Strategic Intelligence Summary for 13 October 2017 – Forward Observer Shop

Strategic Intelligence Summary for 13 October 2017


In this Strategic INTSUM… (4394 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 (China, North Korea, Russia, and Iran/Middle East)?

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?

Systems Disruption

One of Wall Street’s most respected and reliable market-watchers says that a 1987-like meltdown is increasingly likely. Yardeni Research’s Edward Yardeni said in an interview this week that he believes there is a 55 percent chance that the market will continue to climb, which is a notch upward from 50 percent, which he settled on two months ago. That would represent a short-term boost to stocks, but it is also an ominous sign, he warned. “A melt-up to a certain extent kind of creates its own demise. To the extent that this market continues to move higher, maybe starts to move higher at a faster pace, now that would indicate to me that a lot of investors are coming in a little late into this bull market, and doing it with ETFs,” Yardeni said Tuesday on CNBC‘s “Futures Now.” “As in 1987, they could create a sort of portfolio insurance effect where suddenly something happens.” He’s referring to the crash on Oct. 19, 1987, otherwise known as Black Monday, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 23 percent after computers detected market weakness and attempted to protect financial institutions by selling off shares.

A number of experts have warned Congress — again — that North Korea likely possessed the capability of detonating a nuclear device over the continental United States, producing an electromagnetic pulse strong enough to destroy much of the power grid. Were that to happen, these experts warn, some 90 percent of Americans could die within a year. “With the development of small nuclear arsenals and long-range missiles by new, radical U.S. adversaries, beginning with North Korea, the threat of a nuclear EMP attack against the U.S. becomes one of the few ways that such a country could inflict devastating damage to the United States. It is critical, therefore, that the U.S. national leadership address the EMP threat as a critical and existential issue, and give a high priority to assuring the leadership is engaged and the necessary steps are taken to protect the country from EMP,” the experts told a House Homeland Security subcommittee. William R. Graham, chairman of the former EMP commission and its former chief of staff, Peter Vincent Pry, said that the U.S. has ignored the warning signs for years and that North Korea’s military moves this year must be seen as a wake-up call. In addition, they noted that U.S. intelligence has consistently underestimated North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ICBM development, saying just six months ago that Pyongyang likely had only built a half-dozen atom bombs instead of the 60 weapons now believed in its possession. The experts warned ominously: “Our current vulnerability invites attack.”

Domestic Conflict

The next 30 days do have a few events that could worsen the U.S. domestic conflict. Albeit at a low grade conflict now, I believe that we could be one event away — one attack, one fatality, one event that dominates a 24-hour news cycle — from much worsening conditions.

On 18 October, Alt-Right leader Richard Spencer is scheduled to speak at the University of Florida, as he kicks off his college campus speaking tour. On 28 October, two Alt-Right groups will hold a rally in Shelbyville, TN, which is expected to draw an Antifa counter-demonstration. And, of course, 04 November is what we’re calling Refuse Fascism Day. Refuse Fascism is a front group for the Revolutionary Communist Party, and they’re planning a day of nationwide protests that they hope turns into days-long or weeks-long events that forces President Trump to resign. We’re likely to see violence in the usual places: Berkeley, Portland, Seattle, New York City, and possibly other places. – SC

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

South China Sea SITREP

It’s beginning to look as though the United States is losing ground in the South China Sea, if for no other reason than for lack of a coherent containment and/or engagement policy. Worse, China is likely to become more aggressive in the South China Sea region once the 19th Party Congress concludes at the end of October and President Xi Jinping’s governance is reaffirmed, giving him latitude to operate from a position of greater domestic strength. A year ago, the U.S. and most of its Asian partners were in good shape, at least diplomatically, following a ruling by the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration, which backed the Philippines in a case brought to counter China’s illegal territorial claims to the bulk of the South China Sea. Beijing ignored the ruling as it did not recognize the authority of the court, but neither the U.S. nor most of its allies in the region did much to counter growing Chinese aggression and expansion that essentially rendered the decision moot.

A year on, it’s looking like Washington may have missed its window of opportunity and, barring a major engagement by the Trump administration — which seems far more interested in dealing with the North Korean nuclear issue than anything else Asia-Pacific — Beijing should not be expected to curb its enthusiasm for the entire body of water.

