Strategic Intelligence Summary for 15 November 2018 – Forward Observer Shop

Strategic Intelligence Summary for 15 November 2018

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: (3,335 words)

  • National Defense Commission: America’s military superiority has “eroded to a dangerous degree”
  • Internet traffic diversion rerouted Google data through Russia and China
  • Israel raids Hamas base in Gaza
  • Saudis reportedly pursued the assassination of Iranian Quds Force commander
  • U.S. Navy to create an attack submarine unit to train against Russia and China
  • Guided-missile destroyer Michael Monsoor (DDG 1001) leaves shipyard for commissioning
  • Chinese state media hints stealth bomber will undergo trial flights
  • Pentagon taking a serious look at establishing a US base in Poland
  • NATO wraps up Trident Juncture 2018
  • Norway: Russia disrupted GPS location signals in the Arctic
  • NATO-Russia, Middle East, Indo-Pacific, Korean Peninsula SITREPs
  • 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?

NDS Commission: America’s military superiority has “eroded to a dangerous degree

A Congress-mandated National Defense Strategy Commission report concludes that the US is in a “crisis of national security,” especially if it had to fight two conflicts at once. It warns that the US could suffer unacceptably high casualties and perhaps struggle to win, or could even lose, a war against Russia or China. The bi-partisan commission stated that it would be “unwise and irresponsible” not to expect adversaries to use kinetic, cyber, and other types of attacks on the Homeland while our military is fighting abroad. [source] (Analyst Comment: This has been our warning, as well, especially the likelihood that Russia and China will likely engage in cyber warfare against the Homeland during a conflict, regardless of where the fighting occurs.)

Internet traffic diversion rerouted Google data through Russia and China

On Monday, 12NOV18, Google internet traffic was diverted through Russia and China, disrupting Google services including search, cloud-hosting and its bundle of collaboration tools for business. The diversion “at a minimum caused a massive Denial of Service (DoS) to G Suite (business collaboration tools) and Google Search” and “put valuable Google traffic” in the hands of state entities that have a long history of Internet surveillance. Most network traffic to Google services (up to 94 percent) is encrypted and in theory shields data from prying eyes, even if diverted. [source] (Analyst Comment: Russia and China teaming up to disrupt the flow of data through the internet with its implied threat of stealing critical data is a new development. And the involvement of Nigeria, which has moved closer to China, is not a welcomed development for the West. China has long been making in-roads into Africa, mostly through construction projects. Including Nigeria in its cyber operations, and the obvious advantage of dispersal of operations, could signal a closer, deeper relationship with the African nation, which is set to be one of the world’s most populated countries this century.)

Israel-Gaza conflict update

On Sunday, 11NOV18, Israel launched a raid three kilometers deep into the Gaza Strip that killed Nour Baraka, a prominent commander of the al-Qassem Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas. An Israeli Special Forces officer was killed in the raid. The Israeli ground forces, moving by car, were covered during their withdrawal by the Israeli Air Force (IAF). Witnesses say that the IAF fired more than forty missiles during the movement, killing six Palestinians. In response, Hamas fighters fired off over 400 rockets and mortar rounds, and Israel responded with dozens of air strikes. A hundred Hamas rockets were reportedly intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. [source] (Analyst Comment: The timing of this assassination is curious. Prime Minister Netanyahu had allowed Qatar to move $15 million through Israel to the Gaza Strip on Friday. Much of that money has gone to pay Hamas civil servants who haven’t seen a paycheck in months. Netanyahu agreed to the transfer if Hamas would lower the intensity of the weekly border protests which have been ongoing since earlier this Spring. Qatar also pledged $100 per family in Gaza, along with payments to those wounded in clashes along the Gaza-Israeli border. Qatar has also been providing additional fuel for the sole power station in Gaza bringing outages to the lowest level in years. All of this seems to be very effectual at driving a wedge between Hamas and the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. The targeted killing could be have been a show of force or it could have been a pre-emptive strike designed to blunt a Hamas attack. The fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu was out of the country on an official visit to France may suggest that there was a sense of urgency on the part of Israeli security forces. On 14NOV18 the Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman resigned. The move is expected to significantly weaken Prime Minister Benjamin Netanhyahu’s government and could possibly force new elections. In the meantime Netanyahu will take over as the interim defense minister. [source] (Analyst Comment: Netanyahu’s Likud coalition in the Israeli Knesset has 61 out of 120 seats. A Likud loss of two seats in the election will mean new leadership for Israel.)

