The extreme risks of shooting down North Korean missiles; Pence to DPRK: ‘The sword stands ready’; Mattis talks Yemen war in Saudi Arabia; Russia, from the Arctic to US airspace; And a bit more.

Under discussion: shooting down DPRK missiles. With that Korea-bound carrier group finally heading to the peninsula, the U.S. military is considering shooting down future North Korea missile tests, The Guardian reported Tuesday, citing “two sources briefed on the planning.” The idea, which contains a number of big risks, is naturally part of the conversation in an environment where White House officials have stressed “all options are on the table.” And within that context, the point of a missile-shootdown would be to put some substance behind President Trump’s tough talk on North Korea, warning them against conducting a sixth nuclear test.

The problem? It could present “an escalation that Washington might not be able to control, which would risk potentially devastating consequences to US allies South Korea and Japan,” the Guardian writes.

Not under part of this particular plan: The THAAD anti-missile system, which “is unlikely [to be available] before 9 May, when South Koreans vote for a new president.”

The more likely tools in the rocket-shoot-down kit: “an Aegis missile-defense system aboard a US navy destroyer; or by convincing Japan to use its own missile-defense capabilities against a ballistic missile test traversing Japanese waters.”

But let’s stop for a second, and ask: Is shooting down a North Korean rocket even possible? Sure, explained Kingston Reif, missile defense expert for Arms Control Now.

Is it a challenge? It would constitute many challenges, he says: “The answer is it’s possible but it would be a demanding job. A lot of factors would have to line up. First, Aegis SM-3 Block IAs, IBs/SM-2s/SM-6s missiles not designed or tested to intercept in boost phase (as missile is blasting toward space). Thus, even if we could shoot down in midcourse or terminal phase DPRK could still learn a lot from a test. Whether the U.S. could shoot a test [missile] down would depend on how much warning we had, test trajectory, having ships and radars in right place at the right time, etc.”

What’s more, he said, “Preparing to shoot down [a] test would entail lot of calculated guesswork. Meanwhile North Korea is getting better at concealing when and where it will test. Given [those] challenges, it seems more likely we’d try to disrupt a test in other ways, as [Patrick Cronin of the Center for a New American Security] notes. It also allows for plausible deniability. And, of course, apart from a high technical bar, trying to shoot down a test carries major costs and risks, whether we’re successful or not.”

And that last point may be the most prohibitive in all this notional planning. The price of a failed attempt to stop a missile launch would very likely embolden North Korea further. Read the rest from The Guardian, here.

CVN-70 sitrep: the deployment has been extended by 30 days, Rear Admiral Jim Kilby told friends and family on Facebook last night. “Our mission is to reassure allies and our partners of our steadfast commitment to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. We will continue to be the centerpiece of visible maritime deterrence, providing our national command authority with flexible deterrent options, all domain access, and a visible forward presence.” More here.

About that carrier strike group: The Defense Department, U.S. Pacific Command and the White House all appeared to have their wires crossed while messaging to the world the group’s arrival (return, really) to Korea, the NYTs reported Tuesday: “White House officials said Tuesday that they had been relying on guidance from the Defense Department. Officials there described a glitch-ridden sequence of events, from an ill-timed announcement of the deployment by the military’s Pacific Command to a partially erroneous explanation by the defense secretary, Jim Mattis — all of which perpetuated the false narrative that a flotilla was racing toward the waters off North Korea…With Mr. Trump himself playing up the show of force, Pentagon officials said, rolling back the story became difficult.” More of that messaging drama via the Washington Post, here.

Meanwhile, “the sword stands ready,” Vice President Mike Pence said to the 2,500 sailors of the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) at the Yokosuka naval base in Tokyo Bay. “The United States of America will always seek peace but under President Trump, the shield stands guard and the sword stands ready,” he said in a green military jacket. The VP also vowed to protect freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, which the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) transited back in February. More from AP, here.


From Defense One

The Trouble With Brazil’s Expanding Arms Trade // Robert Muggah and Nathan B. Thompson: With weapons appearing in Yemen and transferring to repressive regimes, Brazil’s arms policies are outdated and out of step with it’s peaceful aims.

Don’t Let Trump Fool You, He’s Still No Interventionist // Daniel DePetris: Despite the cruise missiles in Syria and MOAB in Afghanistan, if you’re anticipating another military campaign the size of Libya’s in 2011, prepare to be disappointed.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Marcus Weisgerber. On this day 22 years ago, a massive explosion at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City kills 168 people and injures hundreds others. Wanna subscribe to The D Brief? Email us at the-d-brief@defenseone.com and we’ll take care of you.


Talking the Saudi war in Yemen while SecDef Mattis is in Riyadh. On today’s schedule: “meet Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, as well as the defense minister, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman,” The Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold reports, traveling with Mattis.

His intent: “pressing for a political settlement of the war in Yemen and solidifying counterterrorism efforts with American allies in the region.” Mattis is reportedly seeking ways to increase U.S. support to the Saudis, who are fighting a war against Iranian-aligned Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen. But the SecDef declined to share specifics, “instead suggesting that its primary focus is to push for a United Nations-brokered peace deal in the two-year-old conflict.”

Perhaps, in part, why Mattis is said to be seeking a political solution in Yemen: The Pentagon wants to increase “logistical and intelligence support for an ambitious operation led by the UAE military to retake the Houthi-controlled city of Hodeida,” Buzzfeed reported Tuesday. “But key bureaus inside the State Department and the US Agency for International Development oppose the initiative, believing it will trigger a full-blown famine in the country by closing the port where most of the humanitarian aid in the impoverished country enters.”

