Strategic Intelligence Summary for 01 February 2018 – Forward Observer Shop

Strategic Intelligence Summary for 01 February 2018

Strategic Intelligence contains intelligence reporting on the state of global security and instability, geostrategic issues affecting the United States, pre-war indicators, and assessments on the current risk of war. This report is available each week for Strategic Intelligence subscribers.

In this Strategic Intelligence Summary: (5,357 words)

  • The U.S. intelligence community has a vetting problem
  • Pentagon supports legislation aimed at thwarting foreign threats to defense industrial base
  • U.S. Army reserve chief wants to upgrade force’s technological capabilities
  • Why have the Iranians changed tactics in the Persian Gulf?
  • Here’s Moscow’s next plan to upgrade its strategic forces
  • Russia set to dramatically increase its nuclear weapons stockpile
  • Upgraded Russian air refueling tanker takes flight
  • China’s navy has received a new electronic warfare aircraft
  • China to donate tanks, APC’s, to budding ally Cambodia
  • NATO/RUSSIA: NATO admiral has sober assessment of alliance’s firepower in the Black, Baltic seas
  • Middle East: NATO allies U.S., Turkey approaching critical juncture
  • North Korea: Are sanctions finally starting to bite in North Korea?
  • South China Sea: Chinese military calling for expanding its nuclear stockpile in the face of rising U.S. threat
  • New border fencing slated for New Mexico
  • New drug cartel shows surprising weapons manufacturing capability

In Focus: Welcome to this week’s Strategic Intelligence Summary. The Middle East is again at the center of attention, but not for the usual reasons: The region is getting more tense not because of Iran, Syria, Israel or Hezbollah, per se, but because NATO members Turkey and the United States remain at loggerheads over Ankara’s military operation to dislodge Kurdish forces from Afrin and, possibly, Manbij, where U.S. forces are deployed alongside Kurdish fighters. Turkey has vowed to continue its assault and has threatened the launch against Manbij, while U.S. commanders vow to remain there. Elsewhere, Russia continues to upgrade its strategic land and air forces, China is building relationships throughout Asia, NATO has a firepower problem in the Black and Baltic seas, and a deadly drug cartel in Mexico is getting even more deadly.

Thank you for subscribing and enjoy this week’s Strategic Intelligence Summary. — JD

Priority Intelligence Requirements:

PIR1: What are the new indicators of disruptive events that could cause global or regional instability?

PIR2: What are the latest military and security developments exhibited by the U.S. and their peer and near-peer adversaries?

PIR3: What is the current situation report and risk of war in each of the four flashpoints? (North Korea, China, Russia, Iran/Israel/Middle East)

PIR4: What is the current security situation along the U.S.-Mexico border and south of the border?

PIR1: What are the new indicators of disruptive events that could cause global or regional instability?


Afghan intel says attackers were trained in Pakistan

Tensions between neighbors Afghanistan and Pakistan have ramped up this week after Afghan intelligence officials presented Pakistani counterparts with evidence that recent deadly attacks in Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan were carried out by militants trained in Pakistan. Afghan intelligence chief Masoom Stanekzai and Interior Minister Wais Barmak told a news conference in Kabul they had traveled to Islamabad to press the Pakistanis to do more to eliminate terrorists and militant groups inside their borders who regularly cross into Afghanistan to attack U.S. and Afghan forces and civilians. “We provided Pakistan with documents about Taliban operating centers inside Pakistan and we expect Pakistan to act against them,” said Barmak. Pakistan’s Embassy in Kabul responded by saying the information provided was being “examined for its authenticity.” Afghan officials say a recent VBIED — vehicle-borne improvised explosive device — detonated in Kabul, killing more than 100 people was carried out by the Haqqani network, which is based in Pakistan and allied with the Taliban. [source]

PIR2: What are the latest military and security developments exhibited by the U.S. and their peer and near-peer adversaries? 

