Strategic Intelligence Summary for 26 April 2018 – Forward Observer Shop

Strategic Intelligence Summary for 26 April 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: (5,454 words)

  • Trump administration set to ‘legitimize’ Iran’s ballistic missile program
  • Iran calls for Middle East coalition of nations to oppose the U.S. 
  • U.S. building armed drone base in Niger 
  • F-35 hits two drone targets simultaneously 
  • Air Force awards major new hypersonic missile contract 
  • French warship suffered misfire during Syria mission 
  • U.S. warplanes to get new glide bomb  
  • China deploys new ballistic missiles that put Guam in range
  • Chinese smartphones sold on U.S. military bases deemed security risk 
  • More…

In Focus: As I looked at our various threat regions this week, among other developments around the world, I came across an assessment of current assumptions by many in the U.S. defense establishment that may not only be false but could prove disastrous in a future conflict with a peer or near-peer competitor. You can read the analysis [here] but suffice to say the Pentagon needs to rethink the way it fights as we enter one of the most dangerous periods of history since World War II. The threat from violent extremists and terrorist organizations isn’t going to go away any time soon, for sure, but great-power war carries far greater risks in terms of national survival. Fortunately, I am seeing signs that the Trump administration’s national security team understands the rising threats far better than did the Obama national security team, and is moving to meet them. There is far more emphasis now among the service branches, for example, on great power warfighting than there was earlier in the decade. The Navy is reassessing its ability to sink enemy ships; the Air Force is reassessing its ability to control the skies against near-peer enemies; the Army and Marines are reassessing ground force capabilities including armor, artillery, missile defense, and how to shoot, move, and communicate in a highly contested environment. The Army is even revamping its recruiting and basic training in a way that is sort of ‘back to the future,’ with more emphasis on military basics like physical fitness, marksmanship, military courtesy, military history, and esprit de corps.

All of this comes not a moment too soon. Revisionist powers in Russia, China, and Iran continue to exploit and press their advantages. As one problem region appears to be fading — North Korea — several other dangers emerge or become more dangerous. Africa is already another hotbed of extremism. Russia and NATO continue to press each other. China is advancing more rapidly into the South China Sea even as Beijing rattles Taiwan, threatens Japan, and counters U.S. tariffs. There are threats along our borders as well, as violence tied to Mexican drug cartels escalates once more.

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

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

Trump administration set to ‘legitimize’ Iran’s ballistic missile program, to Israel’s detriment

As part of the Trump administration’s ongoing talks regarding the future of the Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran, sources familiar with discussions say the White House is preparing to agree to concessions that will “legitimize” the Islamic republic’s ballistic missile program, allowing future development. That means Tehran will be able to officially, and above the table, develop and test missiles that are capable of striking Israel. Following weeks of pressure from senior European officials who are keen to keep the deal in place, top Trump officials are said to have agreed to a demand that Iran only restrict ballistic missile activity to longer-range missiles, which leaves “untouched its mammoth arsenal of short-range and medium-range missiles that could easily hit Israel and other Middle Eastern nations.” The concession has angered many members of Congress as well as Trump administration insiders who have been pressuring the president to stand firm against making such concessions. The next deadline for POTUS in reaffirming the nuclear deal — or declaring it dead and buried — is May. Congressional critics say after months of discussions fixes proposed by European partners do not go nearly far enough in addressing Iran’s missile programs. [source] Analyst comment: Trump vows to hold strong against Iran, telling a U.S. media outlet this morning, “They used to scream ‘Death to America.’ They don’t scream it anymore. They screamed with him [President Obama] but not with me.” That said, Iran has announced it won’t accept any changes to the deal it signed with the Obama administration unless it benefits Tehran.

Iran calls for Middle East coalition of nations to oppose the U.S.

