Strategic Intelligence Summary for 21 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…

  • Israeli military holds major Hezbollah war simulation drill
  • U.S. increasing FONOPs in South China Sea but it won’t deter China
  • Taiwanese president warns world of increasing Chinese aggression
  • Some missiles aboard U.S. Navy subs to feature new lower-yield nuclear warheads
  • U.S. Coast Guard to build new heavy icebreakers
  • Iran claims to have built new indigenous sub that can fire cruise missiles
  • Russian Black Sea Fleet troops take part in military drills in Crimea
  • 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?

Israeli military holds major Hezbollah war simulation drill

The Israel Defense Forces staged a major “war simulation drill” to mimic combat conditions in neighboring Lebanon should war with Iranian proxy Hezbollah break out. The training exercise  involved Israeli armor, ground troops, and the air force. IDF commanders said that the training was necessary because Hezbollah fighters are returning from Syria now that the conflict there is largely subsided. Also, they say Hezbollah is no longer a militia force but is structured more like “a real army,” according to an IDF officer. Of major concern to the Israeli military is Hezbollah’s stockpile of anti-tank missiles. [SOURCE] (Analyst Comment: IDF exercises mimicking combat against Hezbollah are nothing new, but Israel is committed to refining operations for the next round of conflict. The Lebanon War of 2006 is widely regarded as a failure after the IDF failed to achieve its security objectives of rooting out and destroying the Hezbollah presence in southern Lebanon.)

U.S. increasing FONOPs in South China Sea

The U.S. Navy has conducted two Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) in the South China Sea so far this year. Several more are expected as the Pentagon seeks to take a more confrontational approach in the region to deny Beijing dominance over one of the world’s most lucrative trade routes. The U.S. FONOPs have not come without risk; in recent months American and Chinese destroyers almost traded paint after a near-collision in the region. But while the Pentagon believes a more muscular approach is warranted to challenge Beijing’s “gray zone” tactics (short of war), some observers don’t think it will deter Chinese aggression or curb China’s economic objectives via its “Belt and Road Initiative.” [SOURCE]

Taiwanese president warns world of increasing Chinese aggression

In an interview that turned into a televised appeal, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen is warning all of Asia and the Western world of increasing Chinese aggression that she says is growing “every day.” She said: “If it’s Taiwan today, people should ask who’s next? Any country in the region — if it no longer wants to submit to the will of China, they would face similar military threats.” China has long considered Taiwan an autonomous but “renegade” province that the Communist leadership has vowed to reunify with force if necessary. Reunification became a more pressing issue following the election of Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party, which historically has favored complete political and physical independence from China. “Our challenge is whether our independent existence, security, prosperity and democracy can be maintained. This is the biggest issue for Taiwan,” Tsai said. [SOURCE]


 

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

Some missiles aboard U.S. Navy subs to feature new lower-yield nuclear warheads

The Pentagon is developing a new low-yield nuclear warhead designed to mount atop existing Trident II D5 submarine-launched, nuclear ballistic missiles. The modifications are part of the Defense Department’s most recent Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) and reflects an additional strike capability sought by the Trump administration. The Navy, for now, is expected to only deploy a small number of the new warheads while keeping a robust number of the higher-yield weapons forward-deployed. The lower-yield warhead is designed to complement the existing second-strike sea-based leg of the nuclear triad and will provide the president and the Pentagon additional deterrence options. [SOURCE]

U.S. Coast Guard to build new heavy icebreakers

As part of the recently-signed budget deal, the U.S. Coast Guard received funding for its new Polar Security Cutter, a heavy icebreaker the service has sought for several years. The vessel will become the lead ship in a new class of cutter and as part of the funding the Coast Guard is receiving an additional $20 million to buy “long-lead-time materials” for a second heavy icebreaker. The plan is to build six new icebreakers in the coming years, with at least three of them being heavy icebreakers. The USCG and many in Congress see the vessels as vital at a time when Russia is building several new icebreakers as it moves military and civilian assets into the Arctic in a competition with the U.S., Canada, and other powers for new energy sources. [SOURCE]

