[Strategic Intelligence Summary] for 03 November 2017 – Forward Observer Shop

[Strategic Intelligence Summary] for 03 November 2017


In this Strategic INTSUM… (3466 words)

  • Russia, China, North Korea, and Middle East Situation Reports (SITREPs)
  • Defense in Brief
  • And more…

Priority Intelligence Requirements:

PIR1: What are new indicators of systems disruption or instability that could lead to civil unrest or violence?
PIR2: What is the current risk of war with the four flashpoints?
PIR3: Defense in Brief – What are the new pre-war developments in the U.S. military and defense industrial base?

PIR1: What are new indicators of systems disruption that could lead to instability, civil unrest, or violence?

Clarifying this weekend’s Defense exercise

The alternative media was predictably abuzz this week and in previous weeks about the Defense Department’s exercise this weekend. The Army’s Network Enterprise Technology Command (NETCOM) is holding one of four exercises over the weekend to test the Army’s enterprise radio networks. Although the exercise will simulate a power outage, nothing will actually be affected. These quarterly exercises have been held since 2013 and, being planned last year, it has nothing to do with any of the protests this weekend.


NORTHCOM soldiers ‘secure’ critical infrastructure

During Thursday’s Vigilant Shield exercise, soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division simulated securing a critical infrastructure facility in New Mexico in an exercise sponsored by U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM). Vigilant Shield tests the readiness and capabilities of military units to rapidly deploy and secure critical infrastructure. “We’ve got that 24 hour response time — it doesn’t matter that we’re not an airborne unit. We’re light infantry, we’re a mountain division, and we can be anywhere in the world, and we’ve got to be ready for that,” said one soldier. [source: https://www.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/1362520/vigilant-shield-takes-fight-to-new-mexico-mountains/] (Analyst Comment: Vigilant Shield simulates terror attacks and systems disruptions against U.S. critical infrastructure. These exercises have been held since at least 2008, and often involve both military and domestic law enforcement units. By presidential proclamation, November is Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience Month.


Twitter employee ‘accidentally’ closes President’s Twitter account — why it’s more serious that you’d think

A employee on his or her last day at Twitter closed the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account for about 11 minutes earlier this week. Twitter officials blamed the incident on ‘human error’, however, this brings significant security issues to light. If an employee in Twitter’s customer service department could shut down an account, could he also tweet on that account? Imagine @realDonaldTrump tweeting that the U.S. has just launched nuclear weapons at North Korea, or that they’ve launched nukes towards us and Japan. There could be very serious and cascading effects, even if the account were just hacked. Twitter says they’re investigating the matter and will hopefully resolve those issues, if they even existed.


Google’s Schimdt says China will surpass U.S. in AI around 2025

Eric Schmidt, CEO of Alphabet, the parent company of Google, is warning that China will surpass the U.S. in artificial intelligence (AI) around 2025. Schmidt, who also chairs the Defense Innovation Advisory Board, also said that by 2030, China will dominate AI industries. “I’m assuming our [U.S.] lead will continue over the next five years and then that China will catch up extremely quickly… We need to get our act together, as a country…This is the moment when the [U.S.] government collectively, and private industry, needs to say, ‘these technologies are important.’” (Analyst Comment: Most who think about AI either think chess boards or armed robots, but AI research and technology is much more than that. Medicine, cybersecurity, and other industries will eventually be revolutionized by AI, greatly affecting our quality of life in the future. China’s advantage will better empower them to become the world superpower, taking America’s 20th century role in the 21st.)


DHS still too slow in sharing threat information

According to a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Department of Homeland Security is still too slow in sharing threat intelligence information regarding cybersecurity and critical infrastructure. Although private industry has come to rely on DHS threat intelligence, half of industry representatives still believe DHS is too slow. (AC: This has been a common complaint of DHS for years. Although the Obama administration made information sharing a priority, DHS still struggles. This is one of President Trump’s planks of his campaign. After eight years of feet dragging on cyber security, perhaps the Trump administration can fix the remaining issues.)


PIR2: What is the current risk of war with the four flashpoints (North Korea, China, Russia, and Iran/Middle East)?

North Korea SITREP

Beijing recently warned Pyongyang that it is on the verge of a “catastrophe” at its nuclear testing site, Punggye-ri. According to Beijing, the site is unstable and one more explosion could blow the top off of Mount Mantap, where all six of the country’s nuclear tests have taken place. If that were to happen, nuclear fallout would spill into China, which is located just 50 miles away.

