Strategic Intelligence Summary for 28 March 2019 – Forward Observer Shop

Strategic Intelligence Summary for 28 March 2019

Strategic Intelligence

Strategic Intelligence contains intelligence reporting on the state of global security and instability, geostrategic issues affecting the United States, pre-war indicators, and assessments on the current risk of war. This report is available each week for Intelligence subscribers.  

In this Strategic Intelligence Summary…

  • USAF sends B-52’s to Europe
  • 87% of information security specialists say we’re in a global cyber war
  • Navy to install lasers/dazzler on a destroyer test platform
  • Pentagon to buy F-15’s USAF didn’t want to keep two fighter manufacturers in business
  • House Armed Services Committee Chair to White House: Forget Space Force
  • India conducts successful anti-satellite missile operation
  • Russia to field nuclear tipped torpedo by 2027
  • China equipping container ships with long-range cruise missiles
  • US backed Kurd fighters declare victory over ISIL caliphate
  • Whiplash over North Korea
  • Flashpoint SITREPs (NATO-Russia, Indo-Pacific, Middle East, North Korea, Venezuela)


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, Venezuela)

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

USAF sends B-52’s to Europe

Six Stratofortresses, along with their requisite support personnel and equipment, arrived at RAF Fairford last week from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. Their mission is to conduct “theater integration and flying training exercises” conducted with regional allies and NATO partners. On 19MAR19 the bombers conducted flights to the Norwegian Sea, the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean. Simultaneously, B-52’s from Andersen Air Base in Guam conducted “theater familiarization training in the Indo-Pacific…and flew north to an area east of the Kamchatka Peninsula” which is the far eastern border of continental Russia. (source) Analyst Comment: Last week Russia sent Backfire bombers to Crimea, ostensibly as a response to the US Navy’s installation of Aegis Ashore in Romania and Poland. There was no word on whether those bombers were deployed with nuclear weapons as is there is no mention of whether the American bombers were deployed with nuclear weapons, either. It is worthwhile to remember, however, that the payload a B-52 can be loaded with is very diverse, varying from precision guided missiles to cruise missiles to enormous bunker-busters. It is a versatile platform and works as advertised and that should give any adversary pause for thought.

87% of information security specialists say we’re in a global cyber war

According to a survey of over 500 security professionals at the RSA Conference in San Francisco, 87% of information security specialists say we’re in a global cyber war. Paul Nakasone, head of US Cyber Command, said in recent testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, “In the cyber domain…our adversaries…continue to increase in sophistication, magnitude, intensity, volume, and velocity, and remain a threat to our national security interests and economic well-being.” 72% of the attendees believe nation-states should have the right to “hack back” by targeting cybercriminals who attack their infrastructure and 58% think that private organizations should have the right, something that they do not have a legal right to do as of now. (source) Analyst Comment: Russia, China, North Korea, and, increasingly, Iran are pouring a lot of money into the cyber battlespace. And they enjoy no prohibitions on their activities.

