The Cable

SitRep: China Blasts Pentagon Report; Ash Carter’s Tech Plan Rebooted

Big Navy conference kicks off; sunken drone pods; and lots more

aaatech

 

Did not, did so! The argument over who’s doing what in the South China Sea kicked up a notch with last week’s release of the Pentagon’s latest public assessment of the strength of the Chinese military. The report accused China of being the region’s primary aggressor as it hurriedly builds new islands to push its territorial claims further out to sea, while installing new radar and missile systems in the backyards of its neighbors, FP reports.

Beijing doesn’t quite see things the same way. The report “deliberately distorted” China’s defense policy, spokesman Yang Yujun said in a statement posted Saturday on Weibo, the Chinese microblogging site, adding “the US annual report on China’s military and security developments has severely damaged mutual trust between the two sides.” Still, in a move likely timed to cool things down, within hours of the report’s release the Pentagon announced that Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford and his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Fang Fenghui, spoke for the first time since Dunford took office in October.

Check out China-watcher Andrew Erickson’s website for a rundown of the most relevant bits from the report, which details China’s military modernization plans.

More nukes. Beijing’s long-awaited deployment of the DF-5B intercontinental ballistic missile, which can carry several warheads, may kick off a missile race in Asia according to a new report from the Stimson Center. “The good news,” says Michael Krepon, co-editor of the new book, “is that China, India, and Pakistan won’t go overboard on [multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV)] like the United States and the Soviet Union. The bad news is that even limited deployments will further complicate the triangular nuclear competition in Asia.”

Spy date. On May 17, the U.S. naval officer accused of spying for Taiwan, and possibly China, will be arraigned on the charges in Norfolk, Va., a move that marks the start of court martial proceedings. At the hearing, Lt. Cmdr. Edward Lin, 39, will answer charges that he committed espionage and mishandled classified documents, though his defense team, as FP has reported,

insists that Lin was entrapped by the FBI and never passed sensitive military information to the undercover FBI informant who formed a relationship with the officer.

Tech crunch. Defense Secretary Ash Carter must be envious of what the Israeli government has put together in the Negev desert city of Beersheba, where a gleaming new complex is bringing together “some of the country’s top talent from the military, academia and business,” the Washington Post points out. The complex — and the collaboration — is similar to what Carter has been trying to put together in Silicon valley for the past year.

Just last week, Carter jettisoned the leadership of the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) office he put in place in April 2015, in a quiet recognition that the project wasn’t working out the way it was envisioned — as an incubator for greater collaboration between Silicon valley innovators and the Pentagon. So far, the office hasn’t had much news to report, and Carter has decided to make the new leadership report directly to him to try and spur some movement.

Ghost in the machine. At a time when military commanders and intelligence officials are worried about retaining America’s technological edge against resurgent great power rivals like China and Russia, one book has captured imaginations and sparked debate inside the Pentagon, FP’s Dan De Luce writes. The novel, Ghost Fleet, “has landed at an auspicious time: After 15 years of grinding ground wars against elusive insurgents armed with homemade bombs, the U.S. military is both yearning to get back to its roots in high-end conflict and wondering how to counter old adversaries with new hi-tech tools.” And Pentagon brass is smitten.

All in. After being pounded by CIA drone strikes and government crackdowns in Pakistan for well over a decade, al Qaeda may be doubling down on its investment in Syria, U.S. and European intel analysts say. “The movement of the senior Qaeda jihadists reflects Syria’s growing importance to the terrorist organization and most likely foreshadows an escalation of the group’s bloody rivalry with the Islamic State,” the New York Times reports. The moves aim to make al Qaeda’s arm in Syria, the Nusra Front, the group’s spearhead as leadership directly challenges the Islamic State for recognition as the true face of jihad.

Thanks for clicking on through as we kick off 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

Who’s where when

All day. We can’t run down the list of U.S. Navy and Marine Corps leaders speaking at the Navy League’s Sea Air Space symposium that kicks off today, so if you haven’t checked it out already, here’s the schedule.

11:00 a.m. “The Lure and Pitfalls of MIRVs: From the First to the Second Nuclear Age.” The Stimson Center hosts a discussion on the findings of the new report looking at the new Chinese multiple-warhead missile.