One country — Vietnam — has emerged as a potential challenger of Chinese expansionism. But even here, Hanoi definitely lost the first round. Last year the Chinese threatened military action — not a court, not hard-core diplomacy, military force — if Vietnam refused to cease and desist its oil exploration in block 136/6, which is licensed to Vietnam’s state-owned oil company, the Spanish firm Repsol S.A. and the Mubadala Development Company in the United Arab Emirates. First, China attempted to pressure Spain, a NATO member, and when that didn’t work, Beijing issued its explicit threat of force against Vietnam, which finally yielded but only after a hotly contested Politburo debate. To be clear, Vietnam was set to begin legal resource extraction from a duly-licensed ocean tract, and Beijing considered stopping the exploration important enough to risk war. Vietnam took the threat seriously, while the U.S. and the rest of the world stood idly by. Meanwhile, China also scored a diplomatic coup at an ASEAN summit when it got all members to agree to phony South China Sea code of conduct that it was already openly violating.

Meanwhile, the Philippines may be the next country to arouse the tiger. The country is set to begin substantial and important upgrades to its primary outpost in the disputed Spratly Islands group. These upgrades have most assuredly drawn the attention of Beijing. According to Filipino defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana, under the auspices of modernizing the country’s armed forces, Manila will begin paving a 1.3-kilometer-long airstrip on the island of Thitu, the largest Philippine claim in the Spratly group, parts of which are also claimed by China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. In addition, Manila will upgrade military barracks, water systems and additional facilities on nine other features in the Spratlys. In recent weeks, Chinese vessels have approached Thitu with very little response from Manila, but President Roberto Duterte has been rethinking his new relationship with Beijing.

Perhaps as a hedge, Duterte is said to be considering a rapprochement with Washington as Chinese vessels increasingly stalk Thitu Island in the region. The presence of 11 Chinese vessels in the area has alarmed not only the Philippines but also other ASEAN members in the region, with most suspecting China of seeking to expand its military presence in the area. China earlier pledged $24 billion in aid to Manila, but experts in the region are warning against countries getting too cozy with Beijing since most have relied historically on U.S. trade and defense support.

Outlook: Barring any serious pushback, there is little to stop China’s continued push to expand its influence and control of the South China Sea. Beijing is dramatically expanding its navy and its naval capabilities for the express purpose of defending its claims and expanding them further. If the United States doesn’t soon develop a coherent policy, it may soon find itself in a situation where the momentum — and hegemony — has all shifted to Beijing.

For now, the U.S. Navy will be able to continue its FONOPs — Freedom of Navigation Operations — in the South China Sea. But at some point Xi will become emboldened enough to press his advantage. How the U.S. responds will determine the future stability of the Asia-Pacific region, because no other nation alone has the power to stand up to China.


North Korea SITREP

In his first press conference, White House Chief of Staff and former Marine Gen. John Kelly addressed as much as he could the current status of North Korea’s nuclear and ICBM threat to U.S. national security. Kelly said that Americans should definitely be “concerned” about Pyongyang’s rising nuclear capabilities and was even a bit cryptic in his message to reporters.

When asked about the North’s current capabilities, after saying that Pyongyang “is developing a pretty good nuclear re-entry vehicle,” Kelly noted if the threat grows “beyond where it is today, well, let’s hope that diplomacy works.”

He added: “The American people should be concerned about a state that has developed a pretty good ICBM capability and is developing a pretty good nuclear re-entry vehicle. I would believe, I think I speak for the administration, that that state simply cannot have the ability to reach the homeland.”

At the same time, the Pentagon appears to be quietly beefing up its military capabilities in the region again. A pair of B-1B Lancers flew a rare night training mission near the Korean peninsula this week, accompanied by fighter jets from Japan and South Korea. At the same time, the USS Michigan, one of four Ohio-class nuclear-powered, Tomahawk missile-carrying submarines made its second port call in South Korea since April. The Michigan, like the other Ohio-class boats, is capable of carrying 154 Tomahawks each.

These were clear warning signs to all concerned parties, mostly North Korea and China, neither of which should doubt the president’s resolve. Trump has been saying all along the U.S. could not allow North Korea to develop a nuclear weapon with which to threaten the U.S. mainland. Chief of Staff Kelly just repeated that a few days ago.