Aware that by itself Iran lacks the power to deter or defend against the United States, the Islamic republic’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called on all Muslim nations to unite against the U.S., vowing that his country would never give in to “bullying.” “The Iranian nation has successfully resisted bullying attempts by America and other arrogant powers and we will continue to resist… All Muslim nations should stand united against America and other enemies,” he said, according to Israeli media. He went onto criticize President Trump for saying earlier this week that some Middle East countries “wouldn’t last a week” without the U.S. security umbrella (he’s right). “Such remarks are a humiliation for Muslims … Unfortunately, there is war in our region between Muslim countries. The backward governments of some Muslim countries are fighting with other countries,” Khamenei said. [source] Analyst comment: Meanwhile, Iran is waging a proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen, consolidating its Shia land bridge across neighboring Iraq and supplying militant proxies in Lebanon and Syria. More and more nations see Iran as the biggest threat to Middle East peace and long-term security today, not the U.S.

U.S. building armed drone base in Niger 

In an effort to address the growing threat of Islamic extremism in Africa’s large Sahel region, the U.S. is constructing a new base in Niger out of which it will operate armed drones. Niger Air Base 201 is expected to be functional early next year. Built at the request of the Niger government, the base will house MQ-9 Reaper drones and fighter jets transferred from the capital. The drones have surveillance and strike capabilities and have a range that will allow them to fly into several West and North African nations. Few knew about the U.S. military’s presence in the country until a group of Islamic State-linked militants killed four U.S. special operations troops and Nigerien soldiers in an ambush last October. It’s not clear how many drones will eventually operate from the base or how many more U.S. military personnel will be brought in. The U.S. military presence in Niger is the second-largest in Africa behind America’s only permanent base on the continent — in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti. [source]

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

F-35 hits two drone targets simultaneously

An F-35 pilot has to hit two airborne drones simultaneously with two missiles, bringing the fifth-generation aircraft to a new level of capability. The pilot fired a pair of Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles using an integrated targeting sensor called the Electro-Optical Targeting System, or EOTS. The shoot-downs occurred over the Pacific, Air Force officials said. “The technical advances with weaponry enables the now deployed F-35s to draw upon an expanded mission set should it engage in air-to-air combat.” [source]

Air Force awards major new hypersonic missile contract

In the immediate aftermath of a two-year budget deal that provides the military with substantial increases in funding, the Air Force is wasting no time in speeding up development of a new hypersonic missile design. The service has awarded Lockheed Martin a $928 million contract that covers the “design, development, engineering, systems integration, test, logistics planning, and aircraft integration support of all elements of a hypersonic, conventional, air-launched, stand-off weapon,” the service said in a press release. The awarding of the contract comes just weeks after the Pentagon said it was falling behind Russia and China in developing hypersonic weapons, having focused much more on low-tech militant warfare over the past 15-odd years. The new missile has been dubbed the “Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon. The Air Force said it is one of two hypersonic prototypes being developed by the Air Force. [source] Analyst comment: The development of a hypersonic capability is the No. 1 priority for the service’s new undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, Michael Griffin, and that is underscored by the rapid awarding of this contract. The plan is to have a prototype ready by 2023 but with some luck and additional funding, the AF could have something ready sooner. Griffin notes that China has pulled ahead in hypersonic missile research. The technology has been called a game-changer by weapons experts because there are no known missile defenses for hypersonic projectiles.

French warship suffered misfire during Syria mission

When it was time for a French multi-mission frigate to fire a salvo of three missiles at targets in Syria, in response to the alleged chemical attack by the Assad government on a rebel enclave near Damascus, the warship suffered a misfire and none of the cruise missiles launched. As such, a backup warship, the Languedoc, the frigate’s sister ship, was ordered to fire the three naval cruise missiles, all of which fired and all of which reportedly struck their targets. It is the first time the French navy has fired the missile. French military officials confirmed the misfire but did not go into any details as to how it occurred. A newsletter, Lettre A, reported that a “technical glitch” caused the misfire. France also sent five Rafael fighter jets armed with two Scalp cruise missiles each; nine of the 10 were fired, but military officials declined to say why the tenth missile was not launched. [source]