Most recently, 200 people were believed killed after underground tunnels at the nuclear test site reportedly collapsed. Should North Korea attempt another test at the site, there are rising fears of a nuclear catastrophe.

Just this week U.S. officials banned the Bank of Dandong, which is based in China, from doing any business in the United States over allegations the bank is laundering money for the North Korean regime.

Meanwhile, President Trump travels to China in the coming days and no doubt North Korea will be high on the agenda. The Trump administration has been demanding that China do more to help convince Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program and, for its part, Beijing says it has given its best effort against North Korea. Then again, Chinese President Xi Jinping also made an overture to his feisty neighbor, calling for better relations. “I wish that under the new situation, the Chinese side will make joint efforts with the North Korean side to promote relations and the sustainable soundness and stable development of the relations between the two nations,” he said, according to published accounts in Western media. He added there was a need for “defending regional peace, stability and common prosperity.”

But Xi, fresh from bolstering his power after the close of the 19th People’s Congress, has also made overtures to other regional powers including rival South Korea, agreeing to end the row of the deployment of the U.S. THAAD missile defense system.


Outlook: At a press conference in Seoul last week, Defense Secretary James Mattis, appearing with his South Korean counterpart, said that the nuclear threat has brought “a new urgency” to the Korean peninsula, growing even since his trip to South Korea earlier this year. But he reiterated a long-standing Trump administration position that the U.S. “does not accept a nuclear North Korea.”

Mattis added that the White House is continuing to pursue a diplomatic solution but warned that the president has been clear that the U.S. commitment to defending its allies is “ironclad.” That is as clear a message on the Trump administration’s overarching objective in North Korea as can be.


South China Sea SITREP

President Trump is headed to Asia this week to meet with representatives from five nations over 12 days. First, Trump will attend the East Asia Summit alongside Australia, Japan, China, Russia, and officials from other countries, before traveling on to South Korea, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. He’s widely expected to discuss South China Sea issues while on the trip, and may even extend his stay in the Philippines to hold further discussions with President Duterte.

Just a few days ago, Chinese officials warned the U.S. not to interfere in the South China Sea dispute, although we can see what effect that’s had on President Trump. China is certainly concerned about talks Trump will hold while in Vietnam and the Philippines; two of the countries whose territorial claims are challenged by China. In a more recent statement, Chinese officials said that they hope the U.S. will help stability in the region, and not cause problems.

Outlook: The situation remains stable in the region as parties continue dialogue and try to resolve the sea claims peacefully. Meanwhile, Australian news outlets are reporting that outgoing Pacific Command (PACOM) chief Admiral Harry Harris may be the next ambassador to Australia. This is a significant move because Harris has been central to the U.S. Navy’s South China Sea operations, and will likely work hand in hand with Australia to help counter Chinese strength in the region. The Australian Navy has been concerned, as have other Asian nations, about China’s future dominance in the region.



This week a Russian military official announced that it would be building all-season airfields at each of their Northern Fleet military bases in the Arctic to accommodate both heavy transport planes and fighter jets. Air defense systems at these bases will also be upgraded. The Russian military is set to complete 100 military infrastructure upgrades to its Arctic bases this year.

Over the summer, Russian president Vladimir Putin warned that he would ‘eliminate the NATO threat’ should Sweden join NATO, and now Sweden is looking at building more nuclear fallout shelters. According to a report a few weeks ago and recently confirmed this week, the Swedish government is looking at expanding its existing network of 65,000 nuclear shelters. They possibly want to double that number.

As Sweden mulls joining NATO, to the south, the Ukrainian president announced that the Ukrainian military needs to adopt NATO military standards. “I think that right now we need to move to the principles that dominate among our partner countries and NATO members,” he said.

Meanwhile SECDEF Mattis is scheduled to depart on Monday for a five-day trip to Europe. Mattis will be in Finland for a meeting of 12 NATO countries (which is likely to include discussions on the defense of the Baltics), and then attend a NATO defense ministers meeting in Belgium to discuss operations in Syria. After that, Mattis will fly to London to meet with the UK’s new defense secretary.

Outlook: We’re seeing a continuation of non-NATO members moving closer in line with NATO without actually joining. There’s no doubt that Sweden, Finland, Ukraine, and other non-NATO members consider a NATO-Russia war a realistic possibility at some point in the future. Any of these nations joining NATO would accelerate that timeline, as Putin has often warned, but there’s nothing stopping military exercises among regional partners. The situation appears stable and has calmed down quite a bit after the rash of deployments and military exercises over the past couple months.