Meanwhile, as mentioned in PIR 1 above, Congress was warned anew late this week that a North Korean nuclear weapon detonated at altitude could destroy the vast majority of the U.S. power grid, a catastrophe that would take years to repair and lead to a death toll after a year of up to 90 percent of the population. Imagine most of the U.S. in the same shape as the island of Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria; though relief efforts have restored electricity to a sizeable number of the island’s 3.5 million people, the bulk of its electrical infrastructure remains in shambles. And there are nowhere near enough generators in the United States to replace the power grid. This is an unlikely event, although the likelihood is not zero, and it has the attention of the Congress.

Outlook: Clearly, time is running out for the U.S. to intervene in North Korea if the Trump administration’s objective remains the same as it has been throughout the president’s short tenure: Stopping Pyongyang from developing a viable nuclear weapons capability and the means to deliver those weapons to U.S. soil. That said, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un still appears determined to develop a nuclear weapons capability that can threaten the U.S. If no one backs down, war is inevitable.


Russian officials expressed their displeasure this week and accused NATO of wanting war. Elements of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Cavalry Regiment arrived at an outpost about 100 miles Kaliningrad, Russia’s militarized territory situated between Poland and the Baltics. As a result, at least one Russian lawmaker is now calling for an increase in Iskander-M ballistic missiles to be deployed to Kaliningrad. “This creates prerequisites that may eventually enable [NATO] to create a certain stronghold. We will surely not turn a blind eye on this. We will take retaliatory measures,” he said.

There were a number of significant developments — pre-war indicators, if you will:

  • NATO announced another expansion this week, as they prepare to create a 10-nation NATO force in Romania to counter Russian dominance in the Black Sea.
  • U.S. Army Europe commander Gen. Ben Hodges expressed his disappointment that the U.S. and NATO have failed to develop a radio that cannot be jammed by Russian electronic warfare. (Hodges is expected to retire this year.)
  • Denmark increased defense spending by 20% in response to Russian activity in the region.
  • In a signal that Russia intends to maintain or expand its presence abroad, the Russian military is now floating the idea of allowing foreign troops to join Russia’s ranks, after Putin allowed foreign troops to join its counter-terror missions abroad (which could one day include actions against NATO or pro-Western forces)
  • The Croatian contingent of a U.S.-led multinational battle group arrived in Poland to join up with its counterparts.
  • Russian officials are expressing their concern with Georgian cooperation with NATO, after several exercises there earlier this year (generally pro-American, the country of Georgia borders Russia).
  • Fearing Russian influence in the region, Hungarian leaders are pressing for faster and better integration of the western Balkans into NATO.
  • Despite warnings from Russia — and perhaps in spite of that — Finland is debating a national referendum on joining NATO.

Outlook: Given the political landscape and geography of Europe, there are lots of moving pieces to coordinate as NATO pushes for increased readiness to face Russia in a war. A retired Army Colonel once remarked to me that one reason — maybe the greatest reason — that Napoleon had so much success on the battlefield is that he fought coalitions of nations that spoke different languages and did not have unified commands. That same issue must be pressing on NATO as they conduct military exercises to ensure that all member states will be on the same page should war eventually happen. From Russia’s perspective, one major strength is its electronic warfare capabilities, and jamming NATO communications is certain to disrupt battlefield coordination, giving a unique advantage to Russian forces. My outlook remains the same this week: the situation is stable, but developing. I don’t expect war to occur in the near-term, however, both NATO and Russia are escalating the situation as they both continue to modernize and deploy forces in the border region. – SC


Middle East SITREP

For a number of weeks now, we’ve been focused primarily on the end of the Syrian civil war because there is so much military and geopolitical maneuvering taking place that’s setting the stage for the next war in the Middle East — a war that very likely will involve Israel and Iran or, at least, Iranian proxies.

In previous issues, we have noted how Israel is readying itself for a new confrontation with Iranian proxies Hezbollah and Hamas, with Jerusalem’s primary focus on the former. As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu takes Israel’s case to international forums like the United Nations, he is also preparing the Israeli military for the coming confrontation with a series of war games and exercises aimed at targeting Hezbollah in Lebanon. What Israel is concerned about most is the establishment of a land corridor from Iran all the way through Syria and Lebanon to Israel’s border. And while ultimately the Israelis are most concerned about Iran’s mounting strength, still fresh in the minds of Israel Defense Force commanders is the fact that Hezbollah, a militia force (albeit a well-armed force) fought the IDF to a draw in 2006. Since then, the organization has dramatically increased the size and power of its arsenal, thanks largely to Iranian patronage.

