Strategic Intelligence Summary for 13 September 2018 – Forward Observer Shop

Strategic Intelligence Summary for 13 September 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 Intelligence subscribers.

In this Strategic Intelligence Summary: (3,027 words)

  • Russia: Military exercises with China will be routine
  • U.S. to close PLO office in Washington
  • Air Force lays out future fight against near-peers 
  • Army to unveil new multi-domain battle strategy 
  • France calls for coordinated European force
  • U.S. beefs it’s military footprint in Germany
  • New Swedish government advocates for greater defense spending
  • Japan successfully shoots down ballistic missile in test
  • CIA to expand it’s armed drone program in Northern Africa
  • Pentagon revamps Egypt war games in trust-building exercise
  • Mattis visits Macedonia
  • Estonia eyes AD systems
  • China’s military building 
  • PLA expanding power through belt and road initiative 
  • China’s way of warmaking 
  • Trump postpones Gulf talks until 2019
  • Khamenei urges Iran’s military to “scare off” enemy
  • North Korean parade features no intercontinental ballistic missiles 
  • And more…

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? (NATO-Russia, Indo-Pacific, Middle East, North Korea)

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

Russia: Military exercises with China will be routine
Chinese media described the current joint military exercise with Russia as the country’s largest dispatch of forces abroad for such an exercise.  There are reportedly 3,200 Chinese troops participating. According to Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu, the two countries have agreed to regularly conduct joint exercises similar to the one being held this week.  This development is emblematic of warming military ties between the countries as tensions with the U.S. escalate. [source]
U.S. to close PLO office in Washington
In what Palestinian leaders call “a declaration of war” on peace efforts, the U.S. has announced the closure of the Palestinian mission in Washington, D.C. The U.S. State Department attributed the closure to a lack of progress by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office to start “direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel”. Palestinian sources characterize the action as “siding with the bully” by giving Israel everything it asks for while denying the Palestinian people. One Palestinian lawyer pointed to the recent recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the defunding of a UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA), and this closing of the PLO office as proof. Palestinian sources also criticize recent decisions by the U.S. to reduce humanitarian funding to the Palestinians, including a $20 million cut in foreign aid to hospitals in East Jerusalem. [source]
France calls for coordinated European force
During a two-day gathering of senior officers, parliamentarians, and industry leaders, French Army General Francois Lecointre called for European nations to form a coordinated force across the continent. “In the context of doubt over multilateralism, greater fragility of alliances and America’s refocus of attention to the Indo-Pacific region, the European continent must confront — increasingly on its own — all kinds of threats: might, terrorism, hybrid, cyber and migration,” Lecointre said. [source]
New Swedish government advocates for greater defense spending
Following recently concluded parliamentary elections in Sweden, it appears that no matter which coalition ultimately forms the new government, an increase in military spending will be a priority. All of the major parties in Sweden campaigned on a strengthened national defense and an increase in spending on the Swedish Armed Forces over the next 10 years. Sweden’s military budget has been in decline since the Cold War era of 1963, when defense spending amounted to 3.68 percent of Sweden’s gross domestic product (GDP). Spending as a ratio of GDP is currently about 1.03 percent, a historic low. (Analyst Comment:  For comparison, according to World Bank data, the U.S. spent 3.1 percent of its GDP on defense in 2017.) [source]

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

Air Force lays out future fight against near-peers 

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein is pushing multi-domain command and control operations as “21st century deterrence”. Although the term “deterrence” has traditionally been used within the context of nuclear weapons, Goldfein envisions using two new warfighting domains—space and cyber—to the Air Force’s advantage. According to Goldfein, multi-domain operations could produce so many dilemmas for an adversary that they could be completely overwhelmed. This could in turn change their cost-benefit calculation when weighing options. This new framework of operations will be tested during the “Doolittle Wargames” at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. Planners will focus on command and control and how to bring together a network of capabilities to execute hypothetical multi-domain operations. Goldfein sees connecting systems through a set of common architecture standards as the greatest obstacle to multi-domain operations. [source]

