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Sunday, February 16, 2020

What's going on in the World Today 200217




Spray planes combat the huge locust outbreak in East Africa


It is challenging work, especially in remote areas where mobile phone signals are absent and ground crews cannot quickly communicate coordinates to flight teams.

The ground crews are in “the most woeful terrains,” Marcus Dunn, a pilot and the director at Farmland Aviation, said Saturday. “If there is no network, then the fellow on a boda boda (motorcycle), he has to rush off now and go and get a network.”

Just five planes are currently spraying as Kenyan and other authorities try to stop the locusts from spreading to neighboring Uganda and South Sudan. The United Nations has said $76 million is needed immediately to widen such efforts across East Africa.

A fast response is crucial. Experts warn that if left unchecked, the number of locusts could grow by 500 times by June, when drier weather will help bring the outbreak under control...

In Libya, Hifter Plays the Oil Card


- The recent Berlin peace conference produced few tangible results and no significant progress on resolving Libya's conflict, meaning the country remains months, if not years, away from a meaningful political solution to its civil war.

- In the short term, LNA leader Khalifa Hifter is unlikely to keep Libya's oil exports offline for more than a few weeks, but production outages could become more frequent or longer.

- In the longer term, the closer Libya gets to a more permanent cease-fire, the greater the chance that actors like Hifter could use their power over the oil sector to extract concessions.

Just hours before global powers kicked off a Jan. 19 conference in Berlin to discuss ways to end Libya's conflict, one of the war's major parties, the Libyan National Army, made a major announcement: It was closing the country's five oil export terminals in eastern Libya. Not long after, the LNA shut off a key pipeline connecting Libya's two main oil fields in western Libya to ports. If the closures continue, they could torpedo Libya's oil production from approximately 1.15 million barrels per day to less than 75,000 b/d.

Eventually, the LNA and its leader, Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter, are likely to come under enough pressure that they will bring the country's production back online. More crucially for Libya, however, the merely modest progress at the Berlin peace conference shows that the country remains months away from any meaningful political solution to its civil war. And ironically, if the country does edge closer to a peace settlement, its energy exports are likely to become more volatile as the LNA tries to play its most powerful card — control of the country's oil flows — in any talks with the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord...


Japan: Tokyo Unveils Space Defense Plans Jan 22, 2020

What Happened: Japan has announced plans to create a space defense unit to enhance its ability to detect and counter threats, Defense News reported Jan. 21.

Why It Matters: Japan's decision comes as China, Russia and North Korea have all made strides in their military capabilities. The move also reflects Tokyo's intention to enhance its coordination and interoperability with the United States on space policy.

Background: Japan has been focusing on its space capabilities in recent years, particularly through the establishment of a constellation of electro-optical and radar satellites to improve intelligence collection.

Japan Modernizes Its Air Force, but Will It Be Enough?


- Japan is accelerating the buildup of its offensive capabilities as part of its military normalization process, with its air force at the forefront of the effort.

- The newly acquired JASDF offensive capabilities will greatly enhance Japan's flexibility and independence in its defense.

- A multiplicity of threats and a struggling domestic defense industry will continue to pose challenges for Japan.

Japan is accelerating its military normalization process by building up its offensive capabilities, especially those of its Japanese Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF). As a part of that push, the United States on Oct. 29 granted Japan's request for a major upgrade to its F-15J fighter aircraft. Installing advanced radar and cruise missile capability on 98 JASDF jets will mark a crucial step in Japan's move away from its post-World War II pacifist stance. And while the upgrades will enhance Tokyo's options, maintaining Japanese national defense as the country's aerospace industry declines and the regional threat environment — including an expanding Chinese military — becomes more complex will become increasingly difficult...


European States Plan For Hypersonic Defense

Tony Osborne January 10, 2020

The complex nature of intercepting hypersonic weapons may predicate air-breathing propulsion technologies to provide additional range, speed and energy.

European countries have linked arms to develop a counter to the emerging threat of hypersonic weapons and enhance their ballistic missile defense (BMD) capabilities.

