Strategic Intelligence Summary for 24 May 2018 – Forward Observer Shop

Strategic Intelligence Summary for 24 May 2018

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 Strategic Intelligence subscribers.

In this Strategic Intelligence Summary: (5,399 words)

  • U.S. needs to develop non-military options to deal with ‘gray zone’ warfare from nemeses
  • Military desertions in Venezuela up as salaries dry up and economy worsens
  • Sweden sends ‘war prep’ pamphlet to every home
  • U.S. Navy is leveraging French aircraft to expand sea-based air power for both forces
  • Israeli is building a unique missile net to defend its new airport
  • Canadian scientists seek to develop quantum radar that would make stealth technology obsolete
  • Unlimited range Russian missile fails after 22 miles
  • U.S. military running out of bombs, missiles — and contractors to make them
  • Israeli F-35s make combat debut
  • And more…

In Focus:  Revisionism against the West remains the order of the day in Moscow and Beijing. The Chinese appear more willing than ever to risk conflict with the U.S. or a regional power as Beijing continues to militarize its South China Sea holdings. What’s interesting to watch is that China operates as though there are no other legitimate claims to any part of the SCS, at least as far as smaller, regional powers like Vietnam and the Philippines are concerned; as though the issue has been settled by sheer will of force and that no matter what Beijing does no one will seriously oppose it — as evidenced by the landing of a long-range bomber for the first time on one of China’s claimed islands. The U.S. isn’t backing down, but the issue isn’t who’s going to flinch first: the issue is ensuring that the U.S. and its allies can bring enough firepower to bear in order to deter China from going one step too far that would require an armed response. We certainly look to be on that trajectory, however.

As for NATO and Russia, President Putin is betting that improved deterrent forces — think nuclear weapons — are the best way to keep the U.S. and the alliance at bay in Europe, while he continues to expand Russian influence throughout the former Soviet Union and solidify gains made in Ukraine and Crimea. He’s not quite there yet but, given his emphasis on those systems, Russia is farther along in upgrading its nuclear forces than the U.S. and it’s not at all clear that Putin’s missileers are taking LSD like some of our missile troops are doing [that story here]. Meanwhile, Moscow and Tehran are teamed up in Syria to remain a thorn in Washington’s side. 

As for North Korea, it looks like Trump will have to wait for his Nobel Peace Prize, at least a little longer. That story is below; it’s late-breaking. 

There’s much more. Welcome to this week’s Strategic Intelligence Summary and thank you for subscribing We welcome your feedback. — JD

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? (North Korea, China, Russia, Iran/Israel/Middle East)

PIR4: What is the current security situation along the U.S.-Mexico border and south of the border?

PIR1: What are the new indicators of disruptive events that could cause global or regional instability?

U.S. needs to develop non-military options to deal with ‘gray zone’ warfare from nemeses

As Russia, China, Iran, and other potential enemies ramp up disinformation campaigns and use cyber operations to disrupt the American social, cultural, and political landscape, the U.S. must develop non-military options to deal with such “gray zone” warfare, says a panel of experts. Jamie Fly, former foreign and national security adviser to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), said that, through social media, “for very little cost [Russia] can reach out to individual Americans” to sow distrust and confusion over a range of issues — from kneeling NFL players during the National Anthem to Sen. John McCain’s “no” vote during last year’s effort to repeal Obamacare. Referring to methods France and Germany used to deter Russian meddling in their elections, Fly said during a panel discussion hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies that “warnings (to the Kremlin) need to be specific” and “need to be repeated to the highest level” of Russian leadership. Gray zone (or as Russia calls it, “generational”) warfare ranges from disinformation campaigns to arming rebels to using proxies to fight against enemies, panel members noted, adding that Russia is by far not the only country working to undermine the U.S. in unconventional ways. China and Iran are also seeking to do the same. Kelly Magsamen, a former Pentagon official specializing in Asian and Pacific security affairs, added that the U.S. allies including Australia and Japan think Washington has done too little to send China a clear message that it does not recognize China’s outsized claims in the South China Sea (more on that below). [source] Analyst comment: America’s enemies are being assisted in their disinformation campaigns in large part by major U.S. media outlets who are hostile to the Trump administration and sympathetic to any entity willing to undermine the president. That has been demonstrated time and again through the publication of stories that have not been confirmed and have later proven to be false — planted information meant to sow discourse. The Obama administration investigated and/or prosecuted more journalists and whistleblowers under the Espionage Act of 1917 than any president before him, yet Trump’s defense against and attacks on the media only serve to confirm to the media that they are doing the right thing in targeting the Trump administration. Short of employing Obama-era tactics against the media, there isn’t much he can do to stop the publication of information that doesn’t rise to the level of an espionage violation but is nevertheless unsubstantiated (i.e., fake).