Iran claims to have built new indigenous sub that can fire cruise missiles

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani recently unveiled what he claims is a new domestically produced diesel-electric submarine capable of extended undersea operations including the ability to fire cruise missiles hundreds of miles, putting Israel well in range. Vowing never to “bow down to the hegemonic power” — a typical reference to the United States — Rouhani unveiled the sub a week after his country’s 40th anniversary of the Islamic revolution. Analysts note that Iran historically announces new weapons in its arsenal during the anniversary period. Iran has made dubious claims of domestically producing ‘sophisticated’ new weapons systems so it’s unclear if this sub, dubbed the Fatah (“Conquoror”) was actually produced at home or that it possesses all of the “state-of-the-art” systems the government claims. [SOURCE]

Russian Black Sea Fleet troops take part in military drills in Crimea

More than 500 Russia troops attached to the Black Sea Fleet have participated in tactical exercises in Crimea. The drills involved mechanized infantry, heavy armor (T-72 main battle tank variants), and army aviation units belonging to the Southern Military District. In all, about 100 pieces of equipment were involved in the drills, Russia media reported. The purported purpose of the exercises was to hone commanders’ independent decision-making skills as they adjust to changing battlefield conditions, a drill which sounds like one aimed at training Russian officers how best to adapt to an attempt to retake Crimea by force. [SOURCE]


 

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:

At the Munich Security Conference last week, Chinese and Russian delegations made it clear their countries are competing with the United States for influence in Europe. In his speech to the gathering, Chinese politburo member Yang Jiechi left the clear impression that Beijing seeks to split Europe away from the U.S. by emphasizing growing rifts between the Trump administration and the EU over NATO, technology, and trade. Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov extended an invitation to the EU to create closer economic ties with Eurasia and Russia in particular. Their messages contrasted with that of Vice President Mike Pence, who echoed the Trump administration’s demand for Europe to back out of the Iran nuclear deal and further isolate that regime while shoring up NATO against Russian encroachment. European leaders have been put off by President Trump’s demands and angered by his “America First” policies but they don’t appear ready to abandon their ties to Washington just yet.

Indo-Pacific:

The Navy’s Indo-Pacific commander said he believes that while China is narrowing the technological gap between air and ground forces, the U.S. Navy still holds a substantial advantage in submarine capabilities. Nevertheless, Adm. Phil Richardson also said he believes a submarine arms race is currently building in the Western Pacific. In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Richardson said the U.S. must continue to build more technologically advanced subs to maintain a distinct advantage over the Chinese. Richardson’s testimony comes as Australia and India both have signed multi-year deals to substantially upgrade their undersea forces with new submarines, with China’s rising naval power in mind. In addition to subs, the U.S. Navy and allies are also focused on adding other capabilities such as anti-submarine warfare assets to the region.

Middle East:

Concern is mounting in Baghdad that fighters from the Islamic State could escape their last stronghold in Syria and regroup in parts of Iraq’s western regions. The Iraqi military has been placed on high alert to be on the lookout for IS fighters moving into the area as the cross the border from the last ISIS-controlled territory in Syria. Currently, units of the Iraqi army are battling Syrian-based ISIS elements from inside their own border as Iraq and U.S.-led mostly Kurdish forces attempt to mop up the remaining Islamic State fighters. Coalition forces estimate that about 300 IS fighters remain in their Syrian outpost. Iraqi forces are using thermal surveillance cameras located inside Syrian territory to monitor ISIS fighters’ movements. Along with U.S. air support, pro-Iran militias are assisting Iraqi forces.

North Korea:

An analysis this week claimed that North Korea is continuing to build nuclear weapons despite relative progress made between leader Kim Jong-un and President Trump regarding denuclearization. In addition to building more nukes, the North is also continuing to produce ballistic missiles, the report noted, citing additional open-source materials for both claims. But rather than panic or draw the conclusion that Kim is ‘playing’ Trump and the U.S. for fools, the analysis points out 1) Kim hasn’t signed any diplomatic agreements (treaties, for instance) pledging to halt production of missiles and bombs; 2) Kim is doing what he said he would do in a January 2018 directive to his nuclear scientists; and 3) It is unrealistic to think that Kim will denuclearize anyway, per the assessment of the U.S. intelligence committee. The best Trump may get is an agreement by Kim to limit his weapons production and means to deliver nuclear warheads, which could certainly be considered a victory given the much higher likelihood of war prior to the first Trump-Kim summit in Singapore.

// 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Name *