Situation Report

A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from Foreign Policy reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer, formerly Security Brief. Delivered Thursday.

Russia Fires Shot in Space Arms Race

The Pentagon is concerned that Moscow is seeking to militarize space with a significant anti-satellite test.

Russia's Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft carrying the members of the International Space Station (ISS) expedition 57/58 blasts off in from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on October 11, 2018.
Russia's Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft carrying the members of the International Space Station (ISS) expedition 57/58 blasts off in from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on October 11, 2018. KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to Foreign Policy’s weekly Security Brief. What’s on tap today: Russia launches an anti-satellite missile, the coronavirus strikes another U.S. aircraft carrier, and U.S. tensions with Iran heat up in the Persian Gulf. 

A bit of self-promotion: The World Affairs Council of Dallas-Ft. Worth is hosting a webinar with FP’s Robbie Gramer on U.S. and international diplomacy in the age of the pandemic today at 5:00 p.m. EST. Tune in here

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Russian Missile Test Draws Criticism From the Pentagon

Russia tested a missile on Wednesday that is capable of destroying satellites in low-earth orbit, U.S. Space Command said in a statement, as the Pentagon faced military challenges from Russia, China, and Iran over the course of a busy day. The move could be a significant challenge to U.S. efforts to invest in communications satellites and sensor layers to track missiles in-flight—as the Space Force did during Iran’s ballistic missile attack on Iraq’s Al Asad air base in January, which left more than 100 U.S. troops with traumatic brain injuries.

“This test is further proof of Russia’s hypocritical advocacy of outer space arms control proposals designed to restrict the capabilities of the United States while clearly having no intention of halting their counter-space weapons programs,” said Gen. Jay Raymond, Space Command’s chief.

Growing challenge. The missile test is another example of Russian forces challenging the United States in outer space in recent months, as the Trump administration has sought to get the nascent U.S. Space Force off the ground. Time reported in February that two Russian satellites had begun shadowing a U.S. satellite in outer space, a move that Raymond said had the potential to “create a dangerous situation.”

Other rivals joining in. It won’t just be Russia keeping the nascent Space Force busy: The Secure World Foundation said in its annual report last month that China, Iran, and North Korea are also looking at counter-space technologies.

What We’re Watching

An update on the Roosevelt. U.S. Navy officials now believe the coronavirus outbreak on the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier spread from flight crews coming aboard the ship, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday. Pentagon officials previously suspected that a March port visit to Vietnam may have been the cause. More than 600 sailors on board the ship, which is now docked in Guam, have tested positive for COVID-19.

The news comes as the New York Times reports that the Navy is considering reinstating Capt. Brett Crozier—who called for the ship’s crew to rapidly evacuate–as skipper of the Roosevelt. Crozier’s firing prompted then-Acting U.S. Navy Secretary Thomas Modly to travel to Guam to criticize the captain and crew, an action that eventually forced his resignation.

And if that wasn’t enough. Nearly 700 sailors aboard the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle have tested positive for coronavirus, as have two U.S. sailors aboard the ship, with two more in quarantine. While Cdr. Kyle Raines, a spokesperson for the U.S. Navy’s 6th Fleet, said  the infected sailors are receiving “excellent” care, the outbreak could be devastating for European military operations. The de Gaulle is the only nuclear-powered carrier outside of the U.S. Navy. A new British carrier, the H.M.S. Prince of Wales, does not have catapults to launch jets and is designed only for vertical or short takeoffs.

Military travel ban extension. U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced on Tuesday that a travel ban applying to most U.S. military personnel would be extended, with details released later in the week. The travel ban was ordered on March 12 and scheduled to last 60 days, until May 12. The measures put a halt on all military travel, including deployments to and from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, though it was not expected to impact the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Pentagon had reported 4,769 confirmed cases of coronavirus as of Tuesday.

U.S.-Iran tensions. It wouldn’t be a regular weekday without new developments in not-so-friendly relations between Washington and Tehran. This week, the U.S. Navy reported that 11 Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps vessels were spotted harassing U.S. warships at close range and high speeds while they were conducting exercises in the north Persian Gulf near Iran.

Movers and Shakers

The next USAID chief. Mark Green, U.S. President Donald Trump’s well-regarded U.S. Agency for International Development chief, has left the job—a long-planned departure that came in the middle of a global pandemic. Who’s on tap to replace him? Three names are being floated, insiders tell Foreign Policy: Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida; former Rep. Ed Royce; and Jim Richardson, a State Department appointee who was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s chief of staff during his stint in Congress.

Army appointment. On April 9, Trump announced his intent to nominate Michele A. Pearce to serve as the next General Counsel of the Department of the Army. Pearce has held several senior roles in the federal government and currently serves as the Principal Deputy General Counsel of the U.S. Army.

Foreign Policy Recommends

Rising star on the left. His supporters at home say he’s on a path to the White House. His allies in Washington say he’s a top contender for a senior post in a next Democratic administration.Vox’s Alex Ward profiles Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a leading progressive foreign policy voice on Capitol Hill.

The Week Ahead

The U.N. Security Council meets today to discuss the ongoing security situation in Yemen. Fighting between the Houthi rebels and the government is reported to have increased, despite a recent cease-fire announced by Saudi Arabia.

Odds and Ends

U.S. diplomacy heavyweight joins Twitter. Daniel Fried is the epitome of old-school U.S. diplomacy. Until his retirement in 2017, he was the longest-serving diplomat at the State Department. Now at the Atlantic Council, he has at last joined Twitter amid the pandemic. He explained his reasoning to Foreign Policy: “Long sequestration at home overcomes prior curmudgeonly vows. And maybe tempted by new ways to fight the dark forces in the name of higher values.” Keep an eye out for his insights, in 280 characters or less.

Exploring UFOs. The U.S. Air Force takes its UFO videos very seriously. A document recently acquired by Vice News revealed that the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations opened an investigation into the use of allegedly classified UFO videos by former Blink-182 singer Tom DeLonge’s To the Stars Academy. The investigation ended when it was determined that the videos were indeed unclassified, but it did spark a wave of curiosity into the Air Force’s apparent UFO interest.

That’s it for today.

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Jack Detsch is Foreign Policy’s Pentagon and national security reporter. Twitter: @JackDetsch

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

Dan Haverty is a former editorial fellow at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @dan_haverty