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

Navy to install lasers/dazzler on a destroyer test platform
The service is targeting 2021 to install a High Energy Laser and Integrated Optical-dazzler with Surveillance (HELIOS) system aboard a west coast Arleigh Burke class destroyer. The systems are designed to defend against small attack boats and unmanned aerial vehicles. Moving beyond the future of HELIOS is the Surface Navy Laser Weapon System (SNLWS) which the Navy hopes to be able to develop as a defense against larger targets such as anti-ship cruise missiles. (source) Analyst Comment: A directed energy weapon could possibly be the only viable defense against a hypersonic glide type missile or projectile. With only seconds to defend against one, a laser could be just the ticket.
Pentagon to buy F-15’s USAF didn’t want to keep two fighter manufacturers in business
A senior defense official said on Friday 22MAR19, that Patrick Shanahan, the acting Secretary of Defense, and his ties to Boeing had no bearing on DoD’s decision to buy a billion dollars’ worth of the F-15X’s that the Air Force (USAF) originally said it didn’t want. USAF would rather have the money spent on the fifth generation F-35A. On Wednesday, 20MAR19, the DoD inspector general confirmed that it had opened an investigation into complaints that the acting SECDEF took actions to promote his former employer. (source) Analyst Comment: In Mid-March, the US Navy awarded Boeing a contract to build 78 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. These airframes are the first new build examples of the aircraft and not just upgrades or modifications. (source) So it would seem that Boeing has business for the foreseeable future building fighter jets, only not for USAF. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, who has announced her departure from the administration, has gone on the record stating that USAF has no interest in buying the fourth generation F-15X no matter how many bells and whistles they may have. (source) It’s only a billion dollars, but as Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil once famously said, “A billion here, a billion there; pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”
House Armed Services Committee Chair to White House: Forget Space Force
The day before acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan is set to testify before the HASC, the chair of the committee, Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) made it clear that the Trump administration’s Space Force proposal is not going to be included in the 2020 defense budget. At issue is the administration’s language about the Force’s civilian workforce that seeks to waive long-standing elements of civil service rules. Smith said he “hoped that President Trump and DoD would exercise careful consideration and develop a realistic path forward. However, the details of the Space Force proposal sent to Congress by the President are highly problematic.” (source) Analyst Comment: The administration has proposed two new USAF four star flag billets and a new undersecretary of Space Force nested under the USAF Secretary. These two generals would be responsible for a whopping 16,000 people. A single division in the US Army can top 27,000 and is run by a single two-star general. And four-star generals don’t just come equipped with an aide-de-camp or two. They come with dedicated staffs, cooks, aides, valets, drivers, and in the instance of the four star generals of the combatant commands planes, pilots, and the support needed for those vehicles. This aspect of the proposal is, on its bare face, absolutely ludicrous. The only possible reason the administration would tender such an idea is that it wants the new Space Force to have a seat at the Joint Chiefs of Staff and to have the heft it thinks the fledgling force would need to accomplish its mission. This, in effect, would give USAF two seats at the JCS. It is highly doubtful that the House Armed Services Committee will fund two such billets.
India conducts successful anti-satellite missile operation
In a national address on Wednesday 27MAR19, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the nation had successfully conducted an anti-satellite missile test that put the country in the league of global “space powers.” In the address, Modi called it a “historic feat” by shooting down one of India’s own low-orbit satellites with a ground-to-space missile in three minutes. Only three other countries have this capability: the US, Russia, and China. (source) Analyst Comment: Pakistan has six satellites in orbit which provide remote sensing and GPS. All six were bought and launched from China. In the event of a war, India could render Pakistan blind and without the means for GPS guidance of weapons, airplanes, and other munitions.

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, India-Pakistan, Venezuela)


By 2027, the Russian Navy is expected to field a nuclear-powered submarine capable of carry the nuclear-capable drone “Poseidon,” which is an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV), or an intercontinental-range, nuclear tipped, autonomous torpedo. The UUV, named “Kanyon” by US intelligence is known as an Ocean Multipurpose System Status-6. It “is a new, intercontinental, nuclear armed, nuclear-powered, undersea autonomous torpedo.” A Russian defense industry source told TASS that two Poseidon-carrying submarines are expected to enter service with the Northern Fleet (Arctic Ocean) and the other two will join the Pacific Fleet. Each of the subs will carry up to eight drones meaning the total number of Poseidons on duty will be up to 32 drones. (source) Analyst Comment: A submarine is very hard to detect. An even smaller drone from a sub will be exponentially harder to detect. A nuclear tipped torpedo from that drone could be used against a wide array of targets ranging from enemy ships, undersea communications cables, or the Panama Canal.


