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Saturday, March 9, 2019

What's going on in the World Today 190311



Kratos Steals Boeing’s Thunder With XQ-58A First Flight

A week after Boeing unveiled a loyal wingman mockup in Australia, U.S. drone manufacturer Kratos completed the first flight of the XQ-58A Valkyrie, an experimental design ordered by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) 30 months ago.

After launching by rail, the XQ-58A on March 6 completed the first of five planned flights for the overall program. The 76-min. flight concluded with a parachute recovery.

For Kratos, the launch of flight testing 2.5 years after contract award is a strategic coup, as the manufacturer of target drones hopes to expand into the market for large tactical unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

The XQ-58A is designed to operate alongside manned fighters, performing a variety of strike and surveillance tasks during a mission. Credit: Air Force Research Laboratory.

“This will be the biggest strategic event for Kratos in our history,” CEO Eric DeMarco said on the eve of first flight. “In 30 months, to go from a white piece of paper to a 3,000-mi.[-range] strike drone—it’s unbelievable. I have a pretty good idea of what is going to happen when this goes, and, if you [could] see me, I’m smiling.”

The XQ-58A is the first flight demonstrator launched under the AFRL’s Low-Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology. The goal of the program is to “break the escalating cost trajectory of tactically relevant aircraft,” the AFRL said in a statement.

Kratos hopes to sell hundreds or thousands of the UAS at a price point of $2-3 million each, `allowing future fighters to distribute strike and surveillance tasks to unmanned wingmen. Although Boeing has similar objectives for the Airpower Teaming System unveiled in Australia, DeMarco says the XQ-58A is designed with a very different philosophy...

DARPA Awards Raytheon Contract For 2nd TBG Hypersonic Weapon

DARPA has awarded Raytheon a $63.3 million contract “to further develop the Tactical Boost Glide [TBG] hypersonic weapons program.”

The funding includes a critical design review for the joint DARPA/U.S. Air Force program.

Raytheon, now the second company on the TBG program, also has released a new artist’s impression of its concept that, while likely still notional, shows significant changes from its earlier design image.

TBG is developing technology for an air-launched, tactical-range, hypersonic weapon that sits in capability terms between the Air Force’s rocket-boosted Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon (HCSW) and DARPA’s scramjet-powered Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC).

Where the HCSW (pronounced Hacksaw) will have a conical glide body derived from the Army’s Advanced Hypersonic Weapon, and based on Sandia National Laboratory’s Swerve winged reentry vehicle, TBG is developing a wedge-shaped glide body with higher lift-to-drag ratio for increased range.

In competition with Raytheon, Lockheed Martin in 2016 was awarded a $147 million DARPA contract to develop and flight-test the 500-nm-range TBG. At the time, this was described as the sole contract for the demonstration phase...


U.S. Bombardments Are Driving Somalis From Their Homes

Airstrikes on al-Shabab have tripled under Trump.

MOGADISHU—A rise in U.S. airstrikes on parts of Somalia over the past two years has prompted increasing numbers of civilians to flee their homes and exacerbated a humanitarian crisis fueled by years of war and extreme weather.

Some 450,000 people have been displaced from al-Shabab strongholds in the Lower and Middle Shabelle regions that frame Mogadishu, the coastal capital, where the United States is responsible for air operations, according to nongovernmental organizations and United Nations agencies that operate in the area—with a noted increase in the numbers since 2017.

Overall 320,000 Somalis fled conflict and insecurity (an umbrella term that includes airstrikes) in 2018, the highest in four years, according to recently released figures from the U.N.’s Protection and Return Monitoring Network. The U.N. and aid agencies do not differentiate between airstrikes and other violent incidents when calculating displacement figures.

The U.S. Africa Command has been conducting airstrikes in Somalia since 2007, targeting the al Qaeda cell al-Shabab—Africa’s most effective fundamentalist group—which is fighting the internationally supported federal government. During Donald Trump’s presidency, the U.S. strikes have tripled, according to public figures confirmed by the Department of Defense.

Across the country, more than 2 million people have been displaced by violence that has lasted more than two decades.

Al-Shabab is said to be responsible for a 2017 attack that killed between 500 and 1,000 people at a busy traffic junction in Mogadishu, and, more recently, the deaths of at least 21 people at a hotel in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. It controls swaths of the Somali countryside, and has infiltrated Mogadishu, where it regularly carries out bombings in government buildings, crowded restaurants, and hotels. The group regularly claims responsibility for assassinating civil servants.

U.S. military officials maintain that no civilians have been killed in the airstrikes over the past 12 years, but Somalis say that is not the case...