Military desertions in Venezuela up as salaries dry up and economy worsens

Venezuelans went to the polls this week and voted to reelect a deeply unpopular president, Nicolas Maduro — sort of. Maduro was reelected only after his top challengers sat out the election, and with the lowest voter turnout in decades at just 46 percent. The country’s hyperinflation and state-controlled business sectors have led to massive shortages in nearly everything, but most importantly, food remains astonishingly scarce in a country that was once the jewel of South America, before the socialist revolution/experiment began under prior dictator Hugo Chavez. There’s a massive wave of potential opposition to Maduro’s continued rule, but most are too hungry to protest and are too focused on figuring out, day to day, how to live or how to escape the country. And while most American media continues to report that the Venezuelan military remains ‘steadfastly’ behind Maduro — mostly because he has kept the military fed — even that support is declining as food stocks for military garrisons are also dramatically declining. The army won’t admit it, of course, but there are increasing reports that desertions are rising dramatically as food becomes even as scarce in the military as it is for civilians. [source] [source] Analyst comment: In addition to declining food stocks, the Maduro government is increasingly unable to pay troops as well, which is adding to the desertions, according to sources inside the country. Discontent is rising and so is the number of plots against the ruling class.

Sweden sends ‘war prep’ pamphlet to every home

As we reported on the preparation earlier this year, the Swedish government is sending all 4.8 million households a public information pamphlet informing the population what to do in the event of war, leading analysts to believe the country is preparing for new conflict in Europe. The pamphlet explains to the general public how to secure basic needs like food, water, and heat, as well as what warnings signs to look for, what they mean, where to find bomb shelters, and how they can contribute to Sweden’s “total defense.” The 20-page document features pictures of warplanes, sirens, and families fleeing their homes. It also prepares residents for cyber and terror attacks and even includes a page discussing fake news. “Although Sweden is safer than many other countries, there are still threats to our security and independence,” the brochure says. “If you are prepared, you are contributing to improving the ability of the country to cope with a major strain.” The pamphlets were first distributed in neutral Sweden in 1943. [source] (SC: Another part of this pamphlet that I found interesting is the government instructs its citizens to never give up, and confirms that the government and military will never stop fighting against a Russian invasion. It warns citizens to not believe news broadcasts that the Swedish government has surrendered.)

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

U.S. Navy is leveraging French aircraft to expand sea-based air power for both forces

Increasingly, French aircraft are being integrated into the U.S. Navy’s carrier-based aviation wings as a means of developing a larger force aimed at maritime operations, current and in the future. The integration of French naval aircraft into American naval wings is a way to keep the French pilots proficient at naval operations as the French navy’s only aircraft carrier, the nuclear-powered Charles de Gaulle (R91), is completing a deep maintenance period. French Rafale aircraft were seen parked alongside U.S. Navy F/A-18 E/F Hornets on the deck of the USS George H. W. Bush recently as pilots and deck crews from both navies worked in tandem launching and recovering aircraft. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson noted, “This is exactly the level of teamwork we’re going to need as we confront high-end competitors at sea in high-end blue-water warfare. We’re going to need our partners and allies to fight with us in the most advanced ways at sea to maintain sea control, maintain air control and protect this international order we’ve worked so hard to build together over the last 70 years.”

Israel is building a unique missile net to defend its new airport

The Israeli Defense Force has built a unique “missile net” designed to defend a new airport as part of a just-completed segment of its eastern border barrier. The 21-mile fence runs parallel to Israel’s border with Jordan, stretching from the Red Sea resort community of Eilat to the site of a new airport currently under construction. The fence is 20 feet high and is part of a wider strategy by Jerusalem to surround the country with a hard-to-penetrate barrier as the Jewish state’s ‘neighborhood’ becomes increasingly dangerous. The barrier will also include Israel’s southwestern border with Egypt, even though both countries have long ago signed a peace treaty, to prevent militant infiltration and illegal immigration. (Israel also has a peace treaty with Jordan.) The fence is designed to intercept projectiles and surface-to-surface missiles. Israeli officials say they expect the airport to become operational in late 2018 or early 2019. [source]