U.S. warplanes to get new glide bomb

The F-15, F/A-18, and F-35 will all be receiving a new Raytheon-built “glide bomb” to drop in future conflicts. The defense contractor has completed developmental testing on the new 25—pound GBU-53B Small Diameter Bomb II, which has a tri-modal seeker (having three statistical modes), is set to begin complete government “confidence testing” before it can enter the operational test phase on its way to actual deployment on the three aforementioned fighter aircraft. The Pentagon says that the weapon is crucial to enabling the F-35 to perform its close air-ground-support mission (on the Air Force’s way to finally retiring the A-10 most likely). “We call SDB II a game changer because the weapon doesn’t just hit GPS coordinates; it finds and engages targets,” Mike Jarrett, Raytheon Air Warfare Systems vice president, said. “SDB II can eliminate a wider range of targets with fewer aircraft, reducing the pilot’s time in harm’s way.” About those three modes, they “include millimeter wave radar to detect and track targets, imaging infrared for enhanced target discrimination and a semi-active laser that enables the weapon to track an air or ground-based laser designator.” Raytheon says it “seamlessly” shares targeting info among all three modes which allows the ordnance to find and engage fixed and moving targets. It’s also able to detect targets through battlefield dust and debris, reportedly. So far, Raytheon says the weapon has been performing well; 44 have been dropped by pilots. The defense contractor says the weapon can be paired with stealth aircraft (as long as they remain stealthy) to attack high-value targets well behind enemy lines where air defense concentrations are their most dense. [source]

Russia’s ‘ceremonial fleet’ and ambitions for a bigger blue-water navy on hold

The Kremlin laid out an ambitious shipbuilding program for the Russian navy that, between 2011 and 2020, would see 100 new warships constructed. However, the program is reportedly causing “a very bad feeling” among several Russian naval experts, some of whom now describe the Russian fleet as largely “ceremonial,” and suggesting that one-third of the shipbuilding program has resulted in nothing more than a “donut hole.” Ongoing production troubles appear to be linked to a dearth of naval shipbuilding capacity as well as problems throughout the manufacturing process. The country’s Sevmash Production Association in Severodvinsk, Russia’s largest shipbuilding yard, has already transferred four early-model Borer-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines to the navy, and 11 more fourth-generation nuclear subs, believed to be the pride of the Russian fleet, are under construction. They include five Borei-A-class and six Yasen-M-class subs. But only two are expected to be completed by 2020. Part of the reason for the delay is that the Severodvinsk facility is undergoing renovation to modernize obsolete facilities. Also, there have been chronic labor shortages at the facility as well as labor discipline violations. Russia has four more shipbuilding centers in St. Petersburg, with the Admiralty Shipyards the most capable. The facility has already turned out six improved Kilo-class boats, which are conventionally powered, between 2010-2016, with two more planned for commissioning by 2020. Two modestly-capable Lada-class electric boats, which have been under construction since 2005, are planned for 2020 as well. Other shipbuilders in St. Petersburg are turning out small numbers of new frigates, minesweepers, fast boats and an Arctic patrol ship, an Ivan Papanin-class vessel. Overall, though, “Russia’s naval construction program continues to suffer from multiple problems, including the shortage or obsolesce of Russian shipbuilding facilities, financial and management problems, as well as technical flaws and lack of access to foreign components—notably Ukrainian-made engines. As a result, a serious gap exists between planned and expected warships.” [source]

