North Korean ICBM shows unexpected progress; DoD debuts algorithmic-warfare cell; Yemen war gets messier; THAAD to the Saudis?; and just a bit more…

North Korea’s 76th missile test under Kim Jong Un yields the “perfect weapon system,” says Pyongyang in typical hyperbole. But the actual news is not much less grim. “This means North Korea might be only one year, rather than the expected five, from having an ICBM,” according to John Schilling, aerospace engineer and North Korea watcher with 38North, the Washington Post reported Sunday.

What happened: “North Korea fired a ballistic missile early Sunday, sending it from a launch site near its border with China 435 miles into the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan…The missile flew for 30 minutes, much longer than other recent missile launches, meaning that it went straight up rather than trying to fly as far as possible — a path that would have sent it over Japan.”

Charted: the lofted trajectory vs. a more standard one, here.

David Wright, co-director of the global security program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, estimated that the missile would have flown 2,800 miles if fired on a standard trajectory. “That would easily put the U.S. territory of Guam within range,” WaPo writes.

Speaking of things within range: “The launch came as troops from the U.S., Japan and two European nations gather near Guam for drills that are partly a message to North Korea,” the Associated Press reported. “The USS Carl Vinson, an aircraft supercarrier, is also engaging with South Korean navy ships in waters off the Korean Peninsula, according to Seoul’s Defense Ministry.”

A bit more on those exercises: “The weeklong maneuvers, which also involve the United Kingdom, were intended to show support for the free passage of vessels in international waters amid concerns China may restrict access to the South China Sea. They’re being held around Guam and Tinian islands, U.S. islands that are about 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) south of Tokyo and east of Manila, Philippines.”

Involved: “two French ships…Some 50 Japanese soldiers and 160 Japanese sailors were due to participate, along with U.K. helicopters and 70 U.K. troops deployed with one of the French ships.” More here.

A word of caution: It still appears “unlikely that North Korea has re-entry technology, which would return a warhead safely back into the atmosphere,” according to AP, citing a spokesman for the South Korean defense ministry.

As well, “North Korea is not thought to be able yet to make a nuclear warhead small enough to mount on a long-range missile,” AP reports, “though some outside analysts think they can arm shorter range missiles with warheads; each new nuclear and longer-range missile test is part of the North’s attempt to build a nuclear-tipped long-range missile.”

And now for some speculation: “North Korea may be treating the Hwasong-12 IRBM as a stepping-stone to a liquid-fueled ICBM – and perhaps even developing something new altogether, apart from its existing KN-08 and KN-14s,” The Diplomat’s Ankit Panda reported this weekend in a wider look at the “takeaways” from the launch.

Possible U.S. anti-missile test coming soon? “The distinctive missile telemetry ship MV Pacific Collector is in port at Aloha Tower, possibly for a key upcoming ballistic missile defense test,” the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported late last week. “The 393-foot ship with twin domes housing 24-foot antennas is owned by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration and used in support of U.S. Missile Defense Agency missions. Spokesman Chris Johnson said the agency doesn’t usually talk about assets used in a missile defense test until after the fact, but did confirm the next flight intercept test of the ground-based mid-course ballistic missile defense system is planned for late May.” That, here.

Quick question: Should the U.S. start a ground war in North Korea? If you can’t find North Korea on a map, your answer is likely to be “yes.” If you can, your answer is likely to be “no.” More on that cognitive dynamic from The New York Times, here.


From Defense One

The Pentagon’s New Algorithmic Warfare Cell Gets Its First Mission: Hunt ISIS // Marcus Weisgerber: Turning hours of drone video into actionable intelligence is just the start for the fast-moving machine-learning team.

CIA Opens a New Office To Watch North Korea // Caroline Houck: The first “mission center” launched since the spy agency’s 2015 reorganization, it is also the most narrowly focused.

Trump’s Afghanistan Reset Needs a Soft-Power Mission, Too // Mina Chang: Reconciliation and peace-building can only occur if there is an open dialogue and people are working towards a shared, communal interest.

Congress, the President, and the Dwindling Oversight of War // Jaron S. Wharton: Lawmakers’ tacit approval of modern military actions encourages more boundary-stretching.

Stolen NSA Tool Suspected in Global Ransomware Attack // Adrienne LaFrance: A dozen countries were hit in a cyberattack Friday. Such attacks have increased by more than 500 percent in recent years.

Don’t Fear Pakistan’s Participation in China’s ‘New Silk Road’ // Sameer Lalwani and Hannah Haegeland: U.S. interests can be served no matter whether the mega-project’s subcontinental branch succeeds or fails.

The Fatal Flaw in Trump’s ISIS Plan // Robert Ford: Can he keep both the Turks and the Kurds on his side?