Army to unveil new multi-domain battle strategy 

The U.S. Army will be unveiling its own shift toward Multi-Domain Operations in the coming weeks in an effort to further implement joint-warfare techniques and tactics. Senior Pentagon strategists say Multi-Domain Operations are a modern extension of the Cold War AirLand Battle Strategy, which endeavored to integrate air and ground assets to counter the Soviet threat in Europe. Multi-Domain Operations aim to integrate diverse assets across air, land, and sea domains, as well as the newer domains of cyber, space, and electromagnetic. One example of such operations is the Army’s exploration of the ability to fire artillery off of Navy ships. Pentagon officials say these operations can be made more difficult by the lack of integration between different services’ “tactical ISR, target acquisition and fire control systems.” [source]

U.S. beefs it’s military footprint in Germany

In a move to “reconstitute the equivalent of division-level combat power” in Germany, the U.S. Army has announced the formation of new units to include a field artillery brigade headquarters, two multiple-launch rocket system battalions, and a short-range air defense battalion.  The units, comprised of 1,500 personnel, should be in place by September 2020.  There are currently 33,000 American forces stationed in Germany.  The units are to be newly activated units rather than units relocated from the United States. The move comes only months after the Trump administration said it was reassessing the U.S. military footprint in Germany.  Officials in Berlin at the time seemed unconcerned, privately stating that plans were already underway with the Pentagon to increase troop strength in the country. [source]
CIA to expand it’s armed drone program in Northern Africa 
According to reporting by The New York Times, armed drones will soon be deployed from a “secret” military base in the Nigerian desert town of Dirkou, about 250 kilometers south of the Libyan border.  The drones are expected to be used to carry out air strikes on ISIL and al-Qaeda targets. According to the report, the Dirkou airport has added a new taxiway, walls, and security posts since February. The U.S. drone program has been criticized for its operations in “non-battlefield settings such as Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia.”  There are reports that drone attacks have caused at least 4,000 civilian casualties in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. [source]

Pentagon revamps Egypt war games in trust-building exercise

The U.S.-led Operation Bright Star military exercise in Egypt, involving some 200 American troops, began on September 8.  The exercise, intended to improve Cairo’s ability to counter militant groups in the Sinai desert, was held every other year from 1980 until the 2011 Arab Spring.  The exercise takes place just weeks after the U.S. State Department released $195 million in frozen military aid.  This is seen as an indication that the U.S. will continue its $1.3 billion of military aid to Egypt. It is not yet clear if Operation Bright Star will become an annual exercise going forward. Some see the release of the military aid as a policy victory for Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who has pushed for the normalization of relations with Egypt in spite of concerns about the detention of two Americans, Egypt’s ties to North Korea, and concerns about Egypt’s human rights record. [source]

PIR3: What is the current situation report and risk of war in each of the four? (NATO-Russia, Indo-Pacific, Middle East, North Korea)


Significant Developments:

Mattis visits Macedonia 

Defense Secretary James Mattis plans “a rather swift journey over there and back” to Macedonia this weekend. The purpose of the visit, according to Mattis, is to “make it clear” that America opposes Russian aggression as Macedonia considers an invitation to join NATO, which was extended to the country in July. Mattis said that the Macedonian people should be able to chart the course for their country’s future without Russian interference. Moscow officials have said that Macedonia could become “a legitimate target” if it joins NATO and Russia-NATO relations continue to deteriorate. [source]
Estonia eyes AD systems
Estonian Defence Minister Jüri Luik, during a visit to Washington to attend Sen. John McCain’s funeral, said that NATO had made the mistake of overlooking its air defense capabilities following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the mistaken belief “that the era of big power tensions is over.” In June Estonia signed an agreement with MBDA Missile Systems to purchase more Mistral short-range air defense weapons. Estonia is now hoping to procure a medium-range air defense system to add another layer of protection.  They are currently considering acquisition of a system similar to the Network Centric Air Defence System (NASAMS) from Norway’s Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace.  Neighbors Lithuania and Finland currently use this system. [source]


Analyst Comment: As the Russian military exercise Vostok-18 continues this week, two seemingly contradictory stories are of interest. On the one hand, the U.S. Army announces an increase in troop strength in Germany. On the other hand, a senior French military officer calls for a pan-European military force, apparently separate from NATO. This is presumably in response to Trump administration calls for Europe to shoulder more of the burden for its own defense. In fact, these two events are not at all contradictory; the former is a largely symbolic gesture, while the latter reflects concern that the U.S. is serious in its call for Europeans to take more responsibility for its own defense.