The complication there: “a Pentagon official tried to ease those concerns by floating the possibility that the operation could be ‘clean’ and result in the Saudis taking full control of the port in ‘four to six weeks.’ But aid groups view that forecast as wildly optimistic and fear the Pentagon is attempting to understate the complexity of the mission in order to win support for it inside the Trump administration. It’s unclear where that four-to-six–week figure came from. One senior Pentagon official who wasn’t present at the meeting told BuzzFeed News that such expectations were unrealistic — and that retaking the port ‘could take months.” Read the rest, here.

Elsewhere in Yemen: a Saudi Blackhawk helo crashed east of the capital in the province of Marib, killing 12 soldiers, AFP reported Tuesday. The cause of the crash is unknown. More here.

Status report on “Muslim NATO.” The Saudis have a plan to fight ISIS outside of Iraq and Syria. “A Saudi-led coalition force of 41 countries is now taking shape and has found a focus: protecting member nations against the threat from Islamic State as the militant group’s strongholds in Iraq and Syria disintegrate,” WSJ reports.

The goal: “set up a mobile military force to aid member countries that don’t have strong counterterrorism capabilities. It also will battle other jihadist groups spilling out of war-torn Libya and Yemen, and Boko Haram in west Africa.”

But not so fast: “The coalition, sometimes referred to as the ‘Muslim NATO,’ is expected to have its first substantive meeting over the next few months in Riyadh when defense ministers from member states, from Morocco to Malaysia, will gather to agree on its structure and mission.”

The catch—as is often the case with Riyadh: The coalition involves “Sunni-majority nations and absent from the alliance is Saudi Arabia’s major rival in the Middle East, Shiite powerhouse Iran, which sees the grouping as a sectarian show of force.” Read the rest, here.

Apropos of nothing: Check out Jordan’s “Warrior-King” Abdullah II, popping off some rounds in a recent military exercise, complete with dismounted ops, flash bangs, hand signals and room-to-room clearance—oh, and the constant clack-clack sound of lots of lead heading somewhere in the vicinity all around. Video, here; short story about that, here.

U.S. Marines kick off largest deployment to Afghanistan (it’s just 300) since 2014, Marine Corps Times reports. Destination: southern Helmand province. “By the end of April, the Marines will be in Helmand province as Task Force Southwest, replacing the Army’s Task Force Forge. During their nine months in Helmand, the Marines will train the Afghan National Army’s 215th Corps and the 505th Zone National Police in marksmanship, indirect fire and small-unit tactics and other skills,” MCTs writes, citing service officials. More here.

How do you extend the psychological effects of a large bomb intended for psychological purposes? Not disclosing the damage it did is one way; preventing journalists and civilians from entering the damage area is another. The U.S. military appears to be doing both, The New York Times reports from the scene of last week’s MOAB strike in Nangarhar province.

Russia wants us all to know that they’ve set up base in the Arctic. They’ve even given the world a “virtual tour” website to look around without the biting cold requiring toe warmers and such. The BBC: “The Arctic Trefoil permanent base is in Franz Josef Land, a huge ice-covered, desolate archipelago … It is built on stilts - to help withstand the extreme cold — and will house 150 personnel on 18-month tours of duty. Winter temperatures typically plunge to minus 40C … Covering 14,000sq m (151,000sq ft), it is the second Putin-era Arctic base to be built for air defence units. The first base to be completed was Northern Clover on Kotelny Island, further east … Russia is building four other Arctic military bases — at Rogachevo, Cape Schmidt, Wrangel and Sredniy.”

Russia also sent two bombers into U.S. airspace near Alaska on Monday night, NORAD said Tuesday. “The two Russian Tu-95 Bear bombers flew off Kodiak Island, within a 200-mile area called the Air Defense Identification Zone. The bombers’ flight into that space prompted the Air Force to scramble two F-22 stealth fighter jets and an E-3 airborne early-warning plane to intercept the Russian planes,” NYTs reported.

For what it’s worth: a week ago, two Tu-95s flew “as close as 36 miles from Japan, but remained in international airspace,” Fox News reported at the time. “Joining the three Russian long-range bombers was a IL-20 spy plane. The three Russian Bear Bombers flew down Japan’s east coast, while a spy plane flew down the west coast.”

The flights prompted Japan to scramble 14 fighter jets. Said one nameless U.S. official: the Russian bombers were “clearly meant to send a message.” More here.

Lastly today: Take a closer look at “China’s most exciting hypersonic aerospace programs,” thanks to the work of Popular Science’s Jeffrey Lin and Peter Singer. “At the 21st International Space Plane and Hypersonic Systems and Technology in Xiamen — a global forum of scientists and engineers researching hypersonic concepts and technologies — Chinese scientists provided key details on several little-known but game-changing scramjets, near-space planes, and super wind tunnels.”

The most promising program? The “Beijing Power Machinery Research Institute’s turbo-aided rocket-augmented ram/scramjet combined cycle.” It’s purpose: use “integrated liquid-fueled rockets to boost the performance of the turbine and ramjet stages, thus making a safer and smoother transition from supersonic to hypersonic flight of Mach 10.”

BLUF: “Hypersonic technology has the potential to revolutionize both military and civilian aerospace, so it’s no surprise that China is showing off its program.” Read on (or look a bit closer), here.  

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