Situation Report

The pivot to Asia and the urgent fight against waterborne IEDs

What Bob Schieffer will ask, Is the Pentagon taking over cyber-security, Inside Dempsey’s CAG, and more.

There’s more evidence that the pivot to Asia is real. The Navy has recently begun work on three new contracts to build systems that will counter the threat posed by "water-IEDs" and other underwater perils in a sign that the Pentagon thinks the nature of warfare really is changing from land to water and it’s time to shift focus, in an urgent way, to its accompanying threats.

"The terrorist use of an IED will in be in areas of vulnerability and areas where it has the ability to have access and influence policy," a Navy official told Situation Report. "And that includes the maritime [domain]."

Last year, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter charged what’s known as the Senior Integration Group to come up with ways to counter water-borne explosive devices, maritime suicide missions, and other threats. Now, three contracts have been let in the past month to explore, under an accelerated timetable, what "candidate technologies" could mitigate Navy ships’ exposure to such threats.

"Remember the Cole" has become the new refrain. The incident in 2000, 12 years ago Friday, when 17 sailors were killed aboard the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden, has become a new battle cry for those who see a shift from land-based threats to those in the water. But just like IEDs on land, solutions to the dangers posed in the water offer no easy solutions.

"The underwater domain is an extremely challenging technical domain," the Navy official said.

Read more on the Navy’s push to counter the water IED threat below.

Welcome to Monday’s edition of Situation Report, where, as Halloween nears, we are always on the hunt for "candy," that stuff that isn’t so good for your intellectual nutrition needs, but for which you are always hungry: tidbits, personnel changes, bits of interesting things for national security types. Remember, it takes a village to write a good newsletter. Send it to me anytime at Follow me @glubold. And sign up for Situation Report here: or just send me an e-mail and we’ll put you on the list.

The third and final presidential debate on Oct. 22 will focus on foreign policy. According to CBS’s Bob Schieffer, who will moderate the third and final debate, topics will include: "America’s role in the world," "our longest war" (Afghanistan and Pakistan), "red lines" (Israel and Iran), two sections on "The changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism," and the "rise of China and tomorrow’s world."

Does Okinawa need so many Marines? Mike O’Hanlon and Mike Mochizuki take a look.

Worth repeating. "There’s about a 90% chance it will never happen," Gordon Adams, a defense budget expert at American University and a former senior official at the Office of Management and Budget (and an FP columnist), told the LAT’s David Cloud, referring to sequestration.

Oops, they did it again. The Pentagon, which seems to be the catch-all agency for whatever no one else wants to do or is funded to do, may be taking over the cyber-security domain. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta just made a big speech on cyber-security in New York in which he said the Pentagon would play a "supporting role" in efforts to counter a growing threat. But as Jim Lewis writes, "make no mistake: when it comes to cyber-security, the center of action just shifted."

The "CAG" doesn’t appear on any formal organizational chart. But Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Marty Dempsey, like others before him, keeps close counsel from a group of advisers and analysts known as the Chairman’s Action Group. The E-Ring’s Kevin Baron takes an inside look.

Water IED threat, con’t.

The particulars of the technologies funded by the three new contracts are largely classified and get wonky in a hurry. The Mobile Cueing with In-Volume and Bottom Search (MCIBS), the Swimmer Threat Identification System (STID), and the Sensor-Based Stabilized Remotely Operated Vehicle Waterborne-IED Identification and Neutralization (SSR-WIN) systems are all in accelerated development and might see the water within 12 months.

They are funded to the tune of about $20 million total by the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, or JIEDDO, which until now has been largely focused on land-based threats posed by IEDs and other devices.

The effort is part of a broader one faced by the Navy. Thinking about mine warfare and other asymmetric threats in the water has been re-energized in recent years. And concern is growing about the military and economic vulnerabilities posed by maritime chokepoints such as the Strait of Malacca and the Strait of Hormuz.

Use of small crafts, man-piloted IEDs, submersibles, unmanned underwater vehicles that can home in on a tanker or combat vessel all pose threats.

"All of them are possibilities," CSIS’s Tony Cordesman told Situation Report. "And all of them are part of the Navy’s growing concern."

The Navy is particularly focused on the lessons it can draw from such groups as the Tamil Tigers, the Sri Lankan terrorist group whose signature attacks are those found in the water.

"We want to be ahead of this problem versus behind this problem," the Navy official said.

Asked about its work on water-borne devices, JIEDDO would say only that it is funding the three initiatives but referred any additional questions to the Navy.

"The three initiatives will enhance the

ability of our military personnel to detect, assess, and mitigate Waterborne IED threats," said JIEDDO spokesman David Small. JIEDDO, which Congress has given a lot of money to counter the number one threat to American forces on the ground, now faces budget scrutiny as the United States winds down its ground presence abroad. So, as the nation shifts focus to air and naval assets and their vulnerability, JIEDDO is looking for ways to adapt.

"JIEDDO is trying to reinvent itself, of course," Cordesman told Situation Report.

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