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Monday, January 21, 2019

What's going on in the World Today 190121



U.S.: An Updated Missile Defense Strategy for a New Arms Race

The Big Picture

Russia and China are developing cutting-edge weapons technologies as part of an emerging great power arms race with the United States. The Trump administration's Missile Defense Review arrives as the United States increasingly focuses on bolstering its defenses against this emerging great power competition.

What Happened

U.S. President Donald Trump introduced the latest U.S. Missile Defense Review during a Jan. 17 visit to the Pentagon. The review, which initially was expected to be released in 2017, has been described as a "try everything" approach to expanding the nation's missile defenses. It calls for additional testing of the ground- and ship-based SM-3 Block IIA interceptor (part of the Aegis program) to defend against intercontinental ballistic missiles, evaluating the feasibility of using the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to track and hunt mobile missile units, exploring the use of directed-energy weapons to destroy missiles during their boost phase with high-energy lasers or high-powered microwaves and expanding the use of sensors in space to detect ballistic missile launches. The new missile defense strategy also seeks a six-month study to examine the use of space-based interceptors...

U.S.: Navy Plans to Dispatch Warship to Arctic Waters

What Happened: The U.S. Navy is planning to dispatch a warship to the Arctic to conduct freedom of navigation operations, The Independent reported Jan. 14.

Why It Matters: The deployment of a U.S. warship stakes Washington's claims in the Arctic as it competes with Russia, China, Canada and Northern European countries for influence in the region. Russia, in particular, has been devoting considerable attention to the Arctic, enhancing its infrastructure and military presence.

Background: The Arctic is of growing geopolitical importance, as it contains roughly 30 percent of the world's undiscovered natural gas reserves and 13 percent of its oil deposits. At the same time, potential shipping routes will become available amid receding ice levels, making control of the Arctic a significant geopolitical imperative.

Why Walls and Sensors Aren't the Answer to the U.S.-Mexico Border Dilemma

By Scott Stewart
VP of Tactical Analysis, Stratfor


-There are compelling national security arguments for securing the U.S.-Mexico border, but terrorism is not one of them.

- Walls, fences and sensors improve border security, but their effectiveness is limited if personnel are unable to respond rapidly to efforts to breach them.

- The better physical security measures become, the more that people become the weak link in the security chain.

- Because of this, border security requires a holistic approach that not only addresses physical security at the border but also the economic forces that tempt people to smuggle contraband and humans across borders.

As the longest government shutdown in U.S. history drags on, one bone of contention is hogging all of the headlines: The U.S. border with Mexico. Discussions of the threat posed by an unsecured frontier and of the efficacy of border walls and other security measures have sparked fierce debate over how best to secure the boundary. Because the topic has spawned a great deal of interest – and perhaps just as much misinformation – a discussion of these issues is timely.

The Big Picture

Organized crime groups have been smuggling contraband and people across the U.S.-Mexico border since it was established. These groups received a huge boost when the U.S. demand for illegal drugs provided them with a large and lucrative profit pool that gave them the resources to establish private armies and bribe officials on both side of the border. Because of this, border crime has become a serious problem for both the U.S. and Mexican governments...

Missile Defense Review Directs Numerous Studies

The long-awaited Missile Defense Review (MDR) has finally been released and calls for a slew of six-month studies on technologies ranging from the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system to space-based sensors and controversial space-based interceptors.

When asked why it is necessary to study existing technologies such as Thaad, John Rood, undersecretary of defense for policy, said during a Jan. 17 off-camera briefing at the Pentagon that these assessments will focus on implementation.

For instance, the Defense Department (DOD) possesses seven Thaad batteries, including one in Guam and one in Korea. Within six months of the MDR release, the U.S. Army joint staff and the Missile Defense Agency will submit a report determining the number of Thaad batteries needed, the report says.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) says he is encouraging the Pentagon to spend money on missile defense programs that are reliable and rigorously tested before they are deployed.

“It is common sense to insist on this principle when it comes to programs that protect the American people and our allies, particularly in context of the growing North Korea threat,” Smith said in a Jan. 17 statement.

