US warship fires defenses off Yemen; ISIS debuts drone IEDs; Iraq’s Abadi vs. Turkey’s Erdogan; Army looks to cut paperwork; and just a bit more…

By Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston

October 12, 2016

What three missiles can tell us about American naval readiness. Off the coast of Yemen on Sunday, a U.S. Navy defensive system endured a real-world test — but officials aren’t giving it a full-throated endorsement just yet. “The USS Mason (DDG-87) launched two Standard Missile-2s (SM-2s) and a single Enhanced Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) to intercept…two presumed cruise missiles fired by Iran-backed Houthi-forces…that were launched about 7 P.M. local time” Sunday, the U.S. Naval Institute’s Sam LaGrone reports. “In addition to the missiles, the ship used its Nulka anti-ship missile decoy” while “in international waters north of the strait of Bab el-Mandeb.”

Why the hesitation to applaud? Only because it remains “unclear whether this led to the missile striking the water or whether it would have struck the water anyway,” an official told USNI News.

The 1990s-vintage SM-2s “were specifically designed to tackle Cold War cruise missile threats to a guided-missile destroyer, much like the ones Iran has presumably given to the Houthis in Yemen.” This “might be the first time the SM-2 [was] used against an actual threat for which it was designed. It’s definitely the first time ESSM has been used,” said Bryan Clark, a naval analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, who added, “This is obviously a huge deal.”

For what it’s worth, the Iranian-backed Houthis have denied they were behind the Sunday attack.

Where to go from here: “Anybody who takes action, fires against U.S. Navy ships operating in international waters, does so at their own peril,” Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis told reporters Tuesday.

Davis said the U.S. isn’t 100-percent certain Houthi militants fired the missiles on Sunday, but “the facts certainly seem to point to it.”

Before we leave this story, take a moment to marvel at the Mason’s Nulka anti-ship missile decoy: “It’s essentially a rocket that can hover, but once fired off of the defending ship, it slowly moves away. All the while it has a decoy system that ‘projects’ a ghostly radar return for another ship that isn’t actually there, leading the attacking missiles away.” That, from Foxtrot Alpha; More reading, here; or watch BAE’s video demo, here.

Other unanswered questions about Sunday’s thwarted attack include “the possibility that a radar station under Houthi control in Yemen might have also ‘painted’ the USS Mason, something that would have helped the Iran-aligned fighters pass along coordinates for a strike,” U.S. officials told Reuters. More here.

Abadi vs. Erdogan, continued. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi took to Twitter Tuesday to chastise Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for his refusal to eject uninvited Turkish troops from northern Iraq.

AP: “We will liberate our land through the determination of our men and not by video calls,” Haider al-Abadi said late Tuesday night on his Twitter account, mocking the Turkish president's nationally broadcast video call to a TV journalist amid a failed coup attempt in July.

Erdogan on Tuesday kept up his protest of Abadi’s demands, saying during a speech in Istanbul—where Abadi was, of course, nowhere in the crowd, “You are not my interlocutor, you are not at my level, you are not my equivalent, you are not of the same quality as me… Your screaming and shouting in Iraq is of no importance to us. You should know that we will go our own way.” More here.

Here’s how ISIS is getting ready inside Mosul: jack-hammering hundreds of potholes for roadside bombs, digging tunnels throughout the city, recruiting children as spies, and shaving their beards to blend in with the population. They’ve also reportedly rigged the city’s five bridges with bombs, along with the expected stockpiling of car bombs and suicide bombers on standby.

Aid groups are expecting 200,000 people to flee the city in just the first two weeks of the offensive. Reuters has more on the scene, here.

The new threat on the ISIS battlefield is actually one we’ve known about for years; we just may not have seen it in use until now: “off-the-shelf” exploding drones, in this case using an explosive disguised as a battery.

There have now been three such attacks on U.S.-led coalition troops, “prompting American commanders in Iraq to issue a warning to forces fighting the group to treat any type of small flying aircraft as a potential explosive device,” The New York Times reported Tuesday.

The expert’s take: “We should have been ready for this, and we weren’t,” said P. W. Singer, a specialist on robotic weaponry at New America, a think tank in Washington.

The Times story takes its jump from a Tuesday report in the French paper, Le Monde, which was wrapped up for U.S. audiences via the Washington Post. Both tell the story of two Kurdish troops who were killed while "two members of the French special forces were wounded” outside of Erbil on October 2.

The AP reminds us ISIS is hardly the only ones to possess this type of guided munition: “A video belonging to an al-Qaida offshoot, Jund al-Aqsa, purportedly shows a drone landing on Syrian military barracks. In another video, small explosives purportedly dropped by the Iran-backed Shiite militant group Hezbollah target the Sunni militant group Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, formerly known as the Nusra Front.”

