Strategic Intelligence Summary for 22 November 2018 – Forward Observer Shop

Strategic Intelligence Summary for 22 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: (3,570 words)

  • UAE and Saudi Arabia call for halt to operations in Yemen
  • American bombers fly near islands militarized by China
  • US Navy deploys two Carrier Strike Groups to the Philippine Sea
  • DoD plans 10 percent cut to troops in Africa
  • Russia deploys newest CBRN vehicle to Syria
  • Slovakia buying F-16’s, “cutting off” Russian hardware
  • South Korea develops batteries that double the operational time of submarines
  • Russian drones can jam cellphones from 60 miles away
  • Navy lost at least 1,891 operational days for its attack submarines
  • Entire Russian military to be trained in anti-drone warfare
  • 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?

UAE and Saudi Arabia call for halt to operations in Yemen

The coalition halted operations to retake the Yemeni port city of Hudaydah. The port is where aid enters the city, but it’s also suspected of being the port through which Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthi rebels that it backs. The US stopped mid-air refueling for the coalition on Friday, 09NOV18. The Trump administration has pushed for a cease fire because of the humanitarian crisis, and peace talks are set to take place in Sweden at the end of this month. [source] On Wednesday, House Republicans blocked a Democratic resolution that would have ended US support for the Yemen conflict. [source] (Analyst Comment: It’s hard to see the Democrat’s resolution as little more than grandstanding as it comes on the heels of the US decision to honor a request from Saudi Arabia to halt refueling operations. But the article does not say whether the Democrats in the House also wanted to halt the intelligence gathering, the logistics and the covert operations — such as the classified Operation Yukon Journey mentioned last week — that the Department of Defense is currently conducting.)

American bombers fly near islands militarized by China

A pair of US B52H Stratofortress bombers departed Andersen Air Force Base in Guam and participated in a routine training mission, according to the US Pacific Air Force command. [source] The US has accused China of deploying anti-ship missiles, jammers and surface-to-air missiles on the Spratly Islands, and now a new facility has been installed on Bombay Reef, a remote part of the Paracel Islands. Imagery shows a “modest new structure” topped with a radome and solar panels. “The reef is directly adjacent to the major shipping lanes that run between the Paracels and the Spratly Islands to the south, making it an attractive location for a sensor array to extend Chinese radar or signals intelligence collection.” [source] (Analyst Comment: China maintains that the Spratly Islands and the Paracels are part of Chinese sovereign lands, and that it has every right to build them up. But Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Brunei also have claims in the area. China has vigorously protested US freedom of navigation exercises in international waters off the islands, as US Navy leaders insist that freedom of navigation operations will continue in accordance with international law. The odds of a mishap or misunderstanding are high, and tactical errors could lead to strategic consequences. Last month the Chinese destroyer Luyang came within 45 yards of the bow of the USS Decatur DDG73, a US Navy destroyer.)

US Navy deploys two Carrier Strike Groups to the Philippine Sea

The USS Ronald Reagan (CVN76) and the USS John C. Stennis (CVN74) are now conducting freedom of navigation operations as well as air, surface, and anti-submarine warfare drills focused squarely on China. The two strike groups, totaling 10 ships, about 150 aircraft, and 12,600 sailors and Marines “highlights the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Vice Admiral Phil Sawyer, commander of the US 7th Fleet. [source]

DoD plans 10 percent cut to troops in Africa

The move comes as part of the department’s renewed focus on conflict with peer and near-peer forces. The cuts, while anticipated, are exactly the opposite of what US Africa Command (AFRICOM) has been recommending. Rising levels of violence in northern Africa, as evidenced by the ambush last year of US Special Forces soldiers in Niger that left four dead, put US security partners at increased risk of requiring US military aid. [source] (Analyst Comment: Last year, media outlets reported that the Chinese were building a military base near Camp Lemmonier, an important US staging base, drone base, and aviation complex in Djibouti. Additionally, two airmen were reportedly hit by Chinese-operated laser in the cockpit of their C130 as they took off from the base. The fact is that in any location we pull back from, the Chinese and Russians are going to flow into that space, meaning that conflict with either may not be limited to Europe or the Pacific.)

Russia deploys newest CBRN vehicle to Syria

Russia has deployed it’s newest Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) vehicle to Syria. The RKhM-6 is an eight-wheeled armored personnel carrier and appeared to be working with a platoon of military policemen near the Syrian town of Muhradah, on the southern boundary of the de-escalation zone to the west of Hamah. [source] (Analyst Comment: That Russia has been using the civil war in Syria as a test bed for many of its newest weapons systems — much like Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy did during the Spanish Civil War — is not new. But Russia has steadfastly denied that Syria has used chemical weapons in the past, often in the face of overwhelming evidence. So why deploy a vehicle expressly designed to operate in a compromised, contaminated environment?)