Another six-month study will be conducted by the U.S. Navy and MDA to develop a plan for converting all Aegis destroyers to be fully missile defense capable, including against ballistic missiles, within 10 years. Separately, the Pentagon will study repurposing the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Test Center in Hawaii to strengthen defense against North Korean missile capabilities. MDA and the Navy will evaluate the viability of this option and develop an emergency activation plan within 30 days of the defense secretary green lighting the decision, the report says.

MDA and U.S. Northern Command will present a plan to accelerate efforts enhancing missile defense tracking and discrimination sensors, including addressing advanced missile threats, the report says.

The U.S. Air Force and MDA will study how to integrate the F-35, including its sensor suite, into the Ballistic Missile Defense System for both regional and homeland defense. The aircraft has an electro-optical distributed aperture system that can detect the infrared signature of a missile in boost phase, and its mission computer can identify the threatening missile’s location, the report says...




The Belt and Road Initiative Is a Corruption Bonanza

Despots and crooks are using China’s infrastructure project to stay in power—with Beijing's help.

When former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was ousted from office in May 2018, it’s possible that no one was more dismayed than officials in Beijing.

After all, Najib had granted China extraordinary access to Malaysia. Across the country, huge China-backed infrastructure projects were being planned or breaking ground. But as China’s presence in Malaysia swelled, a scandal was engulfing the prime minister’s office. Najib was accused of massive corruption linked to the development fund known as 1MDB. As the election neared, his opponent, Mahathir Mohamad, alleged that some of the Chinese money pouring into Malaysia was being used to refill the fund’s graft-depleted coffers.

Now, Malaysia’s anti-corruption commission is investigating those claims. And last week, an explosive Wall Street Journal report exposed the most damning evidence yet: minutes from a series of meetings at which Malaysian officials suggested to their Chinese counterparts that China finance infrastructure projects in Malaysia at inflated costs. The implication was that the extra cash could be used to settle 1MDB’s debts. According to the report, Najib, who has denied any part in corruption, was well aware of the meetings.

If true, the report puts tangible proof behind widely held suspicions that China exploits corrupt regimes to propel its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI requires China to build infrastructure in other countries—a process that’s fraught with official approvals, feasibility studies, stakeholder engagement, and other bothersome procedures. In corrupt countries, however, many of these obstacles can be bypassed with bribes and back-room dealing—in fact, some of the red tape exists primarily to extort money from businesses. For this reason, it’s easy to understand why China might prefer working with corrupt regimes.

But not just China benefits from corruption in BRI projects. In many cases, the leaders of BRI-recipient countries see the projects as opportunities to sustain and legitimize their own corruption, as well.

Many countries that receive BRI investments suffer from high levels of corruption. On the TRACE Bribery Risk Matrix, most rank in the lower 50 percent, and 10 are among the riskiest 25 countries in the world. They often have opaque legislative processes, weak accountability mechanisms, compliant media organizations, and authoritarian governments that don’t permit dissent...






Why Afghanistan's Peace Talks Won't Really Start Until the U.S. Leaves


- If peace talks fail to materialize, the primary reason will be the United States' hesitation in acceding to the Taliban's demand that Washington order the complete withdrawal of all NATO and allied forces from Afghanistan.
- Continued U.S. involvement in Afghanistan as part of its broader counterterrorism operations will divert the country's attention from its main strategic priority of focusing on the great power competition with Russia and China.
- The continuing war will hamper investor activity in Afghanistan, harming plans to use the country as a land bridge linking nearby regions.

The United States is redoubling its efforts to achieve peace in Afghanistan. In September 2018, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appointed Zalmay Khalilzad as the U.S. special envoy for Afghan reconciliation, but the 63-year-old, Afghan-born diplomat faces a daunting task in convincing the Taliban to agree to a cease-fire and participate in peace talks with President Ashraf Ghani's administration, all in a bid to end the 17-year war.

