Strategic Intelligence Summary for 31 May 2018 – Forward Observer Shop

Strategic Intelligence Summary for 31 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 Intelligence subscribers.

In this Strategic Intelligence Summary: (5,319 words)

  • Pirate attacks are up 163 percent in the Caribbean, Latin America 
  • Warfare surging again in Donbas, Ukraine 
  • China announces it will play a bigger role in the Arctic 
  • Russia to deliver 10 more Su35S fighters to China 
  • U.S. Air Force F-35 to become nuclear-capable 
  • Pentagon to deploy space-based sensors to track Russian hypersonic missiles 
  • China stepping up nuclear arms race with U.S., Russia
  • And more…

In Focus: As the world waits to see whether or not a billionaire businessman-turned-president can pull off what highly-educated U.S. diplomats and earlier presidents have been unable to do for decades — convince North Korea to denuclearize — there are other strategic security concerns that are more pressing into the foreseeable future. One of the most disturbing trends I am seeing involves the development by the great powers of so-called ‘usable’ nuclear weapons. These are bombs and missiles that are designed to produce much lower yields than warheads currently in the arsenals of the world’s biggest militaries. Lower yields are meant to destroy specific targets without killing the planet, per se, with massive amounts of radioactive fallout. The thinking is that these low-yield weapons will give combat commanders more strike options. That’s true, but there are no guarantees that use of low-yield nukes won’t eventually escalate into the use of conventional-yield nukes, thereby mitigating any ‘benefit’ from smaller warheads. I understand the concept of providing U.S. combatant commands (Pacific Command, European Command, Central Command, etc.) with battlefield options, but I’m not convinced lessening the damage from a nuclear weapon is the answer. And the trend is accelerating — Russia, China, and the U.S. are developing ‘adjustable yield’ weapons and they could be deployed at some point, perhaps atop a hypersonic glide vehicle.

The Middle East continues to simmer, of course, but there are emerging signs that the war between Israel and Iran — the one that everyone was sure could come at any day — is being postponed indefinitely. Both sides are walking back and there were reports this week of back-channel communications between Jerusalem and Tehran to sort out differences and de-escalate tensions. 

What worries me most, however, is the continuing lack of interest European members of NATO demonstrate in building and maintaining a credible defense of the continent to oppose a rising, revisionist Russia. NATO members talk a good game, but their defense spending continues to lag, with most falling below the agreed-upon two percent of GDP. Then, of course, there is NATO member Turkey, which continues to denounce U.S. policy in the region while moving closer to Moscow. There is even some effort in the U.S. Congress to deny Turkey access to the F-35, which it seeks. 

The problem is most EU countries appear content to allow the United States to provide the bulk of their defense. By doing so, however, they may be giving themselves a false sense of security; given Russia’s growing offensive capabilities on the continent, while strengthening undersea naval presence in the Atlantic, America as the first responder is going to be a difficult role to fulfill. European NATO members know this, but after the continent destroyed itself twice in the 20th century, it sure seems to me like EU governments are not eager for a repeat performance. The problem is, rolling over is not a viable strategy either; all that does is encourage an enemy to attack.

There’s much more, of course. 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?

Pirate attacks are up 163 percent in the Caribbean, Latin America

Pirate attacks in the Caribbean and waters near Latin America have risen dramatically over the last few years and are now occurring so frequently they are considered to be out of control by a non-profit organization, Oceans Beyond Piracy, which has just released a new report on the problem. The group said that incidents of piracy rose 163 percent in 2017, leading to the loss of nearly $1 million in stolen goods. The group said that 59 percent of robberies involved private yachts. “We have observed a significant increase in violent incidents and anchorage crime, particularly in the anchorages of Venezuela and the recent violent incidents off Suriname in the first part of this year,” said Maise Pigeon, the report’s lead author. “Pirate activity in 2017 clearly demonstrates that pirate groups retain their ability to organize and implement attacks against ships transiting the region.” In April, at least 12 fishermen from Guyana went missing and were feared dead, leading the country’s president, David Granger, to declare the attack a “massacre.” Additionally, a fishing boat captain was shot and killed after his ship was attacked this month. [source] Analyst comment: The increase in attacks comes even as naval vessels from several countries including the U.S., Great Britain, Russia, and some Latin American nations have increased anti-pirate patrols in the region. Some cargo firms have hired private armed security as well. 

