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Monday, November 12, 2018

What's going on in the World Today 181012



Mad rush. The last week of the fiscal year always means a pick-up in defense contracts as the Pentagon rushes to empty its coffers. But this year was more dramatic than most.

Just weeks after winning a major U.S. Navy contract to build the next-generation MQ-25 carrier-based tanker, Boeing snagged two additional Pentagon deals, including the largest U.S. Air Force aircraft program for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin announced a deal with the Pentagon for the latest batch of F-35s, bringing the unit price of an F-35A below $90 million for the first time.

And Jeff Bezos’ space company, Blue Origin, won a multi-million dollar contract to supply rocket engines for a next-generation rocket being built by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed.

Here is a look at some of the major defense contracts finalized this week:

• Sept. 24: Boeing and partner Italy’s Leonardo edged out two competitors – Lockheed Martin Sikorsky and Sierra Nevada Corps – for a contract worth up to $2.38 billion for the Air Force’s UH-1N replacement helicopter, which will guard the nuclear missile fields and transport VIPs. The MH-139 helicopters will be built at Leonardo’s commercial AW-139 production plant in Philadelphia.

• Sept. 27: Boeing and partner Sweden’s Saab again beat out two competitors – Lockheed and Leonardo – to win an up to $9.2 billion to build a fleet of 351 next-generation T-X fighter/bomber trainers for the Air Force

• Sept. 28: ULA selected Blue Origin to power the booster for its next-generation, all-American Vulcan Centaur rocket. Aerojet Rocketdyne was also in the running.

• Sept. 28: The Pentagon and Lockheed announced that they had finalized an $11.5 billion contract for the 11th batch of F-35s. The deal comprises 141 new jets and follows a handshake deal between the two parties, announced in July. The deal pushes the cost of the F-35A conventional variant to $89.2 million per unit, a 5.4 percent reduction over the last contract.

• Sept. 28: The Navy tapped two shipbuilding companies, Huntington Ingalls Industries and Bath Iron Works, to build ten of its Flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, awarding the firms contracts worth about $9 billion altogether.




U.S. carrier leads warships in biggest ever Japan defense war game

ABOARD USS RONALD REAGAN (Reuters) - U.S. fighter jets darted over the Western Pacific on Saturday as the nuclear powered USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier joined Japanese destroyers and a Canadian warship for the biggest combat readiness war game ever staged in and around Japan.

Japan and the United States have mobilized 57,000 sailors, marines and airmen for the biennial Keen Sword exercise, 11,000 more than in 2016, with simulated air combat, amphibious landings and ballistic missile defense drills. Japan’s contingent of 47,000 personnel represents a fifth of the nation’s armed forces.

“We are here to stabilize, and preserve our capability should it be needed. Exercises like Keen Sword are exactly the kind of thing we need to do,” Rear Admiral Karl Thomas, the commander of the carrier strike group, said during a press briefing in the Reagan’s focsle as F-18 fighter jets catapulted off the flight deck above him.

Eight other ships joined the carrier for anti-submarine warfare drills in a show of force in waters that Washington and Tokyo fear will increasingly come under Beijing’s influence...


Arctic muscle. In the latest sign that the Pentagon is looking to flex its muscles during an era of great power competition, the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman entered the Norwegian Sea on Friday, the first flattop to do so since September 1991. The carrier and select escorts from its strike group are preparing to participate in a massive NATO exercise straddling late October and early November.


Colombian cocaine production hit record levels in 2017, according to newly released UN statistics.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says production rose about 31% year on year to some 1,400 tonnes, cultivated on 171,000 hectares.

The agency warned production could harm recent peace-building efforts.

Colombia is the world's largest producer of cocaine, much of which ends up in the US, which is the world's largest consumer.

Gloria MarĂ­a Borrero Restrepo, Colombia's justice minister, reportedly called the data "really very worrying".

How much is being produced?

According to the UNODC report, the coca production acreage in Colombia last year was the highest ever recorded level, increasing by 25,000 hectares from 2016.

The total acreage under coca cultivation was an estimated 17% higher in 2017 than 2016.

The report said the potential production of cocaine had a value of $2.7bn (£2bn) in the local market...




U.S. sanctions China for buying Russian fighter jets, missiles

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration imposed sanctions on the Chinese military on Thursday for buying fighter jets and missile systems from Russia, in breach of a sweeping U.S. sanctions law punishing Moscow for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

In Beijing, the Chinese government expressed anger and demanded the sanctions be withdrawn.

The U.S. State Department said it would immediately impose sanctions on China’s Equipment Development Department (EDD), the military branch responsible for weapons and equipment, and its director, Li Shangfu, for engaging in “significant transactions” with Rosoboronexport, Russia’s main arms exporter.