Twister has been given backing by an EU PESCO initiative MBDA is investing in engagement planning for unpredictable targets

The Timely Warning and Interception with Space-based TheatER surveillance (Twister) project, led by France and supported by Finland, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain, is one of 13 new multinational programs that were given the backing of the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) initiative in November. It says it aims to develop a European system that can “detect, track and counter” more complex missile threats and give member nations a “self-standing ability to contribute to NATO’s ballistic missile defense.”

Currently, only a handful of European nations can counter ballistic missiles, including European users of the Raytheon Patriot (Germany, Greece, the Netherlands and Spain), as well as France and Italy with the Eurosam SAMP/T. But none of those systems is ready to deal with the new generation of threats emerging from Russia and China, including hypersonic gliders, hypersonic and high-supersonic cruise missiles, and maneuverable next-generation combat aircraft...

A New Gas Transit Deal Won't Keep Ukraine and Russia Together for Long

In the future, gas transit deals between Ukraine and Russia could have less ability to keep the countries' tensions in check.


- As part of a new, five-year gas transit agreement, Russia will gradually reduce its use of Ukrainian pipeline infrastructure over ramping up domestic gas production and searching for alternative routes for imports.

- The transit relationship has, in general, kept a lid on tensions in eastern Ukraine, but now that the importance of natural gas is
waning in the Russian-Ukrainian relationship, bilateral tensions could rise once more.

For the short term at least, Ukrainians and Europeans won't have to worry about shelling out more to heat their homes this winter. An eleventh-hour extension to an energy transit agreement will guarantee the continued flow of natural gas from Russia to Europe through Ukraine over the next five years, but there is little indication that the current deal will presage longer-term cooperation between Moscow and Kyiv. Indeed, lingering distrust between the two capitals will lead Ukraine down the path of producing its own natural gas to achieve self-sufficiency in the longer term, while Russia will strive to shift shipments to pipelines in the Baltic and Black seas that don't present as much of a political nuisance. Ultimately, the emergence of other transit routes will reduce the calming effect that natural gas transit deals have had on the two countries' larger political disputes over hot-button issues like Crimea, eastern Ukraine and more...


Why Don't Mexico's Cartels Use Vehicle Bombs?

Scott Stewart
VP of Tactical Analysis, Stratfor
Jan 14, 2020


- Mexican cartels have the means, motive and opportunity to deploy car bombs, but two main constraints prevent them from doing so.

- The first is the indiscriminate nature of vehicle bombs and the destruction they cause, which would alienate the local populations essential to the cartels' ability to operate.

- The second is a desire to avoid winding up like the late Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, who was tracked down and killed after being labeled a narcoterrorist.

Mexico's cartels have long eschewed using vehicle bombs for fear of the consequences of doing so. And yet many media outlets said they did on Nov. 7, 2019, when a Mexican explosive ordnance disposal unit deactivated a small bomb left on the front seat of a vehicle parked on a street in the city of Apaseo el Alto, in Mexico's Guanajuato state. The bomb was a small, low-explosive charge wrapped in tape and shopping bags. It was round and resembled a commercial firework mortar bomb that, judging from a sports drink bottle left in the vehicle, was approximately 20 centimeters (about 8 inches) in diameter. What appears to be a remote receiver was taped to the top of the ball; a wire led from the receiver into the ball that presumably led to a squib or other electrical detonator...






Iran Celebrates Its Revolution. Iran will be holding 10 days of celebrations from Feb. 1 to Feb. 11 to mark the anniversary of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's return to Iran in 1979 and the Islamic Revolution. For Iran, the annual celebration is chock-full of propaganda and a display of the country's achievements, including its military might. This year's celebration will likely be more over the top than usual given that it is the first since Iran began its aggressive campaign against the United States and increased its nuclear activity last May. Already Iran is planning for an attempted satellite launch, but we should expect it to unveil more new missiles and missile defense equipment and conduct missile tests as a show of force against the United States and its regional partners.

Iran Is Still Playing the Long Game


- Iran is caught between two imperatives that have proved difficult to balance: The need to continue its aggressive regional strategy to counter the United States and the need to eventually obtain sanctions relief from Washington.