Warfare surging again in Donbas, Ukraine

As the spring thaw proceeds apace, fighting in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine is reaching its worst level thus far this year, with both sides blaming each other for the heightened carnage. The increased activity comes despite a 2015 peace agreement and diplomatic efforts in the ensuing years to settle differences between the government in Kiev and Russia-backed separatist rebels. In recent days Ukraine reported that two of its soldiers were killed and another four wounded in fighting near Yuzhnoye, while Ukrainian police say one civilian was killed by gunfire in his home near Donetsk. Meanwhile, separatists blamed Ukrainian troops for shelling residential areas with tanks and heavy artillery, claiming the attacks have left four civilians dead and four wounded. [source]

Russia’s Federation Council approves counter-sanctions law against ‘unfriendly’ countries

After some debate and many changes, Russian Federal Council members have approved a law that gives President Vladimir Putin some leeway in imposing economic sanctions against countries like the United States that have already imposed similar sanctions against Russian firms. Though Putin has some latitude, the law says countermeasures cannot apply to vital goods that are not made in Russia and some other countries. The countermeasures would be dropped when corresponding countries dropped their sanctions against Russia. “Companies from the United States and other unfriendly countries will be prohibited from participating on state purchase contracts and privatization of public assets,” Russian media reported. The law says the Cabinet of Ministers can end or suspend international cooperation with “unfriendly” countries and organizations those nations control. In addition, the law gives Moscow the authority to prohibit or restrict export-import operations with the U.S. and other countries. [source] Analyst comment: It’s not clear yet how this law will affect the U.S. economically, if at all, but it might prohibit cooperation in some areas like the International Space Station and U.S. rocket launches. The Pentagon announced in 2016 it would need to buy 18 more Russian-made RD-180 rocket engines to power rockets carrying U.S. satellites into space over a six-year period. To counter this, the U.S. is redeveloping a domestic rocket engine production capacity. 

China announces it will play a bigger role in the Arctic

The Chinese government recently updated its Arctic policy, saying it will play a larger role in the region as the U.S., Russia, Canada, and other nations have already begun to increase their presence there. Beijing is going there for much the same reason other nations are there — to reap economic benefits from what is believed to be an abundance of natural resources. In January the Chinese government released to state media a white paper titled, “China’s Arctic Policy,” laying out Beijing’s near- and long-term objectives in the region. Though the document frequently states that China will remain committed to international law and respect for other countries, it also states that China will “pursue its own interests” which include a “Polar Silk Road” — a reference to the “Belt and Road Initiative,” a development strategy focusing on connectivity and cooperation between Eurasian countries that enhances Beijing’s economic interests and spreads China’s influence. For perspective, in 2010, Rear Admiral Yin Zhuo noted that “the Arctic belongs to all the people around the world, as no nation has sovereignty over it. . . . China must play an indispensable role in Arctic exploration as we have one-fifth of the world’s population.” [source] Analyst Comment: China has made similar claims of ‘ownership’ regarding the South China Sea. I don’t see Beijing building armed outposts in the Arctic Ocean, but clearly, Beijing has an interest in the region and is developing the means to become a steady presence. China has already invested heavily in the region and the white paper makes it clear those investments will continue as Beijing secures a greater role.

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

Russia to deliver 10 more Su35S fighters to China

Russia built and delivered 10 Sukhoi-35S multi-role fighters to China in 2017 and plans to do so again in 2018 as part of a continuing effort by Beijing to modernize its air forces. Four planes were built and delivered to China in 2016 said information contained on the display stand of the Rostec corporation during an industry event in St. Petersburg called SPIEF-2018. A contract for 24 planes was signed in 2015 in a deal worth about $2.5 billion. The planes are 4++ generation aircraft (the U.S. F-35 is 5th generation) and can travel at supersonic speeds. It debuted in 2008 and its design was based on the Su-27.  [source]

U.S. Air Force F-35 to become nuclear-capable

At least some of the Air Force’s F-35 fighters will be fitted to carry the B-61 nuclear bomb, making them a strategic asset. The integration will take place this year and is being undertaken to give field commanders a wider envelope of precision nuclear-strike options. “Detailed risk reduction activities have been completed ensuring the F-35A is fully compatible with the B61-12 weapon. Planning for Block 4 nuclear certification efforts have begun in anticipation of initial B61-12 integration on the F-35A this year,” Maj. Emily Grabowski, Air Force Spokeswoman, said. With more speed and maneuverability than a B-2, the F-35 presents an additional threat to potential adversaries. [source] Analyst comment: Think North Korea more than, say, Russia or China. This platform would be extremely useful in any in-kind nuclear strike against Pyongyang if it comes to that because the B61 is ‘selectable’ — it has four different yields of 0.3 kilotons (kt), 1.5 kt, 10 kt and 50 kt, thereby limiting collateral damage and fallout (think China and Russia). 

