI network to pursue peer learning on practical policy solutions to the intersecting challenges of financial inclusion, climate change and green finance.

War in Space Is Becoming a Real Threat


Among the memorabilia in Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein’s office is a fragment of the Wright brothers’ first airplane. But the most intriguing items may be two small plastic satellites on sticks that can be maneuvered to simulate a dogfight in space.

Space is now a potential battle zone, Goldfein explains in an interview. The Air Force wants to ensure “space superiority,” which he says means “freedom from attack and freedom to maneuver.”

If you think cyberwar raises some tricky issues, get your mind around this next big threat worrying the Pentagon. Similar problems exist in both the cyber and space domains: U.S. commercial and military interests are interwoven but deeply suspicious of each other; the technologies are borderless but are being weaponized by hostile nation-states; and attacks on satellites and other systems may be invisible and difficult to attribute.

Today’s digital world hangs on the satellite networks that invisibly circle the globe. They’re the wiring system for many commercial and military operations down below, and they’re highly vulnerable to attack. Russia has jammed GPS reception in Ukraine; China has hacked U.S. weather satellites; North Korea has jammed signals over the demilitarized zone.

The cloud overhead is thickening: As of mid-2016, the Union of Concerned Scientists counted 1,419 satellites orbiting the globe, including 576 from the United States, 181 from China and 140 from Russia. More than half are in low Earth orbit; most of the rest are geostationary, about 22,000 miles from Earth. Roughly 350 satellites, or 25 percent of the total, are for military use. At least 12 nations now have space-launch capability.

Space warfare has been a staple of science fiction for decades, but real-world fears were checked by a 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which banned the use of nuclear weapons there. But the treaty didn’t ban the use of conventional weapons in space, and Russia began its first anti-satellite weapons program in 1961, according to leading expert Brian Weeden of the Secure World Foundation. After the Cold War ended, fears eased about space conflict.

A wake-up call came with China’s 2007 test of an anti-satellite missile that destroyed a Chinese target in space (creating more than 3,000 dangerous fragments). The Chinese have now conducted a total of eight tests of satellite-killer rockets, Weeden says. Russia, too, has resumed similar tests. The United States is also thought to have what amount to anti-satellite rockets in the “midcourse” leg of its missile-defense system.

Rocket attacks against satellites worry the Pentagon less these days than electronic ones. Satellites could use jammers to sabotage other satellites. Ground systems can already create electronic bubbles that block GPS signals. The Russians used this technology to disable a Ukrainian drone in 2014, according to a report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, cited by Weeden.

Keeping space systems safe is crucial for the planet, but protection is dispersed among a jumble of overlapping and conflicting authorities. The military and the intelligence communities barely talked to each other for decades on this issue, but last year the Air Force created a Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center that will soon have about 200 representatives coordinating operations across agencies.

But military liaison with private space users is still primitive. A “commercial integration cell” at the Air Force Joint Space Operations Center (yes, it’s a different entity) works with six big companies. But most commercial concerns share their satellite-location data through the Space Data Association, based in the Isle of Man. Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration is eager to extend supervision of commercial flights to space activity, said Marcia Smith of Space Policy Online.

The United States is even warier of sharing its space secrets than its communications intelligence. There’s no “Five Eyes” partnership yet, though Britain, Australia and Canada are creating space-operations centers that could someday share data with an Air Force unit that was established 11 years ago. One little-discussed U.S. snooping operation is the Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program, which has four satellites monitoring the other traffic 22,000 miles above the planet.

As on Earth, the hidden danger is hacking, official or otherwise. Orbits can be changed; sensors can be blinded; data can be corrupted. Facts could become as fragile in space as on Earth, if systems aren’t protected. But first, suspicious space mavens must learn to talk with each other.

When space is a battleground, such cooperation is difficult. As Goldfein said in a recent speech, “There really is no such thing as war in space, it’s just war.”

The Washington Post

Speculations on Russian Withdrawal from Syria

Devastation in Homs, Syria - Reuters
Devastation in Homs, Syria – Reuters

PARIS- Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision on withdrawing principal Russian Air force and other units from Syria not only shocked everyone but also took a toll over the atmosphere surrounding the Geneva Syrian peace talks and on political officials, negotiators, and diplomats who attend the negotiations, especially the ceasefire monitoring group and the U.N. Special Envoy to Syria Staffan De Mistura. Since the decision was made public, questions and analysis surfaced as to why the withdrawal took place, why now, and what could the aftermath be? How would the negotiations be affected, noting that U.N. Envoy de Mistura had attended his first official meeting with the Riyadh-based High Negotiations Committee (HNC)?