Elsewhere in Iraq, take a step inside Q-West—aka Qayyarah Airfield, located 40 miles south of Mosul. CBS News took its cameras there, where soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division are building up the facilities in advance of the run-up to Mosul. That, here.

And here’s a look at the wider ISIS battlefield, via a robust map from Agence France-Presse.

Up northwest in Syria, some 300 ISIS defectors are now being held by rebels at a “secret internment camp” in Syria, presenting a new diplomatic and justice challenge since the captured fighters hail from as far away as France, the Netherlands and Poland, according to the BBC’s Quentin Sommerville. The rebels in charge: Jaysh al-Tahrir.   

ICYMI: Last night PBS Frontline aired journalist Martin Smith’s two-year journey around ISIS-held turf in Iraq and Syria entitled, “Confronting ISIS.” The documentary clocks in at just under two hours, but it’s essential viewing ahead of the battle for Mosul. Find that here.


From Defense One

U.S. Allows Qatar to Buy F-15s — and Seals a $19B Sale of Jetliners // Global Business Editor Marcus Weisgerber: Officials deny linking the military and commercial deals, but insiders say otherwise.

The U.S. Accused Russia of Hacking. What Happens Next Will Set a Cyber War Precedent // Council on Foreign Relations’ Adam Segal: After blaming Russia for trying to tamper with the presidential election, the White House will want to choose its next move carefully.

Bitcoin-Style Security May Soon Guard U.S. Nukes and Satellites // Joon Ian Wong, via Quartz: ‘Blockchains’ could offer crucial intelligence on whether a hacker has modified a database, or whether they’re surveilling a particular military system.

Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 2000, suicide bombers attack the destroyer Cole in Yemen’s Aden harbor, killing 17 U.S. sailors. (Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.)


After months of fighting, the Taliban entered the capital of Helmand province on Monday, killing at least 14 people in the process, the Washington Post reported Tuesday. “Government forces pushed them out after several hours, and officials declared the situation under control, but by then some panicked residents had fled the beleaguered city, and the psychological damage had been done. The Taliban had not raised their flag over Lashkar Gah, but they had come awfully close.”

And 17 were killed, including one policeman, in Kabul late Tuesday when an attacker struck a Shiite shrine. Three women and two children were among the dead, and another 62—including a dozen police—were wounded.

Also this morning, a car bomb detonated in northern Balkh province, killing six civilians. AP has more on both, here.

Back to Turkey, briefly: Erdogan has pretty much purged his troops from NATO; the tally—only nine of 50 soldiers previously posted to Brussels remain. More on that scene, here.

Now that the U.S. has publicly named Russia for attempting to tamper with the presidential election, “The question is what Moscow was really trying to accomplish,” asks Vladimir Frolov of The Moscow Times. His answer: “It is unlikely that the Kremlin really hoped to influence the results of the U.S. presidential election or viewed Trump’s victory as likely. This would have signaled a degree of incompetence that Moscow is still incapable of. Rather, the point of the exercise was to send a message that Russia mattered and could do bad things that the U.S., in Moscow’s view, has been doing to Russia. It worked, but not exactly how Russia hoped. It made Russia a negative issue in the campaign.”

His advice: “Moscow needs to find a way to defuse the crisis. Offering secret talks on permissible rules of cyber warfare and cyber intelligence collection might be one way to do it. Better managing its intelligence services would be another.” More here.

Would a President Donald Trump pick Stephen Hadley to be his defense secretary? The Washington Post thinks it’s possible, so they dug into the implications, here.

ICYMI: The Army is trying to cut paperwork, computer-based training, and other drains on soldiers, Army Secretary Eric Fanning told an audience at last week’s Association of the U.S. Army convention. Sounds great, right? Maybe. The top enlisted soldier, Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel Dailey, later explained that part of the aim was to allow the Army to reduce its dependence on contractors, and that means that more soldiers will be spending time guarding gates. “That may seem like that’s a detractor to training, but I can tell you that being a gate guard is a way to apply discipline and training to our soldiers,” Dailey said, as reported by Federal News Radio. “We have to look at opportunities like that where we can balance commanders’ needs on their installations with the needs of individual soldiers for training and readiness.”


By Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston // Ben Watson is news editor for Defense One. He previously worked for NPR's “All Things Considered” and “Here and Now” in Washington, D.C. Watson served for five years in the U.S. Army, where he was an award-winning combat cameraman and media advisor for southern Afghanistan's special operations command during the 2010-11 surge. // Bradley Peniston is deputy editor of Defense One. A national security journalist for two decades, he helped launch Military.com, served as managing editor of Defense News, and was editor of Armed Forces Journal. His books include No Higher Honor: Saving the USS Samuel B. Roberts in the Persian Gulf, now part of the Chief of Naval Operations' Professional Reading Program.

October 12, 2016

https://www.defenseone.com/news/2016/10/the-d-brief-october-12-2016/132275/