U.S. Army will begin equipping heavy brigades with missile defenses

The Army will begin equipping heavy brigades with new missile defense capabilities, according to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Miller, in testimony before Congress this week. Milley said that more than a year ago the service began an accelerated program to test and adapt an Israeli-developed active-protective system for its M1 Abrams tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and other vital platforms to counter the growing threat of sophisticated anti-armor threats from great power states like Russia and China. “We are taking these systems, and we are adapting them right now as we speak to our vehicles,” said Milley. “There is some testing and prototyping and safety testing that has to be done with these before they are ready for operational use. We are hoping to do that here in the next 24 months.” He noted that the Israeli-made Trophy system, in particular, has been adapted to the M1 and the Iron Fist system to the Bradley. The companies producing the systems in the U.S. are not yet ready for full-rate production, the CoS told lawmakers. Eventually the Army will begin outfitting National Guard units with the same technology, Milley said, in response to a question from a lawmaker, but the priority is to outfit “early-deploying, first responder” units. [source]

Canadian scientists seek to develop quantum radar that would make stealth technology obsolete 

Using a phenomenon called “quantum entanglement,” Canadian scientists working in the country’s frigid Arctic region are attempting to develop quantum radar to replace their traditional radar stations in the region that are currently used to track stealth missiles and aircraft. While the technology already exists, a functional quantum radar, employing powerful quantum physics principles, has never been tested outside the lab. The Canadian scientists chose the Arctic region of their country because it is where the world’s magnetic North Pole is located, and they believe if they can solve the quantum radar mysteries there they can employ the radars anywhere to effectively render stealth technology obsolete. [source] Analyst comment: In theory, these radars would operate using light particles to detect missiles and aircraft rather than radio waves, which stealth technology is designed to absorb rather than reflect, thereby ‘hiding’ the plane’s position as it streaks through the sky. The Chinese said in 2016 they have already mastered this technology but the scientific community highly doubts that. Still, if the Canadians or a team at Lockheed Martin working on similar projects can develop this technology first, that would give the U.S. and its allies a huge tactical advantage over our near-peer competitors.

Unlimited range Russian missile fails after 22 miles 

In March, during his annual address to the Russian federation, Russian President Putin boasted of his country’s newest weapons, including a nuclear-powered “unlimited” range cruise missile. Though the Russians are denying it, U.S. intelligence says that a recent test of the missile shows it failed — crashed — after a 22-mile flight. In fact, sources say that four tests of the missile between November 2017 and February 2018 failed, with each resulting in a crash. The 22-mile flight was the longest; it lasted two minutes. Russian officials are claiming that the missile’s most vital component, the nuclear unit, powered up and provided necessary thrust, but U.S. intelligence says the nuclear unit is what failed. Officials say that the Kremlin ordered the missile tested though Russian engineers said it wasn’t ready yet. [source] 

U.S. military running out of bombs, missiles — and contractors to make them

The Pentagon wants to invest a staggering $20 billion in munitions in FY 2019 but the industrial base to support such a large buy may not be there in the future to fulfill orders. What’s more, this mismatch comes at a time when the U.S. military is expending ordnance at an increased rate. According to the annual Industrial Capabilities report, which is compiled by the Defense Department’s Office of Manufacturing and Industrial Base Policy, officials have concluded that the munitions sector industrial base is under heavy strain, due in large part to the stop-and-start nature of ordnance procurement over the past two decades, causing many contractors to leave the defense sector. In addition, the sector is losing its design talent as well, since the military’s tendency over that period of time has been to alter existing weapons designs instead of develop new systems. In short, the report makes clear that Pentagon officials are concerned about the country’s capacity to wage war in the future — especially against a peer competitor. In some scenarios defense planners see the U.S. facing off against China, while at the same time being reliant on parts and technology that is produced only in China. An overall lack of diversity in the defense industrial base is to blame, primarily. Four industrial capabilities stand out as “high risk” areas of concern: Solid rocket motors (a military-only tech); thermal batteries; fuzes; small turbine engines. [source] Analyst comment: The defense sector has changed mightily since the days of World War II, when jukebox factories were converted to arms factories and airplane plants could crank out hundreds of fighters and bombers a month. Today’s weapons of war are very high-tech and rely on producers from scores of countries, many not entirely friendly to the U.S. 