- Iran had no choice but to overtly respond to the U.S. decision to kill Gen. Qassem Soleimani, but it is likely to now return to a strategy of calculated brinkmanship rather than outright attacks on U.S. forces.

- Iran will seek to undermine the U.S. relationship with Iraq, which could culminate with Washington withdrawing forces from the region.

If the Islamic Republic of Iran has had one consistent goal since 1979, it's been survival; since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has essentially existed in crisis management mode, whether it's been fighting Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq War or weathering the latest U.S. sanctions. Today, there are two interlinked issues that Iran views as essential to its long-term survival: Its economic health and its regional strategy in Iraq and the Levant...




Israel: IDF Strikes Targets in Gaza Strip After Rocket Launches

Jan 31, 2020 | 13:41 GMT
What Happened: The Israel Defense Forces have conducted airstrikes against several targets in the Gaza Strip after three projectiles were launched from the region into southern Israel, Haaretz reported Jan. 31. Authorities have not reported any casualties as a result of the rocket fire or the retaliatory strikes so far, and no group has claimed responsibility for launching the projectiles.

Why It Matters: The launches mark the latest in a series of small-scale attacks, which have included incendiary balloons, mortars and rockets, from Gaza into southern Israel since the United States announced its contentious Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. The risk of additional launches remains high over the weekend, which could cause various disruptions in Gaza and southern Israel. Attacks that result in civilian casualties, meanwhile, could set the stage for further escalation.

Background: Israel and Hamas worked to secure a fragile cease-fire agreement over the last year, although the past months included several flare-ups of violence, including a large-scale military exchange in November 2019. Hamas forcefully rejected the U.S.-proposed peace plan and said all options remained available in responding to the suggestions.




An Aging Workforce Dims Russia’s Economic Forecast

Sim Tack,Global Analyst , Stratfor, Jan 23, 2020 | 10:00 GMT

People walk down a busy street in Moscow. Russia's aging workforce will greatly suppress the country's economic growth over the next decade.


- By 2036, the number of young adults living in Russia is expected to rapidly decline just as the largest segment of its population approaches retirement.

- Moscow's move to extend retirement ages will sustain the size of Russia's labor market in the short term, though it ultimately will make its workforce older, less efficient and less productive.

- In the long term, Russia's aging labor force will severely restrict its potential for economic growth, which could compel Russia to seek out new economic relations, as well as exercise more constraint toward the West.

Russia's population has long been projected to shrink in the coming decades due to high emigration and low birth rates. But recent projections forecast an even faster reduction than previously anticipated, raising new concerns over the severity of the country's demographic decline and the potential impact on the Russian economy. For now, extended retirement ages and an upcoming boom of young workers will help Moscow temporarily manage the effects of its demographic decline — though that won't keep Russia from hemorrhaging the high-quality workers needed to keep its economy chugging in the meantime...

New Russian Lightweight Air-Launched Missile Revealed

GDANSK, Poland—The Russian Navy displayed a model of a new small missile during a Jan. 9 meeting in Sevastopol attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Joint Small-sized Modular Aviation Weapon, (Mezhvidovoye Malogabaritnoye Modulnoye Aviatsionnoye Sredstvo Porazheniya, or MMM ASP), according to the descriptive plate on the model, is being made to defeat “fuel depots, manpower, various naval surface targets, strongholds, aircraft and helicopters at the base site.”

Russia Takes a Hard Approach to Soft Power

Kseniya Kirillova Board of Contributors Jan 22, 2020


- In exerting its soft power, Russia is not only trying to portray itself in a good light but also spread illusory fears, phobias and hatred in countries it sees as a threat.

- Moscow, however, cannot sow discord out of thin air; instead, it seeks to exploit existing divisions in Western countries.

- If Western nations are going to try and popularize their values in Russia, they would do well to consider whether their efforts will be immediately discredited by Kremlin propaganda.

