Situation Report: Syria peace talks on skids; U.S. Navy’s new ship-killing missile; Obama pressured on Libya as ISIS recruits flock to the country; Iraq building walls, cutting wireless; plenty of new budget news; and lots more
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Walk away. The United Nations has formally suspended the faltering peace talks between the Syrian government and a coalition of rebel groups. The move came just after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made it clear that Moscow — which has provided extensive military assistance to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ...
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
Walk away. The United Nations has formally suspended the faltering peace talks between the Syrian government and a coalition of rebel groups. The move came just after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made it clear that Moscow — which has provided extensive military assistance to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — had no intention of pausing its airstrikes against the groups.
FP’s John Hudson and Colum Lynch write that “the Russian proclamation underscores one of the key weaknesses of the U.S.- and Russian-backed Syrian peace process. Any political settlement to the country’s civil war will not require that the combatants halt their fight against terrorists. The problem is that there’s no consensus about which of the many armed groups fighting in Syria should fall into that category. Syria and Russia maintain that their current military campaign is solely targeting what they describe as terrorists, but the United States says the bombs are mostly hitting opposition targets, as well as civilians.”
Spreading the word. (Hi, China!) Defense Secretary Ash Carter has been out and about over the past several days, telegraphing some of the highlights of the upcoming 2017 Pentagon spending plan. We’ve already covered some of the big stuff, including $7 billion to fight the Islamic State, $3.4 billion to send American armor and troops to Europe, and new plans to challenge Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea.
But there were more specifics Wednesday, including word that the U.S. Navy’s SM-6 missile — the service’s most advanced ship-launched missile designed to knock enemy missiles, aircraft and drones out of the sky — has now been converted into a ship killer. Carter said the new capability worked during recent testing, and now, “in addition to missile defense, it can also target enemy ships at sea at very long ranges.” Overall, the new budget plan calls for an investment of $2.9 billion over the next five years in the SM-6 missile, for a total of 625 missiles. The Pentagon will also spend about $2 billion over the next five years to purchase 4,000 Tomahawk missiles and upgrade their capabilities.
Flashback. Back in December, FP’s Dan De Luce heard rumblings of the SM-6 project, and we’d suggest taking a fresh look at his prescient story about how the U.S. Navy is scrambling to reconfigure existing technologies to meet rapidly growing Chinese naval capabilities.
Victoria Concordia Crescit. Meet the “arsenal plane,” unveiled during a speech by Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Tuesday. The idea isn’t a new one, but it appears to be getting a second look from the Pentagon. The plan, as Carter described it, is to take “one of our oldest aircraft” and turn it into “a flying launchpad for all sorts of different conventional payloads,” he said. In practice, the arsenal plane will “function as a very large airborne magazine,” Carter said, “networked to fifth generation aircraft that act as forward sensor and targeting nodes, essentially combining different systems already in our inventory to create whole new capabilities.” Luckily, late last year Lockheed Martin won a contract to upgrade Cold War-era B-52 bombers to be able to carry a stealthy guided cruise missile that can fly almost 600 miles before hitting its target.
More budgets. The U.S. Air Force may be in some budget trouble in the coming years due to a host of expensive aircraft programs coming online. Partially as a result, the service leaked Wednesday that it is cutting five F-35A Joint Strike Fighters from the 2017 budget request, while planning to fully fund the new Long Range Strike Bomber and KC-46 tanker. The F-35 cut reduces the buy next year to 43, but it remains unclear if that will have any effect on the overall planned buy of 1,763 aircraft.
The Air Force may be scaling back, but the Pentagon is actually planning to buy 13 more F-35s and 16 more F-18 Super Hornets over the next five years. Ten of the F-35s would go to the Navy, and three to the Marine Corps.
Things are humming along here at SitRep HQ, but as you know, we can never get enough information, so if you have any thoughts, announcements, tips, or national security-related events to share, please pass them along to SitRep HQ! Best way is to send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.