China deploys new ballistic missiles that put Guam in range

In what some say is a clear signal to the U.S. not to get closer to Taiwan, China has deployed DF-26 intermediate range ballistic missiles believed capable of striking the large and important U.S. military base on the Pacific island of Guam. Nicknamed the “Guam Killer” and “Guam Express” by observers of the Chinese military, the missiles made their debut publicly in a 2015 parade, and are believed to have a range of between 3,000-4,000 km (1,864-2,485 miles). If they were fired from the Chinese mainland the entire South China Sea and Guam would be in range. It is said that the missile can also strike maritime targets (like aircraft carriers) though that is not as simple as it sounds. [source] Analyst comment: China has been showing off its growing military capability and prowess lately, including a 48-ship mass naval exercise reviewed personally by President Xi Jinping involving some 10,000 personnel. Analysts note its Beijing’s way of ‘informing’ the U.S. and its allies it has no intention of budging on Taiwan/SCS claims.

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


Little has changed in the trajectory of potential conflict between Russia, a revisionist power, and the NATO alliance, and I continue to believe this region carries great risk of conflict.

For years following the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union, NATO and the EU have used their “peace dividend” to dramatically roll back military spending and development. Even in the past decade, as Russia rearmed and reasserted itself beginning in Georgia in 2008, NATO and the EU continued to sleepwalk through the period, choosing to ignore the rising threat as evidenced by their shrinking military budgets. But now the EU and NATO are refocused in European security — thanks in part to the Trump administration’s insistence they pick up their fair share of the security tab and Russia’s continued efforts to wield outsized influence in the region. And in particular, the EU is concentrating on “its neglected back garden” — the Western Balkans. The shore-up starts with improving relations between historic antagonists Macedonia and Greece, the two exchanging high-level government delegations recently, paving the way, perhaps, for Macedonia to join NATO, “leading to a seamless stretch of the alliance from Montenegro across to Turkey.” There are major challenges facing both countries, which are “riddled with corruption and saddled with weak governance, poor education, and infrastructure neglect.” But now as the EU and NATO re-engage the region there is a better than even chance old divisions can be healed which would then lead to necessary reforms. 

In Syria, Russia has deployed substantial electronic warfare assets and is now using them to interfere with American aircraft designed — ironically — to conduct electronic warfare. The Compass Call — an EC-130H — is supposed to be one of the U.S. Air Force’s most capable electronic attack aircraft. It employs offensive counter-information and electronic attack (EA) capabilities in support of U.S. and coalition aircraft, as well as tactical surface and special operations. But they are being attacked and disabled “in the most aggressive EW environment on the planet,” Gen. Raymond Thomas, head of Special Operations Command, said this week. “Right now in Syria … they are testing us every day, knocking our communications down, disabling our EC-130s, etcetera.” Additional details are thin but it is known that the Russians have a substantial EW capability that is obviously getting better, having re-engineered their entire EW fleet over the past two decades. It could be that the Russians are not going head-to-head with the Compass Calls’ EW attack capabilities but may have taken a much easier route and are interfering with Position, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) or communications gear instead, which would make it harder to fly the plane as crews would have to rely instead on maps and line-of-sight navigation.

Moscow launched a “massive” military exercise in the Western Military District earlier this week involving more than 1,000 troops and more than 100 aircraft and helicopters. The exercises involve more than 50 mission sets, including repelling an enemy air attack, reconnaissance, and delivering strikes and counterstrikes using ground forces and air assets. Fighters include Su-27, Su-30SM and Su-35 fighter jets, Su-34 fighter-bombers, Mil Mi-24, Mi-28N, Mi-35 and Kamov Ka-52 attack helicopters. The exercises follow the traditional winter training period but NATO always keeps an eye on Russian military exercises because they have been used as preludes to invasions before.

The Russian navy is working to upgrade its only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov. Repairs and upgrades are set to begin in May and will include new air defense missile systems. That will include the addition of shipborne Pantsyr [surface-to-air missile], new boilers, new pumps, updated flight control systems — landing, surveillance, and control. Put into service in 1990, the ship’s upgrades are expected to be completed by 2021. At full complement, the carrier features 24-26 fighters and 12 helicopters, making it much smaller than U.S. carriers. 

