Situation Report: Cold War style; Kobani in crosshairs again; Russia practicing for the big one; weekend reading links; and a whole lot more
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley The week. Defense Secretary Ash Carter insisted early on in his swing through Europe this week that NATO needs to toss out the old “Cold War playbook” when dealing with an increasingly aggressive Russia. But old habits, as we all know, are hard to break. The rest of his ...
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
The week. Defense Secretary Ash Carter insisted early on in his swing through Europe this week that NATO needs to toss out the old “Cold War playbook” when dealing with an increasingly aggressive Russia. But old habits, as we all know, are hard to break. The rest of his trip through Germany, Estonia, and Brussels was full of tough talk about Russia cheating on a ballistic missile treaty, an announcement of hundreds of U.S. tanks on their way to the continent, and blunt warnings from NATO allies — all of which sure had a pretty retro feel.
Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work piled on, saying that Moscow is “literally playing with fire” in boasting about adding dozens of ballistic missiles to its arsenal by the end of the year. Repeating Washington’s belief that Moscow has been violating the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty — which eliminated ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 300 and 3,400 miles — Work used some of the most blunt language we’ve seen from U.S. officials when it comes to Russia, warning that the U.S. is ready to act if the Putin regime doesn’t start respecting the accord. “We will not allow them to gain significant military advantage through INF violations,” he said, adding that the Pentagon is developing response options for President Barack Obama to consider.
New nukes, same old arms race. In yet another throwback, Work told the House panel that the U.S. needs to upgrade its nuke force to the tune of about $18 billion per year from 2021 to 2035, which would include investments in new submarines, bombers and ballistic missiles. (No word on closing the Snuggie gap, but stay tuned.) That staggering price tag comes at a time when military modernization budgets are being squeezed by expensive weapons, like the F-35, coming on line and some hard decisions about the Navy’s expensive carrier and destroyer fleets.
That sound you hear just might be dust being blown off some old playbooks buried under boxes full of Atari cartridges and counterinsurgency manuals, deep in the Pentagon’s basement.
Verify, but trust? Everything you thought you knew about former Obama advisers abandoning ship over the coming nuclear deal with Iran is wrong. Or at least a recent letter from a group of White House confidants has been seriously misinterpreted, FP’s John Hudson writes. With the P5+1 countries and Iran in Vienna this week sprinting toward the June 30 deadline, a bipartisan U.S. group of Iran watchers, including former Obama administration officials, issued a list of five concessions this week they say must be part of a lasting deal to curb Tehran’s nuke program. While the letter was viewed in most press reports as an indictment of the talks, two authors of the letter told Hudson that reading was pretty far off the mark.
This will do it for the Situation Report for another week. As we slide into July, we expect things to stay hot on the NatSec front as we wait for word on the status of the Iranian nuke talks, more defense budget debate in Congress, and as always, the Islamic State. We’re around all weekend, so please pass on anything of interest to email@example.com, or on Twitter: @paulmcleary.
Attackers stormed a gas plant near Lyon, France, on Friday, killing at least one person in what French authorities say looks to be a terrorist assault. Early reports from the scene say a car carrying two people drove onto the grounds of the facility and set off an explosion, and one of the attackers reportedly waved an Islamic State flag. There is also word of a decapitated body at the scene.
Just a few days ago, intelligence officials were cautioning us not to underestimate the Islamic State’s battlefield resilience in light of recent victories by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Tel Abyad and Ain Issa. The Islamic State now seems very interested in reinforcing that perception. Kobani, the Syrian border town where the YPG wrested a protracted and bloody victory against the Islamic State with help from the U.S., is back in the jihadi group’s crosshairs. Extremists disguised as rebel fighters attacked Kurdish forces in the city Thursday with suicide bombers. The attack by an estimated 30 fighters was designed in part to reverse the PR sting of the group’s recent losses to Kurdish forces in Syria, according to one YPG official.
For the past several years, the Air Force has been trumpeting the cost savings it would gain from retiring its aging fleet of A-10 fighter jets, much to the frustration of Army types who love the slow, deadly plane that has been striking Taliban (and Islamic State) fighters pretty effectively. But the Government Accountability Office flipped the script Thursday, debunking the Air Force’s savings estimate of $4.2 billion over five years if it mothballs the old war bird, because the plan doesn’t account for the extra flying that other aircraft would have to do to make up for the plane’s absence.