Formal peace talks could provide the outline for a political settlement that would likely grant the Taliban a share of power in a post-conflict government. Khalilzad has already conducted three rounds of preliminary talks with the Taliban, but the insurgent movement abruptly withdrew from a fourth round of dialogue scheduled to take place in Saudi Arabia this month. Very simply, the Taliban refuses to engage with officials representing the Afghan government, which the group views as illegitimate. The focus is now on the United States — the country that the Taliban view as their principal antagonist in the conflict. In this regard, the group's terms remain clear; without Washington's complete exit from the conflict, meaningful peace talks remain a pipedream...


Intelligence Report Confirms Two Chinese Stealth Bombers

A new report by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) offers the first official acknowledgment of the existence of two stealth bomber development programs by China’s air force.
A previously-confirmed Chinese strategic bomber and a newly acknowledged stealth “fighter-bomber” are both now under development, the DIA says in a China Military Power report released Jan. 15.

The Pentagon first acknowledged a strategic bomber program exists in a 2017 report to Congress. The admission came a year after a senior Chinese air force official publicly confirmed the effort to develop a new strategic comber variously called H-X and H-20.

For several years, Chinese and foreign media have speculated about the existence of a separate stealth bomber development project sometimes called the JH-XX, a replacement for the Mach 1.8-class Xian JH-7 fighter-bomber...

Pentagon Confirms China Will Have A New Tactical Bomber

Aviation Week & Space Technology

Bradley Perrett Steve Trimble

In World War II, a fighter-bomber was a fighter that could bomb. They can all bomb now, so the term has fallen out of use—except in China, where it is used for strike aircraft with high flight performance but no serious air-to-air capability.

That is a good clue to the nature of a forthcoming Chinese tactical bomber. Emergence of this type, a smaller companion to the Xian H-20 strategic bomber, has long been rumored but is only now discussed by the Pentagon—which variously calls it a medium-range bomber, a tactical bomber and, tellingly, a fighter-bomber. The terminology, a few scant details and the likely choice of engines suggest that the aircraft will be conceptually similar to the retired U.S. F-111, but maybe a lot bigger and perhaps presenting a serious threat to air targets.

This new Chinese aircraft and the H-20 will “probably” not be initially operational before 2025, says the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in its annual China Military Power report, released on Jan. 15. They will both be stealthy, it adds, though that feature almost goes without saying these days and is in any case imprecisely defined.

The aircraft will probably not be operational before 2025 cruise missiles to safely attack well-defended targets...

Iran’s Next Supreme Leader Is Dead

And it’s not going to be easy for the Islamic Republic to survive without him.

On Christmas Eve (not that it matters in Iran), Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, one of Tehran’s most understated powerbrokers, died after a particularly grueling year combating cancer. Despite his relative anonymity outside Iran compared to his more outspoken and controversial clerical colleagues, Shahroudi was a quintessential establishment figure with unfettered access to the apex of power and, rather unusually, reasonable relations across factional lines. More importantly, he was also touted as a leading candidate to succeed Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. His early death not only reshapes but could also greatly polarize the succession politics at play and create more instability for Iran.

Shahroudi was born in 1948 in Iraq to Iranian parents, a pedigree (known in Persian as moaved) not unusual among Iran’s political elite, most prominently the Larijani brothers, who currently head the legislature and the judiciary. He studied under the leading clerical authorities in his hometown of Najaf, including the spiritual doyen of Iraq’s Dawa Party, Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, and to a lesser extent, Iran’s future Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini. In 1974, Iraq’s Baath regime imprisoned and tortured him and others amid a large-scale crackdown on the Shiite clergy. After Saddam Hussein invaded Iran, Shahroudi headed the newly created Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, but with Khamenei’s rise as supreme leader in 1989, he decided to pursue his political fortunes in Iran and shed his Iraqi trappings.