Israeli F-35s make combat debut

The Israeli air force said it has used its new F-35 warplanes in combat, marking the first time the fifth-generation aircraft has been used in war. The Israel Defense Force said F-35s have been used twice already. “We are flying the F-35 all over the Middle East. It has become part of our operational capabilities. We are the first to attack using the F-35 in the Middle East and have already attacked twice on different fronts,” said Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin. He and other IDF commanders say the warplane’s performance has been exemplary and has helped turn the tide against Iranian arming of Hezbollah militants. The plane’s extremely low radar signature make it possible to operate deep inside enemy countries like Iran while evading top-notch air defenses like the Russian-built S-300 and S-400 systems. Israel’s initial purchase of the F-35 came in at 19 planes; the IDF will purchase an additional 14 at a lower cost in the coming years. [source]

U.S. Air Force says even new JSTARS aircraft would be shot down on day one of war with China, Russia

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson gave lawmakers a sobering assessment regarding the survivability of the service’s JSTARS battlefield management and control aircraft, the E-8C. Even a new version of the aircraft will be vulnerable to shoot down during the opening round of a conflict with either Russia or China. As part of the Air Force’s FY 2019 budget request the service would like to cancel the program to recap the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) plane. The service previously sought to buy 17 new Boeing 707-sized aircraft to replace older inventory, but some lawmakers are putting up resistance because they’re not supportive of that course of action. Last month a House Armed Services Committee subcommittee included a provision in the 2019 Defense authorization bill that would cap new money at 50 percent for the Air Force’s planned Advanced Battle Management System program, which the service sees as an alternative to the recap. But Wilson said a new JSTARS still would not be able to get close enough to a fight between the U.S. and an advanced military — especially Russia — to be of any use. “Russian and Chinese surface-to-air missiles have more range, and the plane would be shot down in the first day of conflict,” Wilson said. She suggested doing both — building the new system which incorporates data collected from manned, unmanned, and space-based assets as well as recapitalize JSTARS, but that can’t be done without spending at least $7 billion more. [source] 

PIR3: What is the current situation report and risk of war in each of the four? (North Korea, China, Russia, Iran/Israel/Middle East)


According to a Russian navy press release, on 22 May the Russian navy nuclear submarine Yuri Dolgoruky successfully launched four intercontinental ballistic missiles from the White Sea, which hit targets at the Kura range in the Far Eastern Kamchatka region. The submarine reportedly launched the missiles while submerged, mimicking a wartime launch. “The test confirmed combat readiness of the Project-955 Borei strategic submarine and the Bulava missile system,” said the release. This follows a series of other successful tests of the Bulava missiles in previous years. According to available data, each missile can deliver 10 nuclear warheads of 150 kilotons each over a distance of 10,000 miles.

Late in the week aviation authorities in Malaysia and The Netherlands said that after years of careful analysis and close examination of the evidence, they have concluded that a Russian anti-aircraft unit was responsible for the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH-17, which was blown out of the sky over conflict-torn eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014 while en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. There are two things that make this noteworthy. First, the Malaysians say they have identified the specific unit that fired on the commercial airliner — the 53rd Brigade, which fired a missile from a BUK-TELAR system. Secondly, the aircraft took off from a NATO country — The Netherlands — and most of the passengers on board who died were Dutch. The Russians are, of course, denying any responsibility, claiming that none of the Russian military’s anti-aircraft units were on Ukrainian soil at the time the plane was shot down. The joint aviation investigation team said they identified the unit by recreating the route taken by the missile convoy from Kursk, where the 53rd is based, towards the border into Ukraine using videos and photos.

The New York Times published a story late in the week providing fresh details about the February firefight between U.S. commandos and Syrian rebels on one side, and about 500 attacking pro-Assad forces on the other, a force that included several hundred Russian mercenaries. Under covering fire from several tanks, the mercenary-led force advanced on the U.S. position but was savaged by American-led counter-battery fire and airstrikes from U.S. warplanes (F-22s, reportedly). “The firefight was described by the Pentagon as an act of self-defense against a unit of pro-Syrian government forces. In interviews, United States military officials said they had watched — with dread — hundreds of approaching rival troops, vehicles and artillery pieces in the week leading up to the attack. … American military officials repeatedly warned about the growing mass of troops. But Russian military officials said they had no control over the fighters assembling near the river — even though American surveillance equipment monitoring radio transmissions had revealed the ground force was speaking in Russian. …” The story is fascinating (here). But the thing to remember is this: Russian mercenaries don’t operate freely; they were sent there by President Putin as a ‘test’ of President Trump’s will. Putin got his answer. 