Middle East SITREP

A respected group of senior defense officials believes without a doubt the next Mideast war will involve Israel and Iran proxy Hezbollah. Not only do these experts believe a new conflict is inevitable, it will also be “more violent and destructive” than previous wars between the Jewish state and Tehran’s proxy militant group.

A recent report by the defense officials who are collectively known as the High Level Military Group, or HLMG, called “Hezbollah’s Terror Army: How to Prevent a Third Lebanon War,” describes Hezbollah as being “widely considered to be the most powerful non-state armed actor in the world,” and a substantial threat to Israeli nationals security. The military group is in complete control, politically and militarily, “has the political clout of a government, the firepower of an army and the strategic approach of a terrorist organization,” the report notes.

The report, which was released at an event at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, includes and assessment of the Israeli Defense Force’s and Hezbollah’s capabilities and strategies  11 years after the Second Lebanon War; this was the last time Israel and Hezbollah fought each other in a major conflict.

The group notes that Hezbollah is currently still fighting on behalf of Iran in Syria, so war isn’t likely in the coming week. But the experts warn “its actions and propaganda suggest that it considers its ability to fight a war with Israel as a given.” What’s more, “The timing of such a conflict is likely to be determined by miscalculation as much as decision-making in Iran and Lebanon,” the group noted.

What will Hezbollah do? Not sit around and be targeted, either by Israel or the United States, apparently. As one Arab publication noted, “To Iran, anyone attempting to hit or neutralize Hezbollah and the PMU is trying to clip the Islamic Republic’s wings, and thus undermine its strategic depth. Iran is unlikely to retreat if it perceives a threat to the regional leverage it currently enjoys and has been building for the past three decades. Rather, it is probable that it would respond with confrontation — though it’s not yet clear how or when such a confrontation might unfold.”

There are also long-term implications for war between Israel and Iran beyond the current potential for conflict with Iranian proxies. And that will depend primarily on whether Tehran gets serious about developing nuclear weapons. The Israeli intelligence chief said his country is willing to go to war to prevent Iran from developing a credible nuclear capability, which Jerusalem has long believed Tehran would utilize to destroy the Jewish state (as Iran has long pledged to do). “If international efforts led these days by U.S. President Trump don’t help stop Iran attaining nuclear capabilities, Israel will act militarily by itself,” Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said in an interview in Tokyo. “There are changes that can be made (to the agreement) to ensure that they will never have the ability to have a nuclear weapon.” Israel has taken unilateral action in the past without the consent of its major ally, the United States, including air strikes on a suspected nuclear reactor in Syria in 2007 and in Iraq in 1981. A similar strike against Iran is considered much more risky and, because of the distance, may even be outside of Israel’s capability.

Outlook: As we have noted in recent weeks in the Strategic Intelligence Summary, there are a number of geopolitical developments taking place as the Syrian civil war winds down that are setting the stage for the next conflict in the Middle East, and Iran is behind most of them. One way or another, either directly or via proxy, Iran will find itself in direct conflict with one of its arch enemies in the Middle East, Israel. How the U.S. and American allies who are not allied with Iran will respond to any provocations will depend in large part on the level of threat. Should Israel be directly challenged militarily by Hezbollah, the U.S. would likely remain aloof of the conflict, providing its ally with intelligence and materiel support. However, if Iran jumps into the fray, all bets are off and Washington, under Trump, would likely intervene directly.



PIR3: What are the new pre-war developments in the U.S. military and defense industrial base?

The Trump administration, led by Vice President Mike Pence, is looking to make America lead in space once more, and there are national security implications behind the push. The president has said he wants the United States to “lead in space again,” but not just in the field of space exploration. Space is increasingly being viewed as a “contested environment,” and the U.S. is going to be challenged by rising powers (especially China). In Denver last week, Pence dropped by defense contractor Lockheed Martin’s facilities where satellites and other space-related hardware is built. Lockheed is one of the Defense Department’s principle suppliers of classified military satellites, including the missile-defense SBIRS as well as secret communications Advanced EHF constellations. The Trump administration will rely heavily on Lockheed and other contractors to develop counters to threats from adversaries — specifically anti-satellite capabilities — as well as secure networks in space. “The industry has begun to respond to this threat by vertically integrating the manufacturing process, protecting satellites from cyber attacks, establishing cheaper and efficient satellite production and designing satellites to minimize the impact of an attack,” said Mike Tierney, an industry analyst at Jacques & Associates, noting that the commercial satellite industry is ready to compete in the national security arena.

