The Cable

SitRep: Navy Plane Down in Pacific

U.S. Army walking away form $6 billion battlefield comms network, Air Force says key surveillance plane too vulnerable against Russia

A C-2A Greyhound  launches from the USS Ronald Reagan on Nov. 17. (U.S. Navy)
A C-2A Greyhound launches from the USS Ronald Reagan on Nov. 17. (U.S. Navy)

 

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Another Navy accident in the Pacific. A U.S. Navy transport plane carrying eleven people crashed in the Philippine Sea south of Japan on Wednesday as it flew to the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, the U.S. Seventh Fleet said Wednesday.

It was the fifth accident this year for the Seventh Fleet in the Western Pacific.

Eight crewmembers have been rescued, with three more unaccounted for. The rescued personnel were transferred to the Reagan and are in “good condition,” the Navy said. The C-2 Greyhound, a propeller-powered transport plane, first entered service in the mid-1960s. It is slated to be replaced by the long-range tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft.

A bad year for the Seventh Fleet. The crash comes just three months after the U.S.S. John S. McCain was rammed by an oil tanker near Singapore, killing ten sailors. In June, the USS Fitzgerald collided with a Philippine merchant vessel off the coast of Japan, killing seven sailors. In an accident report released this month, the Navy said the crashes were “avoidable” and came as the result of poor training and leadership.

U.S. bombs North, East Africa. There have been new rounds of American airstrikes in Somalia and Libya, with the largest coming north of Mogadishu on Tuesday, killing over 100 al Shabab militants, according to the U.S. Africa Command. The strike was hardly unprecedented. In March 2016, a U.S. aircraft and drones killed more than 150 al Shabaab fighters in Somalia.

Over in Libya, U.S. strikes hit Islamic State militants in Fuqaha, south of the former ISIS stronghold of Sirte on Nov. 17 and 19. There have been intermittent American strikes in Libya since Operation Odyssey Lightning in August and December 2016, when American aircraft conducted around 500 airstrikes, killing hundreds of militants.

Nothing to see here, Pentagon says. Despite the increasing frequency of the strikes, especially in Somalia, “I do not believe necessarily there’s a ramp-up. It’s the density of targets is such that now there’s some opportunities to do those strikes,” Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie told reporters at the Pentagon last week. “As [the targets] become available and as we’re able to process them and vet them, we strike them,” he added.

U.S. Army vulnerable to Russian hacking. The Army has concluded that its $6 billion battlefield communications system would likely be breached by Russia or China in the event of a big-power conflict, and is asking for least two years to come up with a new, more resilient system, FP’s Paul McLeary reports. Not only is the WIN-T system hackable, but “soldiers can’t set it up quickly and potentially move it in a hurry if they need to,” one Army official said. “So if I’m in more than one place for an extended period of time, I’m dead.”

More trouble. Another once-venerated program that likely wouldn’t survive a fight with the Russians or Chinese is the U.S. Air Force’s Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS), which provides ground surveillance.

“How will we fight and how will we close the kill chain in a highly contested environment,” in Europe, Air Force Gen. Mike Holmes said this week. “Our conclusion is, that none of those systems that were fielded now, including our current JSTARS or a replacement JSTARS would give us the capability to do that.”

Ukraine. Reports indicate that president Trump might sign off on some $40 million worth of lethal arms sales to Ukraine in the coming weeks. Buzzfeed’s John Hudson spoke to some administration officials who told him that the key to persuading Trump is requiring Ukraine to pay for at least some of the equipment. “For Trump, it has to be a two-way deal,” a senior State Department official said. “Ukraine spends almost 7% of its GDP on defense, so it’s reasonable to expect Ukraine to pay for this.”

Trump transgender ban. On Tuesday, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland issued a preliminary injunction in Stone v. Trump, a case brought by the ACLU challenging Trump’s transgender military ban. It was the second federal judge to demand a halt to the Trump administration’s proposed transgender military ban finding that active-duty service members are “already suffering harmful consequences” because of the president’s policy.

