Russia appears to be setting up a forward air operating base in Syria, Pentagon officials said Monday. Moscow had already sent infantry and prefab houses to the site in western Syria’s port city of Latakia; more recently, Russia dispatched at least a half-dozen T-90 tanks and a raft of SA-22 anti-aircraft missiles—but so far no fighter jets, helicopters or gunships that U.S. officials have noticed, Defense One’s Molly O’Toole reported.
Without any military-to-military contact between the U.S. and Russian forces, the issue of how the two nations will de-conflict the airspace over Syria remains in something of an alarming wait-and-see status, O’Toole writes. “Defense Department spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said there are no plans to break the silence; the only communication at this time is diplomatic, primarily between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.”
For what it’s worth: this morning in Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called for talks between U.S. President Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin aimed at resolving the crisis in Syria, Reuters reports.
Meanwhile, Iran says it wants China’s help finding a “political solution” to the crises in “Yemen, Syria and the Middle East,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said this morning in Beijing, where he was courting Chinese companies for a post-sanctions Iran.
A defiant Chinese admiral told a crowd in London that the South China Sea “belongs to China,” Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber reports from the Defence & Security Equipment International, or DSEI, conference, which gathers military leaders from around the world.
“In a rare appearance together, American and Chinese admirals sat alongside one another to present their views on maritime security in the Asia-Pacific region…There was political theater and a few one-liners, as the panel remained cordial and the admirals were all smiles during handshakes before and after. But the tension was real and the messages direct,” Weisgerber writes.
“The South China Sea, as the name indicated, is a sea area. It belongs to China,” said Vice Adm. Yuan Yubai, who commands the North Sea Fleet for the People’s Liberation Army Navy. Yuan went on to say he was “firmly convinced” South China Sea disputes could be “solved with the joint efforts and consultation of the hosting countries around the South China Sea.”
But Japanese Vice Adm. Umio Otsuka was less sanguine, flagging the issue of commercial fishing fleets being used as maritime militia to defend reclaimed islands. “This may provoke, sooner or later, a debate how the conflict between military and maritime militia, if any, should be handled,” he said. Read the rest, here.
New imagery appears to show China is building its third airstrip in the contested waters of the South China Sea, Reuters reports. “The images show a retaining wall around an area 3,000 meters (3,280 yards) long, matching similar work by China on two other reefs in the Spratlys, Subi and Fiery Cross, said Greg Poling, director of [the Center for Strategic and International Studies’] Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.” Read the rest from Reuters here, or keep tabs on CSIS’s observations around Mischief Reef right here.
Back in Washington, the U.S. has decided not to sanction Chinese businesses over cybersecurity concerns, The Washington Post reports ahead of the Chinese president’s first state visit to the White House next week. “The potential for sanctions in response to Chinese economic cyberespionage is not off the table and China’s behavior in cyberspace is still an issue”—just not one that will be acted upon before Sept. 24, an administration official said. More here.
Cyber impasse? Last Friday during a troop talk at Fort Meade, Md., President Obama struck an “uncharacteristically combative” tone on the question of how to respond to cyberthreats from China, Russia and Iran, The New York Times’ David Sanger reports. Offense is moving a lot faster than defense,” the president said. Writes Sanger: “If China and other nations cannot figure out the boundaries of what is acceptable, ‘we can choose to make this an area of competition, which I guarantee you we’ll win if we have to,’” Obama said. Though—of course—that’s much said than done at this stage, as Sanger explains here.
ICYMI: There’s been a bit of recent progress in fleshing out the international rules on states’ behavior in cyberspace. The Council on Foreign Relations’ Alex Grigsby has this analysis.
Nuke watch: North Korean edition. “North Korea Tuesday announced that it had restarted its Yongbyon nuclear reactor and was ready to use nuclear weapons ‘any time’ against the United States,” WaPo reports. “The Yongbyon reactor was shut down in 2007 in a deal brokered through ‘six party’ talks involving the United States, China, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas. However, after it conducted its third nuclear test in February 2013, North Korea threatened to restart the reactor. In Tuesday’s report, North Korea said it had indeed re-started its main nuclear facility at that time.”
“The threat, which was not an unusual one in North Korea’s state news media, came amid speculation from analysts in the region that the North’s young leader, Kim Jong-un, might mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the country’s ruling Workers’ Party on Oct. 10 by showing off advances in its nuclear and long-range missile programs,” adds the NYT.
Where is that Yongbyon facility and how close is it to North Korean launching stations and test sites? AFP has answers in one nifty graphic, here.
Back to London briefly, where the head of the Royal Netherlands Air Force has a message for the U.S. Army’s effort to build the military helicopter of the future: Your “solutions are based on ’80s technology, refreshed a little bit,” Weisgerber writes from the DSEI conference.