Middle East: 

Was the Israeli strike in Syria earlier this month — which appeared to take place nearly simultaneously with the U.S.-led attack against Syrian chemical weapons infrastructure — a message to Washington, Tehran, and Moscow? The attack was launched against Syria’s strategic T4, or Tiyas, airbase in the Homs province and the missiles fired were directed exclusively against a section of the base used by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), its specialist Quds Force, and Hezbollah used to house senior personnel, strategic weapons, and sophisticated drones in semi-hardened hangars. Reports claimed that the attack killed some 14 people and it earned a direct rebuke from Moscow, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declaring it a “very dangerous development.” That was a very public, unusually harsh critique aimed at Jerusalem for the kind of attack Moscow has generally been very quiet about. That means that Israel likely did not pre-warn Russia it was going to attack, and that could be because no Russian forces were targeted — or because the Israelis didn’t want the Iranians, Russian allies, tipped off. That said, Russian forces operate out of the base and fly combat sorties from it, which made the attack particularly bold. This comes on the heels of a tit-for-tat, of sorts, between Israel and Iran a couple months ago. In the span of a few hours, an Israeli F-16 was shot down along with a sophisticated Iranian drone. An Iranian control vehicle was also destroyed. 

Israel, it is reported, was prepared to do more. A wider strike against Iranian targets was to take place but was headed off, reportedly, by Russian President Putin who delivered a rather stern message to Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu via phone call. Had the strikes gone forward, it’s likely that the Israel-Iran conflict would have widened — perhaps even into a full-blown conflict. 

Meantime, Israel pulled some of its warplanes from the annual “Red Flag” exercise in Alaska as tensions ramp up with Iran along Israel’s northern border. According to a statement from the Israeli air force, the IDF won’t send F-15 fighters to the two-week drill, which runs April 26-May 11. Red Flag exercises take place several times per year, but pulling out of the upcoming exercise is significant and says clearly that Israel would rather keep its air power at home for the time being. It should be noted that the F-15 is the backbone of the Israeli air force; it has long-range strike and reconnaissance capabilities. Following the T4 attack, the IDF put its force on alert; reports said that the high command fully expected a military response from the IRGC, not by proxies, in the form of guided missiles or armed drones operating from Syria. The threats have been made, but so far the retaliation hasn’t materialized. Yet. 

Israel continues to maintain that it won’t allow Iran to use Syria as a large operating base. By any measure, Netanyahu is making good on his pledge to keep Iran at least off-balance in Syria; getting Iran completely out of the country, however, seems unlikely at this point, so containment is probably a better strategy. As for the message, Israel appears to be informing all parties involved that it won’t permit enemies to gather at its gates, that the country is willing and ready and able to do what is needed to ensure that its citizens are well-defended, even at the risk of a wider conflict — which is where this is really headed. Iran can no longer be contained but now must be deterred, as Israel seeks to do with these punitive, targeted strikes. But at some point, Iran will grow tired of always being on the receiving end of military action and will seek to dish out some punishment of its own. It has powerful forces in the region, powerful allies in Hezbollah and Russia, and may never get a better opportunity to strike at its self-declared mortal enemy. 

As for Syria, the situation on the ground may soon get better for the U.S. Washington is in talks with the Saudi government and other regional governments to deploy an Arab force alongside U.S. troops — a development that would allow the Trump administration to dramatically curtail the U.S. military footprint in the country while ensuring no reduction in the number of troops on the ground. The Saudis say they made a similar proposal to the Obama administration in its campaign against the Islamic State but apparently were rebuffed. Currently, the U.S. has about 2,000 troops in Syria; Trump has said he wants to withdraw U.S. forces as soon as practical so it isn’t clear whether any American forces would remain. There’s a chance that perhaps the Saudis, who are bent on building and maintaining their own military infrastructure so they can defend themselves without needing much outside assistance, if any, may deploy ground forces with other Arab countries in tow whether the U.S. remains or not. It may be that the Saudis — who are competing for regional influence with the Iranians — are only too happy to send forces to Syria, where Iran already has a major presence. But it’s not clear Riyadh would do that without some level of U.S. presence. Also, some within the U.S. defense establishment are said to be only lukewarm to the idea of Saudi troops in Syria after their performance in Yemen, where there have been several humanitarian catastrophes including famine and the bombardment of schools and hospitals.