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

CJCS: keeping America’s military edge will take money and new ideas

Speaking at the Halifax International Security Forum, GEN Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, cited the National Defense Strategy Committee’s report that concluded that the US would “struggle to win, or perhaps lose, a war against Russia or China.” Faced with the White House’s $30bn reduction in the Department of Defense’s 2020 budget, he called for “sustained, predictable, accurate levels of funding.” But he added that it wasn’t just about money: “We can’t buy our way out of many of the challenges we have. We have to think our way out of them.” He also took a swipe at Google: “I have a hard time with companies that are working very hard to engage the market inside of China — where intellectual property is shared with the Chinese, which is synonymous with sharing it with the Chinese military — and don’t want to work with the US military.” Google recently pulled out of Project Maven, a Pentagon project that uses machine learning to distinguish people and objects in drone videos. [source] (Analyst Comment: Google’s famous mantra of “don’t be evil” is perfectly laughable at this point and the company must know it since it dropped the phrase from its code of conduct in May of 2018. That Google would rush into the arms of a known human rights abuser like China is hypocritical at best and treasonous at worst.)

Slovakia buying F-16’s, “cutting off” Russian hardware

NATO member Slovakia is on track to purchase 14 Lockheed Martin F-16V fighters to replace its MiG-29 fleet. The purchase is specifically aimed at breaking from Russia. It also plans to purchase five more UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters to replace its Soviet designed Mi-17 helicopters. Since Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, both Slovakia and the Czech Republic have increased their defense budgets and cooperated on joint purchases of weapons and other military equipment. [source] (Analyst Comment: The biggest story here is the force multiplying role of interoperability that will be greatly enhanced by NATO countries using common weapons systems.)

South Korea develops batteries that double the operational time of submarines

The batteries, developed by Samsung, were once considered too expensive and not stable enough for use in submarines. The new batteries will double the amount of time a diesel boat can stay submerged. The batteries will be installed in South Korea’s next three KSS-III diesel/electric submarines. [source]

Russian drones jam cellphones from 60 miles away

The Russian Leer-3 drone system has a range of 75 miles and, with the latest update on the jammer, can interfere with communications up to 135 miles from where the drone is launched. The 60-mile range on the jammer is an increase of 3.5 times over the original model. Ukrainian forces claim to have spotted Leer-3 systems in Eastern Ukraine and Russian forces train with the system regularly. [source] (Analyst Comment: Both US and Ukrainian forces have reported that their communications had been jammed, likely by Russian electronic weapons — some of which may be mounted on drones.)

Navy lost at least 1,891 operational days for its attack submarines

From 2008 to 2018 most of the planned repairs to the Navy’s fleet of 50 attack boats started late and ran long resulting in a combined 10,363 days of maintenance delays and idle time. During that time the Navy had to spend $1.5bn on idle crews. The problem stems from the four Navy shipyards that give priority to nuclear powered aircraft carriers and ballistic missile submarines. The Navy is trying to farm out some of the work to private shipyards, but according to the head of Naval Sea System Command, Vice Admiral Thomas Moore, the private yards are having difficulties because overhauls are “a heck of a lot harder than new construction so they’re not really proficient in it.” [source] (Analyst Comment: US Navy commanders, including the Chief of Naval Operations, already complain that the Navy is too small to meet its global security obligations. Even if the Navy were to grow to 350 or more boats, without improving how planned maintenance is conducted, they’re going to run into the same issues of stalled operations. As Chinese and Russian submarines increasingly compete in the Pacific and Atlantic, the Navy is looking at serious security gaps, especially with regard to anti-submarine operations.)

Entire Russian military to be trained in anti-drone warfare

In January of this year, Russian forces in Syria were attacked by over a dozen drones. Ten drones attacked an air base and three went after a naval base. The attack was successfully repelled, as Russian forces managed to shoot down seven of the drones and commandeer six more to a safe landing. The Defense Ministry noted that the attack was likely launched from “a distance of about 100 kilometers.” The drones were of a do-it-yourself style manufacture, using small engines and cheap plywood. While the attack didn’t cause any damage, it did cause a large shift in the way Russia will train from here forward. [source] (Analyst Comment: This is a testament to the future of warfare, and Russia is smart to train the entire force in anti-drone combat rather than leave the task to one or two specialists per company or battalion. Training will likely include both electro-magnetic and direct action forms of combat.)


