Strategic Intelligence Summary for 20 December 2018 – Forward Observer Shop

Strategic Intelligence Summary for 20 December 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: (3,353 words)

  • Chinese hackers targeting US Navy contractors, sub-contractors
  • US to withdraw from Syria
  • Russia ready to discuss inspections, stay in INF treaty?
  • New US Africa strategy
  • US, Taliban to meet Monday in UAE
  • Russia massing “significant military capacity” on Ukraine’s borders
  • US Navy to begin arming subs with ship-killing missiles
  • Canada looking at ways to pull out of $13bn arms deal with Saudi Arabia
  • US Army to purchase Iron Fist for M2 Bradley Armored Fighting Vehicles
  • Turkey cleared by US for Patriot missile deal
  • 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?

Chinese hackers targeting US Navy contractors, sub-contractors

In October of this year, Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer said in an internal memo that, “Attacks on our networks are not new, but attempts to steal critical information are increasing in both severity and sophistication.” He didn’t mention China specifically, but evidence indicates that Beijing is responsible for what is considered a debilitating cyber campaign against the US. Earlier this year, for example, Chinese government hackers stole important data on US Navy undersea-warfare programs from an unidentified contractor. Among the stolen information were plans for a new supersonic anti-ship missile. [source] (Analyst Comment: The issue is money. The Department of Defense has enough resources to secure its networks and data. Not so for the tens of thousands of companies, large and small, that provide parts, end components and services to the Defense Department. Those companies are where the vulnerabilities lie, and the Chinese excel at finding those seams. In last week’s report, we wrote about the US Navy’s carrier problem; decreased off-shore range against the rising threat of hyper-sonic anti-ship missiles. The Chinese are literally stealing our information to sink our own ships and defend their own against our most modern weapons.)

US to withdraw from Syria

The Pentagon is planning a “full” and “rapid” withdrawal of US troops from Syria. On Wednesday, 19DEC18, President Trump tweeted “we have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.” The US has around 2,000 troops in Syria, but will maintain troops in Iraq that will have the capability of launching strikes into the area. [source] [Analyst Comment: Lots of professionals characterize the move as a stunning reversal, but Donald Trump stumped on leaving Syria while on the campaign trail. In the last Strategic Intelligence Summary, we wrote how US Secretary of Defense James Mattis was emplacing observation posts in northern Syria to act as a de-facto buffer between Turkey and the Kurds fighting the Assad regime as part of the US backed Syrian Defense Forces (SDF). This withdrawal will please every bad actor in the area: Russia, Iran, Turkey, ISIS, and Syria. Who it won’t please are the remaining members of the SDF and the Syrian Kurds. What is also not being talked about are all the US intelligence gathering assets in Syria using the US military for cover. Signals intelligence will be rather easy to gather, but the Intelligence Community has to be concerned about the human intelligence networks being left behind. The Kurds, of course, are going to be the ones who pay the butcher’s bill for the US withdrawal. Look for Turkey to move into the US-created vacuum at the first opportunity. Look for Assad, backed by Putin and Iran, to finally reduce Idlib without US negotiators to back them off and without US forces to stop them. Look for Iran to get that much closer to the Mediterranean, which in turn will allow for greater arming of Hezbollah. Look for Putin to consolidate his hold on the naval base at Tartus and his airbases in Syria. Look for ISIS to take advantage of the breather (the President can say whatever he wants; ISIS is not defeated), consolidate, and continue their jihad. And we also have to keep an eye Hezbollah, Israel, and the Golan Heights.]

Russia ready to discuss inspections, stay in INF treaty?