...In March 2017, the New York Times reported that Trump signed a directive designating swaths of Somalia as “active hostilities” areas for at least 180 days. The declaration permitted U.S. forces to target anyone deemed to be affiliated with al-Shabab, whether or not they posed a direct threat to the United States. According to the report, decisions could be made with less interagency vetting. This move purportedly gave Africom greater autonomy and flexibility to attack al-Shabab quickly, which top officers had been requesting.

That same month, the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump had given the CIA permission to launch its own drone strikes. Previously the agency had gathered intelligence and shared it with the military, which conducted the actual strike. It is not known if the CIA has its own air program in Somalia.

The Pentagon reported conducting 45 so-called precision strikes in Somalia in 2018, an increase from 14 in 2016 and 35 in 2017. In 2019, Africom has announced more than a dozen strikes on its website...


India’s Dogfight Loss Could Be a Win for U.S. Weapons-Makers

Boeing and Lockheed Martin are vying for India’s long-delayed fighter replacement program.

The pilot ejected safely into Pakistani territory and was captured by the Pakistan Army. Islamabad released the airman a couple days later in an effort to de-escalate a crisis that began when a Pakistan-based militant group killed more than 40 Indian security officers in a Feb. 14 suicide bombing in India-controlled Kashmir.

The loss of the jet shines a light on India’s aging military and may lend new urgency to New Delhi’s long-delayed fighter replacement program, analysts said. The renewed focus would be a boon for the U.S. aerospace giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin, which are eyeing the lucrative contract for more than 100 airplanes. In addition to the immediate cash value for whichever company wins the work, India’s fighter replacement also offers Boeing and Lockheed the opportunity to extend the production of legacy systems that are reaching the end of their service lives.

“It is hard to sell a front-line fighter to a country that isn’t threatened,” said Loren Thompson, an analyst with the Lexington Institute. “Boeing and Lockheed Martin both have a better chance of selling now because suddenly India feels threatened.”

Still, analysts noted India’s poor track record of moving quickly on defense acquisition programs. The shootdown may accelerate the recapitalization, said Byron Callan of Capital Alpha Partners, but “India must have known they have an aged fighter problem for a long time.”

The circumstances around the incident itself remain murky. India claims—and several news outlets have reported—that an aerial battle took place, an exceedingly rare event in modern warfare, during which the MiG-21 first shot down a U.S.-made Pakistani F-16, before itself taking a missile hit. Both nations have technologically diverse air forces, and the skirmish involved U.S.-, European-, Russian-, and Chinese-made jets. The Telegraph reported that India’s 1980s-era French-built Mirage 2000s and much newer Russian-made Su-30 MKIs, first flown in the early 2000s, were present, along with Pakistani F-16s, French-made Mirage IIIs, and Chinese-made JF-17s.

For its part, Pakistan denies that its jet was shot down or that it used F-16s at all. Other reports, citing unnamed sources, said a JF-17 scored the shootdown. Still, the remnants of an AIM-120 missile, which the Indian government displayed publicly, do seem to indicate that F-16s were involved, as that jet is the only one in the vicinity that can shoot that particular missile...








In China's Backyard, Charting the Course of Most Advantage

- In the mounting great power competition between the United States and China, both countries will strive to build influence among the smaller powers of Southeast Asia.

- Southeast Asian nations, however, will not fall into neat Chinese or U.S. spheres, instead playing the middle to gain advantages from both.

- This fits the strategy many pursued during the Cold War and, in the new great power arena, they will find it easier to preserve greater autonomy.

The growing great power competition between the United States and China has assumed center stage in Asia, where the Chinese push to build out a buffer in the land and maritime domains in its near-abroad is running up against the U.S. desire to maintain its dominant role in the region. The smaller states along the rims of the Western Pacific and Indian oceans, in particular, have become arenas of competition between Washington and Beijing, and in Southeast Asia, long the maritime and terrestrial crossroads of empire in the Indo-Pacific, their contest has reached a robust and deep level. The U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy hinges on enlisting the support of these smaller powers. China has countered by using its Belt and Road Initiative to specifically target these middle players in hopes of forging deeper economic and strategic ties.

The Big Picture
Stratfor has long tracked the burgeoning great power competition between China and the United States, particularly as it plays out in China's backyard — Southeast Asia. As their competition mounts, the region's lesser powers will seek to avoid being co-opted by either side and instead pursue autonomy — and wring advantage from both.

But as much as the United States and China would prize a stable of stalwart Southeast Asian partners, countries in the region have other agendas, making a future bipolar world composed of unipolar U.S. and Chinese blocs unlikely. Instead, Southeast Asian countries will tactically align with the great powers only when it suits their needs. And in doing so, they will choose the available option with the fewest strings possible. As Indonesian founding father Sukarno said in 1965, explaining the perspective of the newly emerging Southeast Asian states: "We want to be free — completely free. Free to be free. We want to be left alone."