The U.S. Army is rushing 1,000 new “MAAWS” weapons to Afghanistan, which is an upgraded variant of the Army’s Multi-Role Anti-Armor, Anti-Personnel Weapons System. The reusable, recoilless, shoulder-fired conventional weapon is able to destroy enemy targets that are hidden behind rocks, trees, buildings and other obstacles, according to service officials. The systems were initially ordered by the Army in response to an Operational Needs Statement from Afghanistan seeking to procure a direct fire, man-portable, anti-personnel and light structure weapon able, among other things, to respond to insurgent rocket-propelled grenade, or RPG, fire. The latest version is M3E1, and it is reportedly lighter and shorter than the existing M3. Also, it is ergonomically designed and shorter, so it’s easier to handle. In addition, the upgraded system is compatible with intelligent sighting systems for firing programmable rounds. It also includes an airburst capability. In all, MAAWS can fire anti-tank, flechette, illumination, enhanced armor, smoke and High Explosive Dual Purpose rounds.

The U.S. Marines are set to receive a Star Trek-like ‘phaser’ device that will attach to the rail systems of M-16/M-4 rifles. It’s a green laser that is capable of reaching out to “warn or visually suppress” enemies or opponents at up to 50 meters without firing a shot. Featuring an “Ocular Interrupter System,” it is basically a green light with a combined laser range finder that measures shooter-to-target distances and then self-adjusts the light to deter, but not blind, opposing personnel. It can be rifle-mounted or be used with a pistol grip. Called the Glare Recoil nonlethal Hail and Warning device, the piece of equipment was developed as off-the-shelf commercial technology by B.E. Meyers  Co., in Redmond, Washington via a $49 million contract. The Marines expect some 144 units to be delivered in the next several months, with 1,848 units being fielded by early 2019.

The U.S. Navy’s amphibious warfare director is warning that pursuing a light aircraft carrier option instead of amphibious assault ships would place too many limitations on Marines’ options for responding to mission commanders’ needs. Instead, Marine Maj. Gen. David Coffman is urging building ships faster and then conducting experimentation with new ship groupings in order to boost operational flexibility. Other senior Navy leaders pointed out that the service has used its big deck amphibious assault ships in light-carrier roles in the past, while still being able to retain full operational capabilities inherent in amphibious operations. “If you’re launching fixed-wing and then you’re launching helicopters and then you’re launching tilt-rotors, they all launch a little bit different, you have to set different conditions, you have to maneuver around, so it’s much easier if you’re just doing fixed wing, fixed wing, fixed wing,” Capt. David Bossert, the amphibious warfare branch head and former USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) commanding officer said. “So if you look at that model, we can certainly do it again.” Eventually the Navy and Marine Corps are planning to have 12 amphibious assault ships; currently there are nine in the fleet.

DARPA just signed a pair of R&D contracts for continuing research into hypersonic propulsion, the next-gen technology for missile systems. “”Over the last month, DARPA has awarded contracts to Aerojet Rocketdyne Inc. and Orbital ATK to develop and conduct ground tests of a prototype engine. The Orbital ATK contract was valued at $21.4 million. The amount of the Rocketdyne deal was not disclosed,” one report noted. The goal is to develop reusable aircraft that are capable of reaching hypersonic speeds of near Mach 5, or around 3,300 miles per hour. DARPA’s program looks to develop a propulsion system that can exceed the top speed of a traditional jet-turbine engine that tops out around Mach 2.5 while “developing a reusable capability required for sustained flight at Mach 5.” China and Russia are both working on developing hypersonic ‘kill’ vehicles — missiles — that would render current missile defense systems moot, while dramatically curbing the time it takes to deliver nuclear warheads on target.

The chief of Army logistics wants to return to the old way of resupply, where U.S. soldiers, not contractors, are in charge. “My view is there won’t be contractors on the battlefield at least initially, for sure,” Gen. Gus Perna, commander of U.S. Army Materiel Command (AMC), said last week. “Over basically the last 15 years, supply and maintenance transactions were done by contractors as we were in Afghanistan and Iraq because we were maintaining a force cap level — only so many soldiers were allowed over there,” he said. Limited numbers of troops stations on FOBs — Forward Operating Bases — were focused primarily on engaging the enemy, and “we wanted to make sure that the soldiers in those locations were executing their most important mission,” Perna said. But as a result of that, the Army neglected a basic mission: Logistics. The loss of logistics skills was one of his major concerns two years ago, he said, adding, “We’re getting better every day, and we’re building back our core competence to do this.”

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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