At the UN, Netanyahu has made it clear Israel will not tolerate a substantial, threatening Iranian presence on its borders. “We will act to prevent Iran from establishing permanent military bases in Syria for its air, sea and ground forces. We will act to prevent Iran from producing deadly weapons in Syria or in Lebanon for use against us. And we will act to prevent Iran from opening new terror fronts against Israel along our northern border,” he said. To emphasize the point, the IDF last month completed its largest military exercises in 20 years — an exercise that involved the mobilization of about 30,000 troops. Israel has said any permanent presence of Iranian or Hezbollah troops along the Syrian border with Israel would be crossing a “red line,” hinting that it would be willing to take military action if needed.

And yet, that appears to be what is happening. Syria — or rather, a large swath of it — is essentially being transformed into a large Iranian base, as Hezbollah senior commanders are becoming increasingly bellicose in their rhetoric. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has said that the Jews should “leave and return to the countries from which they came so they are not fuel for any war that the idiotic [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu government takes them to. … They will have no secure place in occupied Palestine.” Meanwhile, Iranian army commander Maj.-Gen. Abdolrahim Mousavi added, “Israel should remain silent and count down the days to its death, because any minor mistake would lead to its demise as fast as lightning.”

There are two messages in these statements: 1) They contain a reaffirmation of the Shi’ite jihadist axis ideology, which is a long-term commitment to destroy Israel; and 2) Hezbollah and Iranian commanders are attempting to deter Israel from trying to stop Iran and its proxies from essentially colonizing Syria after helping President Bashar al-Assad defeat ISIS and the several rebel militias, some of which have been backed by the U.S. These messages also contain a level of confidence that Iranian forces and their proxies have little to fear from Israel.

Meanwhile, one development that Israel has monitored throughout the duration of the Syrian civil war is the establishment of a “land corridor” stretching from Iran to just a few kilometers away from the Israel-controlled Golan Heights. That corridor essentially exists now. Also, Hezbollah al-Nujaba, an Iraqi Shiite force supported by Iran, has formed a “Golan Liberation” unit and declared itself “ready to take action to liberate the Golan.” Additionally, senior officers and officials with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Basij have also been photographed by Israeli intelligence in regions close to the border.

Outlook: Israel has frustrated Iranian efforts in a couple of ways — by launching attacks to interdict and delay attempts to build a paramilitary infrastructure in regions close to its borders; and by developing working relationships with local rebel groups who, for now, still control the greater portion of border regions, like the Fursan al-Joulan group. Arrangements have been reportedly made to keep pro-Iranian militant groups 25 miles away from Israel’s border, but as in the past, Jerusalem is taking no chances and nothing for granted.

Bottom line, Israel cannot and will not simply sit back and allow Iran and its proxies to essentially annex Syria. Israel cannot permit Iranian and Iranian-backed forces to concentrate on its borders because Israel takes threats of its destruction very seriously. Few in the IDF think Iranian or Hezbollah leaders are kidding when they talk about destroying the Jewish state.

Also, Israel does not appear to be getting much assistance from the great powers involved in the Syrian conflict and throughout the region — the United States or Russia. Netanyahu has appealed both to President Trump and President Putin to intervene against Iranian expansionism but it hasn’t happened. Moscow won’t because Syria is home to permanent Russian military bases, and because Iran presents a challenge to Israel and its principal ally, the United States. For Washington’s part, the administration seems much more focused on eliminating ISIS and staying out of another Middle East conflict. That has left Israel to its own devices and it is now mobilizing to counter the regional realignment sought by Iran and enabled by great power inaction.

One way or another, Israel will confront Iran or its proxies as the latter continues to encroach on Israel’s borders.




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

U.S. lawmakers have told the Pentagon they want lasers deployed to the field of battle sooner rather than later, as interest in the futuristic weapons systems is growing. The Pentagon is working on several prototypes, from truck-mounted systems to high-powered microwave weapons capable of downing drones. The Army, Navy and Air Force all have programs under development, but lawmakers have made it clear they don’t think the technology is progressing quickly enough. “It is not happening quick enough,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities. “And I think we’ve had a culture of simply always chasing the perfect technology instead of saying, ‘A lot of this stuff is ready for primetime now, and there’s a use for it in the field we need to meet now.’” The Senate’s defense authorization included an additional $200 million to rapidly iterate and demonstrate directed-energy weapons.