Of course, it's impossible to truly fulfill a country's desire to be left alone — particularly so for smaller powers always in need, to some degree, of the benefits of a relationship with a great power. Even during the seemingly zero-sum competition of the Cold War, most countries in Southeast Asia managed to find room to maneuver among the clashing titans from East and West. And, in the current configuration of global power, ambiguity, overlap and limited alignments will be the rule...







North Korea’s Sohae Satellite Launch Facility: Normal Operations May Have Resumed 
A 38 North exclusive with analysis by Jack Liu, Irv Buck and Jenny Town
Figure 1. Partially dismantled transfer structure
appears to be rebuilt and operational.

Commercial satellite imagery from March 6 of North Korea’s Sohae Satellite Launching Station (Tongchang-ri) indicates construction to rebuild the launch pad and engine test stand that began before the Hanoi Summit has continued at a rapid pace. Given that construction plus activity at other areas of the site, Sohae appears to have returned to normal operational status.

At the launch pad, work on the rail-mounted transfer structure appears to have been completed by March 6 and the structure may now be operational. The cranes have been removed from the pad and the overhead trusses that were being installed on the roof have been covered. The mobile structure is now situated at the far end of the launch pad adjacent to the checkout building.

Several vehicles are parked near the gantry tower and the exhaust pit and debris remains on the launch pad to be cleaned up.
Figure 2. Rebuilding continues at the engine test stand.

At the engine test stand, poor imagery resolution prevents a clear assessment. However, progress has been made on rebuilding the support structure for the stand, the materials that were there as of March 2 are now gone and debris remains littered across the service apron.

Figure 2. Rebuilding continues at the engine test stand.

Image Pleiades © CNES 2019, Distribution Airbus DS. For media options, please contact thirtyeightnorth@gmail.com.
At other areas of the site, activity has also picked up. Vehicles can be seen at the horizontal assembly building and the security administration building. There is also a vehicle parked near the observation building. It is not possible to determine the purpose of these vehicles.

A Snapshot of North Korea’s Supply Chain Coal Activity

The August 2017 UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2371 was the most recent resolution passed that placed a number of sanctions against North Korea, probably the most critical of which was against its coal export industry. Rich in a number of natural resources, coal and limestone yield the most in mining tonnage each year, but arguably, coal has provided the greatest source of currency to the economically struggling nation. What imagery reveals about the country’s coal production and distribution is an important piece to understanding the state and health of North Korea’s coal industry.

North Korea is heavily dependent on its natural resources for both its domestic energy production and trade for foreign currency. Of its many resources, mining plays a critical role, and coal is the dominant ore in terms of production. For many years, China has been the North’s largest foreign consumer, accounting for approximately 40% of the DPRK’s coal export market. However, now with a series of UNSC sanctions in place, the market dynamic for this resource has dramatically changed for North Korea.

Monitoring North Korea’s coal activity requires context and a timeline of key events to understand what is seen on imagery. In 2015, China stopped importing the North’s anthracite coal due to its high sulfur content. This was, in part, an effort to help reduce its air pollution levels. Within a few months, however, coal imports began to flow again, but with tighter quality inspections.T


Don’t Believe the Russian Hype

Moscow’s missile capabilities in the Baltic Sea region are not nearly as dangerous as they seem.

Since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Russia’s potential to seize territory in its near abroad and prevent NATO from reinforcing the victim of the aggression has become a source of alarm. If there is ever such a land-grab operation against one of the Baltic States, it is feared, Russia could use its military might and geographic position to create a “no-go zone” and keep NATO reinforcements from reaching the annexed territory in time by cordoning off the theater of operations. This could be done using a combination of long-range anti-air, anti-ship, and anti-land missile systems, known in military jargon as an anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capability. After Russia’s attack on Ukraine in 2014, Western defense officials began to worry about their ability to operate within the reach of Russia’s missile systems

The possible implications of Russian A2/AD capabilities were felt most acutely in the Baltic Sea region, where NATO reinforcements to Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania could be stopped by missiles from the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad sandwiched between northern Poland and Lithuania. Similarly, Russia’s presence there could stymie the use of Western air power in the region. In Sweden, there are fears that Russia, in a crisis or war, might grab the island of Gotland—located about 120 miles from Stockholm and 220 miles north of Kaliningrad—and deploy missile systems there to seal off access to the Baltic States. Until 2016, the island was de facto demilitarized, whereas today there is a mechanized company of some 150 Swedish soldiers protecting the island...




First phase of US missile system sale to Saudi Arabia moves forward
(CNN) — The first phase of Saudi Arabia's long awaited purchase of an advanced US missile defense system has been finalized with the formal awarding of a contract on Monday.