The sanctions are related to China’s purchase of 10 SU-35 combat aircraft in 2017 and S-400 surface-to-air missile system-related equipment in 2018, the State Department said.

They block the Chinese agency, and Li, from applying for export licenses and participating in the U.S. financial system...


Iran says its land-to-sea missiles can now travel 700 km

LONDON (Reuters) - Iran has extended the range of its land-to-sea ballistic missiles to 700 km (435 miles), a senior Iranian military official said on Tuesday amid rising tensions with the United States over Tehran’s missile program.

U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of an international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program in May and reimposed sanctions on Tehran, saying the deal was flawed because it did not include curbs on Iran’s development of ballistic missiles or its support for proxies in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq.

Iran, which says its missile program is purely defensive, has threatened to disrupt oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf if the United States tries to strangle Iranian oil exports.




Israel, China: Beijing Tempts Israel With Money for Development

The Big Picture

From Asia to Africa, China is challenging the United States. In the Middle East, it is finding ways to exploit the region's need for investment and to build up relationships beneath the dominating U.S. shadow. The Belt and Road Initiative is a means to that strategic end, and in Israel, Beijing is trying to close a key gap in the Levant. But America's close relationship with Israel means that the task won't be easy.

China's relationship with Israel is unlike any other Beijing is pursuing in the Middle East. Israel is the closest U.S. ally in the region and dependent upon American military aid to keep its armed forces on the cutting edge. Yet China is trying to use the heft of its financial investing to make inroads into Israel and the region. On Oct. 25, Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan completed a three-day trip to Israel, where he sought to expand the Belt and Road Initiative and undermine U.S. influence. The visit produced few new developments in their relations — only promises of future free trade and cooperation — but it did serve to heighten U.S. concern about Beijing's influence there.

In the short term, China is trying to get access to Israeli technology and the know-how behind its vibrant startup environment. In the long term, it is trying to build up a greater partnership to open doors for future strategic development in the Middle East. To do so, it must contend with Israel's close ties to the United States and any obstacles Washington could throw in its way...


Japan, North Korea: Intelligence Officials Reportedly Met Secretly in Early October

What Happened: Shigeru Kitamura, the head of Japan's Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office, met with an official from the North Korean United Front Department in Mongolia's capital from approximately Oct. 6 to 8 to discuss the past abductions of Japanese nationals, Kyodo reported Oct. 19.

Why It Matters: While Japan has not yet participated in recent efforts to engage with North Korea, this report indicates that Pyongyang is willing to compromise on the issue of abductions. In addition, Japan's decision to engage with North Korea through intelligence officials rather than its Foreign Ministry matches the United States' recent approach.

Background: Japan has long been the strongest adherent to the U.S.-led campaign of maximum pressure against North Korea, as well as the country most excluded from recent diplomatic progress. North Korea has a historic enmity toward Japan, and Tokyo has repeatedly insisted on resolving the contentious issue of Cold War abductions, in which Pyongyang allegedly kidnapped Japanese citizens...


New Roles For MiG-31 May Include Fighting Satellites

GDANSK -- The MiG-31 interceptor has found a second life – in fact more than one. Not only has the aircraft known to NATO as the Foxhound been extensively upgraded, but the MiG-31 has also taken on new tasks – as the Kinzhal ground-strike system and as an aerospace missile system that can deliver small satellites to orbit or fight enemy satellites.

In September 2018, at the Russian aviation industry’s test center in Zhukovsky, an experimental MiG-31, number “81,” performed its first flight with an extremely large unknown missile suspended on the centerline pylon. The first high-speed taxiing of this coupling was performed several months earlier.

The current program is supposed to be a follow-on of the 30P6 Kontakt (Contact) satellite intercept program of 1984-1995, under which the MiG-31D aircraft with Fakel 79M6 missile was made, and the improved MiG-31DM with Fakel 95M6 missile was being designed.

As early as August 2009, the then Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Air Force, Alexander Zelin, said the Kontakt program might be reactivated. In November 2013, the Russian Duma’s defense committee appealed to President Vladimir Putin to resume the anti-satellite Kontakt program. A parliamentary document sought to order the government to implement the measures needed to renew research and development work on Kontakt within the nation’s armament program from 2016-2025. It is likely that at that time the activities on the new aerospace system, the actual codename of which is unknown, were already in progress.

The advantage of an airborne anti-satellite system over a ground-based one is longer range: the MiG-31 can deliver a missile over a distance of up to 1,000 km (621 mi.) before launch. The characteristics of the current system remain unknown, but they probably are similar to those of the previous Kontakt system, which was intended to destroy non-maneuvering or maneuvering satellites in low orbits.