The current level of approximately 33,000 U.S. troops in Germany compares to a peak of over 274,000 troops in that country in 1962. The addition of 1,500 artillery and air defense troops is statistically insignificant and likely a message to NATO that we still support the alliance, but our dedication of resources to that alliance are unlikely to change significantly in the near future.

French Army General Lecointre’s call for a coordinated force across the continent is simply further proof that the Europeans are taking seriously the U.S. demands for more equitable cost sharing with regard to European defense.

U.S. troop levels in Europe will not reach Cold War levels again in the near future in the absence of all-out conventional war there. It is now up to the Europeans to decide how they will deal with this problem.  The challenge will be formulating a unified European solution in the face of European Union fragmentation.


Significant Developments:

China’s military building 

According to an annual report released by the Pentagon regarding China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has significantly ramped up its ground and naval forces and other capabilities to a point where is could “degrade core US operational and technological advantages.”  These changes have accelerated in the five years since Xi Jinping took the premiership. China’s strategy includes a sophisticated arsenal of ballistic missiles that are capable of threatening America’s best vessels.  Additionally, the first Chinese-made aircraft carrier put to sea in April, more than 100 warships and submarines have been built in the past decade, and last year a new class of “super destroyers” was introduced.
In addition to these activities in China’s normal sphere of influence, Beijing has also made power plays in Africa, surpassing the U.S. as the continent’s largest trading partner over a decade ago, and now possibly seeking access to ports and bases throughout the Indian Ocean.  Furthermore, Beijing operates about 2,500 development, civil works and construction projects worth $94 billion in 51 African countries according to a 2017 report from the African Center for Strategic Studies. Causing further concern, Sino-Russian relations appear to be warming as 3,000 Chinese troops participate in the largest Russian military exercise in nearly forty years.
Finally, there is concern that China may be seeking a military presence in Afghanistan, where the Chinese fear that instability there could spill over into its unruly Xinjiang region.  Although reports claim that Chinese vehicles are patrolling Afghanistan, and there are plans to base hundreds of troops in the country to carry out counterterrorism training missions, the Chinese foreign ministry and Defense Ministry deny the allegations.
All of these activities point to a China that is well on its way to disrupting the geopolitical and global military status quo. [source]
PLA expanding power through belt and road initiative 
China’s Belt and Road economic initiative is being used to expand Beijing’s overall power and “where China is using economic tools, they’re often doing so in order to create access and potential bases,” said Randall G. Schriver, assistant defense secretary for Asian and Pacific security affairs.  Schriver made the comments while discussing the Pentagon’s annual report to Congress on the Chinese military.
These initiatives to gain access and potential bases are accomplished by gaining control over developing nations that accept loans and other infrastructure aid, a strategy described by Schriver as “predatory economics.”  In this strategy, concessions are often granted to China when a country is no longer able to pay back debt.  Such concessions often involve sacrificing sovereignty and control to China, often giving China’s People’s Liberation Army access to distant potential bases. [source]

China’s way of warmaking 

China’s 2015 Military Strategy discusses the employment of “integrated combat forces” to “prevail in system-vs-system operations featuring information dominance, precision strikes and joint operations.”  The author points out that there is nothing new about this concept, and even the terminology “system-of-systems” is nomenclature borrowed from the west by the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA).
The author provides some history and examples of system-of-systems—also referred to as metasystems—in the military sphere, pointing out that virtually every military operation involves the integration of disparate forces and weapons systems to accomplish a military goal.  Simply put, this integration represents the formation of a system-of-systems, or metasystem.
The vulnerabilities in these metasystems are generally the nodes between the components.  These nodes are often information technology components such as electromagnetic emissions and GPS position data.  Interrupting the connectivity of these nodes is key.  The goal of the PLA is to accomplish this in order to engage forces and systems that are no longer effectively integrated.  By the same token, if in our operations we can break these PLA system nodes we can reduce their metasystems to “isolated clots of combat power that can be overpowered one by one until PLA commanders say uncle.” [source]
Japan successfully shoots down ballistic missile in test
During a test of the Aegis Baseline 9/BMD 5.0 combat system aboard a Japanese warship off the coast of Kauai in Hawaii on September 11 a mock ballistic missile was shot down outside the earth’s atmosphere.  This test was a joint effort between the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), the United States Missile Defense Agency (MDA), and the U.S. Navy.
A joint U.S.-Japan program is currently underway to upgrade the JMSDF’s two Atago-class guided missile destroyers with this system, which is designed for sea-based ballistic missile defense (BMD).   Two more Japanese Atago-class guided missile destroyers are currently on order with the latest Aegis BMD variant. The JMSDF currently has six Aegis-equipped guided missile destroyers. [source]


