Situation Report

A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from Foreign Policy reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer, formerly Security Brief. Delivered Thursday.

FP’s Situation Report: AF to look at bomber units

Will Obama tweak missile defense posture?; McCain, Flake furious about the VA; Blue Angels commander in hot water; Hagel brings the muscle; Marine regrets crucifying himself; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

The Air Force is going to begin nuke bomber units in the wake of the cheating scandal. FP’s Dan Lamothe from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana with this exclusive: "The Air Force will scrutinize its units that fly dozens of bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons across the globe, the latest aftershock of an embarrassing cheating scandal in its nuclear missile force that led to the unprecedented removal of nine commanders from their jobs and the resignation of a 10th in March.
"The review, which hasn’t previously been reported, is the next phase of the service’s nuclear ‘force improvement program,’ and will operate in a similar fashion to the ongoing assessment of the beleaguered missile units, said Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, who oversees both forces from here as the chief of the Air Force’s Global Strike Command. The general said the first review found an array of areas that needed improvement, from old equipment to poor morale, and that he hopes the new internal study will identify parts of the bomber fleet that can be fixed to avoid future problems. Global Strike Command’s forces include Boeing’s massive eight-engine B-52H Stratofortress bomber and Northrop Grumman’s stealthy, bat-wing shaped B-2 Spirit, each of which can be equipped with conventional or nuclear weapons." Full story here.

Will the Ukraine crisis push the White House to tweak its missile defense posture in Europe? Unclear. But there’s talk. Lubold’s story: "Four years ago, the Obama administration scrapped plans to install advanced missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic that were seen as part of its efforts to reset relations with Russia. Today, with ties between Washington and Moscow at their lowest point in decades, the question is whether the White House should move new anti-missile equipment to Eastern Europe to reassure jittery allies and stick a finger in the eye of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The initial plan, which dated back to the George W. Bush administration, called for installing 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic. Washington said the systems were meant solely to shoot down long-range Iranian missiles, but the Russians harbored deep suspicions that the systems were aimed at them.

"When Obama canceled those plans in September 2009, administration officials said new intelligence showing that Tehran was making progress on shorter range missiles meant that it was important to shift to other, less advanced defensive systems that could be moved to Europe as quickly as 2015. The current White House approach calls for deploying two dozen SM-3 interceptor missiles to Romania and another two dozen to Poland by 2018. In the meantime, the Aegis combat system, mounted on Navy destroyers, would be used to shoot down Iranian missiles.

"But with the U.S. scrambling to figure out how to respond to Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, some on Capitol Hill are calling for Obama to accelerate his missile defense plans and move the SM-3 interceptors to Europe as quickly as possible or to deploy portable systems like the Patriot air defense system to Poland once again.

Any such move would be risky for the White House, which has tried to figure out how aggressively to move against Putin given Washington’s clear desire to avoid any sort of armed confrontation with Russia and retain Moscow’s cooperation on Iran and Syria. Still, there is little question that the push from some quarters in Congress to do something is forcing the administration to consider other ways of bolstering its missile defense plans for Europe. But easy answers remain elusive."

Kingston Reif of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington: "There’s plenty of arrows in the quiver in terms of punishing Russia that can be effective and have bite… Then there are counterproductive steps." Read the rest here.

Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association on those who say the U.S. should return to the Bush BMD plan: "The reality is that that system was designed to deal with Iranian ballistic missiles, not Russian ballistic missiles. It would not be able to deal with Russian ballistic missiles and it would validate Russia’s erroneous claim that this whole architecture was designed to deal with Russia and not Iran."

After missing deadlines, the world’s largest missile maker recovers some cash from the Air Force. Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio: "Raytheon Co. (RTN) has recovered almost 30 percent of about $621 million withheld by the U.S. Air Force since 2012 because it missed deadlines for delivering missiles. Raytheon, the world’s largest missile maker, received $179 million of the performance payments that had been held back as of March 5, Ed Gulick, a spokesman for the Air Force, said in an e-mailed statement."

William LaPlante, the Air Force’s acquisition chief, to Capaccio: "We’ve been working very closely with Raytheon…Some things are getting better. We’ve turned the corner on that, but you are always discovering stuff and these are pretty advanced weapons." More here.

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of Situation Report. If you’d like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at and we’ll just stick you on. Like what you see? Tell a friend.  And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease, because if you see something, we hope you’ll say something — to Situation Report. Follow us! @glubold and @njsobe4.

A new CAP report on the budget this morning (and provided to Situation Report early) is a user’s guide to the FY 2015 defense budget. From the Center for American Progress: The report "parses out DOD’s confused FY15 request, outlining how it’s really two requests due to a late OMB decision to plus up the sequester-level FYDP the Pentagon had prepared by $115 billion.  The late decision means there are strange inconsistencies between public statements from DOD officials and budget programming included in the submission.  The brief also breaks the request down by appropriations title, provides historical context, dives into the procurement decisions and personnel/infrastructure reforms included in the Pentagon’s plan, and outlines potential tradeoffs Congress might examine." Full report here.