2:00 p.m. “The Sykes-Picot agreement at 100: Rethinking the map of the modern Middle East.” It’s been 100 years since the signing of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which rearranged the borders of the modern Middle East. The American Enterprise Institute is holding an event today to look at the impact of the agreement on the region, featuring former ambassador to Iraq and Syria, Ryan Crocker, and a host of other panelists.

5:00 p.m. Retired Adm. Mike Mullen, who served as the 17th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will speak at the Atlantic Counsel about the national security implications of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.

North Korea

North Korea’s shipping industry is sailing once again in defiance of United Nations sanctions placed on the Hermit Kingdom. Yonhap News Agency checked on the movement of North Korean ships owned by Ocean Maritime Management Co. using Marine Traffic, a website which tracks the movement of shipping traffic, and found four of the company’s ships transiting around Japan and China. In March, the U.N. Security Council passed resolution 2270 in response to Pyongyang’s recent nuclear weapons test, demanding that countries inspect designated North Korean ships — including those owned by Ocean Maritime Management — moving through their waters.

Russia

A Reuters investigation finds that Russia has been quietly helping suspected Islamist militants leave the country and many of those who’ve left have ended up fighting alongside jihadist groups in Syria. The move took place until 2014 and accelerated in advance of the Sochi Olympics in an apparent bid to clamp down on potential terrorist attacks before the international sporting event. One Russian Islamist militant told Reuters that the Federal Security Service, Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, offered him a new passport and a promise not to arrest him if only he’d leave the country, saying “Go wherever you want, you can even go fight in Syria.”

In case of emergency, break pod

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is working on a program to store unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) underwater for later use, Fox News reports. The program, dubbed Upward Falling Payloads, would keep UAVs locked up in 5,000 lb pods beneath the surface of the ocean, protecting them for long durations from the pressure of their deep underwater storage. When needed, a signal would trigger the pods to break free and surface, launching their drone payload into the skies.

Iraq

Iraq’s Communication and Media Commission (CMC) has shut down channels and a TV show popular with the country’s Sunni population, in a move that many are claiming amounts to sectarian repression by the largely Shiite government in Baghdad. Since March, authorities have shut down Al Jazeera’s offices in the country and forced the Al Baghdadia channel and Sumaria’s Albasheer Show, a satirical news program, to close up shop. Authorities reportedly objected to the views of Al Jazeera’s Doha-based guests and the channel’s depiction of Iraq’s militias. The Albasheer show landed in hot water with the CMC for lampooning a prominent Shia cleric.

Libya

Deputy secretary of State Antony Blinken says that Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamist terrorist group may be sending members to Libya to fight alongside the Islamic State. Blinken told reporters on Friday that the group’s “ability to communicate has become more effective” and that the aid relationship between the two jihadist organizations has become a two-way street, with reports that the Islamic State may have sent logistical aid to Boko Haram. Boko Haram pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in 2015 and the U.S. has been supporting the Nigerian government in its attempt to crack down on the group.

Venezuela

What’s next in Caracas? Venezuela is melting down, and U.S. intelligence officials aren’t sure what to do about it. A continuing economic crisis “may lead to a full-fledged uprising before the political drama plays itself out,” the Washington Post reports. The numbers behind the unrest are staggering: Inflation sits around 700 percent, the highest in the world, while “the worst drought in half a century has led to water and electricity shortages, with rolling blackouts and government-imposed furloughs for state workers.” This has all led to shortages of food, medicine and consumer goods, with has spurred “widespread looting that was met with tear gas fired by security forces.”

Lots of medals

USA Today pries back some of the secrecy on over 100 Silver Stars and two Navy Crosses awarded to Navy SEALs and one Marine over the past decade and a half. The medals are part of a larger bevy of secretive awards handed out for battlefield heroism since 9/11, with an estimated 20 percent of the military services’ highest decorations recognizing missions that are classified. One of the medals, a Navy Cross awarded to a Marine, recognized heroism during the 2012 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, which killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. The Marine gunnery sergeant flew into Benghazi and came under fire attempting to rescue personnel stranded and under attack in the consulate.

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