On Friday, 14DEC18, RIA news agency reported that Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that Russia is ready to discuss mutual inspections with the United States in order to save the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Foreign Ministry official Vladimir Yermakhov was quoted: “If the United States really wants to come to some kind of agreement with us, then we need to sit down at the negotiating table in an inter-agency format and agree on everything in detail. We are ready for this.” He went on to state that Russia categorically ruled out inspections being carried out unilaterally. [source] (Analyst Comment: Only last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave Russia 60 days to come into compliance with the INF Treaty. At issue is the Russian SSC-8/9M729 cruise missile; its range is the sticking point. The INF Treaty bans nuclear and conventional missiles — to include cruise missiles — and their launchers with a range of 500-5500 kilometers. NATO and the US suspect the 9M729 of having a range of at least 700 km. Russia has so far refused inspections that would verify the weapon’s range. The US Navy’s latest successful intercept with the SM-3 BII missile that is used in the Aegis ballistic missile defense system (BMD) could be the pressure Russia is feeling to keep the treaty intact. The INF Treaty did not include naval missiles. The Aegis BMD has up until recently been a ship-bound system. But the Obama administration put Aegis Ashore, the same BMD system that is used on US Navy cruisers, on land in Poland and the Trump administration wants to do the same in Romania. The SM-3 BII can be used in the Aegis Ashore and purportedly has a range between 900km and 2500 km, clearly placing it outside of compliance of the INF Treaty. Russia has made its extreme displeasure with the installations well known. Coming back to the negotiating table might be Russia’s way of trying to stop the deployment of the missiles by claiming that they’re not INF Treaty compliant.)

New US Africa strategy

US National Security Advisor John Bolton unveiled a new approach for Africa in a speech at the Heritage Foundation on Thursday, 14DEC18. Bolton thinks African nations need to take control of their own security even as the US military reduces its African footprint in order to focus on peer/near peer conflicts with or Russia or China. “What we’d like to do is empower the African countries to do more security, to do more of their own security, to do it in coordination with one another. They’re the ones who know the neighborhood, rather than have the deployment of American forces who are comparatively very well paid and well equipped,” Bolton said. He also emphasized the potential of the “G5 Sahel Joint Force”, a mixture of 5,000 troops from Mauritania, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, and Mali, which was formed to counter militants linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in the Sahel. The US will almost double its assistance to the force from $60mn to $111mn. Bolton also warned of a shift in the strategic region with the opening of a Chinese base in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti which is along the busy Red Sea, and expressed support for moving the US AFRICOM from Stuttgart, Germany to the actual area of operations that its responsible for. [source] (Analyst Comment: Bolton went on to describe how Chinese investment in Africa is often accompanied by corruption and a disregard for the environment, as compared to American assistance. How much traction that will have with African nations desperate for any sort of development money is debatable, although there have been numerous instances of violence associated with Chinese managers and African workers at these investment projects. What isn’t debatable is that where ever the US pulls back, Russia and China will press forward. That AFRICOM is still in Stuttgart after its inception 10 years ago speaks volumes for just how seriously the US takes the continent.)

US, Taliban to meet Monday in UAE

Pakistan has arranged a meeting between the US and the Taliban that will take place on Monday, 17DEC18, in the United Arab Emirates. The US Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, will lead the US team in Abu Dhabi, the capitol of the gulf state. [source] (Analyst Comment: Afghan president Ashraf Ghani has long decried any peace talks that don’t involve his government. He has a team in the UAE that met with US and Saudi officials on Sunday. [source] The Taliban has been adamant that the government in Kabul is illegitimate and has refused to meet with Afghan officials, and says it has no intention of meeting with them in the UAE. The one constant in the Taliban’s demand has always been that there will be no peace until all foreign entities are out of the country, even though the Taliban recently admitted that there were “thousands” of foreign fighters fighting as members. [source] Once the US pulls out, there’s little reason to think that the government in Kabul won’t collapse. If the US isn’t willing to see that happen, it’s difficult to forecast just what will be agreed upon at these talks.)

Russia massing “significant military capacity” on Ukraine’s borders

A top US diplomat confirmed this week the report that Russia has been massing “significant military capability” on Ukraine’s borders. The concern is that Russia is planning on annexing another part of the country. “That is all true,” said US Special Representative to Ukraine Kurt Volker. [source] (Analyst Comment: If Putin cuts off traffic through the Kerch Strait to the Ukrainian port of Mariupol, he could create an economic crisis in Eastern Ukraine and that, along with the usual accusation that the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine is being attacked, could give him the pretext to go further into eastern Ukraine. Update: On Monday, 17DEC18, the Russian Defense Ministry said it would “return” more than 10 warplanes to Crimea. The jets, including Su-27 Flankers and Su-30 Flanker-H’s, will be moved to the annexed Ukrainian territory as part of a “permanent deployment.” They are expected to arrive by Saturday, 22DEC18. [source] The Flanker is a long-range, air-superiority fighter first fielded in the mid 1980’s as an answer to the US Air Force’s F-15 Eagle fighter.)