The U.S. intelligence community has a vetting problem

A new Defense Department report found that dozens of defense contractors had their security clearances revoked last year after additional probing of their backgrounds turned up illicit activity or other problematic behavior. Included in the 165 clearances revoked were contractors with questionable financial transactions, undue foreign influence, and even felony crimes such as pedophilia. Defense officials said the findings indicate that are obvious deficiencies in the way contractors and others are screened during preliminary background investigations, during which time they often receive interim clearance so they can handle very sensitive information. DoD investigators who authored the report “captured data from 200,000 applications for secret or top secret clearance by defense contractors over the past three years, many of which were not fully adjudicated until 2017. It found that 486 applicants had their clearances denied or revoked. Of those applicants, 165 had slipped through the initial round of vetting and been allowed access to sensitive information.” The most commonly cited reason for denying applicants security clearances was related to their finances. [source] (Analyst comment: This helps explain the lapses: The number of people requiring security clearances has tripled in the last three years; what’s more, the backlog is getting worse. Cases jumped from a backlog of 190,000 in 2014 to 709,000 by September.)

Pentagon supports legislation aimed at thwarting foreign threats to defense industrial base

The Defense Department is lending its support to new legislation that expands the authorities of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., giving it a broader mandate to review business transactions — especially involving China and emerging technologies — that may endanger the defense industrial base. “Our competitors are aggressively attempting to diminish our technological advantage through a multi-faceted strategy by targeting and acquiring the very technologies that are critical to our military success now and in the future,” said Eric Chewning, deputy assistant director of defense for manufacturing and industrial base policy, in testimony before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. “China, in particular, publicly articulates its policy of civil-military integration, which ties into its intentions to become the world leader in science and technology and to modernize its military in part by strengthening the industrial base that supports it.” He said potential problems have been identified regarding new Chinese investments in new and emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, hypersonic vehicles, and directed energy (laser) systems, in addition to illegal espionage. Currently, Chewning said, the CFIUS only covers “some of the relevant transactions because deals that do not result in a foreign controlling interest are beyond its jurisdiction.” He testified that joint ventures and other non-controlling investments, for example, can nevertheless pose national security risks in the form of technology transfers of critical military capabilities. [source] (Analyst comment: China, especially, has been attempting to ‘acquire’ emerging U.S. technologies for decades, and is believed to have been relatively successful, beginning in the 1990s. Couching their espionage in commerce is pretty clever, but the DoD is onto Beijing, obviously, and is hoping Congress can help staunch the flow of sensitive military-related technologies from U.S.-based and controlled companies to Chinese developers.)

U.S. Army reserve chief wants to upgrade force’s technological capabilities

The head of the U.S. Army Reserve, Lt. Gen. Charles Luckey, wants to improve the force’s technological abilities, and as such he is considering to better prepare for a potential high-end conflict, by enhancing training and repositioning force structure. That will include expanding the “key terrain” of technology, in part by placing small teams within high-tech regions such as Silicon Valley. The Reserve is “putting some force structure out in certain locations in America to sort of test the waters and to look for places to capture talent that we may not have focused before,” he said. “I look at demographics in America and I look at flows of human capital in the nation, and where do we need to move force structure to capture that talent,” he added. “The ones that I’m looking very closely at are places I call ‘digital key terrain.’ . . . There are certain places in the United States where you’re going to have a higher density of certain types of folks that have a certain type of skill.” That will include “high-end digital — whether it’s quantum computing, cyber stuff, artificial intelligence, et cetera, — there are certain places in America where there’s a lot of stuff going on, and there’s concentrations or pockets where there’s a lot of energy.” [Source: Inside Defense, Jan. 24.]

Why have the Iranians changed tactics in the Persian Gulf?