Al Jazeera: Senior aides to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wanted to plan assassination of Qassim Suleimani, commander of the IRGC-Quds Force

Until he was fired last month for allegedly ordering the murder of journalist Jamal Khassoggi, General Ahmed al-Assiri, a close aide to the crown prince, attended a March 2017 meeting in Riyadh where businessmen pitched a $2 billion plan to use private intelligence operatives to sabotage the Iranian economy. At some point during the meeting, the Saudis asked the businessmen about whether they “conducted kinetics” or lethal operations, saying they were interested in assassinating senior Iranian officials, including GEN Qassim Suleimani, commander of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps – Quds Force (IRGC-QF). (Analyst Comment: The IRGC-QF has no strict equivalent in U.S. terms, however, a hybrid between U.S. Army Special Forces and the Central Intelligence Agency would put it in the ball park.) The businessmen turned them down, but said there was a group of former British commandos (SAS) who might take the contract. [source] (Analyst Comment: We cannot confirm the veracity of this reporting — however — GEN Suleimani has long been a formidable strategist and operations planner in Syria, Iraq, and anywhere else Iran has a sphere of influence. A Saudi-backed strike on him is plausible, given the Saudi’s desire to degrade Iranian paramilitary operations in the Middle East. To be blunt, many Western intelligence organizations would welcome Suleimani’s death, if they could avoid the fallout. As for the Saudi plot, the rather heavy handed maneuvering by Mohammad bin Salman could drive Suleimani even further to ground than he already is — he’s notoriously secretive and has an alarming propensity of popping up where he is least expected. And that’s not even to mention an Iranian response to Suleimani’s death.)

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

The US Navy is creating an attack submarine aggressor unit to train to fight against Russia and China

Vice Admiral Charles Richard drew attention during his change of command ceremony last August by telling his new command to “prepare for battle.” He’s since moved ahead with a plan that reflects the National Defense Strategy by creating an aggressor submarine squadron that will create more high-end sub-on-sub competition in training. Richard said the plan mimics what the naval aviation community has at “Top Gun.” But unlike the famed unit at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada, the new aggressor squadron won’t have its own boats. The squadron will include a yet to be determined number of personnel comprised of active and reserve sailors along with civilians. This “red cell” will become experts in employing Russia and China’s potential capabilities, and then take those capabilities to the fight in head-to-head competitions. [source] (Analyst Comment: Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has been on a mission to increase lethality across the Department of Defense. One good example of doing just that is how Vice Admiral Richardson changed the name of the Tactical Readiness Evaluation to the Combat Readiness Evaluation. Words have meaning and Secretary Mattis’ emphasis on warfighting is laudable; just as long as “lethality” doesn’t become just another buzzword on a power point slide.)

US Army is looking to Israel for robots to meet a number of needs

In recent months, officials of the US Army’s Tank-Automotive Research, Development & Engineering Center (TARDEC) have been visiting Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) on an almost weekly basis. TARDEC, which will soon be a part of the new Army Futures Command, is looking at a wide range of robotic systems to execute a number of missions: counter-IED, mules to follow the infantry, leader-follower systems where robots follow manned vehicles, engineering robots that can clear obstacles under fire, and optionally manned vehicles that can switch to unmanned vehicles in seconds. An example is the REX, currently being evaluated by the Israeli and Australian armies, a hybrid engine that allows it to follow soldiers for 12 hours non-stop, carrying 880 pounds of equipment and supplies. It can also be configured to carry a litter with a single casualty or even a remotely controlled automatic weapon. The Army has been looking for a robot to support an infantry squad since the demise of the MULE, which fell victim when the Army’s Future Combat System was axed by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. [source] (Analyst Comment: Issuing one REX per infantry squad, or even two per platoon, could open up numerous possibilities. A platoon sergeant could, for example, configure the robots with their automatic weapons and use them in the support by fire position during an assault. He could also a platoon’s REX robots for casualty evacuation. If the REX robots end up performing well in mountainous terrain or in the jungle, the Army could be fielding them in future fights.)