For all its prodigious hard power, Russia's soft power is no trifling matter. In recent years, the Kremlin has resorted to plenty of channels to undermine Western democracies by spreading propaganda — including false-flag operations and other "information operations" — bribing officials and politicians, cultivating corrupt ties through business lobbies and immigrant organizations, targeting specific (often radical) segments of the population with carefully tailored ideologies and making special attempts to sow friction, disagreement and conflict.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his propaganda machine have successfully convinced the population that any intimidation and crimes by authorities are justified by the unprecedented "external threat" facing Russia. They claim that the United States is to blame for all that Russia does today because they have organized color revolutions along the Russian border, developed fifth columns and so on. Russia, accordingly, is merely trying to prove that its actions are a "mirror image" of Western foreign policy. But how does Russia go about projecting its soft power, and how might Western states respond — all while avoiding taking the same path as Moscow?..."


US expands troop, fighter jet presence at Saudi base:

US expands troop, fighter jet presence at Saudi base
Lolita C. Baldor, The Associated Press

PRINCE SULTAN AIR BASE, Saudi Arabia — Across the vast expanse of this desert air base, hundreds of tents have popped up and F-15E fighters from the recently arrived 494th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron line the tarmac, flying daily missions over Iraq and Syria. Off in the distance, two American Patriot missile batteries are scanning the skies, prepared to knock down any Iranian attack against the Saudi kingdom.

The U.S. troop presence here has grown to roughly 2,500 since last summer, when the U.S. announced it had begun deploying forces to what once was a major U.S. military hub. The return of U.S. forces to Prince Sultan Air Base is one of the more dramatic signs of America’s decision to beef up troops in the Middle East in response to threats from Iran. The Strike Eagles of the 494th, the “Mighty Black Panthers,” deployed from RAF Lakenheath, England, are capable of executing strategic attack, interdiction and counter-air missions.

On Wednesday, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East spent a few hours meeting with his commanders and troops here, assessing what he called a “sweet spot” of U.S. force projection in the region...


The Growing Power and Threat of Government-Imposed Internet Blackouts


- The government of Iran has shut off access to the internet in most of the country amid recent protests, a tactic also used to control civil unrest in India, Ethiopia, Iraq and Sudan.

- Such restrictions are aimed at preventing protesters from organizing, halting the spread of misinformation, quelling communal violence and even obstructing communications among coup plotters.

- Governments are likely to continue to use internet blackouts for the foreseeable future, especially as they gain more control over internet and mobile networks.

Amid the recent bout of nationwide protests in Iran, government-enforced blackouts have taken more than 90 percent of the country's internet offline and blocked most Iranians from communicating with the outside world. The move has drawn substantial international media attention, and #Internet4Iran has been a worldwide trending topic on Twitter. Tehran blocked the internet during protests in late 2017 and early 2018, but the scale of the current blackouts is unprecedented in Iran. The government has been working toward greater control of its networks by building an intranet, similar to what China and Russia have done or plan to do. With it, Tehran can also block external influence. Such internal networks give governments more power when shutting down internet connections — permitting local services to continue while cutting off access to external networks and channels...


When Espionage Skills Are for Sale, So Is Your Security

Scott Stewart
VP of Tactical Analysis, Stratfor Oct 22, 2019


- Anyone with the intent, interest and budget to buy espionage tools and expertise can now acquire the capability to steal a specific piece of information.
- It can thus be presumed that any national intelligence agency, large corporation or organized crime group can access whatever data they deem valuable enough to pay for.

Reports emerged Oct. 16 that UAE-based cybersecurity company DarkMatter recruited officers who had previously worked for Israel's elite cyber intelligence outfit, Unit 8200. Interestingly, the story also noted that many of the Unit 8200 personnel had first worked at the Israeli cybersecurity company NSO Group before reportedly departing the company for larger salaries at DarkMatter. Both NSO Group and DarkMatter have generated a great deal of media coverage for allegedly arming governments with intelligence tools to spy on potential dissidents and journalists, among other targets. These cases, however, undoubtedly only scratch the surface of a much larger threat — that is, the increasing proliferation of intelligence tools and skills on the open market. Today, more actors than ever can purchase advanced intelligence capabilities, forcing us to reconsider the way we think about, analyze and protect against corporate espionage threats...

Lessons Learned From a Saudi Spy Case at Twitter

Scott Stewart
VP of Tactical Analysis, Stratfor Nov 12, 2019


- New charges against two former Twitter employees whom Saudi Arabia recruited for spying purposes demonstrate the need for companies to keep tight control on which employees are able to access what kind of information and more.