Welcome to Monday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. #OTD1904: Mines laid by a Russian warship sink two Japanese battleships. Got tips? Email us at the-d-brief@defenseone.com. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)


While you weren’t looking, the war in Yemen got even more messy, former DOD special counsel Ryan Goodman writes this morning over at Just Security, with his colleague, Alex Moorehead. Their opener: “Much attention has been focused on US support for Saudi Arabia and civilian casualties as a result of the Saudi air force’s targeting practices. The actions of the United Arab Emirates, another leading member of the coalition in receipt of extensive US and international support, deserve much greater scrutiny.”

Why? The “UAE military and UAE-backed forces are implicated in enforced disappearances and ill treatment of detainees in their ground operations” during the Yemen conflict.

The implications: It “is UAE ground forces who would serve at the tip of the spear in any assault on Hodeidah port…a major offensive operation that the Trump White House is considering supporting.”

Goodman and Moorehead remind readers that the U.S. has at least two broad missions in Yemen: fight Houthi rebels widely believed to be backed by Iran; and take the fight to al-Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate, AQ in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. Read the rest of their report, here.

And for a reminder of how messy those two battles are when panning out over Yemen, Oxford University researcher Elizabeth Kindall wrote Sunday that AQAP claims to have attacked the Houthis in three separate locations across Yemen, using a sniper, an IED and a vehicle ambush.

A cholera epidemic has broken out in Yemen, leading the Houthis in Sana’a to declare a state of emergency, Al-Arabiya reported this weekend after the International Committee of the Red Cross announced Sunday 115 people have died and more than 8,000 have fallen ill from the outbreak, straining Yemen’s healthcare system.

Finally, this ominous news: 17 million residents are severely “food insecure” in Yemen, the World Food Program reported Sunday in a data-packed chart showing the confluence of poverty and war.

THAAD anti-missile system to the Saudis? Just maybe, the White House says. That’s part of a $100 billion arms deal being discussed, and which could balloon to $300 billion over 10 years if the White House gets its way, The Wall Street Journal reported this weekend.

Hard to discern what else is under discussion, but Reuters reports “The package includes American arms and maintenance, ships, air missile defense and maritime security,” according to a U.S. official.

France is getting regional partners and the U.S. to expand the counter-terrorism war in Africa, The New York Times reports. “In the latest sign of an emerging regional collaboration, five countries within the Sahel – Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad – announced recently that they would create three border areas for military patrols and operations. French troops are advising and assisting these units.”

A bit of recent history: “Three years ago, France reorganized its 4,000-member force in West Africa to more effectively carry out its counterterrorism fight, called Operation Barkhane, in some of the harshest terrain on the planet. The French military has concentrated its air power, including three Mirage fighter jets, and mission headquarters here in Chad; its five Reaper reconnaissance drones in Niger; its special operations troops in Burkina Faso; and its logistics hub in Ivory Coast.”

And on the U.S. role: “As an example of the growing cooperation between the Pentagon and France, an American military planner will, for the first time, join the headquarters staff of the French operational command. Having France, with its deep cultural and historical ties to the region, take the lead in counterterrorism operations here saves the United States from having to assume another major military mission. For France, the Pentagon’s aerial refueling, transportation and intelligence assistance are crucial to the operation’s success.” Story, here.

Wanted by the UN: Gen. Abdul Raziq, the man widely credited for reducing violence in Kandahar over the past six years. The charges are familiar: he faces allegations of torture and forced disapperances, Reuters reports. The UN Committee Against Torture “said it was deeply concerned at numerous reports brought to its attention about the situation in Kandahar, including the use of torture methods such as suffocation, crushing the testicles, pumping water into the stomach and administering electric shocks.”

Raziq to Reuters: “First of all, I don’t have private jails and secondly, the government-run prisons are inspected by the International Committee of the Red Cross and other human rights organizations on regular bases. I strongly reject such claims and they are made to defame me. If anyone or any entity have any proof, they should present it but I am sure there is none.”

The wider context: “A U.N. report last month said torture and mistreatment of detainees by Afghan security forces was as widespread as ever, despite promises by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and new laws enacted by the government.” Read the rest, here.

Lastly today: What year is it? The U.S. Army is mulling a return of the “pinks and green” unis, Army Times reported this weekend. “That was the uniform of the ‘Greatest Generation.’ There was a lot of prestige and honor associated with that. The American public identified with that uniform,” Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey said. “We think that is more appropriate than trying to create something new.”

Dailey is headed to a uniform board meeting later this month “armed with the results of an exclusive Army Times survey, to make the case for bringing back an iconic, World War II era uniform for everyday business wear.” Some of that survey, here. The rest of the story, as Paul Harvey would say, can be found here

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