U.S. military ‘iron man’ special operator suit prototype coming in 2019

U.S. Special Operations Command is promising to test a powered exoskeleton by summer 2019, even after missing the initial deadline to deliver a prototype of the high-profile tactical assault light operator suit. The “iron man” suit is designed for the first operator who enters a room that a team is preparing to clear, to provide them with additional protection from enemy fire. Those who kick down the doors are most vulnerable to gunfire and explosive blasts; in fact, the death of an operator in that manner is what inspired the iron man suit concept. Initially, SOCOM had said that the program, known also as TALOS, would have a prototype ready by this August but that date will come and go. Still, developers believe they have gotten past the biggest setbacks, making them confident they will meet the new deadline. [source] 

Pentagon to deploy space-based sensors to track Russian hypersonic missiles

As Russia prepares to test a hypersonic ballistic glider weapon that would become undetectable after the initial boost phase, the Pentagon is working on developing and deploying space-based sensors in regions where there are currently blind spots in the U.S. missile detection and defense shield. This concept is not new; six prior administrations have looked at space-based anti-missile sensors but they never came to be. There was one exception — two experimental satellites were launched during George W. Bush’s presidency and they remain aloft. Now, the Trump administration will look for funding in the 2020 fiscal year for a new constellation of missile-watching sensors, and top lawmakers have suggested they would be supportive. Experts note that in order to sufficiently track these game-changing missile systems will require the vantage point of space. Both Russia and China are reportedly close to deploying functional hypersonic systems; both have tested them and both are considered ahead of U.S. hypersonic missile development. [source] Analyst comment: The Pentagon recently awarded a nearly $1 billion contract to speed up development of a U.S. hypersonic capability, but even when our system becomes operational, we’d still need a way to track enemy hypersonic vehicles so developing a hypersonic capability in tandem with building a system that can track such weapons is smart policy. The concept of space-based sensors has been studied to death by the Pentagon so there is plenty of data to draw upon, which will speed development and deployment of an effective system once it gets funded.

China stepping up nuclear arms race with U.S., Russia

Chinese nuclear weapons scientists have increased the pace of simulations at a faster rate than the U.S., conducting, on average, five tests per month as Beijing races to develop a next-generation of “usable” nukes. According to Chinese-based media, the country carried out some 200 lab simulations between September 2014 and December 2017. The experiments were designed to simulate the extreme physics of a nuclear explosion according to a report from the China Academy of Engineering Physics earlier this year. By comparison, the U.S. only carried out 50 such tests between 2012 and 2017 — or about 10 per year, according to data obtained from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. China has joined the United States and Russia in their pursuit of developing more targetable nuclear devices, allegedly as a deterrent to war. But some experts worry that developing lower-yield weapons may actually increase the potential to use them in battle. In fact, Pentagon officials have suggested that it wants potential adversaries to believe it could deploy and use its new-generation weapons which contain smaller, tactical warheads designed to limit destruction to specific targets. [source] Analyst comment: Some experts worry that marrying these new lower-yield, precision nuclear warheads with hypersonic glide vehicles will so dramatically increase a great power’s strike-counterstrike option(s) that use of these weapons is a foregone conclusion. Perhaps. But they are still nuclear weapons and as such deterrence still very likely will be achieved through the mutually-assured destruction (MAD) concept that kept the U.S. and the Soviet Union from exchanging blows during the Cold War. Either way, this is the direction nuclear weapons development is heading so the U.S. would be foolish not to pursue the technology. Obviously, one of our main potential adversaries is.

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


The Russian navy’s newest amphibious assault ship, the Pyotr Morgunov, was floated out last week at the Yantar Shipyard in Kaliningrad, according to the defense ministry. The ship — part of Project 11711 — is the newest assault ship in its class. Laid down in 2015, the ship is expected to be able to carry 13 main battle tanks, or more than 30 armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles. The defense ministry’s requirement was that the ship is large enough to transport an entire marine infantry battalion. It will now undergo sea trials but it’s not clear how long it will be before the navy accepts the ship and it is placed into active service, though estimations are by the close of 2018 or mid-2019. It has an operating range of about 4,000 miles meaning it’s meant to operate at great distances — an indication that Moscow has not completely abandoned power projection capabilities. 