At least the past two years, the Iranian navy would send fast boats into international waters in the Persian Gulf to harass U.S. Navy vessels. The Iranian craft would speed and dart toward U.S. warships as they transited the gulf in tactics that were highly risky and at times provoked warning shots from American ships. However, for the past five months no such incidents have occurred and the Pentagon is not certain yet why the tactic has come to a mysterious halt. “I hope it’s because we have messaged our readiness…and that it isn’t tolerable or how professional militaries operate,” Army Gen. Joseph Votel, who heads U.S. Central Command, told reporters last week. The fast boats are no match for U.S. warships, but they are armed with .50-cal. machine guns and rocket launchers. Also, they have come within shooting distance of U.S. vessels. Other interactions include Iranian crews shining spotlights at ship and air crews, which could potentially blind pilots. In at least one case, an Iranian fast boat pointed a weapon at a U.S. helicopter operating off a Navy ship. In the most serious encounters, U.S. Navy ships have fired warning shots at the Iranian vessels. Since January 2016 there have been an average of more than two “unsafe or unprofessional” incidents per month, totaling at least 50 over two years. But there have not been any encounters since August 2017. [source] (Analyst comment: Some believe the Trump administration’s harder line against Iran is likely responsible. The Iranians, meanwhile, claim that their behavior has changed because the U.S. Navy’s behavior has changed. [source

The Iranian claim seems implausible for a couple of reasons, For one, U.S. Navy officials have said operations in the Persian Gulf have not been altered and are ongoing. 

Besides empowering the U.S. military as a whole to take whatever actions in the Persian Gulf to protect and defend itself, the president’s threats to exit the so-called “Iran deal” negotiated by the Obama administration is likely also be playing a role. Amid threats of exiting the agreement, Trump has also hinted at reimposing economic sanctions against the Iranian regime. European allies have also discussed the reimposition of sanctions. Given the recent unrest in Iran, which was tied to falling incomes and economic opportunity, the last thing the Iranian government wants or needs is more economic disruption.)

Here’s Moscow’s next plan to upgrade its strategic forces

Russia’s next phase of military modernization to its strategic forces will include upgrading 10 of its Soviet-designed Tu-160 bombers. President Vladimir Putin made the announcement during a visit to an aircraft manufacturing plant in Kazan, where he said the upgrade will include new engines and avionics aimed at significantly improving the aircraft’s performance. The contract is worth some $2.9 billion. Putin said the upgraded strategic bomber is a “serious step in the development of high-tech industries and strengthening the nation’s defense capabilities.” The Tu-160, the largest combat plane in the world, is a four-engined aircraft developed and launched in the 1980s, near the end of the Cold War. Some of the bombers have been used recently against targets in Syria.

Russia set to dramatically increase its nuclear weapons stockpile

As part of its overall strategic force modernization, Russia may seek to upgrade and build new nuclear weapons, possibly with the goal of deploying a total force of 8,000 nuclear warheads by 2026. “Russia is aggressively building up its nuclear forces and is expected to deploy a total force of 8,000 warheads by 2026 along with modernizing deep underground bunkers, according to Pentagon officials. The 8,000 warheads will include both large strategic warheads and thousands of new low-yield and very low-yield warheads to circumvent arms treaty limits and support Moscow’s new doctrine of using nuclear arms early in any conflict,” U.S. media reported in December 2017. The same report also noted that Russia is upgrading and fortifying its underground command-and-control facilities. [source] (Analyst comment: The Russian economy won’t support the level of military spending enjoyed by the Pentagon. As such, President Vladimir Putin is using his limited resources to invest in the ultimate deterrence trump card — a robust nuclear weapons capability that not only guarantees a massive first-or-second strike ability, but that he can also threaten to use as cover for more modest territorial objectives, like “annexing” the Baltic States.)

Upgraded Russian aerial refueling tanker takes flight

The Russian air force’s Ilyushin Il-78M-90A recent performed its maiden flight. The plane’s four engines have been upgraded and now has an increased fuel payload and longer range. “Today, on January 25, the flight model of the Il-78M-90A perspective aerial refueling plane performed its first flight. The plane was piloted by Ilyushin Chief Pilot, Hero of Russia, Merited Test Pilot of Russia Nikolai Kuimov,” said the company in a statement. The flight lasted for 35 minutes. Besides upgrading the plane’s engines, it has newly-designed wings and improved control and avionics systems. The company said the design was upgraded for the Russian air force but some foreign air forces are also showing an interest. [source]