A prominent figure in the gilded seminary milieu in Qom, Iran, Shahroudi had clerical credentials that were near impeccable, further easing his entry into Iran’s political establishment. Outside the years 1999 to 2009, when he headed the judiciary, Shahroudi served from 1995 until his death as member of the Guardian Council, the powerful conservative watchdog that ensures the Islamic consistency and compatibility of parliamentary legislation and electoral candidates alike. He was likewise in the Assembly of Experts, a clerical body that selects the supreme leader’s successor, and a member of the Expediency Council, created toward the end of the Iran-Iraq War to adjudicate disagreements between parliament and the Guardian Council; this council subsequently also began advising the supreme leader on the broad contours of policy and strategy. After the 2017 death of its chairman—Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a highly influential former president—Khamenei tapped Shahroudi as his replacement. Shahroudi was therefore clearly a figure Khamenei could rely on, a figure the supreme leader recently eulogized as a “faithful executor in the Islamic Republic’s most important institutions.”

Most Iranians remember Shahroudi as the head of the country’s notorious judiciary between 1999 and 2009, a period spanning Mohammad Khatami and then Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s diametrically opposed governments. During this time, Shahroudi presided over a witch hunt against reformist parliamentarians and newspapers, students and intellectuals, human rights activists and, at the end of his tenure, the pro-reformist Green Movement protesting against the fraudulent elections that handed Ahmadinejad a second term.

As judiciary chief, Shahroudi is reported to have overseen, directly or indirectly, some 2,000 executions, including of minors. During Shahroudi’s medical visit to Hannover, Germany, in January 2018, protests erupted, and the German authorities considered charges against him but then ultimately ditched the idea. His choice for Tehran prosecutor-general, Saeed Mortazavi, was widely held responsible for the rape and murder of the detained Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi.

On the other hand, Shahroudi was also credited with introducing some reforms, including reinstituting the separation between judges and prosecutors abolished by his predecessor Mohammad Yazdi, suspending stoning as capital punishment, and proposing a bill granting more legal protection to minors. Around the time of his death, reformist-leaning newspapers such as Shahrvand depicted him as an “iconoclast judge of judges” (qazi ol-qazat-e sonnat-shekan), and official government media outlets including the Islamic Republic News Agency-owned Iran called him “progressive...”

Iranian Satellite Launch Ends in Failure

TEHRAN — Iranian officials said on Tuesday that a satellite launch that had been condemned by the Trump administration failed when the carrier rocket could not reach orbit.

“I would have liked to make you happy with some good news, but sometimes life does not go as expected,” Iran’s minister of telecommunications, Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, said in a Twitter post.

He said the rocket, a Safir, long used for satellite launches, had failed in the final stage, falling short of placing its payload into the correct orbit. He did not offer any explanation.

The United States, Israel and some European countries have criticized Iranian missile tests in the past, saying the launches pose a threat to the region. One reason President Trump gave for withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal was its failure to address the threat of Iran’s ballistic missiles.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Iran on Jan. 3 against launching spacecraft, describing the exercises as a pretext for testing missile technology that Tehran could one day use to carry a warhead to the United States or other nations. His statement appeared aimed at building a legal case for diplomatic, military or covert action against the Iranian missile program...

Iran: Special Purpose Vehicle to Begin Operations Within Weeks

What Happened: A special purpose vehicle (SPV) for transactions between Iran and the European Union will be formed within the next two to three weeks, The Wall Street Journal reported Jan. 17. The SPV will likely operate from France, feature a German managing director and include British stakeholders.

Why It Matters: Actual progress toward forming the SPV would be a notable development as Iran has continued to pressure European countries to move forward in establishing the mechanism, but states that would host or participate in the SPV will risk exposure to U.S. diplomatic pressure and potential sanctions.

Background: The United States withdrew from the JCPOA — commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal — in May, reimposing sanctions on Iran. Proposing the creation of the SPV to facilitate financial transactions with Iran is part of a European strategy to keep Iran in the JCPOA.






North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Facilities: Well Maintained but Showing Limited Operations

A 38 North exclusive with analysis by Frank V. Pabian and Jack Liu

Commercial satellite imagery of North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center from December 2018 indicates that while the site remains operational and is still well maintained, the main facilities do not appear to be operating. The one possible exception is the Uranium Enrichment Plant (UEP), although if it is operating, in what capacity remains unclear.