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 warns Macron and Merkel that a European Union army would be “unwise.” At the Halifax International Security Forum, British Air Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, chairman of the NATO Military Committee, pushed back on the idea of a European Army and pointed to NATO’s strength as a “single set of forces, with a unique command and control network and planning processes.” The remarks come after German Chancellor Angela Merkel echoed President Emmanuel Macron’s call to establish a European Union army to complement NATO. [source] (Analyst Comment: It’s difficult to see how Germany and France could believe that duplicating efforts in this manner, not to mention the requisite spending it would entail, would be wise. There would be no tangible benefit to a European Union army and, as we’ve written about previously, the Franco-German brigade shares berets and not much else — even their rifles and radio equipment are different. This sounds like little more than pushing back against President Trump and his insistence that NATO members spend the amount of GDP on defense to which they’ve agreed.)

Western powers reject Russian challenge to chemical weapons watchdog finding. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) wants to set up an investigative team that can apportion blame to perpetrators of chemical attacks. Without this ability the group has been thought rather toothless up until now. A decision was made in June to authorize the team, but Russia and China argued that the decision needed to be reviewed to ensure it didn’t go beyond the organization’s mandate. That reassessment was rejected 82-30 at the annual conference. Later Russia and Iran moved to reject the annual budget which would have starved the new team of funding, but that was defeated as well. The team, once established, will be able to look back at attacks that the previous OPCW team did not apportion blame for and name perpetrators. [source] (Analyst Comment: This is more than just about Syria’s use of chemical weapons in the past. Russia is still trying to fend off blame for using Novochok, a Cold War era nerve agent, against the Skripals in England. Sergei Skripal was a double agent for the UK, but had since retired when he and his daughter were attacked by known agents of the GRU, the intelligence service of the Russian army. While blame may be apportioned as long as Russia sits on the UN Security Council, it remains to be seen exactly what punishment, if any, it will receive.)



Significant Developments:

Indo-Pacific Command Chief: “China has built a Great Wall of SAMs in the Pacific.” By tuning reefs and atolls in the South China Sea into fortified artificial islands, complete with Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs), China has transformed “what was a great wall of sand just three years ago into a great wall of SAMs,” said Admiral Philip Davidson, commander of Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM). In the event of war, the islands would “become a strategic southward extension of China’s land-based defense against US ships and planes,” otherwise known as Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD). When asked what the US could do about the situation, the admiral replied “we need a bigger navy” noting the service’s goal to grow from 286 to 355 ships. [source] (Analyst Comment: Admiral Davidson is echoing remarks made by Vice President Mike Pence at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit earlier this month. Pence accused China of “industrial policies and unfair trade practices.” [source] For the first time in its existence, APEC could not agree on a joint communique after the event. President Trump is scheduled to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit being held in Argentina in two weeks. Beijing has heavy lifting to do if it wants more European nations to take its side in the ongoing dispute with the US. Intellectual property rights and tariffs hurt European economies as well.)

China is actually increasing hacking ahead of Trump-Xi meeting at the G20 summit. A US government report accuses China of stepping up hacking aimed at stealing US technology amid an escalating tariff dispute and right before the two leaders are to meet at the G20 summit in Argentina in a few weeks. Attacks have “increased in frequency and sophistication” this year, with emphasis against companies working in cloud computing, artificial intelligence and other technologies. Over the summer, China unsuccessfully attempted to recruit European powers as allies against the US. Those European powers are also victims of China’s aggressive espionage. [source] (Analyst Comment: During a visit to the US in 2015, Chinese President Xi Jingping agreed with President Obama to refrain from using military resources to steal commercial secrets. The most often-overlooked goal of President Trump’s trade tariffs are to bring an end to decades of Chinese economic and industrial espionage, which transfers $200-300 billion worth of technology from U.S. firms to Chinese state-backed corporations each year.)



