SitRep: What China Might Know About U.S. Spy Planes
U.S. Navy expanding ops in South China Sea; Russian plane games; threats from space; and lots more
China fallout. If the U.S. Navy’s Lt. Cmdr. Edward Lin turns out to be guilty of handing over classified details about the Navy’s most sensitive spy planes to China and Taiwan, the fallout for U.S. activities in the South China Sea could be massive.
The alleged espionage case comes at a fraught moment in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, with the United States and its Asian allies increasingly concerned about Beijing’s assertive moves in the area. FP’s Dan De Luce, Elias Groll and Paul McLeary take a look at some of the technologies that might be compromised, writing, “the alleged espionage could undercut the U.S. military’s surveillance operations in the Asia-Pacific, where U.S. and Chinese vessels are engaged in a game of cat and mouse — and increase the potential that a misunderstanding could escalate into an armed clash.”
In related news… U.S. officials said Thursday that American ships have started conducting joint patrols with the Philippines in the South China Sea, a major new initiative for the U.S. Navy as it looks for ways to counter China. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is in Philippines this week, and announced, along with Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmi, that the U.S. is also keeping nearly 300 troops — including Air Force special operators — in the country through at least the end of the month.
The plan is for the U.S. to begin sending troops on regular rotations to the Philippines, to both train and advise local forces, as well as support the new joint patrols. The commandos and other Air Force personnel will be based at Clark Air Base, along with three Pave Hawk helicopters, a special ops MC-130H Combat Talon II aircraft, and five A-10 attack planes.
From Russia with… The videos are striking. Several Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack planes made a series of low passes over the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea earlier this week, and on Wednesday, the U.S. European Command released the tape. The real action, FP’s Paul McLeary writes, came Tuesday, when two Russian jets made 11 “close-range and low altitude passes,” according to a statement from the European Command. The Russian aircraft “flew in a simulated attack profile and failed to respond to repeated safety advisories in both English and Russian,” the statement said. When watching the videos, turn the sound up for the reactions of the Donald Cook’s crew on deck as they watch the planes skim across the water at eye level.
The special relationship. There’s evidence that Pakistan’s powerful spy agency may have provided the funding for a deadly 2009 suicide attack on a CIA base in Afghanistan that ranks as one of the deadliest days in the agency’s history, according to a newly declassified State Department cable. FP’s Elias Groll writes that the heavily redacted cable, sent about two weeks after the attack on Dec. 30, 2009, “reports on a meeting between operatives belonging to the Haqqani network, a highly capable al Qaeda-linked terror group, and unidentified officers with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. According to the cable, which was released Wednesday, the ISI was suspected of giving the Haqqani network $200,000 to “enable” the attack on Forward Operating Base Chapman in Afghanistan’s Khost province.”
Space race. Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work is concerned that the Chinese and the Russians have upped their space game, and he’s worried about what it means for the ability of the U.S. to make full use of its satellites in the event of conflict. “We have a pretty good understanding of what our potential adversaries are capable of,” he said at a space conference in Colorado on Wednesday. “It’s across the board. It includes jamming. It includes dazzling. It includes spoofing. It includes cyber attacks. It includes on-orbit attacks and direct-ascent” attacks.
Meet “The Beast.” A U.S.-made Abrams M1 tank operated by an Iraqi tank crew has been fighting it out with the Islamic State in the town of Hit, near Ramadi. And they’re impressing their American advisors so much that the U.S. military’s Baghdad-based spokesman, Col. Steve Warren, went out of his way during a routine Wednesday briefing to praise the crew and assert that they have been “driving all around Hit, crazy, blasting IEDs [improvised explosive devices],” FP’s Paul McLeary writes. And there’s video. Everyone loves a good tank video.
Thanks for clicking on through this morning as we rip through another week of SitRep. As always, 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: email@example.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.
South China Sea
More and more, fishermen are the tip of the spear in China’s effort to expand its maritime territory in the South China Sea. Beijing uses fishing activity in contested waters in order to assert and legitimize its maritime claims, often leading to an increasing number of tense standoffs between Chinese fishermen and the coast guards of neighboring countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, and elsewhere. FP flagged the practice back in October, but the “maritime militias” — fishermen with light paramilitary training, acting as the vanguard of Chinese territorial claims at sea — are receiving a renewed bout of attention.
