THAAD rising? The U.S. and South Korea are to begin talks on standing up a contentious missile defense system on the peninsula after North Korea’s apparently successful launch of a three-stage rocket Saturday evening at 7:29 p.m. EST. “At no time was the missile a threat to North America,” NORAD/NORTHCOM officials said in a statement shortly afterward. But the newly-orbiting surveillance satellite did pass right over Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., about an hour after the Super Bowl ended, the Associated Press reports. No reports on who Pyongyang was rooting for in the big game. But Washington, and now Seoul, are reportedly very much rooting for the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, “at the earliest possible date,” officials told Reuters. For months, Seoul had been dragging its feet on requests to bust out the THAAD for fear of how Beijing might react to a system that would be able to scan territory that includes the Chinese mainland. Now that hesitation could be coming to an end—but Beijing’s objections have not.
Here’s a handy pocket guide to how U.S. missile defense works, from a few months back via the good folks at the Council on Foreign Relations.
A bit more on the North’s launch and its implications for regional security: “In 2012, after the North’s last long-range test, it announced it had put a communications satellite in space. No signal, however, has ever been detected from the device. That ‘satellite,’ and the one launched this week, are about the same weight as a nuclear warhead, and that was the point of these elaborate exercises,” writes The Daily Beast.
“The rocket the North Koreans call the Unha-3 was probably the most advanced version of their Taepodong missile… The Taepodong is still an easy target before launch, but once it reaches the edge of space it becomes fearsome. It has the range to make a dent in more than half of the continental United States. If its warhead is nuclear and explodes high above the American homeland, an electromagnetic pulse could disable electronics across vast swatches of the country.”
The bottom line presently: “The American intelligence community does not think the North Koreans have built a miniaturized nuclear warhead to go along with the Taepodong yet, but it’s clear they are on their way to developing such a device. The launch this week was one month and one day after their fourth nuclear detonation. Pyongyang, for all the snickering and derision it attracts, is capable of sneaking up on us and becoming an existential threat.” Read the rest, here.
Syria’s rebels are on the verge of collapse. That after this weekend’s offensive by Russian, Iranian and Syrian troops to all but surround the strategic northern city of Aleppo. The goal is to blockade the town and solidify the growing turf gains in recent days from Damascus and its allies—which is casting a big shadow over the peace process now slated to resume in late February.
Some 20,000 more refugees have flocked to Syria’s border with Turkey since Friday—bringing total to roughly 35,000 as of Monday morning—while Russia/Iran/Syria pushed north and Nusra Front flooded Aleppo this weekend with a convoy of some 100 trucks to gird for the fight.
Nearly three-dozen militant groups from around the world have pledged allegiance to ISIS and more are expected in 2016, UN Chief Ban Ki-Moon said this weekend.
For your eyes only: Watch French jets take off from the Charles de Gaulle carrier to strike ISIS. That via the BBC. More on the ISIS fight below the fold.
F-35 vs. bomber: A battle for cash is brewing between two of the Pentagon’s largest weapons programs. The new Long Range Strike-Bomber, or LRS-B, needs cash to get off the ground while the skittish F-35 Joint Strike Fighter camp is worried the new kids will steal its share of the military’s huge but finite acquisition budget. “The F-35A and [the bomber] are almost certainly on a collision course,” said Todd Harrison, a budget analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Global Business Reporter Marcus Weisgerber describes the coming dogfight, here.
From Defense One
Twitter steps up anti-ISIS efforts. The social media giant says it is increasing efforts to combat extremism on the site. Tech Editor Patrick Tucker has the story, here.
Germany’s intelligence chief says ISIS fighters have arrived disguised as refugees, one day after after police arrested three Algerians who were allegedly planning an attack on the German capital. The Atlantic, here.
Coming up: The civilian workforce that supports U.S. warfighters is aging. How will the Pentagon attract and retain the next generation? Leaders from DOD, USAF, and DLA will lay out their plans and outlook on Tues., February 23, in a livestreamed discussion with Defense One Deputy Editor Bradley Peniston. Register to watch today, here.
Welcome to Monday’s edition of the The D Brief, by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Xin nian kuai le, all you lunar-new-year celebrators! Send your friends this subscription link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. Got news? Let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saudis rebuffed on ground troop offer. The Saudis are facing some resistance from Iranian-backed militias in Iraq after Riyadh said late last week it was ready to send ground troops to Syria, if need be. And by “resistance” they warned a Sunni ground offensive into Iraq or Syria would “open the gates of hell.” That angle via Reuters, here.
The UAE is unbothered, and said it’d join a ground force, too.
Bahrain was reportedly in on the ground troop offer, too, on Friday. Then officials caught wind of the rumor and quickly worked to dash it before the counter-ISIS defense ministerial in Brussels in the coming days.
Don’t look now, but Ankara doesn’t like Washington’s allies on the ground in Syria, particularly the Kurds. Although in this conflict, one has to be more precise than that, since there are good and bad Kurds from Turkey’s perspective. The bad ones (PKK) are reportedly getting weapons from the good ones (YPG). It’s all a bit tangled, but the Wall Street Journal demystifies the allegations—which U.S. officials deny—here.
The Saudis shot down another missile fired from Yemen this morning. For a closer look at how missile technology is reshaping the region, especially in light of the Iran deal, check out this take from the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Thomas Karako back in June.
Come see Thailand: where, for another year, the coup does not matter to the U.S. military. It has almost been two years since the Thai military seized power, and each year the U.S. military has continued its Cobra Gold war games with the embattled nation’s leadership. Find a short overview from Stars and Stripes, here; or some broader thoughts on the U.S.-Thailand arrangement (and its discontents) here.
Lastly: which service has the most professional leaders? “A force-wide look at misconduct among senior military officers — and the efforts to prevent it — found significant differences among the services’ cultures,” reports the Military Times. The ground forces, the Army and the Marine Corps, “have a very mature profession of arms,” said Rear Adm. Margaret “Peg” Klein, the defense secretary’s senior adviser for military professionalism. And the Navy and the Air Force? Historically, they “are very technically focused,” she said. The solution? You won’t be surprised to hear it involves centers of excellence. Read on, here.