Guided-missile destroyer Michael Monsoor (DDG 1001) leaves shipyard for commissioning

The Zumwalt-class destroyer, named after fallen Navy SEAL Mike Monsoor, departed General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works in Maine on 09NOV18, and will be commissioned on the West Coast. [source] (Analyst Comment: The large Zumwalt-class destroyers are designed for stealth: their distinctive, radar evading superstructure has the radar profile of a fishing boat. Unfortunately, much like the Littoral Combat Ship, it seems to be a ship in search of a mission. Although it was originally designed to provide support for ground attacks, its Advanced Gun System was built to fire the Long Range Land Attack Projective, a munition that was cancelled after costs ran to $800,000 a round. The Navy is currently re-purposing both destroyers to a surface warfare mission.)

Chinese state media hints stealth bomber will undergo trial flights

China has been developing a stealth bomber for the past 20 years. The new airframe reflects the rapid modernization the Chinese military has been implementing and could give the nation its own “nuclear triad” of land, sea, and air deliverable nuclear weapons. China’s current long-range bomber is the 1950’s era H-6. The Pentagon’s assessment of the bomber is short on detail, but said it would likely be a flying wing design, like the US B-2 Spirit bomber, have a range of 5000 miles and a payload of 10 metric tons with the capacity to deliver nuclear and conventional weapons. [source]

Pentagon taking a serious look at establishing a US base in Poland

Discussions about a US base in Poland moved forward on Tuesday, as top defense officials met to dissect Warsaw’s offer to host an American armored division. Poland has said it will spend up to $2 billion to help fund the post where troops would be stationed on a permanent basis. So far Secretary of Defense James Mattis hasn’t expressed support or opposition to the project. [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:

NATO wraps up Trident Juncture 2018

The massive Trident Juncture exercise grew to include more than 50,000 personnel, 65 ships, and 250 aircraft. US forces included 14,000 troops, the USS Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group (CSG) and the USS Iwo Jima Amphibious Readiness Group (ARG). Two small ships of the ARG, the USS Gunston Hall (LSD-44) and the USS New York (LPD-21) were sailing from Iceland, where the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) had been training prior to sailing for Norway, were forced to return to Iceland when heavy seas hampered their voyage. The Gunston Hall suffered damage to its well deck by an unsecured landing craft. The New York was sent back to Iceland with her as a precaution. There were minor injuries sustained by personnel on the Gunston Hall. The New York was able to make it to Norway in time to start the exercise. [source]

Norway: Russia disrupted GPS location signals in the Arctic

The Norwegian Ministry of Defense reported that “[GPS signals] jamming had been recorded between October 16 and November 7 from the Russian forces” on the Kola Peninsula. Russia is known to have invested heavily in electronic warfare and has the technology to affect GPS location signals over a broad area. It is not believed that there were any accidents or mishaps as a result of the jamming. [source] (Analyst Comment: GPS isn’t just for navigation; it is also integral to directing the fires of modern artillery and drones, among other things.The Navy has re-focused training on navigation by the stars, without GPS navigation, and understand the threat that GPS jamming and spoofing — misreported of GPS locations — pose to naval operations. Somewhat curious, however, is why Russia demonstrated the way it can attack NATO naval assets. One line of thought is to add deterrence against a conflict between NATO and Russia. A second is that Russia wanted to test its system in realistic environments against actual adversaries. A third: Russia has a long history of thumbing its nose, being disruptive, and pushing the boundaries with Western nations. This GPS jamming really is just par for the course.)



Significant Developments:

The United States is becoming increasingly “unnerved” by China’s military-civil fusion

Chinese leader Xi Jinping wrote into the Chinese constitution last year that new technologies developed in the private sector must be shared with the military. This includes computing, data and logic resources, and the application of artificial intelligence technologies — a fusion of civil and military capabilities that takes advantage of advances made in robotics and quantum computing. The fear in Washington is that the close collaboration is helping Beijing maintain an advantage in an incipient AI arms race, and that much of this technology has been stolen from the West. [source] The Australian Strategic Policy Institute reports that China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has sent more than 2,500 of its scientists abroad to study in the West, often obfuscating the ties the scientists have with the Chinese military. [source] (Analyst Comment: The PLA describes this activity as “picking flowers, making honey.” Meanwhile, in the West, Google has declined to work with the Department of Defense because it doesn’t want its technologies used for military purposes. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon has, however, stated that Amazon will be glad to work with the DoD. We might be looking at increasing cooperation between Silicon Valley and the Defense Department. On a side note, the DoD’s Defense Innovation Unit Experimental has dropped “Experimental” and become a program of record. I’ve sat through some of those briefs here in Austin, and can report that building a partnership with tech firms to solve defense problems is the goal.)