What Explains Snow Melt at the UEP Plant

Imagery from December 19, 2018 shows that the roofs of the two gas centrifuge halls are devoid of snow. Considering the snowfall just prior to the image capture was light, the snow melt could be a natural result of sun exposure over time. But snow melt may also indicate that the facility is operating, a conclusion reinforced by the two patches of possible frozen water vapor evident in the immediate area of the cooling units at the west end of the UEP. That would mean the facility is considerably warmer than nearby buildings and waste heat is being dumped by some of the cooling units.

If operating, the centrifuges inside are likely, at a minimum, being maintained and spinning. Whether or not the spinning centrifuges are being fed with uranium for enrichment processing is impossible to determine based on imagery alone...


Russia: Procurement Plans Reflect the Military's Modernization Struggles

The Big Picture

Russia, along with China, is locked in a great power competition with the United States. In keeping with its goal of protecting domestic and foreign interests, Moscow must overhaul its military capability — gradually replacing out-of-date Soviet-era weapons systems with modern equipment. Low oil prices and Western sanctions, however, are complicating the Kremlin's task.

What Happened

Russia will shell out billions of dollars on military hardware this year, but when it comes to defense spending, the devil is in the details. On Jan. 15, the country's Defense Ministry announced that it would spend 1.44 trillion rubles ($21.5 billion) on military procurement in 2019 as part of a larger program to modernize outdated equipment within the armed forces. Given the expenditure, Moscow claims that the share of new equipment in the Russian military is expected to reach 67 percent, just 3 percent short of its stated goal for 2020. The predicted numbers, however, may not reflect reality...

Russia’s Conventional Weapons Are Deadlier Than Its Nukes

Withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty would take the United States one step forward and many steps back on international security.

The INF Treaty is widely seen as one of the crowning achievements of arms control, banning the possession by two of the world’s leading powers of an entire class of nuclear weapons system. As such, the Trump administration’s declaration late last year that it might withdraw from the treaty has stoked fears of a new nuclear arms race.

The United States alleges that Russia is violating the agreement by fielding the 9M729 cruise missile from land-based launchers and says Moscow must return to compliance by early February or Washington will begin the formal six-month withdrawal process.

Stepping away from the treaty could be harmful for the United States. Moscow has little need for an additional nuclear capability. However, it would stand to benefit greatly from being able to openly deploy new ground-launched conventional missiles—a process for which withdrawal from the INF Treaty could open the door.

There has been little discussion of the impact scrapping the accord would have on non-nuclear weapons systems in Europe.

Nevertheless, there has been little discussion of the impact scrapping the accord would have on non-nuclear weapons systems in Europe. Despite its name, the INF Treaty doesn’t just prohibit ground-launched missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (approximately 300 to 3,400 miles); it actually provides for the elimination of all such short, medium, and intermediate-range missiles possessed by Washington and Moscow regardless of the warheads they carry. For this reason, the treaty’s abandonment has grave short-term implications that extend beyond the concern over nukes.

That the INF Treaty would also place a ban on ground-launched missiles with conventional warheads was not considered a major issue at the time of its signing, as such weapons were generally thought of as secondary to their nuclear counterparts. The emerging potential of precision-guided weapons with an extended reach was already clear to some—Nikolai Ogarkov, then the chief of the Soviet general staff, said in 1984 that the availability of those systems could “make it possible to sharply increase (by at least an order of magnitude) the destructive potential of conventional weapons … bringing them closer, so to speak, to weapons of mass destruction in terms of effectiveness.” However, that destructive potential remained to be fully demonstrated, until the 1990 to 1991 Gulf War and subsequent actions in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya validated the view of advocates for precision-guided conventional strike systems, and “Tomahawk diplomacy” entered the U.S. foreign policy lexicon.

Russia has redeveloped its precision-guided posture as part of the regeneration of Moscow’s armed forces as a whole. As a matter of policy, Russia has increasingly prioritized conventional strategic strikes as a substitute for some missions previously assigned to its nuclear force. The current Russian Military Doctrine, published in 2014, states that Russia views high-precision weapons as a key element of strategic deterrence. More explicitly, the contemporary version of Russia’s Naval Doctrine, published in 2017, says: “With the development of high-precision weapons, the Navy faces a qualitatively new objective: destruction of [the] enemy’s military and economic potential by striking its vital facilities from the sea.”