The 79M6 missile, weighing 4,550 kg (10,031 lb.) was launched by a MiG-31D flying at the speed of Mach 2.55 and altitude of 22 km, and continued to the target, which was at the altitude of 120 km to 600 km, depending on the distance. The missile flight time was 100 to 380 second. The satellite was to be destroyed by a direct hit or detonation of a small, 20-kg explosive charge. The target was designated for the MiG-31 by ground-based 45Zh6 Krona (Crown) system, consisting of large decameter and centimeter-wavelength electronic-scanning radar and optical-laser locator and rangefinder. The Krona system was overhauled and upgraded during 2009-2010.

Two MiG-31D prototypes flew for the first time on Jan. 17, 1987. The trials took place at the evaluation center in Zhukovsky near Moscow and then were relocated to Kambala air base on Shary Sagan testing range in Kazakhstan, the Soviet-era proving ground for the Air Defense Forces, which was also tasked with testing missile defense systems. After the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the Shary Sagan test range and both MiG-31D aircraft became property of Kazakhstan.

Memoirs of test pilots indicate that the MiG-31D aircraft flew about 100 sorties with the anti-satellite missile. Missile drops were conducted, but probably without starting the engine. The Soyuz design bureau of Kazan made solid-fuel rocket motors 27D6 for the first stage and 28D6 for the second stage of the 79M6 missile; the third stage had Klimov 16S6 liquid-fuel rocket motor. The 27D6 booster caused problems already during ground tests and new propulsion was being designed for the upgraded missile...




North Korea's Hackers Play the Long Game


- A U.S. federal investigation has shown that Pyongyang has been planning its cyberattacks far in advance, typically with the aim of stealing money rather disrupting its enemies.

- North Korea and others rely on invasive surveillance to increase the potency of their attacks, yet such action increases the chances that hackers will be detected ahead of time.

- Investigations into hacking can force assailants to alter their tactics and operations, but they are not enough to stop them outright.

In July, we noted that the Islamic republic has been playing the numbers game in the world of cyberattacks, using relatively rudimentary tactics in a shotgun approach that targets thousands of individuals in the hopes that a small percentage become victims. Now, the recent release of a U.S. Department of Justice criminal complaint depicts a similar, yet very different, threat from North Korea over the past four years...

Hackers accused of ties to Russia hit three East European companies: cybersecurity firm

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Hackers have infected three energy and transport companies in Ukraine and Poland with sophisticated new malware and may be planning destructive cyber attacks, a software security firm said on Wednesday.

A report by researchers at Slovakia-based ESET did not attribute the hacking activity, recorded between 2015 and mid-2018, to any specific country but blamed it on a group that has been accused by Britain of having links to Russian military intelligence.

The report is the latest to raise suspicions in the West about Russia’s GRU spy agency, accused by London of conducting a “reckless campaign” of global cyber attacks and trying to kill a former Russian spy in England. Moscow denies the charges.

Investigators at ESET said the group responsible for a series of earlier attacks against the Ukrainian energy sector, which used malicious software known as BlackEnergy, had now developed and used a new malware suite called GreyEnergy.

ESET has helped investigate a series of high-profile cyber attacks on Ukraine in recent years, including those on the Ukrainian energy grid which led to power outages in late 2015...

China's Corporate Espionage Looms Large in Its Battle With the U.S.

By Scott Stewart

VP of Tactical Analysis, Stratfor

- A series of court documents and statements by U.S. government officials have highlighted China's corporate espionage efforts once more, suggesting that Beijing will continue to prioritize the theft of trade secrets.

- Building on their work in monitoring the activities of Chinese intelligence officers and hackers, U.S. agencies like the FBI and others are redoubling their efforts to oppose Beijing's spying activities.

- As the espionage/counterespionage battle grows between the United States and China, U.S. companies and organizations operating in China could suffer the consequences, even if they do not consider themselves to be targets of spying...

China Shows Off First Quantum Radar Prototype

ZHUHAI, China—A potentially breakthrough quantum radar prototype is making a debut appearance at the Zhuhai Airshow.

In displaying the unique device, China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC) is offering a tantalizing glimpse of one of its most ambitious technologies.

In theory, integrating the principle of quantum entanglement in a radar system can vastly improve performance, making the sensor significantly less vulnerable to radio frequency jamming and more adept at detecting targets...

...The principle of quantum radar is well understood. The device creates a stream of entangled photons, which is then split into two streams. One of them is converted into a microwave frequency that is transmitted and reflected like a traditional radar. The other stream of photons remains in that state as an “idler beam...”




