N. Korea launches missiles; National Guard guarding Syrian oil; EW training is ‘garbage’; Interior grounds all of its drones; and just a bit more…

North Korea launched two missiles into the waters off its east coast today in “an apparent resumption of weapons tests aimed at ramping up pressure on Washington over a stalemate in nuclear negotiations,” the Associated Press reports from Seoul. The two missiles, which Japan’s military said (Reuters) were possibly ballistic, were fired three minutes apart and travelled 230 miles at a maximum altitude of 56 miles, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

The U.S. air base at Misawa, about 700 miles north of Tokyo, posted a “real world missile alert” and urged personnel to seek shelter before issuing an “all clear,” Reuters reports. 

Worth noting: “The afternoon launch timing was a departure from this year’s string of tests, which usually took place around dawn,” Reuters writes. “It also occurred on the day that South Korean President Moon Jae-in attended the funeral of his mother, who died on Tuesday.”

By the way: “Two U.S. B-52 heavy bombers made a rare training flight with the Air Self-Defense Force over the Sea of Japan” as well as “in the vicinity of the South China Sea” late last week, Japan Times reported Tuesday in some news we missed, but Ankit Panda of the Federation of American Scientists noted this morning as possibly related to North Korea’s launches. 

As well, “On Monday, South Korea began its annual Hoguk military exercises, which it says are for self defense,” and which Pyongyang denounced as “practice for invading the North,” according to Reuters.

Ankit Panda’s quick assessment of the launches, based on the distance and altitude numbers above: possibly part of another “MLRS [Multiple Launch Rocket System] launch on a minimum energy trajectory again,” as was done most recently in September. 

But it could also be the KN-25 short range ballistic missile, MIT’s Vipin Narang noted, suggesting imagery from North Korea will likely be most helpful in filling in the details. Melissa Hanham leans that KN-25 direction, too. 

About North Korea’s apparent mood: “Senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol on Sunday said his country was running out of patience with the United States over what it described as unilateral disarmament demands,” AP reports, “and [Kim] warned that a close personal relationship between [North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump] alone would not be enough to prevent nuclear diplomacy from derailing.” 

Expiring in three weeks: The joint South Korean-Japanese intelligence-sharing agreement called the General Security of Military Information Agreement, or GSOMIA. Victor Cha of the Center for Strategic and International Studies assessed that ramifications of that apparent inevitability back in August, here

As for the U.S. and its goal of denuclearizing North Korea, it’s still not looking terribly optimistic, Reuters writes. And that’s especially true since North Korean leader “Kim has set an end-of-the-year deadline for denuclearization talks with Washington, and in the Sunday statement a senior North Korean official said it would be a mistake for the United States to ignore that deadline.” A bit more, here.

For your ears only: Get to better know the contours of crisis and conflict on the Korean peninsula via a tabletop strategy board game called “Tangling with Tigers.” It was designed by researchers at RAND Corporation, and they let Defense One’s Ben Watson hang out for a day to learn what wargaming is all about. Find that 49-minute podcast, here.


From Defense One

Trump Pullout Had No Impact on Baghdadi Raid Timing, Says General // Katie Bo Williams: “We struck because the time was about right,” said CENTCOM’s Gen. Frank McKenzie, of intelligence and other factors.

The Current US Approach to Terror Is a Recipe for Forever War // Katherine Zimmerman: Defusing terrorist groups requires helping the communities they exploit, not just shooting their leaders.

The US Has One Last Chance to Halt Its Withdrawal from the Middle East // William F. Wechsler: The next president must do what is wise, not what is easy.

The Pentagon Doesn’t Need a ‘Skinny’ Authorization Bill // Todd Harrison: Sen. Inhofe’s proposal for a place-holder NDAA isn’t necessary, and could be counterproductive.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. Hats off to the Washington Nationals for their comeback victory over the Houston Astros last night to win the World Series, MLB’s first seven-game playoff series in which neither team won a single game at home. The victory delivered the Nationals their first championship in franchise history, and the city of Washington’s first World Series win since 1924’s Senators team. Public celebrations are set for 2 p.m. EDT, and you can find out a bit more about that at the Washington Post, here.