Australian and Japan expected to conduct larger and more frequent joint military exercises

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit Darwin later this week, the first such visit since the Japanese bombed the city during World War II. The two countries have been trying to hammer out the administrative and legal details of the Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) since 2014, but hope to have a document in place for signature during the Prime Minister’s visit. The agreement would streamline the procedures for Australian and Japanese forces moving in and out of either country with equipment for exercises. [source] (Analyst Comment: Currently the only such agreement Japan has with another country is the United States. Japan is trying to take on a bigger role in security in the Pacific, and signing this agreement with Australia will likely open the door to signing agreements with other countries such as the United Kingdom.)

Chinese leaders to visit Papua New Guinea
Chinese president Xi Jinping is expected to attend the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit (APEC) in Papua New Guinea, the poorest nation in the co-op. Australia has, up to this point, been Papua New Guinea’s closest economic and strategic partner, with only 93 miles separating the two nations. China’s advances upon the region are not particularly welcome by the Australian government and Australia recently launched an investment fund to counter any Chinese largesse in the region. [source] (Analyst Comment: APEC is an inter-governmental forum of 21 Pacific economies that promote free trade throughout the Asia-Pacific area. China has been on a gloabl investment spree, so this move could easily be seen as the beginning of a campaign to drive a wedge between smaller Pacific nations and nations historically aligned with the West.)



Middle East 

Significant Developments:

US to end refueling Saudi aircraft in Yemen civil war

On Friday, 09NOV18, the United States announced that it would stop refueling Saudi and coalition aircraft involved in the Yemen civil war. Saudi Arabia, in a statement issued by its embassy in Washington, said it had decided to request an end to US aerial refueling because it could now handle the mission by itself. US officials say only a fifth of the coalition aircraft require in-flight refueling, so the halt could have little effect on operations. [source] The US earlier this year launched a new classified operation in Yemen designed to support the Saudi coalition military operations there. A document posted on a Pentagon-affiliated website identified Operation YUKON JOURNEY as a Central Command (CENTCOM) operation supporting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its partner nation in Yemen. [source]

John Abizaid nominated to US Ambassador to Sauid Arabia

President Trump has nominated GEN John Abizaid, USA (Ret.) as the new ambassador to Saudi Arabia. The post has been vacant for two years. GEN Abizaid, who was the longest serving Central Command (CENTCOM) commander, from 2003 to 2007, speaks fluent Arabic. His nomination comes at a time of strained relations between the US and Saudi Arabia following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. [source]



North Korea

Significant Developments:

DPRK cancels talks with Pompeo

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) canceled talks this week that were to take place between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a senior North Korean official. North Korean officials said that they have “busy schedules.” A last minute cancellation is an old North Korea stalling tactic and could be aimed at pressuring the US into a quick Trump-Kim summit because North Korea thinks it can get more out of a meeting between the two leaders than if the meetings were held between lower level officials. National Security Advisor John Bolton has said that a second Kim-Trump summit won’t happen until 2019. [source] (Analyst Comment: North Korea’s latest gambit comes on the heels of the 2018 mid-term elections. With the US House of Representatives soon controlled by the Democrats, North Korea could be waiting until it sees how much these changes may weaken President Trump’s hand. For instance, if the administration finds itself groaning under the weight of multiple investigations, North Korea may decide to punt to the next administration. North Korea so far hasn’t made much in the way of concessions towards denuclearizing the peninsula outside of rather cosmetic, public relations measures. Kim sees his nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles as being essential to the survival of his regime. He’s not going to hand them over to a lame-duck president who can’t guarantee lasting, permanent action.)

North Korea has 13 undeclared missile operating bases

The Center for Strategic and International Studies identified 13 sites, among an estimated 20, that are believed to have underground facilities containing mobile launchers that can be quickly moved to other location. It does not appear that the sites are designed as launch sites, but they could be used to launch short-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles in range of South Korea and Japan. National Security Advisor John Bolton told reporters, “Obviously we’re very well aware of what’s going on in North Korea.” [source] (Analyst Comment: To be fair, all North Korea agreed to, at least with the US, is a hiatus in its ballistic missile testing program. The administration is still planning on a summit early in 2019, triggering some critics in congress to claim that President Trump is getting “played.” But North Korea isn’t going to budge until it gets what it wants from the US; sanctions relief.)



– 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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