Moscow and Beijing have agreed to bolster their military-to-military cooperation at the 20th strategic dialogue meeting involving officials from both defense institutions, according to a Chinese statement. Head of the Main Operations Directorate, first deputy head of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Colonel General Sergei Rudskoy and Major General Shao Yuanming, deputy chief of staff of the Joint Staff Department of China’s Central Military Commission, took part in the consultations. “The sides exchanged their opinions on thorny international and regional issues, as well as on closer cooperation between China and Russia in the military sphere. The sides reached broad consensus,” the statement said.

With NATO member Turkey moving closer to Russia and, in some cases, appearing to be openly hostile to the alliance and its most powerful member, the United States, some in Congress are considering legislation to bar deliveries of the F-35 to Ankara, though a deal has already been made and deliveries are expected to begin in June. While Turkey said it would fight any decision by the U.S. to renege on deliveries — Israel, which operates its own F-35s and has already used them in combat, is also concerned about the sales — Ankara is said to be in talks with Russia to buy fifth-generation Su-57 fighters as a backup plan. The one hitch: The Su-57 is still under development and first orders and shipments are not expected until 2019, but those will go first to the Russian air force. As of this writing, the House has already passed legislation prohibiting F-35 sales to Turkey; one Senate committee has passed similar legislation but the full chamber has not yet voted. Both versions would need to be reconciled in joint committee before a final version passed; it’s not clear if President Trump will sign it if it makes it to his desk. But lawmakers are citing Turkey’s recent purchases of Russian S-400 air defense systems and other moves towards Moscow in the post-Cold War era.

Speaking of air defense, U.S. intelligence notes that Russian forces recently tested an upgraded system, the S-500, after President Putin called for the system to be quickly produced and integrated into the armed forces. The new system is capable of engaging targets out to 600 km (about 372 miles). The S-400, by contrast, only has a range of about 400 km (about 248 miles). The U.S. THAAD system, seen as a technological equivalent to the S-500, can only reach out about 200 km (+/- 124 miles). According to U.S. intelligence, the S-500 system engaged a target at 299 miles, which sets a world record for such systems. If the system is eventually deployed to, say, Russia’s Kaliningrad, its missiles could feasibly intercept targets well inside NATO countries — into Poland and even Germany. If it is deployed in Russia’s far east, it would represent a serious challenge to U.S. and allied forces operating from Japanese and South Korean bases. And if Russia were to sell/export the system to China or other potential U.S. adversaries, NATO’s and Washington’s threat scenarios would change substantially in additional theaters of operation. News of the S-500 test comes on the heels of congressional testimony from Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, who said the service needs to retire some of its heavy air support aircraft such as the E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) because they would be nearly worthless in a future great-power conflict. “Russian and Chinese surface to air missiles have more range, and the plane would be shot down in the first day of conflict,” she said. Pentagon planners have expressed similar concerns for other long-range U.S. support aircraft such as AWACS, aerial refuelers, and non-stealth or first-generation stealth bombers like the B-52 and B-1. The B-2 is also said to be vulnerable. 

SC: While U.S. leaders spent trillions of dollars in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with little appreciable gain, which is being erased by the day, Russia and China invested heavily into Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) capabilities. These long-range standoff weapons are meant to target U.S. support aircraft, as Jon mentions. Without mid-air refueling and early warning aircraft, our fighters’ and bombers’ operational advantage in the air is greatly reduced. This is a monumental shift in air defense and the future of air power projection.

Middle East: 

Friction between Iran and Israel as both exchanged fire on at least one occasion over the past week may be easing off. There are reports of backchannel talks between the two regarding fighting in Syria via a Jordanian mediator, according to a Saudi-owned news site. It reported that Iran agreed not to take part in expected battles in southwestern Syria between government forces and Syrian rebel groups, while Israel said it won’t intervene in battles that take place in the tri-border region so long as Iran proxies Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as Iran-backed Shi’ite militias, are not involved as well. The talks had yet to be confirmed but reportedly took place earlier this month between Iran’s ambassador to Jordan, who was in a hotel room in Amman with Iranian security personnel, while in a neighboring room were senior Israeli security officials including the deputy chief of the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service. A Jordanian mediator carried messages between the two. The Saudi site reported that “the talks with the Israelis were related to fighting in Syria and the nearing campaign in southern Syria, particularly in Dera’a and Kuneitra.” The Israeli officials also reportedly made clear to the Iranians not to become involved in fighting close to the Israel-Syria ceasefire lines in the Golan and the Israel-Jordan border. One participant of the talks said that “the sides discussed this issue with the Israelis, and arrived at a quick agreement that even surprised the Israeli representatives.” Sources told the Saudi news site that Iran was sober and clear regarding its heavy losses of personnel and weaponry due to Israeli airstrikes in Syria, and that is likely why Tehran quickly agreed to avoid participation in fighting close to Israel’s borders — so long as Israel remains clear of them as well. Jordanian officials may have been selected to mediate because Israeli has a peace treaty and security agreement with the Jordanians.