Middle East 

Significant Developments:

Saudi royals turn on Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Members of the ruling family are agitating to prevent the crown prince, also known as MbS, from becoming king when his father, King Salman, dies. The royals are outraged and embarrassed by the international fallout following MbS’s handling of the Khassoggi murder, which he certainly knew of if not initiated. They’re also upset by his reforms, such as allowing women to drive and opening cinemas in the strict Islamic kingdom. He has alienated many of them with his purge of the senior levels of government of members of the royal family accused of corruption. They also say that he has consolidated his power in the security and intelligence apparatus. While the crown prince’s father, King Salman, has steadfastly stood by his son, US officials are cooling on him having learned that MbS urged his defense department to explore obtaining Russian weaponry, most notably the S-400 surface-to-air missile system. [source] The CIA has allegedly told President Trump that MbS gave the order to kill Mr. Khassoggi, but Trump has not, so far, turned his back on the prince, saying that Washington has no plans to take punitive measures against the kingdom. On Tuesday the President released a lengthy statement reiterating his support for the Kingdom, citing millions of dollars in potential sales to the Saudis that would simply go to Russian and China should the US pull out of the deal. Democrats in the Senate are sponsoring bipartisan legislation that would stop these sales. [source] (Analyst Comment: Saudi Arabia will spend decades to wean itself off US weaponry, given the vast amounts it possesses. But the US is ready to wean itself off completely of Arabian oil. The Permian Basin shale oil fields in Texas are now producing as much oil as Iran and, as pipeline issues are resolved, output will rival that of Russia and Saudi Arabia. [source] The US sees Saudi Arabia as an eager and willing ally in the battle against Iranian hegemony in the Middle East, but soon we won’t need Saudi oil, and at some point the Kingdom may become more of a liability than an ally. While MbS has made some reforms, the Kingdom remains a hard-line Sunni monarchy that is reluctant to make real reforms in its fundamentalist culture. For example, the Saudi have lagged in meeting commitments it made in 2006 to revise the state distributed high school textbooks, purging them of “intolerant references that disparage Muslims or non-Muslims or that promote hatred toward other religions or other religious group.” It was supposed to be completed by the 2008 school year. And yet the textbooks issued for the 2018-2019 school year still contain passages that encourage bigotry and even violence against many categories of people, such as Jews, Christians, Shi’ite or Sufi Muslims, women, apostates, and “infidels.” [source] The Kingdom also beheaded 73 people in the first six months of 2018 alone. [source] The US Congress is losing patience with the Kingdom as is the rest of the world.)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu narrowly averted a collapse of his coalition government. Following the resignation of Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman last week, Education Minister Naftali Bennet threatened to resign and pull his party out of Netanyahu’s government if he wasn’t appointed minister of defense. Doing so would have caused the Prime Minister to call snap elections, something he does not want to do, saying that “there is no room for politics in Israel’s security.” Bennet, on Monday, decided not to pull his party out of government, saying that he would give the Prime Minister one last chance. [source] (Analyst Comment: Netanyahu doesn’t need a war in his own back yard in the Gaza Strip. The botched commando raid by Israel turned into an unexpected win for Hamas. The Prime Minister, pursuing a cease fire after the raid and its subsequent air and rocket attacks, had to accept the resignation of his hard line Defense Minister, an action that Hamas greeted quite happily. Israel wants to focus on Iran who is conducting operations along Israel’s border with Syria. A cease fire with Hamas will allow the nation to do just that.)

The White House walks back extraditing an enemy of Turkish President Erdogan in order to get him to ease up on Saudi Arabia over journalist’s murder. The White House reportedly explored ways to extradite Fethullah Gulan, a Turkish cleric living in exile in Pennsylvania, to Turkey. Gulen, who holds a green card from the US government, has been accused by Turkish president Erdogan of complicity in the 2016 coup attempt. Gulen has denied any involvement and the US hasn’t found the case compelling enough to warrant extradition. [source] Later in the week, President Trump said that there is no intent to extradite the cleric. (Analyst Comment: Erdogan has kept the pressure up on Saudi Arabia over the Khassoggi murder. On 15NOV18, for instance, authorities in Saudi Arabia said that they would seek the death penalty for five people accused of carrying out the murder. But Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, said the announcement was insufficient and demanded that all the suspects be extradited to Turkey and tried in accordance with Turkish law. [source])



North Korea

Significant Developments:

North Korea says it has tested an “ultramodern tactical weapon.” Kim Jong Un observed the successful test of a newly developed weapon, but neither he nor the state run media have described what sort of weapon it is. It doesn’t appear to have been a nuclear weapon or a missile-related test. The report was noticeable for its lack of belligerent rhetoric. In the past these tests have been accompanied by denouncements of US and South Korean hostility. [source] (Analyst Coment: The description of the weapon, besides being “ultramodern,” is “tactical.” That would imply a weapon with a shorter range and one that is to be used on the battlefield. Seoul, for example, is thirty five miles from the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Pyongyang has reportedly been upset by small scale exercises still being held by the south and the US, so this test might be targeted more at South Korea than the US.)



– 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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