China’s navy has received a new electronic warfare aircraft

The People’s Liberation Army Navy has launched a new type of electronic warfare aircraft that can cover larger areas like the South China Sea and East China Sea, improving the PLAN’s modern warfare capabilities. The new plane is a modified H-6G bomber and is fitted with electronic warfare pods for electronic jamming, suppression and anti-radiation operations. “The main role of the electronic fighters is to obstruct the enemies’ electronic jamming devices – for example, radar, to temporarily or permanently, if powerful enough, cover the surveillance devices and to hide our combat platforms’ track,” Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator, told state-run media. “The H-6G electronic warfare aircraft boasts of high electronic jamming power and can cover relatively bigger combat areas such as the South China Sea and East China Sea,” Song added. China’s JH-7 fighter/bomber was also recently seen carrying ECM pods. [source] (Analyst comment: If China was interested in de-escalating tensions with the U.S. and regional powers over its outsized South China Sea claims, the military would to be adding capability and assets to patrol that vast body of water. Clearly Beijing means to exert as much influence as possible in the region and is building and deploying the capability to do so.)

China to donate more tanks, APC’s, to budding ally Cambodia

China plans to donate as many as 100 tanks and armored personnel carriers to the Royal Cambodian Army next month, according to Cambodian media, which quoted Defense Minister General Tea Banh. “China always helps in promoting the national defense sector,” he said. “The platforms are expected to arrive ahead of the two countries’ next round of joint military exercises called “Golden Dragon,” the second such exercise between them. The tanks and APCs are reportedly going to the RCA’s Brigade 70; the actual number of platforms has not been confirmed by the defense ministry, however, and there were no details about the type of tanks and APCs being donated. [source] (Analyst comment: I researched this a bit to try to find out what types of tanks/APCs Beijing is donating but couldn’t find much on it. However, I did discover that China has donated hundreds of military vehicles to Cambodia before (2013), along with books for Cambodian schools and monetary aid. Cambodia has been moving away from the U.S. and the West and toward Beijing, which is driving internal economic development. The relationship is paying dividends; Cambodia, on at least two occasions, has blocked ASEAN from issuing critical statements about China and its South China Sea expansion.)

PIR3: What is the current situation report and risk of war in each of the four flashpoints? (North Korea, China, Russia, Iran/Israel/Middle East)


NATO admiral has sober assessment of alliance’s firepower in the Black, Baltic seas

Vice Adm. Clive Johnstone, the British Royal Navy officer who currently heads NATO’S Allied Maritime Command (MARCOM) recently gave his assessment of the alliance’s naval capabilities in the Black and Baltic seas, two strategic bodies of water that are seeing increased Russian naval activities. “When I was an ensign, a lieutenant, we knew we could beat the Russians. It was just a question of time because we were better than them. I’m not sure we could make that assumption now.”

Johnstone noted that European NATO allies have many shortcomings in naval capabilities including anti-submarine warfare, stockpiles of munitions, missile defense, cybersecurity, sealift and command-and-control abilities at its own headquarters. When asked at a recent defense forum if coastal waters within range of Russian land-based missiles such as the eastern Mediterranean Sea near Syria, the northern Black Sea, and the entire Baltic Sea be no-go zones, Johnstone replied they would not be. Nor, he added, would any NATO ships effectively be hostage to Russian sea power in those regions.

To that point, however, the NATO maritime commander believes that the alliance must aggressively patrol those regions and contest them, rather than cede them to Russian control. That may include sailing within 15 miles of the Russian Black Sea base in Tartus, Syria, but also refusing to treat the entire Black Sea as Russia’s “private lake” as well. Johnstone said NATO should not send lightly-armed auxiliary warships into the Black Sea and the other bodies of water, but rather well-armed fighting ships like destroyers and cruisers that are capable of defending themselves against land, sea and air threats. He further noted that the alliance should plan a “holistic” air and naval campaign in the Baltic Sea and then sustain NATO’s forward presence now, before any conflict begins.