Lockheed Martin was awarded a contract for Phase I "long lead items" of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system, to include early engineering development, test equipment, key personnel and initial training development, according to a statement from the Pentagon.

The Defense Department said the first phase of the contract will cost $945,900,000.

The State Department had previously estimated the cost of the entire THAAD sale to be $15 billion.

President Donald Trump included the THAAD purchase in his list of proposed $110 billion in arm sales that he touted during his 2017 meeting with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

The list was a memorandum of intent to fulfill nearly $110 billion in arms sales over the next 10 years. What the Pentagon announced Monday is the first installment on the THAAD sale...


As Trump and Kim Met, North Korean Hackers Hit Over 100 Targets in U.S. and Ally Nations

North Korean hackers targeted banks, utilities and energy companies in the United States and Europe over the last 18 months, according to the security firm McAfee. New York, a financial hub, was a major target.Todd Heisler/The New York Times

North Korean hackers targeted banks, utilities and energy companies in the United States and Europe over the last 18 months, according to the security firm McAfee. New York, a financial hub, was a major target.Todd Heisler/The New York Times
SAN FRANCISCO — North Korean hackers who have targeted American and European businesses for 18 months kept up their attacks last week even as President Trump was meeting with North Korea’s leader in Hanoi.

The attacks, which include efforts to hack into banks, utilities and oil and gas companies, began in 2017, according to researchers at the cybersecurity company McAfee, a time when tensions between North Korea and the United States were flaring. But even though both sides have toned down their fiery threats and begun nuclear disarmament talks, the attacks persist.

In 2017, Mr. Trump mocked Kim Jong-un as “rocket man” in a speech at the United Nations, while North Korea tested missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the United States. The attacks began soon after that. Though the two sides failed to reach an agreement last week, Mr. Trump struck a conciliatory tone toward his North Korean counterpart.

The revelation of North Korea’s most recent hacking activity adds new details to the tensions surrounding the summit meeting last week, which ended abruptly without any deals. After their first meeting, about eight months earlier, North Korea had agreed to stop test-firing its missiles.

“For 15 months, they haven’t tested weapons because of this negotiation but over those same 15 months they have not stopped their cyber activity,” said Victor Cha, the Korea chairman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington...


To Woo a Skeptical Trump, Intelligence Chiefs Talk Economics Instead of Spies

WASHINGTON — Intelligence officials who brief the president have warned him about Chinese espionage in bottom-line business terms. They have used Black Sea shipping figures to demonstrate the effect of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. And they have filled the daily threat briefing with charts and graphs of economic data.

In an effort to accommodate President Trump, who has attacked them publicly as “naïve” and in need of going “back to school,” the nation’s intelligence agencies have revamped their presentations to focus on subjects their No. 1 customer wants to hear about — economics and trade.

Intelligence officers, steeped in how Mr. Trump views the world, now work to answer his repeated question: Who is winning? What the president wants to know, according to former officials, is what country is making more money or gaining a financial advantage.

While the professionals do not criticize Mr. Trump’s focus, they do question whether those interests are crowding out intelligence on threats like terrorism and the maneuvers of traditional adversaries, developments with foreign militaries or geopolitical events with international implications.

“If Trump tailors it to his needs, that is fine and his prerogative,” Douglas H. Wise, a career C.I.A. official and a former top deputy at the Defense Intelligence Agency, said of the daily briefing. “However, if he suppresses intelligence through that tailoring, that is not helpful. He is no longer making informed decisions because he is making decisions based on information he could have had but didn’t have...”


Satellite images show buildings still standing at Indian bombing site

NEW DELHI/SINGAPORE (Reuters) - High-resolution satellite images reviewed by Reuters show that a religious school run by Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) in northeastern Pakistan appears to be still standing days after India claimed its warplanes had hit the Islamist group’s training camp on the site and killed a large number of militants.

The images produced by Planet Labs Inc, a San Francisco-based private satellite operator, show at least six buildings on the madrasa site on March 4, six days after the airstrike.
Until now, no high-resolution satellite images were publicly available. But the images from Planet Labs, which show details as small as 72 cm (28 inches), offer a clearer look at the structures the Indian government said it attacked.

The image is virtually unchanged from an April 2018 satellite photo of the facility. There are no discernible holes in the roofs of buildings, no signs of scorching, blown-out walls, displaced trees around the madrasa or other signs of an aerial attack.

The images cast further doubt on statements made over the last eight days by the Indian government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the raids, early on Feb. 26, had hit all the intended targets at the madrasa site near Jaba village and the town of Balakot in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

India’s foreign and defense ministries did not reply to emailed questions sent in the past few days seeking comment on what is shown in the satellite images and whether they undermine its official statements on the airstrikes...



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