Iraq’s nascent Air Force has been hit with a pretty big loss, as one of its F-16 fighters has crashed on a training mission in Arizona. The plane is one of two fighter jets that the U.S. has made for Iraq so far, as part of a total purchase of 36. The pilot, Brig. Gen. Rafid Mohammed Sidq, remains missing.
Anyone wanna buy a helicopter drone? K-MAX, the Marine Corps’ stab at turning a manned helicopter into a UAV, will soon be available for the civilian market, company officials say. The K-MAX ended its service with the Marines in Afghanistan last year, but interest in using the drone for everything from firefighting to construction is pushing manufacturer Kaman to partner with Rotex Helicopter and Helicopter Express to produce commercial versions of the drone.
The Battle Over AirSea Battle
There’s a new, hefty piece in Politico Magazine summarizing the last few years of interservice squabbling over AirSea Battle and the budgetary stakes that lie behind the plan. The concept, drawn up by the Air Force and Navy a few years ago in response to the growing military capabilities of China, famously left the Army on the outside looking in, something that didn’t sit well with the ground pounders. There’s plenty of behind-the-scenes vignettes about the services’ jockeying, with quotes from Army chief Gen. Ray Odierno’s close associates intoning that the boss viewed his “colleagues as plotting against him.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made just about every nearby European country anxious about Moscow’s intentions. It’s not just the annexation of Crimea that’s been setting off nerves, but also the stream of Russian fighter jets, bombers and (allegedly) midget submarines buzzing over the territory of countries along the Baltic Sea.
Now, Russia’s neighbors can add a new, more specific item to the list of worries about Russia. The Economist‘s Edward Lucas published a new report with the Center for European Policy Analysis, in which he writes that a Russian military exercise back in March served as rehearsal for a theoretical invasion of parts of Sweden, Denmark, and Norway designed to block NATO’s ability to reinforce Baltic states in the event of a conflict with the West. While Russia’s provocative displays seem aimed at intimidation, they’re also at risk of backfiring. NATO holdout countries like Sweden and Finland — where Russia’s recent actions are receiving quite a bit of attention — are increasingly warming to the idea of better relations with the alliance.
We thought it was a big deal when Saudi Arabia agreed to buy $3 billion worth of French military equipment earlier this year to donate to Lebanon. But that deal pales in comparison to the Saudis’ own appetite for French helicopters and airplanes. The two countries are about to sign off on a $12 billion deal that includes 23 Airbus helicopters worth $500 million, (the U.S. Army’s Lakota helicopter is a variant of the model), 50 Airbus passenger jets worth about $8 billion, and an as-yet-to-be determined number of French naval patrol boats and commercial aircraft.
Who’s Where When
9:00 a.m. There’s a “Keeping the Technological Edge” in the Defense Department event being hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, featuring Andrew Hunter, who runs the Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group at CSIS; Brett Lambert, VP of corporate strategy at Northrop Grumman; Dr. Arun Seraphin, Senate Armed Services Committee staffer; and Dr. Camron Gorguinpour, head of transformational innovation at the U.S. Air Force.
12:00 p.m. Dr. Celeste Wallander, senior director for Russia and Central Asia at the National Security Council, speaks on “What’s Driving Russian Foreign Policy” at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) conference.
4:50 p.m. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers the keynote at the CNAS conference.
The Center on National Security at Fordham Law has unveiled a new report: “By the Numbers: ISIS Cases in the United States” that analyzes the cases of 56 individuals charged in the U.S. with Islamic State-related crimes, and three who have been killed since March 2014.
Stand well back, airpower advocates. The Wilson Center’s David B. Ottaway is about to make your head spin. Ottaway’s new report, “Rolling Thunder? Saudi Arabia Discovers the Limits of Air Power” argues that “the Arab coalition is facing the same dilemma as the United States in Iraq and Syria: what to do when overwhelming air power fails to achieve political objectives because of an acute deficit of local support to change the balance of power on the ground.”
The Institute for the Study of War’s Christopher Kozak and Jennifer Cafarella published a new report on the “Military Situation in Northern Syria.”
The Crisis Group drops its latest: “The Central Sahel: A Perfect Sandstorm,” which looks at the $3.8 billion in criminal activity that jihadi groups and criminal gangs split up annually in the Sahel, a vast region stretching from Mauritania to Sudan bordering the Sahara Desert.
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