China is developing a long-range cruise missile that could be fired from container ships. Up to four of the missiles in their launcher will fit into a standard international shipping container. The range of the missiles is unlikely to be over a thousand miles. The only thing stopping the Chinese here is their imagination. Given the ubiquitous nature of the shipping container they could, in theory, smuggle them into the US and site them within range of military/civil installations and keep literally dozens of the weapons on station off the West Coast.  The article mentions an EMP wave attack aimed at the sub base at Bangor, attacking the Panama Canal, and trying to smuggle the missiles in through every port in the Western hemisphere. A quick Qwant search of the internet reveals that China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) is the fourth largest shipping company on the planet, employees 130k people, owns five of the top 10 biggest container ships, each of which can handle 19,000 containers. In total the group has 1114 vessels of which 285 are container ships. And let’s not forget that China is still a communist country with a centrally planned economy. COSCO will, just like every other Chinese industry, do what the government tells it to without question. Middle East: On Saturday, 23MAR19, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) brought to a close a grueling final battle against ISIL in its last stronghold of Baghouz, in southeastern Syria. The battle took weeks and has displaced thousands of people with hundreds killed. While ISIL may have been defeated in Syria (and accounts of the final battle detail brutal urban warfare as well as rooting out ISIL members in tunnels), Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi is still at large, if he is not actually dead. ISIL affiliates continue operations in the Sinai Peninsula, Afghanistan, Libya, and will continue to inspire lone-wolf type terror attacks. What remains to be seen is if the US will leave any troops in Syria. Iran would dearly love to see the US out of the Al-Tanf base which sits near one of three official border crossings between Syria and Iraq. But if the Iraqi parliament does actually vote the US out of the country (the Al-Assad air base), then the position at Al-Tanf could become unsupportable. North Korea: It’s been a tumultuous week on the Korean Peninsula. Coming on the heels of the non-productive Hanoi meeting between Trump and Kim Jung Un, the US Department of the Treasury on Thursday 21MAR19, announced that it was placing sanctions on two Chinese shipping companies accused of smuggling to North Korea. Then on Friday, 22MAR19, Trump tweeted that he had ordered the withdrawal of those sanctions. Then North Korea withdrew, within hours of the announcement of the new sanctions, from the newly created inter-Korean liaison office located in the border city of Kaesong. (source) Then on Monday, 25MAR19, the South Korean Ministry of Unification said that “some” North Korean officials had returned to the office. (source) Then a Russian Senator confirmed that Kim Jong-un is set to visit Russia in 2019 sometime between spring and summer. This will be KJU’s first trip to Russia. (source) (Analyst Comment: This is what chaos in diplomacy looks like. Instability and unpredictability makes the world a more dangerous place, not a safer one.) Venezuela: Russian President Vladimir Putin has upped the stakes by inserting about 100 Russian troops in recent days, sparking understandable resentment, anger, and warnings from the Trump administration. Commanded by a high-ranking general with Russia’s Land Forces, their arrival comes as satellite images revealed the deployment of semi-sophisticated air defense batteries at a key Venezuelan airbase south of the capital of Caracas. Moscow says the military support is part of a mutual aid agreement and that the Russian military personnel are “specialists.” Earlier in the week, at a high-level meeting in Rome, Russian officials made it clear Moscow would not tolerate a U.S. invasion of Venezuela, which, by the way, owes Russia lots of money. The meeting took place between special envoy on Venezuelan affairs Elliot Abrams, a seasoned U.S. diplomat who is said to specialize in “regime change,” and Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov. The talks were described as “frank,” which is diplomat-speak for raucous. The feeling in some circles is that Putin has drawn a red line in Venezuela. Meantime, Venezuela continues to suffer from blackouts, which the government is blaming on the U.S. as well. That’s entirely plausible. The hoped-for result is destabilization of President Nicolas Maduro’s regime and regime change. But the insertion of Russian troops complicates the U.S. position and emboldens Maduro. Ultimately, what will decide U.S. military intervention are other factors: American public opinion, assistance from allies in the region, and the after-invasion plan. Brazil has said it won’t participate in an invasion, and while Venezuela’s military would probably disintegrate quickly before an American assault, managing the chaos after deposing President Maduro would take months if not years and would be marred by the kind of low-intensity warfare we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan. That would likely turn Venezuelans against the American “occupiers” and create a humanitarian and immigration nightmare throughout South and Central America that could stretch into Mexico and the U.S.   // END REPORT

Samuel Culper is a former military intelligence NCO and contract Intelligence analyst. He spent three years in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now the intelligence and warfare researcher at Forward Observer.

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