When Terrorism Isn't Intended to Kill

By Scott Stewart
VP of Tactical Analysis, Stratfor


-The person who sent a recent series of bombs through the mail to top Democrats and others in the United States did not design the devices to explode.

-The inclusion of bombmaking components, shrapnel and white powder in the packages suggests that the perpetrator was attempting to scare and intimidate rather than kill.

-Nevertheless, the packages contained all the elements of a "destructive device" under U.S. law, meaning the sender is likely to receive lengthy prison sentences for the offenses...


A Middle East Monarchy Hired American Ex-Soldiers To Kill Its Political Enemies. This Could Be The Future Of War.

Cradling an AK-47 and sucking a lollipop, the former American Green Beret bumped along in the back of an armored SUV as it wound through the darkened streets of Aden. Two other commandos on the mission were former Navy SEALs. As elite US special operations fighters, they had years of specialized training by the US military to protect America. But now they were working for a different master: a private US company that had been hired by the United Arab Emirates, a tiny desert monarchy on the Persian Gulf.

On that night, December 29, 2015, their job was to carry out an assassination.

Their armed attack, described to BuzzFeed News by two of its participants and corroborated by drone surveillance footage, was the first operation in a startling for-profit venture. For months in war-torn Yemen, some of America’s most highly trained soldiers worked on a mercenary mission of murky legality to kill prominent clerics and Islamist political figures.

Their target that night: Anssaf Ali Mayo, the local leader of the Islamist political party Al-Islah. The UAE considers Al-Islah to be the Yemeni branch of the worldwide Muslim Brotherhood, which the UAE calls a terrorist organization. Many experts insist that Al-Islah, one of whose members won the Nobel Peace Prize, is no terror group. They say it's a legitimate political party that threatens the UAE not through violence but by speaking out against its ambitions in Yemen.

The mercenaries’ plan was to attach a bomb laced with shrapnel to the door of Al-Islah’s headquarters, located near a soccer stadium in central Aden, a key Yemeni port city. The explosion, one of the leaders of the expedition explained, was supposed to “kill everybody in that office.”

When they arrived at 9:57 at night, all seemed quiet. The men crept out of the SUV, guns at the ready. One carried the explosive charge toward the building. But just as he was about to reach the door, another member of the team opened fire, shooting back along the dimly lit street, and their carefully designed plan went haywire.

The operation against Mayo — which was reported at the time but until now was not known to have been carried out by American mercenaries — marked a pivot point in the war in Yemen, a brutal conflict that has seen children starved, villages bombed, and epidemics of cholera roll through the civilian population. The bombing was the first salvo in a string of unsolved assassinations that killed more than two dozen of the group’s leaders.

The company that hired the soldiers and carried out the attack is Spear Operations Group, incorporated in Delaware and founded by Abraham Golan, a charismatic Hungarian Israeli security contractor who lives outside of Pittsburgh. He led the team’s strike against Mayo.

“There was a targeted assassination program in Yemen,” he told BuzzFeed News. “I was running it. We did it. It was sanctioned by the UAE within the coalition.”

The UAE and Saudi Arabia lead an alliance of nine countries in Yemen, fighting what is largely a proxy war against Iran. The US is helping the Saudi-UAE side by providing weapons, intelligence, and other support.

The press office of the UAE’s US Embassy, as well as its US public affairs company, Harbour Group, did not respond to multiple phone calls and emails.

The revelations that a Middle East monarchy hired Americans to carry out assassinations comes at a moment when the world is focused on the alleged murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia, an autocratic regime that has close ties to both the US and the UAE. (The Saudi Embassy in the US did not respond to a request for comment. Riyadh has denied it killed Khashoggi, though news reports suggest it is considering blaming his death on a botched interrogation.)

Golan said that during his company’s months-long engagement in Yemen, his team was responsible for a number of the war’s high-profile assassinations, though he declined to specify which ones. He argued that the US needs an assassination program similar to the model he deployed. “I just want there to be a debate,” he said. “Maybe I’m a monster. Maybe I should be in jail. Maybe I’m a bad guy. But I’m right.”

Spear Operations Group’s private assassination mission marks the confluence of three developments transforming the way war is conducted worldwide:

- Modern counterterrorism combat has shifted away from traditional military objectives — such as destroying airfields, gun emplacements, or barracks — to killing specific individuals, largely reshaping war into organized assassinations.

- War has become increasingly privatized, with many nations outsourcing most military support services to private contractors, leaving frontline combat as virtually the only function that the US and many other militaries have not contracted out to for-profit ventures.

- The long US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have relied heavily on elite special forces, producing tens of thousands of highly trained American commandos who can demand high private-sector salaries for defense contracting or outright mercenary work...

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