From the closed-door impeachment hearings: National Security Council staffer Tim Morrison has already arrived for his day with House lawmakers today, The Hill’s Olivia Beavers tweeted today from Capitol Hill. Morrison is the second White House official to testify who actually heard President Trump’s apparently quite problematic phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart in July, CNN reports.

NATO’s largest maritime electronic warfare exercise is taking place today with 13 different alliance members participating off the UK’s southern coast. 

What’s being tested: “[H]ow allied navies can defend themselves against anti-ship cruise and hypersonic missiles using state-of-the-art electronic defences” to jam or divert away the incoming missiles, the alliance announced in a statement. 

Involved: Turkey, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, the UK and the U.S. In all, “about 1,500 personnel, six ships and eight aircraft” will play a part. A bit more, here

But is it enough? Several uniformed speakers at Thursday’s Association of Old Crows convention slammed U.S. military training as horrifyingly insufficient to prepare troops to fight an actual jamming-proficient enemy like Russia. Breaking Defense: “If you look at the trends over time from one wargame to the next, ‘we are actually improving at a slower rate than we’re finding new problems,’ said Lt. Col. Gary Lyke, an Army officer also at STRATCOM, which has the responsibility — but little of the authority – to improve EW.”  Read on, here.

On the other hand: Sanctions against Russia are hurting its “ability to use drones and conduct electronic warfare against Ukrainian forces,” Military.com’s Oriana Pawlyk reported Wednesday after speaking to a member of Kyiv’s military following a conference in Washington. Read more of what the Ukrainian officer had to say, via The Drive, here

NATO’s Stoltenberg called on Russia to “withdraw all their troops” from Ukraine as “a precondition for the first face-to-face talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky,” Agence France-Presse reported Wednesday from Kyiv. “We welcome all efforts to reduce tensions, to withdraw forces and to make sure that we have a peaceful solution to the conflict,” said Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during remarks from the Ukrainian port city of Odessa. Stoltenberg is in Ukraine for a two-day trip, which includes a visit with Ukraine’s new President Volodymyr Zelensky. More here

FWIW: Facebook suspended three networks of Russian accounts trying to politically interfere in eight African countries, the social media company announced Wednesday. Reuters has more here.  

The U.S. military sent a large convoy through northern Syria toward Kobani, NBC News’s Mac William Bishop reports today. Two considerations for what may be going on include (1) possibly dismantling additional U.S. bases Russians have not taken over; and (2) securing a landing zone for an upcoming arrival of Bradley Fighting Vehicles, as Middle East analyst Alex Mello suggested.

Meanwhile, Bradleys from a National Guard unit are being moved toward Syrian oilfields. Anti-ISIS coalition spokesman Col. Myles B. Caggins III tweeted some photos of Bradleys attached to the 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team of the North Carolina National Guard being moved “to support the @CJTFOIR mission in Deir ez Zor, Syria.”

Mused Loren DeJonge Schulman, former senior DoD/White House natsec staffer: “Why - seriously - is a Guard unit doing this. We are not at a high-stress pace of mobilization. This is a super sensitive barrel of gunpowder of a mission.” 

B.A. Friedman was struck by the same thing: “Just want to point out that sending a Guard unit into the most violent war zone on Earth, where tensions are already high even with our allies, and using Active Duty troops for border boondoggles is ludicrous. / Yeah, they were in theater. But why? The OPTEMPO is not that high. What the hell kind of force generation process are we running?”

Their point is not that the Guard can’t do it, as Jacquelyn Schneider lays out: “For those upset- the argument is not that the NG unit isn’t capable or motivated- it’s that we’ve been using the NG and reserves to bandaid the [active duty force].  Meanwhile we’ve sacrificed the real need for a strategic domestic contingent.”

Lastly today: U.S. Interior Department is grounding its new Chinese-made drones. In July, against the warnings of the Department of Homeland Security and outside experts, Interior officials approved the purchase of two types of consumer drones made by China’s DJI. Now, the Wall Street Journal reports, the department is grounding all of its 800-plus drones. The Verge has a non-paywalled account, here.

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