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

US Navy to begin arming subs with ship-killing missiles

After decades of US attack subs having little more than the Mk48 torpedo to target enemy ships, the US Navy will refurbish and re-certify its inventory of Harpoon anti-ship missiles for use on Los Angeles class attack boats. It’s a major shift after decades in which submarines focused on projecting power ashore, collecting intelligence, or launching Tomahawk Land-Attack Missiles. Driving the change is China’s rapidly growing military presence in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The change comes months after a Harpoon was successfully launched from the USS Olympia during the biannual RIMPAC naval exercise off the coast of Hawaii. It was the first time the missile had been fired from a US sub since 1997. The Pentagon has made a priority of ship killing. The first Long Range Anti-Ship Missile delivery to operational US Air Force units was announced on 18DEC18. The missile has been successfully launched from a B1B Lancer bomber and is on schedule to achieve Early Operational Capability on the Navy’s F/A18 Super Hornet in 2018. During the same RIMPAC exercise, the Pentagon’s new Naval Strike Missile was fired from the back of a truck parked at the Pacific Missile Range facility in Hawaii in an experiment in providing land-based anti-ship firepower. [source]

Canada looking at ways to pull out of $13bn arms deal with Saudi Arabia

Speaking in an interview on Sunday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that his government was looking for a way out of a $13bn deal to provide armored vehicles made by the Canadian unit of General Dynamics to the Saudi Kingdom. This is, of course, yet more fallout from the Khashoggi murder. The deal, made by the previous Conservative government has come under increasing criticism given that and Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Yemen’s civil war. [source]

US Army to purchase Iron Fist for M2 Bradley Armored Fighting Vehicles

The Israeli-made Iron Fist is a modular Active Protection System (APS) consisting of a radar sensor paired with explosive projectiles. When an incoming threat is detected, the projectiles automatically fire towards that threat and either destroys or deflects the threat. The blast effect of the warhead is used, and there is no shrapnel to inflict collateral damage on the parent vehicle. The Iron Fist has been tested, successfully, against a wide variety of threats including rocket-propelled grenades, anti-tank guided missiles, and tank-fired High Explosive Anti-Tank ammunition. [source] (Analyst Comment: What makes this interesting is not that the US Army is finally deploying these systems on its armored vehicles, but how it’s procured it. It bypassed the normal routes of testing, tweaking, testing some more, having the test challenged, and having the challenged test challenged by another competitor, while crewmen go unprotected in the field. Through a careful choice of wording, the Army was able to buy this product off-the-shelf and get it fielded rapidly. Many at the Pentagon want that to be the future of Army procurement.)

Turkey cleared by US for Patriot missile deal

Despite an ongoing Turkish dispute with NATO and the US over buying the Russian S-400 air defense system, the US State Department has cleared Ankara to purchase a package of Patriot missile systems with an estimated price tag of $3.5bn. The announcement made late Tuesday, 18DEC18, covered the procurement of 80 Patriot MIM-104E Guidance Enhanced and 60 PAC-3 Missile Segment enhanced missiles along with associated equipment such as launchers, radars, and power plants. Turkey has passed on the Patriot twice: once in 2013 when it opted for a Chinese system (Turkey later dropped out of the deal) and in 2017 when it finalized the S-400 deal with Russia. The sticking point over the US about the Patriot has been Turkey’s insistence on a transfer of missile technology before it would consider the system, something the US refused to do. There is no mention in the announcement on whether that technology transfer is on the table. Previously NATO had informed Turkey that it would not be allowed to plug into NATO networks, and the F35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, if it bought the S-400 from Russia. [source] (Analyst Comment: Turkey may be executing an end-run by simply purchasing both systems. Turkish manufacturing produces $12bn worth of parts for the F35 and has committed to buying 100 of the airframes. [source] The greatest reasoning for this deal going through seems to be that it’s a boost to the defense industry and some American jobs.)