Ray Mabus is speaking at ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability this morning on energy sustainability from a maritime perspective. Mabus has been on the energy security beat since he came to office in 2009. And he’ll tell you that you don’t have to look far to see the far-reaching national security implications of energy dependence.  An excerpt of the speech provided early to the Situation Report: "As a security challenge, access to energy and fuel can be a diplomatic pressure point and can be, and is used as a geostrategic weapon. Obviously Europe is a large customer for Russia, which depends on oil and gas revenues for over half its government’s budget.  Imagin
e the impact alternative power and conservation measures might have." Deets from ASU here.

SitRep note: remember to think about sending us excerpts of your boss’ speech the day before for maximum tease.

A SAIS event at noon today: New Nuclear Policies and Problems after Fukushima. Deets here.

An FBI informant is tied to cyberattacks abroad. The NYT’s Mark Mazzetti on Page One: "An informant working for the F.B.I. coordinated a 2012 campaign of hundreds of cyberattacks on foreign websites, including some operated by the governments of Iran, Syria, Brazil and Pakistan, according to documents and interviews with people involved in the attacks.
"Exploiting a vulnerability in a popular web hosting software, the informant directed at least one hacker to extract vast amounts of data – from bank records to login information – from the government servers of a number of countries and upload it to a server monitored by the F.B.I., according to court statements.
"The details of the 2012 episode have, until now, been kept largely a secret in closed sessions of a federal court in New York and heavily redacted documents. While the documents do not indicate whether the F.B.I. directly ordered the attacks, they suggest that the government may have used hackers to gather intelligence overseas even as investigators were trying to dismantle hacking groups like Anonymous and send computer activists away for lengthy prison terms." More here.

An internal document accidentally sent to a WaPo editor slams the Navy’s Blue Angels commander and alleges hazing and sexual harassment. The WaPo’s Craig Whitlock of course has the Page One story: "The Navy has reassigned a former commander of the Blue Angels, its acrobatic fighter squadron, and is investigating allegations that the elite team of pilots was a hotbed of hazing, sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination, documents show. The Navy announced Friday that it had relieved Capt. Gregory McWherter, a two-time commander of the Blue Angels, of duty for alleged misconduct. At the time, the Navy did not describe the nature of the accusations or provide other details except to say that the case remained under investigation.
"But an internal military document that a Navy official inadvertently e-mailed to a Washington Post editor states that a former member of the Blue Angels filed a complaint last month accusing McWherter of promoting a hostile work environment and tolerating sexual harassment. The complaint described an atmosphere rife with sexually explicit speech, the open display of pornography and jokes about sexual orientation." More here.

Not the Onion, not the Duffel Blog: Discharged Marine regrets crucifying himself in public. "Dude was butt hurt over being court martialed," one commenter said. Read that bit in MC Times, here.

Hagel takes his first trip to Latin America – and he’s bringing the ‘muscle.’ Reuters’ David Alexander filing from the Doomsday plane last night: "Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Wednesday his first trip to Latin America as Pentagon chief would add ‘muscle and sinew’ to growing North American defense ties and highlight the importance of helping partner nations improve their militaries. Hagel, who will meet his Canadian and Mexican counterparts in Mexico City before traveling to Guatemala, said the three-day visit will give him an opportunity to focus on relationship-building in a vital area that often receives little attention. ‘The region is important to America,’ Hagel told reporters aboard his plane to Mexico City. ‘I don’t think over the years we’ve probably ever done enough to reach out to our Latin American partners.’"
"…The U.S. defense chief
is to travel to Guatemala late on Thursday. He will meet with senior government officials there on Friday and observe military exercises. The U.S. military and other government departments have been active in helping Guatemala develop an interagency task force involving military, police and judicial authorities engaged in the effort to reduce narcotics and people trafficking and other crime. ‘There’s nothing like actually coming out and spending some time in these countries so they can see that we’re committed to carrying through on some of these programs,’ Hagel said." More here.

UN chiefs say diplomacy has failed in Syria. The NYT’s Nick Cumming-Bruce in Geneva: "Two months after the United Nations Security Council ordered Syria’s warring parties to allow access for humanitarian aid to civilians, the heads of five United Nations agencies warned on Wednesday that diplomacy had failed and that the desperate plight of civilians in many parts of the country was getting worse. ‘The war escalates in many areas,’ the leaders of five United Nations agencies that coordinate and deliver humanitarian relief said in a statement released in Geneva. ‘The humanitarian situation deteriorates day after day.’" More here.