Once a conflict began, “to fight your way through and get presence is really going to be militarily quite demanding,” he said. “We have rehearsed that,” he added, but he said it would be far easier for NATO if the alliance was forward-deployed there in advance. [source]

Outlook: Once again, a forward-thinking military commander is attempting to warn NATO — and especially its large European members — they are falling behind in terms of combat readiness while the alliance’s principal nemesis, Russia, is making advances and likely has designs on territory.

The warning comes as Russia is clearly seeking to force NATO to cede control of the aforementioned bodies of water. Within a week of Johnstone making his observations, a Russian fighter intercepted a U.S. Navy P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft in international airspace over the Black Sea. The intercept was noteworthy for a couple of reasons: 1) The Russia pilot’s actions were inherently unsafe, as the fighter came within five feet of the U.S. Navy plane; and 2) The Russian pilot’s actions reportedly caused the P-3 crew to prematurely end its mission. [source]

Right now, as Johnstone points out, it may be difficult if not impossible to provide adequate protection for cross-Atlantic convoys that would serve as a military lifeline should the alliance find itself in an actual shooting war with Russia. It’s going to be impossible if NATO shies away from confronting Russian aggression in contested waters and skies.

As Russia is expanding its presence in the central and North Atlantic, the Baltic and Black Seas, and the Arctic, it is building new, highly capable submarines, missiles, and surface vessels. It is bolstering its air power projection. It’s probing undersea data cables. And it is modernizing its nuclear forces.

It appears as though Russia is using the Chinese South China Sea playbook in the Baltic and Black seas — build up military presence and then aggressively counter any NATO moves while creating the impression that pushback isn’t worth the risk of war. As Johnstone understands, that is a strategy of appeasement that will only lead to further aggression, making conflict more, not less, likely.

Middle East: 

NATO allies U.S., Turkey approaching critical juncture

In his column this week, Pat Buchanan gave a sober assessment of a potential disaster for the future of NATO, and of all places, the alliance’s future may rest on what happens in Syria:

If Turkey is not bluffing, U.S. troops in Manbij, Syria, could be under fire by week’s end, and NATO engulfed in the worst crisis in its history. Turkish President Erdogan said Friday his troops will cleanse Manbij of Kurdish fighters, alongside whom U.S. troops are embedded. Erdogan’s foreign minister demanded concrete steps by the U.S. to end its support of the Kurds, who control the Syrian border with Turkey east of the Euphrates, all the way to Iraq. If the Turks attack Manbij, the U.S. will face a choice: Stand by our Kurdish allies and resist the Turks, or abandon the Kurds. Should the U.S. let the Turks drive the Kurds out of Manbij and the entire Syrian border area with Turkey, as Erdogan threatens, U.S. credibility would suffer a blow from which it would not soon recover. But to stand with the Kurds and oppose Erdogan’s forces could mean a crackup of NATO and loss of U.S. bases inside Turkey, including the air base at Incirlik. [source]

In order to prevent an accidental exchange of fire between U.S. and Turkish forces, diplomats from both countries are said to be in near-constant contact with each other. But earlier this week U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel said in no uncertain terms the U.S. was not about to pull its forces out of Manbij, justifying that decision by stating the fight against ISIS is ongoing. [source]

Outlook: The problems for the U.S. in Syria are multi-faceted.

In recent days Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laid out the Trump administration’s strategy for keeping a U.S. military presence in Syria, and in particular, in and near the enclave of Manjib. One leg of that strategy involves remaining engaged in the fights against ISIS and al Qaeda; another involves not ceding ground back to militant groups after it has been recaptured; still another involves thwarting Iran’s attempts to install a direct military presence in Syria or establish one through a proxy force, like Hezbollah, in order to gain a strategic advantage against Israel.

This all means that it isn’t likely the Trump administration is pulling out U.S. military forces anytime soon and in fact, this could even be the beginning of another open-ended military occupation.

As for Erdogan, at present American officials believe his threats to move against Manbij are largely for a domestic political audience. But experts believe the more he threatens, the less likely he will be able to walk them back. In other words, his rhetoric may eventually force his hand. Gonul Tol, director of the Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute in Washington, said that Erdogan’s primary goal in the mid-term is winning a presidential election scheduled for next year; the worsening tension with the U.S. works to his advantage, politically.