Middle East: 

While Israel is moving to improve its defenses through a combination of offensive and defense actions, many of the current conflicts and likely future wars are also tied to the region’s two other large, competing powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran, both of whom seek to dominate militarily and geopolitically (in addition to Israel, which fully expects to remain the dominant power in the region — for its own survival). There are a couple of potential conflicts that bear watching, in particular. The first involves a war between Iran and Israel, the threat of which has been growing for years. Iran has been using the Syrian civil war as a means of improving its strategic position against Israel, physically — with the deployment of Iranian military forces and assets inside Syria — as well as politically, as an influence on the Syrian government. Iranian attempts to bolster its position against Israel has led to a series of airstrikes against Iranian positions, which finally provoked a limited response from Iran last week. 

As for Iran, it has built up alliances — proxies — for use against both Israel and Saudi Arabia. The two main major proxy organizations are Hezbollah, which made good gains in Lebanon’s recent parliamentary elections, and Hamas, which is being blamed by the United States for having an outsized role in the recent, deadly Gaza violence. Iran isn’t viewed as powerful enough to take on Israel directly or even Saudi Arabia, but after years of providing military assistance to the two principle, militant proxy organizations, Iran is now in a much better position to challenge both.

Saudi Arabia has been spending billions fighting Iran, essentially, in neighboring Yemen. Officially, the Saudis are fighting Houthi rebels but they are being supplied, in large part, by Iran. The Saudis are leading a Gulf Arab coalition against the Houthis but in the process are killing scores of civilians in airstrikes that don’t seem particularly discretionary, which is costing Riyadh (and the U.S.) international support. That said, the Saudis see Iran as the region’s biggest threat, and is reportedly working behind the scenes with Israeli intelligence in an odd, non-public coalition of the necessary. The Saudis want nothing less than full dominance over Tehran, and vice versa for the Iranian mullahs. Something — or someone — has to give.

U.S. intelligence officials, meanwhile, say they believe ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is still alive and committed to rebuilding his caliphate over the long-term, based on intercepts and detainee interrogations, as well as writings and statements by operatives within the militant group’s network. Evidence is spotty and often difficult to confirm, however what the picture U.S. intelligence is formulating is that of a leader who has chosen to become invisible, even within what’s left of his Islamic State, despite drawing criticism from followers who want him to maintain a much more public persona as a means of proving that ISIS survives. Intercepts and dispatches also indicate a change of strategy: Baghdadi appears to be shifting his attention to the development of an ideological framework that will survive the physical destruction of the caliphate in Iraq and Syria. That includes reworking school curriculum and issuing clarifications on ideological disputes between ISIS factions. All of this suggests that Baghdadi is moving on from his caliphate to lead an underground insurgency and international terrorist movement. “Even as they were losing Mosul and Raqqa, we were seeing indications that they were planning to operate anew, as a clandestine organization,” said Mr. Nicholas Rasmussen, who served as director of the National Counterterrorism Centre before stepping down in December. “As they were being driven out of these places, they were leaving behind a kind of cell structure.” The point of teaching schoolchildren about the caliphate is to ensure its idea endures.

And Secretary of State Mike Pence has said there will be no return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, better known as the Iran nuclear deal. “We will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations, and we will not renegotiate the JCPOA itself,” he said. “No more wealth creation for Iranian kleptocrats. No more acceptance of missiles landing in Riyadh and in the Golan Heights. No more cost-free expansions of Iranian power. No more.”

He also listed 12 demands of the Iranian regime that included “permanently and verifiably” abandoning its nuclear weapons program, allowing more intrusive inspections, ending the production and proliferation of ballistic missiles, the release all U.S. citizens, ending support to terrorists, stopping interference in Iraq, withdrawing all forces from Syria, and ending support for Houthis in Yemen and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

North Korea:

After weeks of speculation and anticipation, it appears as though the awaited historic summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un won’t go off as planned. Last week the North Koreans claimed that the summit may be postponed; this morning President Trump cancelled the meeting.

American media are reporting that Trump wrote a letter to Kim canceling the meeting. The cancellation comes after the North Korean government deeply criticized Vice President Mike pence — for some reason. “Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” Trump wrote in the letter, which was released Thursday morning. A statement attributed to a North Korean foreign policy official called Pence a “political dummy,” adding Pyongyang is just as ready to meet in a nuclear confrontation as at the negotiating table. That slam comes on the heels of an earlier angry statement directed at National Security Advisor John Bolton. Both Pence and Bolton suggested a “Libya” model for denuclearization, which Pyongyang is apparently rejecting because in the end, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed by rebels while the Obama administration was supportive of the ouster.

