Strategic Intelligence Summary for 14 February 2019

Strategic Intelligence

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…

  • Iran’s ongoing unrest and U.S.-desired regime change
  • SOUTHCOM: U.S. troops could be used to protect Americans in Venezuela
  • U.S. may get aggressive against China’s ‘grey zone’ tactics in South China Sea
  • U.S. air strikes against al Qaeda in Somalia increase
  • U.S. Navy ships make another pass near Chinese-held islands in South China Sea
  • Iran’s Revolutionary Guards unveil new ballistic missile
  • U.S. Air Force will test hypersonic device by late 2020: Official
  • Japan Self-Defense Force certifies its first Regimental Landing Team
  • Trump administration seeking large increase in Pentagon’s ‘slush fund’ account
  • Flashpoint SITREPs (NATO-Russia, Indo-Pacific, Middle East, North Korea)

 

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?

Iran’s ongoing unrest and U.S.-desired regime change

Iranian leaders are blaming the United States for a recent suicide bombing that killed 41 Iranians, including 27 members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. It’s typical for Iran’s officials to blame the United States for embarrassing attacks, but it comes after a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and other foreign officials to discuss Iran. While the two events are unlikely to be related, a new report out this morning accuses the Trump administration of accelerating a secret program targeting Iranian rockets and missiles. Since the George W. Bush administration, CIA has been clandestinely supplying the Iranian Space Agency with parts designed to fail. Iran has had two satellite rocket launch failures this year — one in January and another earlier this month. In the past 11 years, the Iranian Space Agency has suffered a 67 percent failure rate in their attempts to launch orbital satellites. Last month, Secretary Pompeo accused the Iranian space program of launching rockets that are “virtually identical and interchangeable with those used in ballistic missiles”.

Iranian leaders know they’re being targeted by the U.S. for internally-led regime change. The protests, riots, and social developments inside Iran have all been blamed on U.S. influence. But Iran also has its own tools to use against the United States. A failed cyber attack in 2013 targeted a dam in upstate New York, and two Iranians were later charged for that attack. We know that Iranian-backed terror group Hezbollah has a global reach, which includes cells across the United States. I say this not to perpetuate fear, but to point out that Iran likely has options for carrying out attacks in reprisal not only inside the United States but against U.S. interests abroad. Critical infrastructure could be a future target.

SOUTHCOM commander says U.S. troops could be used to protect Americans in Venezuela

The head of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) said late last week that U.S. troops could be deployed inside Venezuela to “protect U.S. personnel and diplomatic facilities, if necessary”. In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Adm. Craig S. Falle noted that the Venezuelan armed forces and security personnel from Cuba have become the “center of gravity” between rival leaders. [SOURCE]

U.S. may get aggressive against China’s ‘grey zone’ tactics in South China Sea

Analysts from the U.S. and Australia say that the Trump administration will take more aggressive, preplanned actions against China’s “grey zone tactics” in the South China Sea. The analysis comes after U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson called for tougher stances against what is seen as increasing aggression by both China and Russia in the Indo-Pacific region. Grey zone tactics are viewed as coercive but below the threshold of what would involve an armed response. China has used its increasingly muscular coast guard, which was placed under the control of the military last year. China’s maritime militia fishing boats also operate using grey zone tactics. China has used these two entities to enforce its outsized claims in the South China Sea and to ‘discourage’ other nations from operating in claimed waters. But as they become more prevalent and aggressive, the U.S. actually risks a conflict unless the Navy ensures that the so-called ‘rules’ of free navigation in international waters are enforced, the analysts said. [SOURCE]

U.S. Navy ships make another pass near Chinese-held islands in South China Sea

The Trump administration continued to deny China control over the vast South China Sea with another freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) recently as two U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyers sailed within 12 miles of Mischief Reef in the dispute Spratly Islands. The FONOPs are also the administration’s way of informing U.S. allies in the Indo-Pacific region that Washington is committed to its regional security agreements. [SOURCE]

U.S. air strikes against al Qaeda in Somalia increase

U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) has been steadily increasing action against al-Shabaab, the branch of al-Qaeda in Somalia, hitting the group at least 14 times mostly with air strikes this year. The increase in air strikes, which AFRICOM says cannot defeat Shabaab by themselves, comes even as other reports suggest that the Pentagon wants to get out of Somalia, where the U.S. military has been, off and on, since the early 1990s. In the most recent action, U.S. and regional militaries have been at war with terrorist factions in Somalia for more than 10 years. If the U.S. does disengage from Somalia, it would be in keeping with President Trump’s stated goal of ending American military involvement in a number of long-running conflicts including Afghanistan and Iraq. [SOURCE]


 

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

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards unveil new ballistic missile

The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) introduced a new ballistic missile it says has a range of 1,000 km (~ 621 miles), which is not enough to strike Israel from Iran but more than enough range to do so from Syria. Iran says it has voluntarily limited its missile development to a range of 2,000 km, or 1,250 miles, enough to strike Israel and U.S. targets around the Middle East. [SOURCE]