Then, there is Russia, which is in Syria and is allied with the Turkish and Syrian governments. U.S. officials believe Moscow gave its approval for Turkey to launch its offensive against Kurds in Afrin.

Furthermore, the U.S. alliance with the Kurdish-Arab faction known as the Syrian Democratic Forces is seen as disruptive because the SDF has plenty of enemies in the region as well.

“Keeping 2,000 troops on the desert margins of Syria in alliance with a group the entire region hates is not really leverage,” said Faysal Itani, a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. “It does, however, get others to unite against us. The Turkish incursion into Afrin shows just how few friends we have in Syria.”

If there is a miscalculation and Turkish forces attack and kill or injure American forces, it won’t matter to the Trump administration what the circumstances were; we believe this president will strike back. If that happens, we expect that NATO will survive, but Turkey won’t be a member of the alliance any longer, especially given Ankara’s improving relationship with Russia.

Another question: Will the U.S. invoke the NATO charter’s mutual assistance clause — or will Turkey?

North Korea:

Are sanctions finally starting to bite in North Korea?

There are signs that U.S.- and UN-imposed economic sanctions against North Korea are having their desired effect.

U.S. intelligence analysts report that North Korea’s annual winter military exercises have been scaled back, which they have attributed to the international effort to deprive the country of resources including oil and fuel. The exercises typically begin in December and last until March, but they were slow in getting underway this year and are not as extensive as they normally are. It is believed that a lack of fuel and other refined petroleum products is the principal reason for the reduction in training activities.

Experts believe the scaled-back exercises will negatively impact military readiness. “Where this will have an effect is on ground-force readiness,” said Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., a military analyst for 38 North, a website on North Korean affairs run by Johns Hopkins University’s U.S.-Korea Institute. “Military units have to train to maintain their proficiency.”

Another sign that sanctions may be hurting is an increase in defections. “We are seeing defections happening in areas where we don’t generally see them, for example crossing the DMZ,” said Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, the top U.S. commander in South Korea, referring to the demilitarized zone that divides the Korean peninsula. “We’re seeing some increase in executions, mostly against political officers who are in military units, for corruption,” he also said, adding that he assesses that the moves “are really about trying to clamp down as much as possible on something that might be deteriorating and keeping it from deteriorating too quickly.” [source]

Still another sign stems from reports that North Korean government officials are raiding farms and confiscating foodstuffs in order to feed their large army. “Officials carried out home searches in Paekam County to determine how much food some families had,” a North Korean source told Daily NK. “As an excuse to enter and demand bribes, they said to the residents, ‘Are we just going to let our military starve while the Americans lick their lips and prepare to eat us alive?’”

The news site is based in Seoul, South Korea, and claims to publish news and information about North Korea smuggled to it via a network of informants. Last month the site published a photo purportedly showing groups of North Korean soldiers rummaging through a mostly harvested corn field.

The same information source also reported that leader Kim Jong-un has given soldiers months of time off so they can scrounge for food on their own. [source]

Outlook: First of all, there is nothing that we have seen indicating Pyongyang has reduced its military activities as part of a diplomatic overture as the Winter Olympics, which will be held in South Korea, approach this month.

While exercises have been reduced, North Korea retains a significant military capability, however, though it is largely asymmetric. That is, it’s cyber warfare, missile, chemical weapons and nuclear programs are all said to be active.

That said, as Strategic Intelligence Summary has noted in recent weeks, sanctions are likely what have caused the North Koreans to begin conducting ‘trade’ in international waters — obtaining fuel and other products via ship-to-ship transfers, mostly with China- and Russia-flagged vessels.

The U.S. and South Korean militaries have traditionally viewed North Korea’s annual winter military exercises warily because they end with the entire military in a high state of readiness and in spring, when warmer weather makes invasion less difficult.

