Back to the Philippines; NW Syria heats up; Afghan fighting season starts early; How to defuse the South China Sea; and a bit more.
Washington and Manila are sealing a new agreement “that allows the United States to build facilities at five Philippine military bases [for at least a decade and] will spread more American troops, planes and ships across the island nation than have been here in decades,” the New York Times reports from travels with Defense Secretary Ash Carter in the Asia-Pacific.
While in the Philippines, “Carter is scheduled to observe the firing of a long-range missile system, one that could cover all the Philippines’ maritime claims in the South China Sea if needed, though the United States has not confirmed that the missiles will be deployed here,” the Times writes. “Mr. Carter will also tour the location of a planned new United States military facility on the edge of disputed waters with China.”
How Manila currently defends itself: “with two nearly 50-year-old former United States Coast Guard cutters, which sometimes break down, and two fighter jets. This allows China to control territory, build artificial islands and chase off Filipino fishermen with little risk. The new agreement could change that.”
About those bases: the Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa “will be used by the Philippines to monitor its economic zone in the South China Sea and by the Americans to protect their interests further afield,” according to a Philippine military spokesman. The four other bases “are far from the South China Sea, and none of the five are naval bases, facts that have perplexed some observers.”
More on those: “One facility the Americans will use is Lumbia Air Base, on the island of Mindanao, which is home to several groups the United States classifies as terrorist organizations. According to the Philippine Constitution, the United States cannot conduct military operations there but can support the Philippine forces with intelligence and training. The other bases the Americans will use include Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base, a crucial staging point for disaster relief during Typhoon Haiyan…and Fort Magsaysay, a sprawling facility north of Manila with extensive space for positioning supplies.”
Additional U.S. gear en route to Manila includes “about $40 million in military aid to the Philippines to be used in part to improve the country’s patrol vessels, as well as to operate unmanned surveillance blimps that can watch over the islands controlled by the Philippines in the South China Sea.”
Last but not least: “The [new] agreement also covers joint efforts to address terrorism, an increasing concern in the southern Philippines, where extremist groups that have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State are holding 20 foreigners. On Saturday, 18 Philippine soldiers were killed in a daylong battle with Abu Sayyaf, the rebel group believed to be behind the kidnappings.”
Elsewhere in the region—Carter and his New Delhi counterpart reached a preliminary deal on sharing military logistics in disaster responses, the AP reported.
What’s more, “Carter on Monday noted that India wants to move to a flat-deck design of its aircraft carriers, he said the U.S. is ‘more than willing’ to share its catapult technology used to launch fighter jets off carriers. Defense officials said that if India begins using the catapult technology, then there could be opportunities for India to buy U.S.-made FA-18 fighter jets or other aircraft that use that launching system.”
But wait, there’s still more: “On Tuesday, Carter announced that the two countries have now agreed to start two more co-development projects—one for digital, helmet-mounted displays and one for biological detection system. Four other projects, valued at about $44 million, are being finalized and would involve high energy lasers, target detection, small drones and traumatic brain injury.” Read the rest, here.
NW Syria is heating up. ISIS regained a smack of turf near the Syrian border with Turkey in recent days, and rockets soon began flying north into a refugee enclave in the Turkish city of Kilis. In response, Turkey reportedly struck ISIS positions inside Syria overnight, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said this morning.
The Syrian army and its pals “launched an offensive Tuesday to retake a strategic hilltop village south of Aleppo from insurgents, including al-Qaida’s local affiliate, as the government prepared for parliamentary elections set for Wednesday,” AP reports.
The locus of the offensive, el al-Ais, “overlooks a supply line connecting the capital, Damascus, to the northern city of Aleppo, parts of which have been held by groups opposed to the government since 2012.”
Quick reminder: one of the most promising pro-democratic demonstrations in Syria is now in its 30th consecutive day, and it’s happening in the northwest city of Marat al-Numan. What makes it pro-democratic? Residents demand the return of the U.S.-backed Division 13, ousted by Nusra affiliates in March.
“Pull-out” be damned: Russia is very busy in Syria, the Washington Post reports from Moscow: “Russian minesweepers are checking Palmyra’s ancient ruins for explosives. Russian military advisers are whipping Syrian government forces into shape and planning attacks. Russian special forces are on the front lines, calling in targeting information for airstrikes. Russian warships continue to steam through the Bosphorus and deliver supplies to Assad.” More here.