Western diplomats in Geneva told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that the Russian withdrawal came as a surprise, especially that no indicators were detected beforehand. Sources revealed that the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who last Sunday joined a meeting with his European French, British, German, Italian, and EU representative peers, has not even mentioned the retraction or hinted the possibility. Instead, Kerry had used a spiteful language when deliberating on the Russian hostile violating attitude post ceasefire, expressing U.S. ire towards it. Sources had proposed that perhaps the Russian decision has flabbergasted Washington itself.

However, the same sources pointed out that they would keep short to observing developments until the extent of Russian withdrawal is well-defined, could be interpreted to battlefield terms , and it is clear which units have returned to Russia and which remained in Syria. Sources preferred to keep a careful observatory stance from the happening, given that Russia has been notorious for its hidden surprises.

Western hypotheses suggested that the decision is a punitive measure taken against Syrian President Assad for not cooperating to Moscow’s requests after he felt his stand bettering and becoming stronger presents with the courtesy of Russian intense intervention post September 2015.

Should the guess prove credible, sources explained that Assad would have committed a lethal mistake, given that it was Russia which initially provided him with the political and artillery support when his regime was threatened with defeat.

The other assumption broaches the subject of Russian finances, although the campaign in Syria is considered to be a low-cost one, after accounting for the military devices, technique, and artillery used on the Syrian battlefield.

However, the meantime deteriorating Russian economy, with the declining oil and gas prices aside a suffering budget, could have pushed Putin towards the surprising withdrawal.

The stunning decision on withdrawal is in keep with the approach Putin employed when he decided on the intense intervention.

Sources suggest that Moscow has taken a deterrent tactic for averting new U.S. imposed sanctions. Especially that Kerry had previously mentioned that in case of the ceasefire failing a plan B will be put into effect. Plan B held the potential of being high-up military support presented to the Syrian Opposition, or could go to hitting Russian economy home with imposing new sanctions.

Moscow had excused its intervention in Syria for the purposes of striking what it considers a terrorist organizations, ISIS and al-Nusra Front being the main two. However, the target has not been achieved despite the thousands of Russian airstrikes Launched.

King Salman bin Abdulaziz Keen on Modernizing Saudi Armed Forces

Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attending the graduation ceremony in Riyadh (واس)
Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attending the graduation ceremony in Riyadh (واس)

Speaking at the graduation of the 89th group of cadets from King Faisal Air Academy in Riyadh on Monday, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, second deputy premier and defense minister, confirmed that the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz, supreme commander of the Saudi armed forces, wants the country’s army to be persistently upgraded and improved to face external threats.

The 89th cadet group has succeeded in accomplishing their technical training on the country’s most state-of-the-art jets.

When the Deputy Crown Prince arrived at the venue, he was welcomed by Chief of General Staff Gen. Abdulrahman Al-Bunyan, Acting Commander of Air Forces Air Vice Marshal Mohammed Al-Otaibi and Commander of King Faisal Air Academy Air Vice Marshal Abdullah Al-Qarni.

Air Academy Air Vice Marshal Abdullah Al-Qarni confirmed in at the occasion that all the graduating cadets have met all qualifying requirements. The group has undergone academic and military training in both drill fields and academic classes. Vice Marshal Abdullah congratulated the graduates and wished them to prosper at their assigned Air bases.

He also pointed out that the cadets have been trained to efficiently navigate Pilatus PC-21 panes. Among the trainees were also Qatari cadets.

Prince Mohammed watched a demonstration of training aircraft at the college along with a number of princes, ministers, senior officials, and military attaches.

Russian, US air forces unite for tracking exercise

A photo made Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, over the Bering Strait near Alaska shows a Russian Federation Air Force SU-27 during a simulation of  a hijacking of a passenger plane. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
A photo made Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, over the Bering Strait near Alaska shows a Russian Federation Air Force SU-27 during a simulation of a hijacking of a passenger plane. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

Over Alaska, AP—Flying at 34,000 feet (10,300 meters) over the Bering Strait, the Russian pilots had a singular focus: making sure they smoothly received the hand-off of a “hijacked” jetliner from their US-Canadian counterparts.

Up here, there were no thoughts about strained Russia-US relations over US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, whom Russia granted asylum, or President Barack Obama’s recent canceling of a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The training exercise was to make sure the forces could find, track and escort a hijacked aircraft over international borders.

NORAD is a bi-national command of Canada and the US Its director of operations, Canadian Major Gen. Andre Viens, said Thursday there were never any discussions about canceling the exercise, known as Vigilant Eagle.

It’s been held five times since 2003. But the exercises on Tuesday and Wednesday were the first since US-Russian relations became strained because of Snowden, Syria, human rights and other issues.