Israel blamed Iran for a rocket barrage earlier this week consisting of 107mm rockets and 120mm mortars in what Israeli officials called the most serious escalation of tension along its southern front in four years. Specifically, Israel Defense Force officials pointed a finger at Iranian-funded proxy Islamic Jihad, who they claimed was responsible for firing the largest salvo since the end of Operation Protective Edge in 2014. In response, the IDF carried out its largest retaliatory response since the operation, striking 65 Hamas targets across the Gaza Strip, including a dual-purpose tunnel beginning a kilometer into Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and extending 900 meters into Israeli territory. Iran has used the tunnel to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip. IDF officials estimated that Islamic Jihad forces fired as many as 180 projectiles into Israel. There were no reports of damage or deaths. “Iran doesn’t want stability here. They want to make everyone realize that they are a player and that they should be taken very seriously with a lot of respect and in this way deter people from putting more pressure on them, but it isn’t working,” said IDF Reserve Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser, a former intelligence research officer.

In what may be seen as an encouraging development, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said this week that withdrawing all non-Syrian forces from that country’s border with Israel should take place as soon as possible. Currently, rebel forces control swaths of southwest Syria that border the Israel-occupied Golan Heights; Syrian army troops and militias backed by Iran hold territory near there. No timetable has been given for the withdrawal and no doubt there are many details left to work out.

Lavrov’s statement comes on the heels of a denial by Moscow that Russian Su-34 warplanes based in Syria were sent to intercept a pair of IDF F-16s in Lebanese airspace. Reports circulated by an Israeli news website about alleged ‘interception’ of two Israeli F-16 planes by Russian Su-34’s in the airspace over Lebanon are dilettantish nonsense,” the ministry said on Monday. ”The Su-34 multirole bombers of the Russian task force in Syria are not used to intercept aerial targets and perform no missions in Lebanon’s airspace.”

North Korea:

Diplomatically speaking, it’s been a roller coaster regarding the previously scheduled, once-canceled historic summit in mid-June in Singapore between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. For the moment it appears as though the meeting is back on. This follows Trump’s decision a week ago to send Kim a letter canceling the June 12 summit in Singapore after the North Korean government criticized Vice President Mike Pence and National Security Advisor John Bolton. That tactic seems to have worked. Within a day the North Korean government expressed renewed interest in meeting with Trump, and for the previously stated purpose of discussing denuclearization.

Some believe that Trump had to walk away after initially agreeing to meet Kim because he appeared to be doing so too eagerly. Trump was seen by many experts as too willing to make a deal — any deal — so he could go down in history as ‘denuclearizing’ the Korean peninsula, if in fact that actually occurs. But he also backed out because the Kim regime had made it clear in the previous weeks that it wasn’t really ready to pursue full denuclearization, which is Trump’s top priority aside from preventing nuclear conflict. Also, U.S. officials including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testified before Congress that the North Koreans had gone silent — that they were no longer communicating with U.S. officials regarding the upcoming summit, another sign taken by the Trump administration that Kim was not yet ready to meet. 

Following the cancellation, Kim scheduled a snap meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the second in about a month; Moon says that Kim remains committed to denuclearization. Those meetings followed at least two between Kim and Chinese officials, including President Xi Jinping, in recent weeks, indicating that no matter what ultimately happens, China will have a say in it (as will Japan; Trump will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe before the summit). 

Kim also allegedly destroyed a nuclear test site, having invited journalists to witness it. The thing to remember, though, is that journalists aren’t nuclear experts, so it’s not clear if what Kim staged for them was an actual destruction of nuclear testing facilities or something orchestrated to make it look like that. Kim didn’t invite any nuclear experts to the event. 

