The Cable

Situation Report: Guns coming to recruiting centers; the Navy’s China problem; Taliban name new leader; Kurds hurt their own; and lots more

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Old rules, new reminder. In a new memo, Defense Secretary Ash Carter reminds military leaders of an existing Pentagon policy allowing qualified troops to carry weapons at recruiting stations and other off-base sites. The July 29 document — coming 13 days after a man killed four Marines and a ...

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Old rules, new reminder. In a new memo, Defense Secretary Ash Carter reminds military leaders of an existing Pentagon policy allowing qualified troops to carry weapons at recruiting stations and other off-base sites. The July 29 document — coming 13 days after a man killed four Marines and a sailor at a pair of recruiting centers in Tennessee — also requires the military services to look into a range of other new security options.

Carter wants the new plans on his desk by August 21. In addition to arming service members, the secretary wants ideas for improving the physical security of military installations, and options for making use of mass-warning notification systems and regional alert systems.

Chinese rocks vs. U.S. Navy. Adm. John Richardson, President Barack Obama’s nominee to run the Navy, had a relatively quiet confirmation hearing with the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday. One point to flag, however, was his response to a question about respecting a 12-mile radius around the islands that Beijing has been building in the South China Sea. China insists that the new patches of rock and sand — which now feature airstrips — are part of its sovereign territory and should be treated as such by foreign navies plying the waters nearby.

Lacking a solid policy from Washington about how to handle the situation, Richardson hedged. “It’s absolutely important that the Navy continue to be present in that region,” he said, adding that his ships and aircraft must “respect the legitimately claimed territorial boundaries.” But as usual, the issue requires more study. “I’d have to at look exactly which of those claims are legitimate,” he said.

Kurds vs. Turkey vs. Kurds. The decades-long fight between the Turkish government and the Kurdish Workers’ Party (known as the PKK, its Turkish acronym) took a new twist this week after the group attacked a pair of energy pipelines inside Turkey, including a natural gas pipeline from Iran on Monday and an oil pipeline from Iraq to the Turkish coast on Wednesday. The problem is that the oil line “is the financial lifeline for Iraqi Kurds: It is the only way to sell serious volumes of crude oil that the Kurdish regional government needs to keep functioning,” writes FP’s Keith Johnson. “In other words, while the attack blew up a pipeline inside Turkey, it was directed as much toward fellow Kurds as it was against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.”

More money down the hole. Even given the staggering numbers we’ve seen in U.S. wartime budgets over the past decade, burning through $8.2 billion with nothing to show for it still stings. That’s the amount Washington has spent since 2002 in Afghanistan trying to eradicate the poppy crop, according to U.S. reconstruction watchdog the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, or SIGAR. In a quarterly report issued Thursday, the outfit reported that despite the outlay, Afghanistan remains the world’s largest supplier of opium.

But it looks like the U.S. military is fed up. With U.S. troops heading for the exits at the end of 2016, SIGAR reported that the Defense Department will use the $2.8 billion earmarked for counternarcotics activities this year to pay for other needs. In all, Congress has appropriated $109 billion for Afghanistan reconstruction since 2002.

Happy last Friday of July to all. Congress has left the building for the month with no defense budget, no vote on the Iran agreement, and a couple Republican presidential candidates getting ready for the big push this fall. As always, we’re on the lookout for anything noteworthy or interesting to flag, so please pass any items along to paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or send a shout or DM on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.

Afghanistan

The Washington Post’s Greg Miller has the scoop on what the CIA knew, or thought it knew, about the status of now-deceased Taliban leader Mullah Omar. In January 2011, then-CIA director Leon Panetta confronted Pakistani officials with intelligence that suggested Mullah Omar had been treated for an unspecified illness at a hospital in Karachi. The agency later came to believe that Omar died sometime in 2013. But now that Omar is gone, the Taliban has reportedly named a new leader, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, one of Omar’s top aides.

Boots on the ground

For only the third time in the past two decades, the U.S. Army is in real danger of falling short of its annual recruiting goals. USA Today’s Tom Vanden Brook writes as of right now, the service is 14 percent shy of its 2015 goal of signing up 59,000 new recruits by time the fiscal year ends Sept. 30. Army officials say the recruiting problem is partly due to the improving economy, and partly due to the drying up of big signing bonuses.  But the shortfall also comes just as the Army is getting ready to eliminate about 40,000 soldiers from its ranks. Even with that cut however, the Army still needs around 60,000 new recruits each year to make up for those leaving the service.

Who’s where when

10:00 a.m. The Brookings Institution is hosting a discussion on the next defense technology revolution and how it will shape the future of the force. Panelists include Brennan Hogan of LMI, Jim Joyce from Deloitte Consulting LLP, James Kenyon of Pratt & Whitney, and Dave Logan of BAE Systems. Michael O’Hanlon will moderate.

Cyber

In an era where manufacturers think your refrigerator could be improved by having access Twitter, it’s not surprising that someone thought sniper rifles could use a WiFi connection. Even less surprising: Internet-connected sniper rifles can be hacked. Security researchers Runa Sandvik and Michael Auger will present their research into hacking the Tracking Point TP 750  self-aiming rifles. The pair discovered they could break into the rifle’s software via WiFi and make shots miss or brick the rifle entirely.

Iraq

There are about 3,000 U.S. military vehicles parked in the Kuwaiti desert, a good portion of which have been flagged for shipment to Iraq. But the Iraqis aren’t sure they really want them. The Baghdad government has only taken shipment of about 300 MRAPs so far, leading some to raise an eyebrow over why they don’t want more. (Insert joke here about simply delivering them straight to the Islamic State.) But the U.S. News’ Paul Shinkman takes a harder look at the issue, finding that it’s likely a mix of the Iraqis negotiating for a sweeter deal, the possibility of other suppliers, and the simple fact of the Iraqi system not being equipped for such an influx of gear.

Business of Defense

Boeing is feeling optimistic about the prospect for future F/A-18 Super Hornet sales, both at home and abroad. The Navy put 12 F/A-18F on its unfunded priorities list and Boeing VP Daniel Gillian told National Defense Magazine he’s optimistic that Congress will add money for the Super Hornets in this year’s defense bill. Abroad, Boeing is hoping to close deals for the aircraft with Kuwait, Canada and Belgium.

Earlier this week, the Marine Corps was telling reporters that the F-35B, its short takeoff and vertical landing version of the stealth jet, was all but ready to start flying. But Jane’s got its hands on a report from director of operational testing Michael Gilmore, which suggests the road ahead for the jet might still be bumpy. Gilmore’s report on the F-35B’s trip aboard the USS Wasp said the jet had less than 50 percent reliability and that it was difficult for the Corps “to keep more than two or three of the six embarked jets in a flyable status on any given day.”

China

China is looking to get in on the laser weapons craze that has swept the Pentagon. The Chinese Academy of Physics Engineering is displaying a 10 kilowatt Low Altitude Guard I laser at a weapons show this month. The small laser is designed to zap drones out of the sky and plans are in the works for a more powerful, vehicle-mounted version.

China and Russia plan to hold a joint naval drill called Joint-Sea 2015-II in the Sea of Japan at the end of August. Both countries have running maritime disputes with Japan over rival claims to islands and energy resources off the Japanese coast. Tokyo also recently ran its own joint maritime exercises for the first time, joining the U.S. and Australia in the Talisman Sabre event. For Joint-Sea 2015 II, China and Russia will practice air defense, anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare and landing exercises.

 

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