U.S. Air Force will test hypersonic device by late 2020: Official

Dr. Will Roper, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, told reporters that the service will have the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon fielded by late 2020, with additional advanced capabilities ready six months later, or around mid-2021. The Air Force, Army, and Navy are all working on a hypersonic concept as Russia is slated to field a functional hypersonic weapon, reportedly, by next year, and as China continues working on its own capability. Hypersonic weapons are considered first-strike game-changers because at present, there aren’t adequate defenses against them. [SOURCE]

Japan Self-Defense Force certifies its first Regimental Landing Team

The Japan Ground Self-Defense Force certified its first Regimental Landing Team in a training operation conducted with U.S. Marines at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Previously, the unit used U.S. Marine vehicles, but has since fielded its own. The Japanese Regimental Landing Team is part of a brigade tasked with retaking Japanese-held islands if they are ever occupied by foreign — read Chinese — forces. [SOURCE]

Trump administration seeking large increase in Pentagon’s ‘slush fund’ account

The White House will ask Congress for a very large increase in the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account to a level that hasn’t been seen since before the Pentagon’s ‘surge’ of forces into Iraq. Normally, the account — derided as a “slush fund” by critics — has been funded at between $62 billion and $90 billion, but the Trump administration is reportedly seeking an increase to $150 billion and possibly as high as $174 billion. The fund was established in 1985 as as a sort of ‘war chest’ in case the United States found itself unexpectedly in a major war, but subsequent administrations have used the funds for other purposes. [SOURCE] (Analyst Comment: The Obama administration requested a large increase to the OCO during Obama’s last term. When I first reported on that in November 2016, I wrote: “[T]he White House ordering military leaders to begin planning overseas warfighting budgets for the next five years is a good indicator that they expect contingency operations… that aren’t built into the base defense budget. This five year plan starts in 2018 and runs until 2022.” The Trump administration’s requests to increase the OCO could also point to an expectation of the costs of a conflict that doesn’t currently fit into the military’s baseline budget.)


 

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)

NATO-Russia:
In January lawmakers in Macedonia ratified a Washington-backed deal with Greece to change the country’s name to North Macedonia, and this week the Greek parliament did its part and approved the name change as well, ending a longstanding dispute. North Macedonia’s deputy prime minister Bujar Osmani, who is overseeing the country’s European integration, told a gathering in Washington, D.C., that his country seized what could have been the last opportunity to join the West. “I think that we got the last train out,” he said, adding that the region is increasingly pro-NATO, not pro-Russia. This is certain to upset Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been working to undermine North Macedonia and other Baltic regions as they move closer to the West and away from their traditional center of gravity — Moscow.

Indo-Pacific:
We noted last week that President Trump and Chinese President Xi could meet face-to-face ahead of a 1 March deadline when existing U.S. tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports are scheduled to rise from 10 percent to 245 percent. However, it’s now not known whether that meeting will take place. What is clear, however, is that the Trump administration is continuing its strategy of denying China unfettered claims and access to the South China Sea. This week another small flotilla of two U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyers sailed near Beijing-claimed islands in the region, drawing another rebuke from China. The ships sailed within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef in the Spratlys, which are claimed by multiple countries. In addition to the escalating military and trade tensions, the U.S. has accused China of stealing sensitive intelligence and corporate trade data and of systemic human rights violations. But the biggest potential flashpoint remains a miscalculation between the U.S. and Chinese navies — or a U.S.-aligned regional power such as Japan, Taiwan, or South Korea.

Middle East:
Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attended what amounted to a security conference with European leaders in Poland, with Iran being the topic of discussion. With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looking on, Pence said that Iran seeks a “new Holocaust” by wiping the Jewish state off the map. Pompeo, meanwhile, said “the three H’s — the Houthis, Hamas, and Hezbollah — these are real threats,” a reference to Iran’s proxies in the region. The meeting comes as Iran celebrated the 40th anniversary of its Islamic revolution with a new vow to destroy Israel and strike U.S. forces in the region if they attack. Iran’s rhetoric is standard issue, but the renewed push against Iran by two top U.S. officials may indicate the administration, taken with the White House’s substantially higher funding request for the Pentagon’s Overseas Contingency Operations fund (see above), is preparing for, or expecting, a military confrontation with the Islamic republic.

North Korea:
For the time being, the U.S. and North Korea are on speaking terms and a third summit between President Trump and leader Kim Jong-un appears to be in the making. A second summit is expected to take place in Vietnam later this month. While progress was made during the first meeting, there are higher expectations for the second summit. The North still has nuclear weapons, the U.S. has ramped up its sanctions, and both sides will be looking for concrete resolutions and actions if there is going to be any progress at all as well as a third summit. The Director of National Intelligence recently expressed his belief that Kim Jong-un would not give up his nuclear weapons. While we agree that cessation of missile testing is a positive step forward, we agree that it’s unlikely Kim will give up his nuclear weapons.

// END REPORT

Samuel Culper 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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