In an interview last week, Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. was emphatic that there will be “war” if the North Koreans and Chinese “miscalculate” and attempt to put one over on Trump. “If China and North Korea miscalculate …and they continue to go back to the status quo, we’re going to have a war,” he was quoted as saying, adding that there are currently just two options: Peace or war. “To all the people who are terrified of Trump being successful, you need to realize one or two things are going to happen. We’re going to get a peace agreement that ends the nuclear threat from North Korea beneficial to North Korea and the world at large or we are going to go to war. Now those your two options.” 

South China Sea:

For the time being, anyway, the U.S. is putting its “trade war” against China on hold, ostensibly because trade negotiators from Washington and Beijing have made progress on issues that are important to President Trump. “We’re putting the trade war on hold. So right now, we have agreed to put the tariffs on hold while we try to execute the framework,” said Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin following two days of talks. Trump has threatened to impose tariffs on some $150 billion worth of Chinese goods; China has responded by saying it could target tens of billions of dollars’ worth of American goods. Trump’s top economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, clarified on a Sunday news program, however, that the president hasn’t completely removed the threat of tariffs. “I don’t think we’re at the state yet,” he said.

Meanwhile, China continues to militarize its South China Sea outposts. In recent weeks, according to Chinese media, Beijing sent one of the air force’s H-6K heavy bombers to Woody Island in the Paracels late last week, prompting a complaint and “appropriate diplomatic action” from the Philippines. The bomber was one of several that took off from an airbase in southern China for “a simulated strike against sea targets before landing on an island in the South China Sea,” Beijing said in a statement. The statement did not specify where the bombers landed, but experts noted that the airstrip on Woody Island is the largest in the area. The bombers have sufficient range to cover the entire SCS from Woody Island. “Nearly all of the Philippines falls within the radius of the bombers, including Manila and all five Philippine military bases earmarked for development under the U.S.-Philippines Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement,” the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of the Center for Strategic Studies (CSIS) said in an analysis. “An H-6K, with its technical upgrades giving it a combat radius of nearly 1900 nautical miles, would dwarf this radius, putting all of Southeast Asia in range of flights from Woody Island.” The analysis noted further that future H-6K deployments to China’s “Big 3” manmade islands in the Spratlys will put Singapore and most of Indonesia in range of even low-end Chinese bombers, while the H-6Ks could reach as far as northern Australia and U.S. bases on Guam. Vietnam, with whom China fought a brief war in 1979, has also expressed anger over the H-6K landing, saying that it violates the country’s sovereign claims in the region.

As tensions rise in the SCS region, they remain elevated between China and Taiwan, as evidenced by the latter’s continued quest to improve military readiness and prepare for an eventual Chinese invasion. The Taiwan armed forces are preparing to begin their annual Han Kuang Exercise on 4 June, which simulates defense against invasion. This year’s exercise will feature one of Taiwan’s largest shows of force in recent years. Defense ministry officials have told regional media that the exercise will be the largest in the 34 years since Han Kuang began in 1984. Readiness needs to be improved; in recent days the Chinese air force sent a Y08 transport-turned-jamming plane past the middle line of the Taiwan Strait, but the Taiwanese air force was tardy in getting interceptor aircraft airborne.

Because of recent developments in the SCS involving Beijing’s ongoing militarization, the U.S. has disinvited the Chinese navy from the upcoming RIMPAC exercise, which is held twice a year. When asked whether he thought that would ramp up tensions with Beijing, Defense Secretary James Mattis said: “We are not ratcheting up anything. In fact, we believe firmly in a stable Pacific. What we are doing is we are cooperating with China wherever we can, and we are going to have to also confront them when we believe that the rule of law or that matters that can destabilize the region are being pursued. Our military operations are transparent out there, but so long as China continues to militarize features in the South China Sea and what is traditionally, historically international waters and militarizing them with weapons that just a few years ago they said they would not be putting there, then we have to acknowledge that reality.”

PIR4: What activities are foreign intelligence services directing against the United States our allies?

North Korea deemed a ‘cyber superpower’

While the North Korean military may be large it is essentially antiquated. But the country’s real power, outside of its nuclear weapons development, is its cyber force. It is used to spy on other countries, launch cyber attacks and to drain bank accounts to prop up the Kim regime and keep his operations financed.  Retired South Korean Army Lt. Gen. In-Bum Chun told some 1,400 attendees at the Lanpac conference in Honolulu this week that North Korea “is a cyber power.”

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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