The Cable

SitRep: Pentagon Sends its Oldest Warplanes to Fight ISIS

Chinese general to South China Sea; Paul Ryan on neocons; and lots more

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Island hopping. How’s this for timing? In the middle of Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s visit to the Asia-Pacific region — which pointedly does not include a stop in Beijing — the Chinese government seems to have dispatched one of its top generals to a disputed island in the South China Sea. Gen. Fan Changlong, vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, appears to have visited an artificial island built around Fiery Cross Reef, which is also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.

U.S. officials told the Wall Street Journal that “there have been a series of flights to and from Fiery Cross since Friday. The planes are consistent with the kind that a senior Chinese official would use.” Fiery Cross also features a new 3,110-meter runway, long enough to land jet fighters, civilian jetliners and military cargo planes.

While in Manila on Thursday, Carter announced that the U.S. and the Philippines would begin conducting joint patrols of the South China Sea and stationing warplanes at air bases in the country. All of this comes against the backdrop of the spy scandal roiling the U.S. Navy after stunning allegations that Lt. Cmdr. Edward Lin may have passed classified information to Beijing about sensitive American spy planes operating in the region. Adding to the mix: The USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier has been patrolling the South China Sea for two weeks, and Carter is expected to visit the ship before he departs the region.

In with the old. Just days after the U.S. Air Force announced it was pulling its newest fighter jet out of the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the Marine Corps sent its oldest. The F-22 Raptor flew some of the earliest missions of the air war in August 2014 — the plane’s first combat deployment — but since then has reportedly flown only two percent of all U.S. missions, dropping just two percent of all munitions. The plane can also perform an electronic warfare mission, jamming enemy communications and potentially Syria’s missile defense systems.

In its place comes the Marines Corps’ 45 year-old EA-6B Prowler, which has already arrived at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, the U.S. European Command announced Thursday. The Prowler will continue to do “what it has for the past 45 years,” the command said in a statement, providing troops with “electronic communications dominance.”

The move comes just as several B-52s — which first entered service in the mid-1950s — arrived at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar to begin bombing runs against ISIS. The B-52s showed up to replace the departed B-1 Lancer bomber, which had entered service in the 1980s. The Lancer was responsible for about 35 percent of all U.S. munitions dropped on the Islamic State, according to the Air Force.

What he’s not, what he is. House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters Thursday he’s “not a neocon,” a surprisingly frank admission from a Republican politician during a time of war. Sitting down with a handful of reporters following his first trip to the Middle East as speaker of the House, Ryan said, “you have to think of these conflicts as very long lasting big time commitments. They’re not quick and they’re not clean and they’re not antiseptic.” FP’s John Hudson was there, and tells us more.

Putin on Putin. Twice each year, for whatever reason, Russian President Vladimir Putin sits calmly in front of a television camera fielding questions from journalists and regular Russian citizens for hours on end in what has become a highly-anticipated spectacle. FP’s Siobhan O’Grady runs the tape and gives us the highlights from his comments on Obama’s strength, his own love life, which world leaders he’d let drown, and so much more.

Thanks for clicking on through this morning as we wrap up 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: paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.

North Korea

A North Korean Musudan mobile intermediate range ballistic missile blew up during a test firing over the East Sea, Yonhap News reports. Both the U.S. and South Korea declared the test, the first since 2007, a failure. The timing coincides with the birthday of late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung and may have been attempted in tribute to the founder of the Kim dynasty. A military source tells Yonhap that South Korea is bracing for a further provocation around the forthcoming Congress of the Workers Party of Korea in early May.

Taiwan

Taiwan’s fighter jets are now so overmatched by China that it’s time for the tiny island’s leaders to shift their strategy to the defense of its skies. That’s the conclusion of a new Rand study, which argues that Taiwan should start shifting its air defense strategy from one based on jets to one focused on surface-to-air missiles. The report makes the case that Chinese missiles now hold Taiwan’s fighter jets at great risk while they’re still on the ground and its fighter jets, both numerically and qualitatively superior to Taiwan’s F-16s, would likely trounce Taiwanese defenses in the air.