North Korea:

As we get closer to historic summits between the leaders of North and South Korea and the United States, there have been some remarkable developments to report. One of the earliest following last week’s Strategic Intelligence Summary was the announcement by Pyongyang that Kim Jong-un had agreed to freeze all nuclear and missile tests beginning on 21 April. In addition, North Korean news agencies announced the North would shutter its a nuclear testing site. “From April 21, North Korea will stop nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles,” the Korean Central News Agency said, according to Yonhap News. “The North will shut down a nuclear test site in the country’s northern side to prove the vow to suspend nuclear test.” [source] President Trump tweeted in response, “North Korea has agreed to suspend all Nuclear Tests and close up a major test site. This is very good news for North Korea and the World – big progress! Look forward to our Summit.” This follows an announcement last week by the administration that CIA Director Mike Pompeo held secret meetings with Kim during the Winter Olympics, which were held in South Korea. The North Korean announcement and Trump’s praise for the progress came on the heels of a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the U.S. Earlier Trump, in a bid to assuage Tokyo’s concerns that Trump might be getting played by the North Koreans, said he had no problems walking away from his summit with Kim if it didn’t appear to be going anywhere. “I hope to have a very successful meeting, Trump said during a joint news conference alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “If we don’t think it’s going to be successful, we won’t have it. If I think it’s a meeting that is not going to be fruitful, we’re not going to go. If the meeting when I’m there is not fruitful, I will respectfully leave the meeting.”

All of which begs some questions: What did Kim and Chinese President Xi Jinping discuss when the North Korean leader made a pilgrimage to China in late March, after waiting to do so since 2011 when he took power? What did the two countries decide should come from these talks? What security guarantees did Kim get from Xi, if any? 

While there is hope that a denuclearization deal can be done, there remains much skepticism. Some analysts say it doesn’t make sense for Kim to agree to give up all of his leverage — his nuclear program, which is advanced at this stage — right up front without getting anything in return except a formal peace treaty and a U.S. guarantee to allow him to remain in power. Others see this as a move by Chinese President Xi Jinping; simply getting North Korea to the table in exchange for the Trump administration backing down from imposing more sanctions and tariffs and contesting China’s South China Sea expansion. These experts believe Trump’s best option is to meet with Kim ASAP before he manages to finish his weapons development, then test his resolve by pressing for snap inspections of all of the country’s nuclear facilities (which Kim isn’t likely to agree to).

Retiring Sen. Bob Corker said that any Trump administration notion that it can “charm” North Korea out of its nuclear weapons is “not realistic.” He adds: “[Kim] views having deliverable nuclear weapons as his ticket to dying as an old man in his bed. He saw what happened with [Libyan President Muammar] Qaddafi. Qaddafi’s a dead man now because he gave up his nuclear weapons. To think that someone is going to go in and charm him out of this is not realistic. Is there some progress that can be made? I hope so. But you know, that’s a big hurdle.” 

South China Sea:

China’s pressure on Taiwan is continuing, even as Beijing continues to shore up its presence — and defenses in the South China Sea. In recent days the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) released a propaganda video aimed squarely at intimidating Taiwan. The video, which was posted to the PLAAFs Weibo account, shows H-6K long-range nuclear-capable bombers flying over the SCS and near Taiwan. “A powerful nation must have comparable forces capable of safeguarding its sovereignty and security,” says a narrator — in Hokkien, a language that is tied closely to Taiwan’s pro-independence movement. It’s the most widely-spoken language in Taiwan. In response, Taiwan’s air force released a video as well on the service’s Facebook account showing U.S.-made F-16s and French-made Mirage fighters taking off as pilots discuss their aircraft’s capabilities. 