- In this specific case, Riyadh was not chasing critical business secrets, but user data for a specific group of Twitter accounts.
The case illustrates that the threat of old-fashioned human intelligence remains potent, as Riyadh wished to recruit insiders, rather than hack Twitter.

In an age in which cybersecurity is top-notch, sometimes all it takes for hostile intelligence to gain a treasure trove of information is some old-fashioned espionage tradecraft — like finding an insider. In a criminal complaint filed Nov. 5 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, the FBI accused two former Twitter employees and a third man of acting as agents of the Saudi government in the United States without declaring themselves. Two of the men, Ali Alzabarah and Ahmed Almutairi, are Saudi citizens, while the other, Ahmad Abouammo, is a U.S. citizen of Saudi descent. The men are charged with helping the Saudi government identify political dissidents and others on the social media platform who were critical of the government and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman...


'See Something, Say Something' Still Works. Here's Why.

Scott Stewart
VP of Tactical Analysis, Stratfor Dec 31, 2019

Some have criticized the U.S. government's "see something, say something" program. Citizen reports, however, have helped thwart many would-be massacres over the past year.


- Attackers come in all shapes and sizes, but their actions are often predictable and detectable.

- Identifying and reporting these actions, as well as other suspicious behaviors, allows authorities to investigate and determine whether they're innocuous or sinister.

- This is why the "see something, say something" doctrine has proven time and again to be effective in stopping potential attacks in their tracks.

According to a database compiled by AP, USA Today and Northeastern University, more mass killings occurred in the United States in 2019 than in any year since at least the 1970s. While concerning, this record is unfortunately not surprising given the recent uptick of public attacks in the country. But the number of such attacks in 2019 would have been far higher had it not been for citizens adhering to the "see something, say something" principle. Indeed, in December alone, several mass shootings were apparently thwarted by good Samaritans who alerted authorities to the potential attacks...

What Happens To Space Tourism If There Is A Fatal Accident?

Michael Bruno December 31, 2019

Next year is likely to herald the dawn of routine space tourism, with Virgin Galactic anticipating its first commercial launch in 2020. One goal of billionaire-backed upstarts such as Virgin, Blue Origin and others is to make orbital experiences as common for paying passengers as flying on an airliner.

But as the Dec. 20 timer glitch that kept Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft from reaching its intended rendezvous with the International Space Station proves, even an unmanned space mission that goes wrong can generate big headlines these days. So, what happens to a business that provides space tourism if a tragic, fatal mishap occurs, especially in the beginning of operations? Investors want to know and, to a degree, publicly traded and regulated companies such as Virgin Galactic need to have a response ready, because it is a key business risk.

Virgin Galactic has responded, saying balancing risk with shareholder reward is part of the business and investors and customers are being made aware of all the risks (AW&ST Nov. 11-24, 2019, p. 47). Of course, Virgin Galactic’s supplier Scaled Composites already had a fatal crash in 2014 when one pilot died. But that was in a testing phase, and investors want to know about business prospects now as Virgin Galactic prepares for launching commercial service. In turn, financial analysts are weighing in.

Opinions are divergent, with practically all analysts acknowledging that a bad accident with a death toll has the potential to shut down Virgin Galactic. “A major accident could slow or close the business, or cause demand to decline significantly,” Credit Suisse analyst Rob Spingarn and his team said in November. “A catastrophic accident could leave the company valueless, in our view...”

How New B-21 Stealth Bomber Compares To B-2A

A new rendering of the Northrop Grumman B-21A released by the U.S. Air Force Jan. 31 offers a fresh perspective on the overall size and features of the highly secretive stealth bomber, revealing an aircraft that, as expected, broadly resembles the B-2A but with several important differences.

Some analysts have speculated the Air Force wanted a new bomber about two-thirds the size of the B-2A, and the rendering appear to back up those estimates. Tellingly, the images show a single-truck main landing gear for the B-21, indicating an aircraft significantly lighter than the B-2, which requires a double-truck gear.

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