Russia makes military moves on the Arctic and we meet the Islamic adviser to the UK Ministry of Defence.
Russia plans to more than double its number of Arctic airbases by the end of the year. Russia currently has four airfields and by the end of December plans to have 10 more in service, though it remains unclear whether they will be regenerated Cold War installations or new fields carved out of the permafrost.
This is the latest sign of Russia reasserting its position in the Arctic but it is particularly significant given the US’s much-heralded “pivot” away from Europe and towards the Pacific and Asia.
Many of Russia’s Arctic initiatives up to now have been purely symbolic (such as president Vladimir Putin’s order to the navy to secure the nation’s flag to the seabed in 2007) but the military has also been bolstering its assets in the region. On 1 December last year, Russia formally activated its new Arctic Joint Strategic Command. It is based on the old Northern Fleet and draws equipment and personnel from the western, central and southern military districts.
Extra muscle is being added: Mig-31 Foxhound interceptor fighters (still the fastest, highest-flying interceptors in the world) have been based near Murmansk; Mil Mi-8 Hip helicopters (pictured) have been modernised and upgraded to deal with the Arctic’s ferocious environmental conditions; and Pantsir-S1 air-defence missile systems are believed to have been earmarked for deployment within the region. Dr John Chipman, director-general and chief executive of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London-based think-tank, says, “Europe is facing a more belligerent Russia that appears intent on testing the resolve of the West.”
However, despite all this activity, Russia still has only the world’s fourth-largest defence budget at roughly $70bn (€62bn), trailing China and Saudi Arabia and utterly dwarfed by the US’s $581bn (€511bn).
After years of neglect, the Philippines Air Force (paf) will finally put its pilots into new cockpits. Manila has spent a reported $430m (€380m) on a squadron of 12 South Korean-built fa-50 fighter jets (pictured) – a deal sure to antagonise China.
Local media says some of the planes will be delivered by the end of this year. Asian security affairs specialist and political-science professor Richard Heydarian says the fa-50 purchase is part of Manila’s plan to curb Beijing’s South China Sea adventurism by compelling it to shell out more on its own armed forces. But, he adds, “no Southeast Asian country is in a position to match China’s booming military spending”. Factor in a recent agreement with the Japanese navy and there are indications that Manila is taking the defence of its airspace and waterways more seriously as China rises and expands.
Singapore’s long-term plan to become Southeast Asia’s financial and hi-tech hub has largely been successful but this has also made it more vulnerable in terms of cyber security. As such, the city-state is taking measures to shore itself up against potential threats.
This April will see existing cyber-crime organs spread across various ministries of the Singaporean government fall under the purview of the newly minted Cyber Security Agency (csa) and the prime minister’s office. It follows the 2013 incident in which a hacker calling himself “The Messiah” defaced a string of government websites but Gerald Wang, research manager from think-tank idc Government Insights, sees the consolidation as part of a wider trend. “As more government ministries digitise their services there needs to be better co-ordination on a policy level, not just a ministry level.”
There are only 480 Muslims serving in the British army – 0.54 per cent of the total. Imam Asim Hafiz is the Islamic religious adviser to the chief of the UK defence staff.
Why do so few Muslims serve in the British army as things stand?
There has been a 50 per cent increase since 2005 when I was first appointed. But the biggest barrier to making our armed forces more representative is the lack of understanding of what the armed forces are about and what they represent.
What steps should be taken to further increase the numbers?
I would like to see both the armed forces and Muslim community engage in a dialogue to dispel myths on both sides. I think that meeting people face to face helps to break down barriers in a very positive and constructive way.
Can a close partnership between the military and Muslim community help to combat radicalisation as well?
There are people who use and abuse what our armed forces represent for their own skewed political motives so building partnerships between the military and Muslim community can most definitely help to challenge those negative voices.