Through a project called Future Vertical Lift, writes Weisgerber, the Army has asked Bell Helicopter and a Sikorsky-Boeing team to build prototypes that could evolve into the design for thousands of new helicopters for the American military and its allies. The Bell design is a new tiltrotor that has rotating propellers—like the V-22 Osprey—so the aircraft can take off like a helicopter, then accelerate to an airplane’s top speed. The Sikorsky-Boeing design includes a compound main rotor and a rear propeller that pushes the helicopter forward, helping it reach high speeds.
In a blunt address to a room of global helicopter experts, Lt. Gen. Alexander Schnitger said the two primary designs being evaluated by the Army are not ambitious enough and could fall far short of what NATO needs to win a war. “When I look at the [Future Vertical Lift] designs, I see today’s technology being incrementally improved toward the future,” he said. “What I would like to see is a disruptive vision of the vertical-lift capabilities that is ready for any operation in 2040. Instead of extrapolating today into the future, I’d like to start with the future and then decide how to get there.” Read the rest here.
From Defense One
How terrorism has—and hasn’t—changed, from the Algerian War to ISIS. Stanford’s Martha Crenshaw, who did some of the earliest studies of terrorism in the 1970s, reflects on how today’s terrorists have evolved from their predecessors in a Q-and-A with The Atlantic’s Kathy Gilsinan, here.
Keep hackers from causing chaos at the gas pumps—and 9 other FBI warnings. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security just issued new warnings about everyday objects that stay connected to the internet. NextGov’s Aliya Sternstein rolls them up, here.
Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of The D Brief, from Ben Watson and Brad Peniston. Want to share The D Brief with a friend? Here’s our subscribe link. And please tell us what you like, don’t like, or want to drop on our radar right here at email@example.com.
Today in Washington, Senate Republicans will try for a second time to reject the Iran nuclear deal, though there are no indications the result will be any different, AP reports.
And the UN’s nuclear chief will visit Iran at some point “within the next three to four days,” Tehran’s nuclear chief said this morning on Iranian state TV. Meantime, a team of a dozen International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors are set to arrive in Iran today.
‘Thrown under the bus.’ Some Marines who monitored the Corps’ study into the combat effectiveness of co-ed versus all-male units say they feel betrayed by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus’s reservations about the conclusions derived from the 9-month study, WaPo reports.
“If you were to look at our training plan and how we progressed from October to February, you’re not going to find any evidence of institutional bias or some way we built this for females to fail… From the top down, we were trying to level the playing field,” said one Marine officer who participated in the experiment.
“What Mabus said went completely against what the command was saying the whole time,” said Sgt. Joe Frommling, one of the Marines who acted as a monitor. “They said, ‘Hey, no matter what your opinion is, go out there and give it your best and let the chips fall where they may.’”
Despite all this, Mabus stands his ground. “Capt. Patrick McNally, a spokesman for the secretary, said Mabus had no further comment beyond his earlier remarks and ‘remains committed to opening combat fields to women,’” WaPo added. Read their report in its entirety here.
In the world of exciting military toys, DARPA has a helicopter with robotic legs that allow landings on unsteady terrain—as on jagged cliffs or ships at sea. The folks at Vocativ have a video illustrating these “automatically articulating legs” as they fold out and “feel” for the ground. Check it out right here.
And in the world of pending military gear, the Pentagon is reportedly considering cancelling “the last of three ships—[the USS Lyndon B. Johnson, a Zumwalt-class destroyer]—in General Dynamics Corp.’s $22 billion program to build new destroyers even though the vessel is already under construction,” Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio writes.
What’s going on? “From an initial [order of] 32, the quantity planned was reduced over the years to seven and then three. The estimated procurement cost for all three vessels has increased by 37 percent since 2009 to $12.3 billion… The estimated construction cost for the third destroyer, designated DDG-1002, is about $3.5 billion. A key question is how much of that could be saved by canceling a ship that’s about 41 percent complete.” More here.
The Marines’ recent test of their F-35 variant—the one where the aircraft was determined “combat ready”— was so flawed that it “was not an operational test … in either a formal or informal sense of the term,” the Pentagon’s top weapons tester, J. Michael Gilmore, director of the Pentagon’s Operational Test and Evaluation Office, wrote in a memo released Monday by the Project on Government Oversight. More here.
Lastly today, 2016 presidential hopefuls are leaving out one key consideration in their race for the White House: America’s veteran community. “After 14 years of war, nearly 7,000 service members have given their lives, and 2.8 million veterans who have returned and are continuing to return home from multiple deployments. But on the presidential campaign trail, there is little to no conversation pertaining to veterans,” writes Jane Horton, wife of an Army sniper killed in Afghanistan in 2011, in the pages of Task & Purpose.
“There are no shortage of issues to be discussed — there are 22 veterans a day who commit suicide, homeless veterans without food or shelter, a Department of Veterans affairs that needs to become more accountable and effective, fraught wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and numerous veterans seeking employment after courageously serving…After all, as Calvin Coolidge once said, ‘A nation which forgets its defenders will be itself forgotten.’”