A Libyan intelligence official tells the BBC that top Islamic State leaders are ducking out of the conflicts in Syria and Iraq in order to hide in Libya. Ismail Shukri says that a wave of foreign fighters have come from across North Africa and Sudan recently, as well as Syria and Iraq. A number of senior Islamic State leaders have piggybacked on the waves of migrants moving throughout the region because, as Shukri says “they view Libya as a safe haven.”
The Islamic State already controls about 150 miles of the Libyan coastline near the city of Sirte, the group’s stronghold in the country. Officials at the Pentagon are now estimating that there are somewhere around 5,000 to 6,500 ISIS fighters in Libya, which has become a sponge for radicalized recruits from across North Africa. While the ISIS threat grows in Libya, the White House is still debating about what to do next. The New York Times reports that despite several recent meetings at the White House on the topic, the issue is far from being resolved. “The White House just has to decide,” one senior State Department official told the paper. “The case has been laid out by virtually every department.”
American Special Operations Forces have been trying to work with different militia groups in Libya in recent months, but there’s been little indication that they have made much progress as the two main governing factions in Tripoli continue to struggle to form a national government. The Wall Street Journal offers a good breakdown of the political infighting, and how it is helping ISIS set down roots.
The AP reports that a Russian officer has died in combat in Syria, the country’s third officially acknowledged casualty, according to a statement from Russia’s defense ministry. Russia blamed the Islamic State for the officer’s death, saying he was killed by incoming mortar rounds while providing training to the Syrian military.
Iraqi forces are building a wall to encircle the capital of Baghdad in order to keep out attackers from the Islamic State, the BBC reports. The wall will eventually have a trench in front to act as a kind of moat, as well as surveillance equipment to monitor approaches, according to Iraq officials. It’s intended to prevent the Islamic State from infiltrating fighters and weapons into the city, as Baghdad has suffered a number of suicide bombings by the group.
Iraqi officials are hoping to enlist satellite Internet companies in a plan to cut off the Islamic State’s Internet access in the country, Reuters reports. Iraq is asking the firms to stop providing satellite Internet access in areas controlled by the group, and has already received cooperation from one company, Yahsat. Landlines and mobile Internet to areas under the Islamic State’s control have already been cut, leaving satellite as the primary means that the group — and residents living under the caliphate — can connect to the wider world.
A U.S. drone strike has reportedly killed a member of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and his bodyguards in Yemen, according to Al Jazeera. The strike targeted Jalal Baleedi, believed to be a field commander in southern Yemen. Baleedi was rumored to have recently defected to the Islamic State as the group’s leader in Yemen but confirmation of his death or allegiances has not emerged from either group. AQAP has made a number of territorial gains as the Saudi-led war against the Houthi movement in Yemen has allowed the group to exploit the chaos in the country.
Nigeria carried out its first confirmed drone strike, according to a Nigerian military statement, making it the latest in a growing number of countries to use armed drones in combat. The statement from a Nigerian military spokesman, alongside with footage posted to YouTube, said that the drone targeted a logistics based used by Boko Haram, the Islamic State-aligned terrorist group which has launched an increasingly bloody insurgency in the region. Officials did not say which drone carried out the strike but Nigeria is a confirmed owner of China’s CH-3 UAVs, made by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.
Japan’s NHK reports that a North Korean ballistic missile-bearing mobile launcher was spotted on the move, headed in the direction of the country’s eastern shore. The report comes as North Korea prepares for an upcoming rocket launch, nominally intended to launch a satellite into space but widely believed to be a cover activity for testing the North’s ballistic missiles. Japanese officials are on edge about the mobile missile launcher as North Korea used one to carry out a missile test off Japan’s coastline in 2014.
Business of defense
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg was in India Wednesday for a visit where he floated the possibility of an F/A-18 Super Hornet contract with India that allowed Indian companies to build the jet domestically, Reuters reports. India has pushed defense contractors to allow for domestic production as part of a “Make In India” campaign to build up India’s manufacturing skills. Boeing’s push for an F/A-18 contract is an attempt to capitalize on the failure of France’s attempt to sell 36 Rafale fighters to India.
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