Case in point: A Russian helo just crashed near Homs, Syria, leaving two Russians dead, Reuters reports. No confirmation yet that it was shot down.
But it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise since Russia sent new attack helos forward to Al-Shayrat Air Base, 30 km southeast of Homs city, on 31 March, IHS reported. The basing involved four Ka-52 Alligator and three Mi-28N Night Hunter helicopters.
For what it’s worth: the same air base featured an Iskander missile as recently as two weeks ago. More on that system, here.
And here’s a quick look at how Russian air power in the Syrian skies has dramatically shifted from jets to helos in recent weeks.
From Defense One
In 15 years, the Pentagon wants its satellites to adapt to threats on the fly. The ability to take on new missions will help tomorrow’s constellations survive war in space. Tech Editor Patrick Tucker reports, here.
How to turn the heat down in the South China Sea. Michael H. Fuchs of the Center for American Progress lays out five concrete steps that can help keep tensions from becoming war — if the U.S. acts. Read on, here.
‘Hey Siri, fire for effect’: US Army seeks voice-controlled gear. In the desert, a dusty touchscreen might not recognize a soldier's sand-covered gloves. There might be a way around that. Via NextGov, here.
Welcome to the Tuesday edition of The D Brief, by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1861, Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter, S.C., kicking off the Civil War. Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: email@example.com.
Ready for liftoff at the National Space Symposium. Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber is at the foot of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado Springs for what is billed as the “premier U.S. space policy and program forum.” The conference is similar to big international air shows in that there is a mix of commercial and military space speakers and exhibitors. Make sure you follow @MarcusReports for updates.
Today’s big speakers: Gen. John Hyten, the head of Air Force Space Command, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who is also CEO of rocket-maker Blue Origin.
UAE signs space pact with U.S. The deal makes the Middle Eastern country the 11th country to share info about the location of its satellites in orbit. “The information is crucial for launch support, satellite maneuver planning, support for on-orbit anomalies, electromagnetic interference reporting and investigation, satellite decommissioning activities and on-orbit conjunction assessments,” U.S. Strategic Command said in a statement. More here.
The Afghan Taliban announce start to fighting season, and it’s just a little earlier than last year. The usual bluster accompanied their announcement, “vowing to take control of more territory and launch large-scale attacks against the Kabul government and its foreign allies, including the U.S.,” the Wall Street Journal reports. The annual declaration comes just days after U.S. State Secretary John Kerry called on the group to rejoin peace talks. Best of luck there, gang.
War stat of the day: Boko’s use of child suicide bombers increased 10-fold in one year, according to a new report from UNICEF. The abysmal count: “The number of children in suicide attacks in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger rose from 4 in 2014 to 44 in 2015, it said. The frequency of all suicide bombings increased from 32 in 2014 to 151 last year. In 2015, 89 of these attacks were carried out in Nigeria, 39 in Cameroon, 16 in Chad and 7 in Niger.”
A Fatah official was killed this morning in what appears to be a targeted assassination in Lebanon’s port city of Sidon, Times of Israel and AFP report: “Lebanese media said the man killed was Gen. Fathi Zaidan, a senior member of the Fatah movement who ran the Miyeh Miyeh refugee camp near Sidon. He went by the nickname of Zorro, according to Lebanese news site Naharnet. Two more people were injured in the blast, according to local reports.” Here’s footage purporting to be from the scene.
ICYMI: Israel’s jets have struck Hezbollah weapons transfers to Syria “dozens of times,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday.
One possible reason for Israeli concern: “On Saturday, Julian Roepke of the German Bild newspaper reported that Hezbollah had acquired a game-changing SA-17 missile battery originally given to the Assad regime by Russia.” More on that, here.
And finally: American stealth F-22 jets are back in Europe, Air Force Times reported Tuesday. “The Raptors deployed to RAF Lakenheath, England, from the 95th Fighter Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, and will continue training in Europe until May, EUCOM said. The exact number of fighter jets and airmen was not disclosed.”
“We’re very focused on advancing air-to-air threats — emerging air-to-air threats — that will challenge both the U.S. ability to gain and maintain air superiority, and our coalition partners and how we can help them out,” said Maj. Justin Anhalt, an F-22 requirements officer and program element monitor at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.
Back in Europe because “In August, the Air Force deployed four F-22s to Europe for the first time ever as part of the European Reassurance Initiative — a Pentagon effort designed to allay European partners’ fears about Russian aggression in the region.” More here.