Middle East

Significant Developments:

Leaders Russia, Turkey, and Iran meet on Syria

The leaders of Russia, Turkey, and Iran met in Tehran on September 7 to discuss developments in Syria.  The main point of contention was the status of the Syrian province of Idlib on the Turkey-Syria border, where Russia and Iran are advocating for military action against Syrian rebels. Turkey fears that this would result in a refugee crisis at its border with Syria. Three things were revealed about “the Astana trio” during these discussions:
1. Disagreements between the three leaders persist;
2. Moscow, Ankara and Tehran continue to favor the trilateral meeting format as a means to advocate for their respective positions and coordinate actions in Syria;
3. The U.S. presence in Syria remains a problem for all three participants. “In Syria, America has come to be seen as the threat to Iran, the spoiler for Russia and an irritant for Turkey.” [source]

Trump postpones Gulf talks until 2019 

The Trump administration has reportedly delayed a meeting with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which was to take place in October.  The meeting is now tentatively set for January 2019.  The delay was blamed on Trump’s busy travel schedule leading up to the November mid-term elections, and is the second time this year that the summit has been postponed. GCC members include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman.  The Gulf bloc leaders have not met since June 2017, when Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain began a blockade of Qatar over the emirate’s ties to Iran and Islamist groups. The January meeting will focus on building a so-called Middle East Strategic Alliance of eight countries (GCC plus Egypt and Jordan) to “handle Iran’s growing assertiveness in the region through proxy militias.” Although the Trump administration supports the meeting, experts agree that uniting the GCC will be problematic. [source]
Khamenei urges Iran’s military to “scare off” enemy
Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday called on his military to “scare off” the enemy.  At a graduation ceremony for cadets of Iran’s armed forces he said, “Increase your power as much as you can, because your power scares off the enemy and forces it to retreat.” This is only the latest of Iranian statements likely spawned at least partially by the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran and re-imposition of sanctions. Recent statements from Khamenei also included praise for Iranian naval forces off the coast of Yemen.  Iran denies claims by Saudi Arabia that the Shi’ite Iranians are supporting Yemen’s Houthis.  The Houthis are fighting the government of Yemen, which is backed by a Saudi-led military coalition of Sunni Arab countries. Finally, on Saturday, Iran rejected calls from France for negotiations on Iran’s nuclear plans, its ballistic missile arsenal, and it role in wars in Syria and Yemen. [source]
North Korea

Significant Developments:

North Korean parade features no intercontinental ballistic missiles 

National Public Radio (NPR) host Mary Louise Kelly is currently visiting North Korea on a six-day reporting trip.  This is the first time NPR has had a team in this country since 2010.  It is the first visit for Kelly. Kelly reports that North Korea has gone through many changes since the summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore. She says these changes are primarily in tone and rhetoric, noting that public messaging is significantly less aggressive and less anti-American. Whereas perusal of relatively recent photos in North Korea would show numerous examples of anti-American propaganda on the streets, those signs and billboards are now gone. When asked what has replaced the propaganda, Kelly describes a sporting event she attended which featured videos of Kim meeting with Moon Jae-in, the leader of South Korea, which were met with universal applause. [source]



– S.C.

Mike Shelby is a former military intelligence NCO and contract intelligence analyst. He spent three years in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now the intelligence and warfare researcher at Forward Observer.

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