Russia has matched the evolution of its military strategy on paper with the deployment of systems capable of achieving these objectives. At sea, new and modernized surface ships and submarines now carry the 3M-14 Kalibr land-attack cruise missile—a weapon with a 1,500 to 2,500 kilometer (approximately 930 to 1,550 mile) range. In the air, many Russian Aerospace Force Tu-95 Bear and Tu-160 Blackjack bombers have been equipped with the Kh-101 air-launched cruise missile, which possesses a range of at least 2,500 kilometers. Both of these systems have been used against targets in Syria. Additional air-to-surface weapons to equip bombers and tactical fighters—including the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal and the Kh-50—are either beginning to enter service or are at the development stage...




Bomb-laden rebel drone kills 6 at Yemen military parade

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — A bomb-laden drone launched by Yemen’s Shiite rebels exploded over a military parade Thursday for the Saudi-led coalition, killing at least six people in a brazen attack threatening an uneasy U.N.-brokered peace in the Arab world’s poorest nation.

The attack at the Al-Anad Air Base showed the unwillingness of Yemen’s Houthi rebels to halt fighting in the civil war, even if it doesn’t violate a peace deal reached last month in Sweden between them and Yemen’s internationally recognized government.

The Houthi attack near the southern port city of Aden with a new drone variant also raised more questions about Iran’s alleged role in arming the rebels with drone and ballistic missile technology, something long denied by Tehran despite researchers and U.N. experts linking the weapons to the Islamic Republic.

The assault shocked the pro-government troops, who carried away the dead and wounded, their fatigues stained with blood. All the victims were government forces, officials said.

“We were under the impression that the coalition has a tight control over airspace and there is no way the Houthis can send drones or planes to attack us in the south,” said Mohammed Ali, a solider in Al-Annad 2nd Brigade guarding the parade.

Yemeni army spokesman Mohammed al-Naqib was speaking at a podium during the parade, with photos of Yemen’s president and Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia’s crown princes behind him, when a high-pitched whine drew his attention and others. A moment later, the drone exploded overhead, pelting him and others with shrapnel...


Opinion: The Hypersonics Workforce Puzzle

Boost-glide,” the method of using rocket propulsion to achieve high speed before an unpowered glide, is an apt metaphor for U.S. investment in hypersonics research and education. Recent interviews with government leaders and experts suggest that the U.S. no longer has the luxury of exploring hypersonic flight as an unchallenged leader. In addition to the need for long-term commitment to basic research and technology development, there is a more urgent requirement for rapid deployment of countermeasures against putative adversarial capabilities.

In early 2018, following claims by President Vladimir Putin of Russian advances in hypersonic missile technology, Pentagon leaders including Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin and DARPA Director Steven Walker responded with warnings about the state of U.S. hypersonic capabilities. They emphasized that hypersonics must be a priority for Defense Department research and that, even with Trump administration requests for increased funding, there is still a need for more spending, particularly on infrastructure to support testing.

The challenges of hypersonic flight are not new. Many of today’s educators and decision makers were inspired by U.S. high-speed research including the X-15 hypersonic program that ended in 1968 after 199 flights. Using a boost-glide flight profile, the X-15—the first hypersonic crewed aircraft—sped to a record of Mach 6.7 (4,520 mph) in 1967. It was also the first reusable spacecraft, setting the altitude record of 354,000 ft. (67 mi.) and earning pilot Joseph Walker astronaut wings.

Since the retirement of the X-15, other X-plane programs have focused on the development of hypersonic technology that only recently culminated in flight tests. These programs include the X-30 National Aero-Space Plane and the X-33 that did not lead to flight-test vehicles, as well as the more recent, more modest X-43A Hyper-X and X-51A Waverider programs, which demonstrated air-breathing hypersonic flight in 2004 and 2010.

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