Amid signs that North Korea is receiving supplies at sea, the Trump administration is said to be considering at-sea enforcement measures, but it’s not clear how those could be pulled off without inflaming tensions or, in extreme cases, sparking armed resistance.

At this time, we conclude there are two possibilities: North Korean leader Kim will dial back exercises to preserve fuel and food supplies or, feeling pressured, he may lash out in a desperate attempt to defeat U.S. and South Korean forces in one quick invasion that would involve every weapon he has at hand. The former is more likely than the latter, but the possibility Kim may feel cornered and pressured to act is real.

South China Sea:

Chinese military calling for expanding its nuclear stockpile in the face of rising U.S. threat

A Chinese military-controlled publication which generally serves as the mouthpiece for official policy is calling for an increase in the rocket forces’ nuclear stockpile as a means of deterring U.S. “bullying.”

“To enhance China’s strategic counterbalance in the region and maintain China’s status as a great power, and protect national security, China has to beef up and develop a reliable nuclear deterrence capability,” said the report. That said, the report also noted that the military would continue to adhere to a “no first use” policy regarding nuclear weapons.

According to a chart accompanying a separate report, China currently fields only about 270 nuclear warheads; this compares with 6,800 U.S. warheads and about 7,000 Russian warheads. The next-closest great power is France with 300 warheads.

The 270-warhead count is just an estimate as China has never formally declared how many warheads it has produced and deployed. Chinese experts vary on how much the People’s Liberation Army should expand its current arsenal, but by ‘several hundred’ more seems to be the consensus. [source]

Outlook: China doesn’t want to spend the kind of money the U.S. and Russia spend on their nuclear arsenals since maintaining a nuclear arsenal is hugely expensive. Rather, in order to gain strategic advantage in the South China Sea region, especially, the Chinese are putting more effort into developing their new hypersonic glide vehicle they believe can defeat current missile defenses fielded by the U.S. and its regional allies.

Nuclear-tipped hypersonic glide vehicles would provide even more of an advantage, and for less money as well. Hypersonic technology also gives China a very capable counter-strike capability.

But it’s clear that Beijing considers the South China Sea hugely important and is willing to defend it. That is evident by the appointment of Lieutenant General Xu Anxiang, 61, formerly head of the air force’s Southern Theater Command, to become one of the 10 members of the standing committee of the air force’s Communist Party committee.

Southern Theater Command is one of China’s five military regions and is charged with defending China’s interests in the South China Sea.

PIR4: What is the current security situation along the U.S.-Mexico border and south of the border?

New border fencing slated for New Mexico 

Barnard Construction Co. Inc., of Bozeman, Montana, was awarded a $73,346,397 firm-fixed-price contract for the design-build replacement of 20 miles of U.S./Mexico border fencing in Santa Teresa, New Mexico. Bids were solicited via the Internet with three received. Work will be performed in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, with an estimated completion date of Feb. 16, 2019. Fiscal 2018 operations and maintenance (Army) funds in the amount of $73,346,397 were obligated at the time of the award. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Fort Worth, Texas, is the contracting activity. (Analyst comment: This isn’t part of President Trump’s proposed ‘border wall,’ but it signals that the administration is moving forward with border security measures the president is calling for.)

New drug cartel shows surprising weapons manufacturing capability

Mexican intelligence believes that a relatively new, younger drug cartel, the Cartel Jalisco New Generation, has developed an increased capability to manufacture their own weapons, making them a much bigger threat. The weapons are reportedly manufactured in clandestine factories and are being made using advanced technology and practices. Already violence-prone, the cartel creates more havoc for Mexican authorities by supplying weapons to other armed groups fighting the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas. In addition to having access to powerful weapons and artillery, cartel members are reportedly being trained by former Mexican military personnel. Also, some CJNG members are being trained by former members of Colombian terrorist group FARC, which has been known to make and use improvised explosive devices. The report noted: “Using industrial machinery, presses, and other equipment, CJNG has been able to manufacture the various parts needed to make rifles. The criminal organization also built their own vehicle-armoring garages to outfit tactical SUVs.” [source]

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Name *