The exchange of propaganda videos comes as a newly-released survey found that nearly 70 percent of Taiwanese say they are willing to go to war to defend their island from a Chinese invasion. The survey, by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, found that 67.7 percent of respondents said they’d fight China if the Asian giant attempts to invade and impose reunification. And in an even better response, of Taiwan’s military-age population (20-39), 70.3 percent said they were “willing to go to war to defend Taiwan if China launched an armed assault on the nation to force reunification.” Support for war dropped to 55 percent, however, if Taiwan unilaterally declared independence, triggering a Chinese attack. And 91 percent — a very strong majority — favored the current status quo in which Taiwan is free and self-ruled but not formally independent. One problem with that, though: China doesn’t want to maintain the status quo.

Which brings us to checking China in the SCS. A Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (navy) officer, Capt. Take Shimodaira, wrote an essay in a noted U.S. naval publication, Proceedings, in which he argues that the U.S. and Japanese navies can adequately respond to A2/AD (area access/access denial) challenges posed by the growing Chinese navy. Noting that China is a revisionist power which “seeks to wield its growing might to challenge the stable international order” with new weapons and warships — including “a rapidly growing and assertive coast guard” — Shimodaira believes that cooperatively the U.S. and Japan can effectively counter China’s A2/AD efforts to keep the American and allied fleets at bay. “Because China has built a large force, Japan, and the United States must employ a defense posture based on high quality (versus large quantities) by balancing appropriate operational factors. At the same time, the geography of the Sea of Japan, East China Sea, and the South China Sea is too large for a single force to maintain peace and stability. Force disparity, especially in terms of the number of Chinese forces, is too large. Only a high-quality force, capable of rapid reaction times, can overcome the disadvantages of space and force. The operational objective is clear for Japan and the United States—to keep the Indian and Pacific oceans, including the most important sea lanes of the world, open, free, and under the rule of international maritime law.” 

I’ve always believed that the U.S. Navy, while the most powerful surface force on the planet, cannot muster the warships (currently in service) to effectively counter Chinese numbers. Operating close to home, the Chinese fleet would have several substantial advantages that would likely overcome U.S. technological superiority. Operating in tandem with the Japanese fleet and other regional allies including Australia, India, and some of the smaller Asian nations provides far more capability than China can hope to match, both in terms of numbers and capability. 

Notes Shimodaira: “Skeptics may worry that preparation for a conflict with China will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and hasten the day of a clash with China. In fact, the opposite is true. The skills and tools needed to defend the region can be exercised through a variety of existing peacetime missions and can be retooled to meet any challenge if Beijing should decide to embark on a more hostile course.” I agree.

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

Chinese smartphones sold on U.S. military bases deemed a security risk

U.S. intelligence services increasingly concerned that Chinese-made smartphones are intelligence risks and have warned U.S. service members not to buy them are nevertheless being sold to them at one-base exchanges across Germany where American troops are stationed. The phones, made by Chinese tech giant Huawei, may be used to gather sensitive information, the U.S. intelligence community is warning. In most cases, the Huawei phones are banned from official government use. An AAFES spokesman was asked by the Defense Department whether the Chinese smartphones are being sold at exchange facilities but has not yet offered an alternative. “We responded ‘yes’ and had no other inquiries,” the spokesperson said. “Should there be an official determination made by law enforcement officials that these phones present a security risk, the Exchange will instruct its vendors to remove impacted products from their assortment.” [source] So, apparently, now AAFES is waiting on the Pentagon bureaucracy to make a decision. Meanwhile, these phones are still being sold, meaning they are still posing a security risk for the United States. 

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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