President Trump requested hundreds of millions more dollars for U.S. Cyber Command in his FY 2018 budget. Trump is asking for $647 million — a 16 percent increase over last year — to assist the now-full-fledged, unified command bolster its mission force, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2018. Within weeks of being inaugurated, the president signed an executive order directing all federal agencies to make recommendations to improve cybersecurity, so clearly Trump is ‘wired in’ to this issue. But also, the president is no doubt aware of the improving cyberwar capabilities of competitor nations, especially Russia, China, North Korea and Iran. That’s good because going forward, cyber warfare operations will be a crucial part of any military campaign. “This decision is a significant step in the department’s continued efforts to build its cyber capabilities, enabling Cyber Command to provide real, meaningful capabilities … on par with the other geographic and functional combatant commands,” Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security Kenneth Rapuano told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon. Some welcome the additional funding but also want CyberCom to have budget authority; currently, the command does not control its own acquisition and is thus reliant on capabilities purchased by other defense agencies.

Australia has chosen the Aegis combat management system for its next-generation frigates. The systems, which are manufactured by Lockheed-Martin and have long been mainstays of the U.S. and Japanese navies, are considered key missile defense components. “Recent events in our region have proven that Australia’s ­future frigates must be equipped to defend Australia from the threat of ­medium and long-range missile attacks,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull recently wrote in Australian media. “This technology will ­enable the future frigates to ­engage missiles at long range,” Turnbull said.“I am determined to keep Australians safe. Giving our navy the best combat management technology will ­ensure that we can meet and overcome any threat that comes our way — in the air and at sea.” Canberra is set to launch its Future Frigate program — project SEA 500 — which entails the construction of nine surface combatants at the Osborne Naval Shipyard in Adelaide, South Australia to replace Anzac-class frigates beginning in 2020.

The venerable “Ma Deuce” — the M2 .50 cal. machine gun, in service with the U.S. military since 1923, is about to receive a major optics upgrade. Trijicon, which makes the popular ACOG site common throughout the U.S. military, has developed a reflex site for the M2 and M240 medium machine gun. Called the Machine Gun Reflex Sight, or MGRS, it features a pair of ballistic cams which permit the operator to easily switch between the M2 and the M240. Users only have to re-zero the weapon after switching the site. Currently, the M2 only features iron sites and most humans can’t see past 1,000 meters, so target acquisition at that range is difficult. The new site fixes that problem, making the weapon more lethal at greater ranges and reducing cyclical rates that increases weapon survivability and duration.

The U.S. Army is developing its next-generation armored force that will include a super tank. The service is currently undertaking concept modeling and early design work for a mobile, lethal, high-tech future lightweight tank platform that will be able to detect and destroy a wider range of targets and from further distances, cross bridges, burn drones with lasers and defeat incoming enemy artillery fire by the 2030s and beyond. The new tank should start to emerge after the Army begins fielding M2A2 SEP v4 upgraded Abrams tanks in the 2020s, more lethal version with 3rd generation Forward Looking Infrared Sensors that provide greater targeting and resolution, along with more lethal Advanced Multi-Purpose, or AMP, ammunition that combines many rounds into one 120mm round. As for the new super tank, “The vehicle needs to have physical adaptability and change and growth ability for alterations as one of its premises – so it can learn things about energy and power and armor. The Army really needs to think about growth as an operational need,” a senior Army official told Scout Warrior in an interview.

Lockheed Martin has conducted another successful test of its Army Tactical Missile System at White Sands Missile Base in New Mexico, its seventh successful test in a row. The missile was launched by a soldier-manned High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launcher and flew about 140 km (about 86 miles) while demonstrating a proximity sensor height-of-burst detonation over the objective area. This new ATACMS feature will give battlefield commanders the ability to hit targets that are imprecisely located on the battlefield. “ATACMS is extremely accurate, affordable and mission-flexible, and is a missile our warfighters can rely upon when performance is most needed,” said Matt Berger, Precision Fires program manager at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. Other test objectives included confirming the missile’s performance range and accuracy from launch to warhead event, and validating the interface with the HIMARS launcher, as well as testing system software performance.

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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