Russia

Secretary of State John Kerry would like Russia to know that the USS Donald Cook could have shot down the Russian Su-24 which pulled a Top Gun and buzzed it this week. The Russian jet flew within a hair-raising 30 feet of the Cook, which was sailing in the Baltic Sea. Labeling the incident “provocative,” “reckless,” and “dangerous,” Kerry said that “people need to understand that this is serious business and the United States is not going to be intimidated on the high seas.”

Army Lt. Gen H.R. McMaster, director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center, is at work on a secret study to assess the threat Russia poses to the United States, according to a scoop from Politico. Dubbed the “Russia New Generation Warfare Study,” the study is expected to have a strong influence on Army training and procurement in the near future. Among the early conclusions are that Russian artillery and anti-tank weapons pose a greater risk to the kinds of relatively light American armor the U.S. has relied on in Iraq and Afghanistan. Russian political subversion — given the hot new buzzword “hybrid warfare” — also registers as a concern in the study.

Afghanistan

U.S. airstrikes have pounded Islamic State targets between 70-80 times just this year, Stars and Stripes reports. A spokesman for the U.S. military command in Afghanistan told SitRep on Monday that the majority of strikes against the Islamic State in Afghanistan — 100 so far — have taken place in Nangarhar Province, where fighters operating under the mantle of the Islamic State have established a presence and challenged the Taliban for territory and recruits. Spokesman Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland estimates that the Islamic State has somewhere between 1,000-3,000 fighters in Afghanistan but says U.S. efforts against the group have “significantly decreased” its footprint in the country.

Brazil

Brazil isn’t a place where we’re used to hearing about Islamic State threats but the Latin American country is now worried about the group ahead of the upcoming Summer Olympics, Reuters reports. Brazilian Counterterrorism Director Luiz Alberto Sallaberry says the threat has grown following an uptick in the group’s popularity among some Brazilians and the spread of attacks outside the self-styled caliphate. A prominent French member of the Islamic State, Maxime Hauchard, also tweeted a threat in the fall of 2015, writing “Brazil, you are our next target.”

Nigeria

The Islamic State-linked terrorist group Boko Haram has released a video showing proof of life of some of the 219 Chibok girls kidnapped by the group in 2014. CNN obtained a video showing 15 girls whose kidnapping kicked off the viral “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign. The footage is believed to have been recorded sometime in December and has since triggered a wave of protest against the Nigerian government for its failure to secure the release of the kidnap victims.

Bots o’ war

Special operations AC-130s will soon get drone sidekicks, National Defense magazine reports. Dubbed tactical off-board sensing (TOBS), the gunships’ robotic battle buddies will fly out below the weather and cloud cover to offer crewmembers a better view of the battlefield and target area below. Air Force Special Operations Command has selected Raytheon’s Coyote UAV as the drone of choice for TOBS missions.

Who’s where when

A couple of U.S. defense officials are criss-crossing Eastern Europe and the former Soviet satellite states. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, Dr. Michael Carpenter hit up the military training center at Yavoriv, Ukraine on Friday, reviewing the efforts of about 350 U.S. soldiers who have been training the Ukrainian army and special operations forces. Carpenter is also examining the latest in the fighting in the country’s east, where Russian-backed rebels continue to fight it out with government forces.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe/NATO Jim Townsend leaves Friday for an extensive trip to Slovakia, Austria, Slovenia, and Belgium to meet with military staffs of the U.S. allies. In Belgium, Townsend will also take part in meetings at NATO HQ, and will meet with European Union defense officials‎.

Think tanked

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has released a new report on Tunisia after the Arab Spring uprising, “Between Peril and Promise: A New Framework for Partnership With Tunisia.” The report argues that the hopes of the Arab Spring, which began in Tunisia, remains unfulfilled as the Tunisian economy flounders, security threats from the Islamic State are on the rise, and the corruption continues.

 

Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook

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