The Cable

Situation Report: China looking at floating bases; Islamic State’s weed; defense contractors eye two big prizes; and lots more

By Paul McLeary and Ariel Robinson I’m on a boat. Forget about China building its own islands out of rocks in the South China Sea. Two Chinese companies are working on constructing massive, 2 km long floating sea bases that can move around according to need, and conduct a range of military operations. The idea ...

By Paul McLeary and Ariel Robinson

I’m on a boat. Forget about China building its own islands out of rocks in the South China Sea. Two Chinese companies are working on constructing massive, 2 km long floating sea bases that can move around according to need, and conduct a range of military operations.

The idea is to build multiple semi-submersible hull sections that can fit together by linking their  component pieces, like Legos. Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer at Popular Science caught wind of the proposed project after a press conference earlier this month hosted by construction company Jidong Development Group and Hainan Hai Industrial Company, which was attended by an officer from the Chinese military. The ships would come in three sizes, the duo report. The smallest is 300 meters long followed by another that is 600 meters long, and the biggest about 900 meters long and 120 meters wide. But the bases could actually be much bigger by attaching more semi-submersible hull modules together.

The ante appears to have been upped.

Elsewhere on the high seas. Also afloat are nine U.S. warships carrying hundreds of Marines, and a handful of Iranian naval vessels, all cruising around the Gulf of Aden, writes FP’s Paul McLeary. The deployments are heightening tensions between the two military rivals just as fighting between Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and Yemeni forces supported by Saudi Arabia and other American allies intensifies. The Defense Department insists that the deployment is nothing unique, but given that some of the Iranian ships many be carrying weapons for the Houthis, tensions are running high.

A bitter turn. The United States for years has praised Ethiopia’s fight against terrorism in East Africa, “but that hard-line approach to extreme Islamism may have contributed to the bloody execution of dozens of Ethiopian Christians who were targeted by the Islamic State in Libya,” reports FP’s Siobhan O’Grady

Explosions in the sky. As the Situation Report mentioned yesterday, 300 U.S. soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade are in western Ukraine to train the Ukrainian National Guard. The training includes lessons in countering roadside bombs and avoiding detection by Russian drones, which is news to us. Anything more specific on the drone point is hard to come by — and U.S. Army Europe declined to comment to FP — but Defense Department spokesman Col. Steve Warren offered that there will be concealment drills and instruction in some offensive and defensive measures. There have been reports for months about Russian military drones being used by the Moscow-back separatist forces in the country’s contested east.

Revolving door: Two of the biggest American defense contractors are betting big on one key Washington lobbyist in order to win two huge contracts.

Northrop Grumman has retained the services of big hitter Roger Zakheim, former House Armed Services Committee counsel and deputy assistant secretary of defense, according to public filings. Zakheim has been retained to lobby for the company’s bid to win the U.S. Air Force’s upcoming Long Range Strike Bomber program, according to the documents. Why? In coming years the hugely important program should produce “75-100 new bombers worth at least $50 billion in revenue, plus much more in design, support, and long-term upgrade work” a leading aerospace analyst recently said, and pits Northrop against the powerhouse team of Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Raytheon also signed Zackheim up to advise on “issues associated with U.S. governments [sic] response to Polands request for proposal for missile system” according to a separate disclosure document. The Polish program is expected to net the winner billions in sales. But that’s hardly all. The company also inked a Dream Team consisting of former Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl; former California Rep. Howard Berman; and Stuart Eizenstat, who served as deputy secretary of the treasury, undersecretary of state for economic affairs, undersecretary of commerce for international trade, and U.S. ambassador to the European Union under the Clinton administration.

If it’s Tuesday morning, that means it’s time for the Situation Report. Please don’t read this on your phone while driving into town this morning. Send any tips, events, or thoughts to paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or on Twitter at @paulmcleary.

The Business of Defense

Speaking of Raytheon, things are looking good for the Massachusetts-based defense macher. The company announced recently that it had won a $2 billion contract to deliver its Patriot Air and Missile Defense System “to an undisclosed international customer” — which is likely somewhere in the Middle East, as these secret things go. It is also in talks with the U.K. about replenishing its stocks of Paveway IV bombs and Brimstone missiles, which it has been ripping through in Iraq and Syria.

Congress is adding money to a fund established earlier this year for the purpose of paying for the Navy’s next-generation, nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines, says Military.com’s Kris Osborne. General Dynamics has already started work on a planned fleet of 12 submarines expected, the first prototype is expected to cost a whopping $12.4 billion, followed by the next 11 that will run about $4.9 billion each.

Who’s Where When

2:00 pm: The U.S. Army’s chief weapons buyer Heidi Shyu speaks at CSIS about “The Root Causes of Acquisition Challenges and the Need for Reform.” 2:00 pm: Chief of the Army Reserve, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Talley dedicates a Pentagon hallway to the Army Reserve. For those that understand Pentagon geography, it’ll be on the first floor in corridor seven, on the A ring. 2:30 pm: Michael Lumpkin, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, and Brig. Gen. Scott Howell, the Joint Staff’s deputy director for special operations and counterterrorism testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on emerging threats on terrorist threats to the U.S.

U.S. Air Force

SAC: It’s back! “B-1 bombers from Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota and Dyess Air Force Base in Texas are joining their long-range B-2 and B-52 bomber counterparts under a single Air Force command” writes James Nord for the Associated Press. The 60-plus aircraft and roughly 7,000 people will shift from Air Combat Command to Global Strike Command as of Oct. 1.

Middle East

As the Lebanon Daily Star writes, “U.S. authorities are deeply concerned about the financial capabilities of ISIS and are pressing Arab banks to prevent the jihadi group from channeling funds through their systems,” the secretary-general of the Union of Arab Banks said Monday.

This is where the Islamic State gets its weed, the Daily Beast’s Jesse Rosenfeld tells us. “Last month we sold one ton of hash to ISIS,” says “Imad,” who farms a 15-acre cannabis plot” in Lebanon close on the Syrian border. The 50-year-old father of six “has fought in Syria with Hezbollah against the so-called Islamic State.”

Why everything you thought you knew about the Islamic State’s social media game is wrong, according to Max Abrahams at opencanada.org

Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has repeated accusations that Iran and Hezbollah are blocking Presidential elections, leaving the post unfilled for almost a full year, Hassan Lakkis for the Lebanon Daily Star reports.

Yemen

Military analysts who have viewed a new Islamic State video “find it alarming because it shows that the Islamic State retains a surprisingly high level of military skill despite months of daily airstrikes by U.S. aircraft and their coalition allies,” reports McClatchy’s Mitchell Prothero.

Europe

The Navy Times’ Lance Bacon writes that at the halfway point of one of Europe’s largest exercises, reports of Russian ships and military inspectors from Moscow are “keeping close watch” on the activities. The U.K.-led ‘Exercise Joint Warrior’ involves over 12,000 warfighters from 15 NATO countries and allies.

Greece’s minister of defense met with senior Egyptian military officials  in Cairo the Cairo Post reported.  Trilateral talks between Egypt, Greece, and Cyprus are scheduled for the end of the month.

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