Situation Report

FP’s Situation Report: A secret spy plane, unmasked; Why Syria’s chemical deadline won’t be met; 4th woman police officer killed in Afg; Remembering Mandela; Benghazi, a no-go zone?; and a bit more.

FP’s Situation Report: A secret spy plane, unmasked; Why Syria’s chemical deadline won’t be met; 4th woman police officer killed in Afg; Remembering Mandela; Benghazi, a no-go zone?; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Out of the sky: Aviation Week unmasks a secret spy plane program that’ll fly at Area 51. AvWeek’s Amy Butler and Bill Sweetman: "A large, classified unmanned aircraft developed by Northrop Grumman is now flying-and it demonstrates a major advance in combining stealth and aerodynamic efficiency. Defense and intelligence officials say the secret unmanned aerial system (UAS), designed for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions, is scheduled to enter production for the U.S. Air Force and could be operational by 2015. Funded through the Air Force’s classified budget, the program to build this new UAS, dubbed the RQ-180, was awarded to Northrop Grumman after a competition that included Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The aircraft will conduct the penetrating ISR mission that has been left unaddressed, and under wide debate, since retirement of the Lockheed SR-71 in 1998.

"Neither the Air Force nor Northrop Grumman would speak about the classified airplane… The RQ-180 carries radio-frequency sensors such as active, electronically scanned array radar and passive electronic surveillance measures, according to one defense official. It could also be capable of electronic attack missions. This aircraft’s design is key for the shift of Air Force ISR assets away from "permissive" environments-such as Iraq and Afghanistan, where Northrop Grumman’s non-stealthy Global Hawk and General Atomics’ Reaper operate-and toward operations in ‘contested’ or ‘denied’ airspace. The new UAS underpins the Air Force’s determination to retire a version of the RQ-4B Global Hawk after 2014, despite congressional resistance…Beyond the financial disclosures, publicly available overhead imagery shows new shelters and hangars sized for an aircraft with a 130-ft.-plus wing span at Northrop’s Palmdale, Calif., plant and at Area 51, the Air Force’s secure flight-test center at Groom Lake, Nev." Read the rest of this tale, here.

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A "Giant among men" and a sense of loss around the world: The NYT’s Lydia Polgreen and Alan Cowell, reporting from Johannesburg: "When Cliff Rosen awoke on Friday to the news that Nelson Mandela had died, he went out to the field of sunflowers growing in his garden and cut down the tallest one. ‘A special flower for a special man,’ said Mr. Rosen, a 40-year-old urban farmer, as he wired the towering, six-foot stalk to the fence surrounding the spontaneous memorial that has sprung up just outside the home where Mr. Mandela died Thursday night." More here.

"I am fundamentally an optimist." Mandela in pictures: An FP slideshow, here.

Busting deadline: Why Syria’s chemical weapons deadline may never be met. FP’s Colum Lynch and Yochi Dreazen: "The Obama administration and its allies are struggling to find a safe place to store Syria’s chemical weapons after they’ve been shipped out of the country, raising new questions about when the U.S. military will actually begin destroying the deadly munitions.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has set an ambitious Dec. 31 deadline for Syria to hand over the deadliest of its chemical armaments, which are supposed to be packed into roughly 150 shipping containers, driven to the Syrian port city of Latakia, loaded onto Norwegian and Danish cargo ships and then transported to a location outside of Syria. Once there, they will be transferred to an American vessel called the Cape Ray for destruction. Senior American defense officials stressed Thursday that the Cape Ray itself won’t dock at Latakia and that no U.S. personnel would set foot in Syria.

"That, at least, is how the plan is supposed to work in theory. In practice, the effort faces an array of technical, diplomatic, security, and financial challenges…To say it will be a challenge is the grossest of understatements. One dippo familiar with the U.N.’s internal discussions told FP: "I know we have a deadline in three weeks but the operations have not yet started…It’s never going to happen." Read the rest here.

Grim trend: A woman named Massoma is martyred in Afghanistan as the fourth Afghanistan police officer to be killed. The NYT’s Alissa Rubin: "Two gunmen on a motorcycle shot and killed a policewoman in western Afghanistan on Thursday, wounding her daughter and two other family members who were with her. It was the fourth killing of an Afghan policewoman in the last six months." Said Gen. Abdul Rahim Chikhansori, the acting police chief for Nimruz Province to Rubin: ""Her name was Masooma, and she was very active in her job… The enemy of Afghanistan didn’t tolerate her great service and active approach, and unfortunately she was martyred." Masooma was a 48-year-old widow who was the sole breadwinner in her family and took the job out of necessity. Rubin: "Female police officers, especially in more rural areas, are extremely vulnerable. That is partly because there are so few of them that they are easily spotted, and also because of an ingrained cultural resistance to women taking public roles." More here.