“I see no problems,” said Viens’ counterpart, Gen. Major Dmitry Gomenkov, commander of the Aerospace Defense Brigade for eastern Russia.

Col. Patrick Carpentier, the deputy commander of NORAD’s Alaska Region, was an observer on the “hijacked plane” and said the exercise is about cooperation.

“All these other factors really don’t play in this,” said Carpentier, a member of the Canadian Air Force. “This is a mission that we have to accomplish, so it really is beyond those types of frictions. We cooperate because we have to.”

Russian observers were at NORAD facilities in both Alaska and Colorado, while NORAD personnel were sent to Khabarovsk, Russia, to observe the exercise.

The drama played out twice this week over Alaska and eastern Russia, involving the Russian Federation Air Force and, for the first time, Canadian Air Force planes representing NORAD.

It involved a small plane, representative of a 757 passenger jet, being hijacked shortly after taking off from Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

Two Canadian CF-18 Hornets intercepted the hijacked plane and escorted it over Alaska’s western coast, where it was handed off to three Russian Sukhoi (SU-27) fighter jets at the border.

From the handoff over the Bering Strait, which separates Russia from Alaska, the hijacked plane was taken to a Russian Air Force base in Anadyr, Russia.

The exercise was repeated the following day, but with the passenger jet taking off from Russia.

This was the first time the actual hand-off of the hijacked plane occurred. Previous exercises had the NORAD or Russian fighters breaking off at a certain point and the other jets picking up the target later.

Both Viens and Gomenkov deemed the exercise a success.

Al-Qaeda’s air war in Yemen

A plane wreck are seen on the ground as security forces and soldiers gather at the site of a plane crash in Sanaa, Yemen, Monday 13, 2013. Source: AP Photo/Hani Mohammed
A plane wreck are seen on the ground as security forces and soldiers gather at the site of a plane crash in Sanaa, Yemen, Monday 13, 2013. Source: AP Photo/Hani Mohammed

Yemen’s president Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi and the commander of the country’s Air Force, Brigadier Rashid Al-Janad, have responded to recent crashes of military aircraft in Yemen by saying that “bad people” were behind the incidents, as well as the assassination of Yemeni pilots.

Three military airplanes crashed in and around Sana’a over the last few months, the last of which came down in the south of the city last week, killing the pilot. According to reliable sources at a nearby air force base, at least three aircraft have also returned to base with bullet holes in them in previous months.

Two weeks before the latest crash, three military pilots were assassinated by a gunman on a motorcycle while on their way to their work at the air base of Anad, in Lahij province in the south of the country. The man accused of killing the 3 pilots was later reportedly arrested by security authorities, and told his interrogators that he was a “missile.”

“These repeated incidents happening with Air Force indicate that there are centers [of power] who want to destroy the Air Force,” said President Hadi this week, speaking to thousands of officers and soldiers at Al-Dailami Air Base in Sana’a. One day earlier, the commander of Yemeni Air Force, Brigadier Rashid Al-Janad, said in televised interview that the three military airplanes that crashed over Sana’a had been shot down. Brigadier Al-Janad showed pieces of the stricken airplanes with bullet holes in them, which he said proved that someone from Sana’a was shooting them down deliberately. “Now it’s clear to us that there is a conspiracy against the Air Force,” he said.

Shortly after the last crash of a military plane, a Russian-made Sukhoi-22 ground attack jet, military intelligence officers at Anad air base arrested a soldier from Lahij. The soldier, who is now under investigation, was accused of having bombed the main reservoirs of fuel of military airplanes at the base.

The question remains as to who is behind all these incidents, if sabotage and attacks are indeed the cause of the crashes as the government claims. There are several possible culprits: political groups seeking to discredit each other, military personnel who have lost out in the recent reorganizations of the military and security services, and finally Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), who view Yemen’s government and military as agents of American power.

AQAP is growing more and more in the south of Yemen, the most troubled region of the country. Its members know that American trainers and some American Special Forces troops are based at the Anad air base, so it has been always one of AQAP’s targets. The terrorist organization also holds that American drone strikes are enabled by guidance and intelligence from “bad Muslims,” represented by the Yemeni government and its air force’s planes.

In the past, AQAP members have justified killing Yemeni Muslim soldiers, saying: “we kill them because they are the first barrier between us and our enemy America.” They also justify bombing any interest of the Yemeni, American or western governments by saying “we are in a war and they [the Yemeni and US governments] hit us with things that we do not have, and we hit them with things they do not have,” referring to suicide bombings and other means of asymmetric warfare.

“We kill pilots and destroy airplanes because the Yemeni government who works under commandership of its master America, tries to kill us and destroy us with these things,” said one member of Al-Qaeda via email.