The Philippines and Vietnam are in talks to carry out joint naval patrols in the South China Sea to hedge against China’s assertive territorial claims in the region, according to Reuters. The talks are still in the early stages as the two countries’ defense ministers plan to meet on Thursday, and it follows an agreement in November to cooperate on defense issues. Cooperation is increasingly the new norm for countries locked in territorial disputes with China, with Japan strengthening its defense relationship with the Philippines and the U.S. broadening its military engagement with the Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam.
The good news is that the North Korea nerds at 38 North see no sign of preparations in satellite imagery for a rumored nuclear test to honor the birthday of Kim Il Sung, the late founder of the Kim dynasty. Imagery from the entrance portals at North Korea’s nuclear test site show little no activity recently. The bad news is that the North is capable of carrying out nuclear tests with little warning.
The Islamic State
Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work confirmed that the U.S. is hacking the Islamic State, saying that “we are dropping cyber bombs” on the terrorist group. Work offered few specifics on what, exactly a “cyber bomb” is or does but his statement follows comments from Defense Secretary Ash Carter in February that the Pentagon was planning on using offensive cyber operations to go after the group’s command and control capabilities. “Right now it sucks to be [the Islamic State],” Work added.
The latest issue of the Islamic State’s PDF propaganda magazine threatens the lives of high-profile Muslims working in politics in the West, including top Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin and Minnesota Democratic Congressman Rep. Keith Ellison, labeling them as “apostates” and “crusaders.” The magazine also threatened British Conservative party politicians Sayeeda Warsi and Sajid Javid, both of whom have served in parliament and Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet. Rep. Ellison released a statement in response, calling the group “liars, murderers, torturers, and rapists,” and saying he’s been targeted by the Islamic State because of his support “for things like justice, tolerance, and a more inclusive world.”
The Hill reports that Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have introduced legislation to restrict weapons sales to Saudi Arabia. Murphy and Paul’s bill resolution would force the president to certify that the Saudis are taking certain measures to ensure that civilians won’t be harmed in the Saudi-led war against the Houthi movement in Yemen. Both senators blasted the Saudi campaign and U.S. participation in it, with Murphy saying “our military involvement on behalf of the Saudi-led coalition is prolonging human suffering in Yemen and aiding the very groups that are intent on attacking us.”
Who’s where when
1:00 p.m. “Navigating Unsettled Waters: Introducing the Maritime Awareness Project,” featuring a keynote address by Vice Adm. Robert Thomas, Jr., director, Navy staff. Also speaking is (ret.) Adm. Dennis Blair, former director of national intelligence from 2009 to 2010, and former head of the U.S. Pacific Command. The National Bureau of Asian Research and Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA have partnered to create a new Web portal, the Maritime Awareness Project, that looks pretty interesting. More information and a Livestream of the event here.
12:15 p.m. Republican Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Ed Royce joins the Stimson Center’s board chairman Amb. Lincoln P. Bloomfield Jr. for a discussion of U.S. foreign policy at the Center’s offices. Details available at the Stimson website.
The Air Force has one simple request. Just one. And that is to have cruise missiles with lasers attached to them. Defense Tech reports that the service is implementing that vision in the form of the Counter-Electronics Advanced Missile Project or CHAMP. CHAMP takes an AGM-86 cruise missile fired from a B-52 bomber and adds a microwave pulse directed energy beam to knock out enemy air defense systems. At the moment, the CHAMP missile is restricted to the B-52 but the Air Force is working on bringing it to the F-35 and F/A-18.
Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Space Command, is under consideration to be the service’s chief of staff. Hyten would be a precedent-breaking selection for the job as he would be the first Air Force chief without a background as pilot since the service was created after World War II. If Hyten gets the nod, it could be a sign that the Pentagon is looking to focus more on cyber and space issues, despite the Air Force’s pilot-centric culture.
A purported CIA memo shown on Russian television displays some rather strange use of English.
Photo Credit: US Navy