Benghazi is increasingly a no-go zone as dangers mount: an American chemistry teacher from Texas was gunned down while he was jogging near his home. The WaPo’s Kevin Sullivan: "An American teacher was shot and killed Thursday while jogging in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, where the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed last year. Ronnie Smith, 33, a Texan, taught chemistry at the International School Benghazi, school officials said." The rest here.

France sends reinforcements into the Central African Republic after clashes in the capital. AP: "French troops rumbled into Central African Republic on Friday, trying to quell violence in the capital a day after armed Christian fighters raided Muslim neighbourhoods, leaving nearly 100 people dead. France began sending reinforcements within hours of a U.N. vote Thursday authorizing its troops to try to stabilize the country. But French officials insisted the mission’s aims are limited — to bring a minimum of security to Bangui, where people now fear to leave their homes, and to support an African-led force." More here.

The Hollande Doctrine, continued: France deploying its soldiers to the Central African Republic boosts the leader’s poll numbers, in The Guardian, here.

52 were killed in the al-Qaida attack on the Yemeni ministry of Defense. AP: "Militants stormed the Defense Ministry in the heart of Yemen’s capital Thursday, killing 52 people, including at least seven foreigners, in a suicide car bombing and assault by gunmen. The brazen attack claimed by al-Qaida’s local branch in Yemen follows a rise in U.S. drone strikes in this key American ally in the Middle East… Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula’s media arm, al-Mallahem, claimed the attack early Friday morning on its Twitter account, saying it targeted the Defense Ministry building because it ‘accommodates drone control rooms and American experts.’ It said security headquarters used by the Americans in their war are ‘legitimate targets.’ It was the deadliest attack in Sanaa since May 2012." More here.

A gradual retreat from the standoff in the Asia Pacific. The WSJ’s Peter Nicholas, Jeremy Page and Yuka Hayashi: "The U.S. and China both signaled they are backing away from a confrontation over China’s new air-defense zone, with both nations moving toward an understanding that the zone won’t be policed in ways that threaten the region or endanger the lives of pilots and passengers. Vice President Joe Biden met with Chinese President Xi Jinping for more than five hours in Beijing on Wednesday to discuss the air-defense zone and other issues. A focus of Mr. Biden in those meetings was to define the "rules of engagement" between China and other nations in the region to prevent a calamity…" More here.

Why China’s build-up is accelerating security ties throughout Asia. Richard Fontaine, Patrick Cronin and Ely Ratner in today’s WSJ: "…Beijing’s attempts to unilaterally change the territorial status quo in Asia is compelling a growing network of regional security ties that is more welcoming to Washington than ever…Often excluding both the United States and China, these new ties are supplementing the traditional U.S.-led ‘hub and spoke’ alliance system that has undergirded Asian security for decades. This emerging Asian power web of ever-closer military cooperation among key countries in the region represents a response to worries about China’s rise and a hedge against any diminution of America’s regional presence. And it is emerging quickly." More here.

Christine Fox had her first day as Acting DepSecDef at the Pentagon yesterday. We’re told that Fox, whose first day as the Pentagon’s No. 2 was yesterday, plunged right in. "Given Secretary Hagel is currently overseas in Bahrain on the first leg of an international trip, Fox led his morning senior staff comprised of OSD and Joint Staff representatives," we’re told by a defense official. "Today Fox will roll up her sleeves and chair a set of high priority meetings focused on programs and the budget."

Hagel is in Bahrain. On the road, Hagel Hagel today visited the Navy’s 5th fleet headquarters in Bahrain and toured the afloat forward staging base USS Ponce. We’re told that he was "impressed by the flexibility this new platform provides the United States military, especially the integration of U.S. Army Apache helicopters aboard a Naval vessel" by a defense official. He told members of the assembled crew and other personnel assigned to the 5th Fleet that the U.S. force posture in the region would not change as a result of the interim deal with Iran. Hagel is in Manama today, where he participates in a series of consultations with a number of regional Gulf partners, including the King and Crown Prince of Bahrain, the Deputy Defense Minister of Saudi Arabia and the Foreign Ministers from both the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

You can’t handle the truth: A grunt-turned-POG insults a POG-turned-Grunt. "…According to eyewitnesses, Lance Corporal Bruno Walz spent the better part of his 2200-0600 shift in the Combat Operations Center eating the contents of care packages and complaining about how much he hates POGs, who according to Walz, ‘can’t fucking hack it.’… A POG, or ‘Person Other than Grunt,’ is a pejorative term used by infantrymen to refer to non-infantrymen, as well as tank crew and artillery if they are not particular about receiving accurate fire support. It comes from the French word pôgué, meaning "that which will be promoted faster than you." In The Duffel Blog, here.