On Thursday (today), a high-level North Korean delegation met in New York with an American delegation headed by Pompeo. The North Korean delegation includes army Gen. Kim Yong Chul, the highest-ranking official from the country to visit the U.S. in 18 years — indicating the seriousness of Kim Jong-un’s intentions, according to some. As they met, President Trump commented to reporters he hoped that his meeting with Kim would still occur on June 12 as previously planned. He added that the negotiations in New York “are in good hands,” signaling his confidence in Pompeo, who has twice traveled to North Korea for pre-summit talks with Kim that included bringing home three Americans Kim released as a gesture of goodwill. 

The goodwill was in-kind. In 2010 the Obama administration sanctioned Gen. Kim over his role as head of North Korea’s premier intelligence agency, the Reconnaissance General Bureau; Trump had to issue a waiver in order for him to be able to enter the U.S. Gen. Kim was sanctioned after the Treasury Dept. cited his role in proliferation conventional weapons to U.S. enemies. Also, in 2015, the Obama White House blamed Gen. Kim for leading the cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment.

What happens next is not at all clear, but we’re monitoring this daily and will have another update next week.

South China Sea:

Chinese navy pilots flying J-15 fighters have made their first night landings on the country’s first aircraft carrier Liaoning, according to state media, which called the achievement a “huge leap towards gaining full combat capability.” The step forward is seen as another milestone for Chinese military power as Beijing continues to modernize its forces and in particular its navy, which is being groomed as a power projection force. The milestone also comes as China is stepping up its presence in the South China Sea as well as its militarization of its man-made islands and atolls in the Spratly chain. Chinese fighters also carried out live-fire drills at sea recently. 

In an operation that the Pentagon said was planned months ago, a pair of U.S. Navy warships, the USS Higgins, a guided-missile destroyer, and the USS Antietam, a guided-missile cruiser, sailed near islands in the SCS claimed by Beijing. The warships skirted within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands, near Tree, Lincoln, Triton and Woody islands. The FONOP — Freedom of Navigation Operation — is just the latest conducted by the Trump administration, but critics note that they are having little-to-no effect on China’s behavior in the region. As for China, the Defense Ministry published a statement noting the FONOP “contravened Chinese and relevant international law, seriously infringed upon Chinese sovereignty and harmed strategic mutual trust between the two militaries.” It added that Chinese vessels and aircraft were sent to monitor the American flotilla. “China will continue to take all necessary measures to defend the country’s sovereignty and security,” said the statement. According to satellite images China recently deployed truck-mounted surface-to-air or anti-ship missiles on Woody Island. Also, radar sites have been established on some of China’s islands, and last week a strategic, nuclear-capable H-6K bomber landed on one of the islands as well, according to Chinese media. With a combat radius of nearly 1,900 nautical miles, the H-6K bomber would put all of Southeast Asia in its range from Woody Island. 

In a twist, former Taiwanese Premier Jiang Yi-huah is warning China to dial back its military and verbal intimidation efforts because Beijing isn’t strong enough militarily to prevent the United States from coming to the aide of the island should it be invaded. “Military intimidation only works when Beijing makes sure its military might is strong enough to defeat the United States if the People’s Liberation Army is going to attack Taiwan,” said, according to Hong Kong media. “The fact is, neither the mainland’s economy nor military developments have yet to surpass the US after decades of rapid development, making military intimidation just a pure brag,” said Jiang, who is now a political-science professor at Hong Kong City University. “A characteristic of the Taiwan public is that they will not yield to coercion, an adverse effect that Beijing doesn’t want.” In recent weeks China has conducted aerial and naval drills in an effort to intimidate the island, which it claims as its own and has pledged to go to war to prevent from declaring independence. At the same time, Taiwan is attempting to draw even closer to the U.S. President Trump has promised to sell the country about $1.42 billion worth of advanced military weaponry — which is sure to antagonize China. 

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

U.S. Senate looking to protect military technology from cyber spies

If legislation in the Senate survives and becomes part of the annual defense spending bill President Trump will sign, all companies that sell equipment and services to the U.S. military will be required to disclose all business links that allow foreign governments to have access to their sensitive data such as software code. Already, Russia and China have implemented laws and/or policies that require companies to submit to source code reviews so they can win certain government contracts, but the U.S. hasn’t done that yet. The provision comes as more lawmakers and Pentagon officials become increasingly concerned about cyber espionage conducted by adversaries using private firms as spying tools. Last year’s National Defense Authorization Act included a government-wide ban of the Russian anti-virus provider Kaspersky Lab. This year’s version bars the Chinese telecommunication firms Huawei and ZTE from Defense Department networks while the House draft banned the companies from all federal networks. [source]

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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