Arizona Sens. McCain and Flake are furious about the VA health care system in Arizona and are calling for a probe. The Arizona Republic’s Dennis Wagner: "Arizona’s two congressional leaders are calling for a U.S. Senate investigation and hearings into accusations of ‘gross mismanagement and neglect’ in the Phoenix VA Health Care System in the wake of allegations that up to 40 patients have died awaiting medical appointments. In a Wednesday letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., cited Arizona Republic reporting on whistle-blower allegations about the veteran deaths and accusations that VA administrators have kept ‘secret books’ and misrepresented wait times for health care." More here.

A Medal of Honor recipient urges PTSD victims to get help. Stars and Stripes’ Jon Harper: "Former Army Sgt. Kyle J. White, who will be awarded the Medal of Honor next month, said troops suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder shouldn’t suffer in silence. ‘There’s no shame in going and getting help,’ White, who was diagnosed with PTSD before he left the military, said at a news conference Wednesday in Charlotte, N.C." More here.

Former top spook Mike Hayden has turned Washington Times columnist. The Washington Times’ announcement: "Gen. Michael V. Hayden, a retired four-star U.S. Air Force general and former director of both the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Sec
urity Agency, will write a new bimonthly column for The Washington Times called ‘Inside Intelligence,’ debuting April 30… ‘Gen. Hayden is known as a broad-minded and independent thinker on military and intelligence matters. His columns will be must-reads inside and outside the Beltway,’ said John Solomon, Washington Times editor and vice president for content and business development. More here.

TheBlaze’s new 25-minute video takes the Pentagon’s DCGS-A program to task, calling it ‘a glaring example of overspending’ and ‘mostly an operational failure.’ Full video here.

Obama and Abe are on the same page. The WSJ’s Yuka Hayashi: "U.S. President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe began their meeting in Tokyo on Thursday by stressing a common message: their alliance is an asset not just for their two countries, but for the entire Asian-Pacific region. Following a tete-a-tete over sushi Wednesday night, the two leaders met for a formal summit meeting Thursday morning to discuss a range of issues. Members of the press were invited to attend for the first 10 minutes, and the two leaders highlighted some of their security concerns in the region. ‘The U.S.-Japan alliance is a foundation not only for our security in the Asia-Pacific region but also for the region as a whole,’ Mr. Obama said. ‘We are looking at a whole range of issues that are challenging at this time, including the threats posed by North Korea and the nuclearization that’s been taking place in that country.’
"…Even as the Obama administration advances its ‘pivot’ to Asia, it wants to see regional allies such as Japan and Australia take on bigger security responsibilities in a region rife with challenges, including China’s military buildup and territorial disputes. That’s because Washington faces mounting policy challenges elsewhere, from Ukraine to Syria, as well as constraints in its defense budget.
"Mr. Abe, meanwhile, is eager to secure Mr. Obama’s endorsement for his push to remove some of the tough constitutional restraints on Japan’s military and allow it to play a greater role in the alliance and regional security." More here.

Epic fail: POTUS isn’t the only one making news in Japan. In Tokyo, Justin Bieber has once again displayed his talent for seemingly effortless international gaffes. FP’s Bethany Allen on the Instagram pic at the controversial shrine honoring war criminals, here.

China plays by its own rules at sea. The WSJ’s Jeremy Page in Qingdao: "Beijing won’t necessarily observe a new code of conduct for naval encounters when its ships meet foreign ones in disputed areas of the East and South China seas, according to a senior Chinese naval officer involved in negotiations on the subject. The code for maneuvering and communicating between naval ships and aircraft was approved on Tuesday by 21 Western Pacific naval powers, including China, the U.S. and Japan, in an effort to reduce maritime tensions in the region. U.S. naval officials have said they hoped all members of the group would observe the code in all places, including waters where China’s territorial claims are contested by its neighbors. But the code isn’t legally binding, and it remains to be seen whether China will observe it in what the U.S. sees as international waters and Beijing sees as part of its territory." Full story here.

Advice to POTUS: Don’t forget about the U.S.’s commitment to Taiwan this week. Alexander Benard and Paul Leaf for The National Interest: "As President Obama travels throughout Asia this week to revive his stalled pivot there, he should pay special attention to Taiwan-a country that, in recent years, has quietly but steadily drifted deeper into China’s orbit. The U.S. military commitment to Taiwan has historically been strong… But recently, Taiwan has had reason to question the U.S. military commitment. First, Taiwan has observed America’s fecklessness regarding missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic, Russia’s invasions of Georgia and Ukraine, and Syria’s use of chemical weapons against its own citizens, and has concluded that U.S. red lines and security promises carry less weight." More here.


Gordon Lubold is a senior writer at FP and author of Situation Report  with help by Nathaniel Sobel, director of research at the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. Follow him @glubold and him @njsobe4.

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