U.S. sanctions hit Chinese, North Korean companies. The Trump administration has slapped sanctions on 13 Chinese and North Korean organizations it says have conducted hundreds of millions of dollars in trade in recent years. The new sanctions demonstrate the Trump administration’s focus on hitting economic ties between China and North Korea as a way to pressure Pyongyang to back away from its ballistic missile and nuclear programs.

Welcome to SitRep. As always, please send any tips, thoughts or national security events to paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or via Twitter: @paulmcleary.

Kim advisor gets shivved. Kim Jong-un has purged another senior North Korean military officer in his continuing effort to bring the country’s powerful armed services to heel. South Korean intelligence officials say that Kim has meted out unspecified punishments to former advisor and chief of the General Political Bureau of the army Vice Marshal Hwang Pyong So.   

The great escape. The U.N. Command in Korea has released footage of a North Korean soldier’s defection at the Panmunjom Joint Security Area where officials from the two Koreas meet face-to-face for talks. The video shows the Korean People’s Army soldier bolting across the border as his fellow troops open fire and briefly step across the Military Demarcation Line separating the two countries.

He went to Jared. White House son-in-law-in-chief Jared Kushner is once again in a subject of interest for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian election meddling. Investigators from Mueller’s office are probing Kushner’s contacts with foreign governments as the Trump transition team tried to quash a U.N. resolution criticizing Israeli settlements in December 2016.

Men behaving badly (yet again). Three uniformed service members from the White House Communications Agency (WHCA) are in trouble for their interactions with foreign women during President Trump’s recent trip through Asia, according to a scoop from the Washington Post. It’s unclear what that conduct consisted of or which country it took place in but troops assigned to the WHCA are tasked with the sensitive job of securing the classified communications of White House officials while abroad.

Our man in Washington. How close is Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) to the Russian government? The New York Times reports that FBI agents have told the California congressman that Russian intelligence gave him a codename as far back as 2012 and considers him one of its sources. The revelation comes as part of a long profile of Rohrabacher, who’s finding it increasingly lonely to be the sole vocal defender of Russia in Congress as the issue of Russian interference in the 2016 election continues to roil American politics.  

Fake news. Google is tweaking its search algorithm to make sure that news site like the Russian government-run RT and Sputnik, frequently accused of peddling fake news and propaganda, appear lower in search results. CEO Eric Schmidt singled out the two companies as particular problems in a recent speech, saying that the company has had to be more vigilant about monitoring the content it offers to consumers because “with the data, from what we’ve seen from Russia in 2016 and with other actors around the world, we have to act”

Cloud of suspicion. Europe is wondering where a cloud of radioactivity came from just as Russia has confirmed that an old nuclear facility in the Ural Mountains recently spewed out a burst of ruthenium 106 into the atmosphere. Authorities in France and Germany say the radioactivity spotted over Western Europe — harmless to human health and safety — likely came from Russia but Russia denies that the two incidents are related.

Saad’s excellent adventure. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has returned to Beirut after leaving the country for Saudi Arabia to announce his resignation amidst what he claimed was a Hezbollah assassination plot against him and what skeptics say was a Saudi-prompted attempt to put political pressure on the the Iranian-backed terrorist group. Hariri stopped in France on his way back from Saudi Arabia, where French Presidential Emmanuel Macron has tried to defuse the political crisis brought about by Hariri’s attempted resignation.  

Iran in the machine. The U.S. has indicted an Iranian hacker it accuses of trying to shake down HBO for bitcoin blackmail money after stealing unaired HBO TV episodes and snagging a copy of scripts for forthcoming Game of Thrones shows. Prosecutors say Behzad Mesri allegedly worked for Iran’s military, hacking Israeli military and critical infrastructure systems before moving on to a career as a criminal trying to get HBO to pay $6 million to prevent the release of its content to the public.

 

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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