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:

Russia poised to quickly defeat forward-deployed US and NATO forces says think tank. Former NATO Supreme Commander and retired USAF GEN Philip Breedlove and former Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow wrote the paper “Permanent Deterrence: Enhancements to the US Military Presence in North Central Europe” published on 13DEC18. “A determined Russian conventional attack, especially if mounted with little warning, could defeat these forward-deployed NATO and US forces in a relatively short period of time, before reinforcements could be brought to bear.” Pointing to Russia’s invasion of Georgia and Ukraine, the military build-up in the Western Military District and Kaliningrad, and the use of “hybrid” warfare, the authors claim that Russian President Vladimir Putin has cast off the rules based order that has ensured European security since the end of World War II. The authors call for a more permanent US maneuver presence in Poland, permanently posting a US Army division command, a more robust US presence in the Baltic Sea, and enlarging air bases in Poland. [source] (Analyst Comment: This paper begs the question: if we did all these things, what would the Russians think? They would, presumably, be more convinced than ever that NATO is the enemy, a threat, not simply a primarily defensive force centered on Europe. Could Russia launch a pre-emptive conventional strike on NATO forces with a high degree of success? Probably, yes. The best army in the world doesn’t do any good if you can’t get an armored division out of Ft. Hood in a timely manner. But what would be the end game be for Russia; what would be its strategic goals? Territorial ambitions? Annexing the Crimea is one thing. It’s in Russia’s backyard. But invading Poland with an eye to annexing it? Russia doesn’t have the forces available to take and occupy the country, especially since it’s to be expected that the Poles themselves would fight in the streets against such an invader. Even during the height of the Cold War it was widely recognized that even if the USSR did come across the Fulda Gap, it wouldn’t be an offensive that could be sustained; the US and NATO would, at some point, hold and start to roll back the Soviet armor. Russia today has a vastly smaller force than it did at the height of the Cold War. But if the conflict went nuclear, all bets are off; and Putin himself warned this week that a nuclear confrontation “could lead to the destruction of civilization as a whole and maybe even our planet.” [source])



Significant Developments:

China conducts first test of JL-3 submarine launched ballistic missile. On 24NOV18 the Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) conducted the first known test flight of the JL-3 solid fuel, submarine launched ballistic missile. The JL-3, along with Type 096 nuclear ballistic submarine, will be a marked improvement over the current JL-2/Type 094 combination. The JL-3 is expected to have a considerable extension of range over the JL-2; 9000 kilometers as compared to 7000 kilometers. The Type 096 is expected to start sea trials in three to four years. It is currently thought that the Chinese currently operate at least four, and possibly up to six, Type 094 boats. [source] (Analyst Comment: As we’ve written about before, it’s all about the stand-off range. An extension of 2,000 kilometers will let the Chinese disperse their forces among a wider area and allow them to strike U.S. targets without having to penetrate the eastern Pacific Ocean.)

Pakistan moving closer to China. Just two weeks after President Trump suspended billions of dollars in security aid to Pakistan, the Pakistani air force and Chinese officials put the final touches on a secret proposal to expand Pakistan’s building of Chinese military jets, weaponry, and other hardware. The plan also deepened the countries’ co-operation in space. All the military projects were designated as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. China has repeatedly claimed that the initiative is purely peaceful in nature. In 2015, under Belt and Road, China took a nascent port in Gwadar and supercharged the project with an estimated $800mn development plan. The Chinese have a 40 year lease to run the port and it also enjoys a “special economic zone” and one can now assume a deep-water port on the Indian Ocean. [source]


Middle East 

Significant Developments:

US backed Syrian Defense Forces capture last ISIL pocket in Deir Az Zor. An alliance of US backed Kurdish, Arab, and Assyrian fighters known as the Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) captured the town of Hajin in Syria’s eastern province of Deir Az Zor. “After a week of heavy fighting and air strikes, the SDF were able to kick IS out of Hajin,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human rights. As of Thursday, 13DEC18, the last IS fighters were confined to a network of tunnels and the edges of Hajin, a town about 30km from the border with Iraq. The SDF has been trying to take Hajin since 10SEP18. [source]


North Korea

Significant Developments:

North Korea condemns new US sanctions, warns denuclearization at risk. On Sunday, 16DEC18, North Korea condemned the US administration for increasing pressure and sanctions on the nuclear-armed country warning of a return to “exchanges of fire” and that denuclearizing the peninsula could be blocked forever. The previous Monday the US said it had introduced sanctions on three North Korean officials, including a top aide to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for alleged human rights abuses. [source] Further, the North Koreans say they won’t give up their nuclear weapons unless the U.S. abandons the Korean Peninsula in its nuclear umbrella.



– 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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