USN fires warning shots at Iranian boat; TRADOC says forget radio silence; China’s big Africa base; Taliban armed with US, Russian weapons; and just a bit more...
A U.S. Navy patrol craft fired warning shots as a roughly similar Iranian patrol boat zoomed to within 150 yards in the Persian Gulf on Tuesday, Navy officials said. CNN: “The Iranians did not respond to any warnings from the US ship, including radio calls, firing of flares and five short blasts from the US Navy ship's whistle, which is the internationally recognized communications signal for danger, the officials said.” They did not disclose what kind of weapon was fired by USS Thunderbolt (PC 12) near the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy Nassar-class vessel.
Watch a video of the encounter obtained by USNI News, here.
The incident is the latest in what the U.S. Navy has called unprofessional or dangerous maneuvers by Iranian vessels, including (via USNI News) “a late-night encounter in June in which an Iranian Houdong-class guided-missile boat came within 800 yards of a formation of amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD-5), guided-missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG-67) and dry cargo ship USNS Washington Chambers (T-AKE-11). The Iranian missile boat harassed the formation with a searchlight and a laser.” In 2016, the service counted some three dozen such incidents.
From Defense One
Forget Radio Silence. Tomorrow's Soldiers Will Move Under Cover of Electronic Noise // Patrick Tucker: The Army's doctrine chief says it's self-defeating to switch off the networks that enable U.S. military superiority.
The US Army's Next Big 5 Must Be Capabilities, Not New Platforms // Rhys McCormick and Andrew Hunter of CSIS: The service's weapons are increasingly unsuited for tomorrow's battlefields, but there's too little time and money to start from scratch.
US Counties Are on the Front Lines of Cyber War // Nextgov’s Mitch Herckis: John Allen, Marine general-turned-think-tanker, outlines how officials can protect voting machines and other vulnerable systems.
Annual Defense Bill Aims to Rein in Pentagon Outsourcing // Eric Katz: Supporters say measure would protect federal employees from seeing their jobs contracted out.
Trump's Ceasefire May Hand Russia the Keys to Southwestern Syria // Michael Carpenter: The US must quickly send monitors to the 'safe zones' — or cede yet more regional influence to Moscow and Tehran.
Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. OTD1945: The cruiser USS Indianapolis arrives at Tinian with parts of the Hiroshima nuclear warhead. Have something you want to share? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)
China’s first military base in Africa is much larger than previously thought, the analysts at STRATFOR tell CNN. “Two images provided by Stratfor Worldview and Allsource Analysis show the base in Djibouti, located at a strategic choke point on the Horn of Africa, to be heavily fortified with three layers of security and has about 23,000 square meters (about 250,000 square feet) of underground space… the base's construction also indicates that it will have a significant air role, according to the analysis. The tarmac and hangars appear large enough to house various types of helicopters, but not fixed-winged aircraft like drones or fighter jets.” More — including photos — here.
The allegedly unsafe Chinese intercept of a U.S. Navy EP-3E Aries II signals intelligence aircraft in the South China Sea on Sunday? China says it’s the U.S. Navy being unsafe, USNI News reported Tuesday. “U.S. military vessels and planes have long been carrying out frequent surveillance activities close to China’s coastal waters, which poses a grave threat to China’s maritime and airspace security,” ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Tuesday. “China urges the U.S. to immediately stop all close-in surveillance activities and avoid a recurrence of such incident.”
The U.S. Navy’s reax to China’s reax: “The U.S. Navy EP-3 was on a routine mission operating in accordance with international law,” read a statement from U.S. Pacific Fleet provided to USNI News on Tuesday. “While we are still investigating the incident, initial reports from the US aircrew characterized the intercept as unsafe. The issue is being addressed with China through appropriate diplomatic and military channels.” Read the rest, here.
That shooting incident at a base in Jordan back in November that killed three U.S. special forces? Jordanian authorities have released surveillance footage of the attack — by a Jordanian soldier — and now an American who survived the ambush has spoken about it all with The New York Times. “The gunman, First Sgt. Ma’arik al-Tawayha, a member of the Jordanian Air Force, was wounded in the fight and sentenced last week by a Jordanian military court to life in prison for the killings of Staff Sgt. Matthew C. Lewellen, 27, of Kirksville, Mo.; Staff Sgt. Kevin J. McEnroe, 30, of Tucson; and Staff Sgt. James F. Moriarty, 27, of Kerrville, Tex. The soldier who survived reviewed the video with a reporter from The New York Times on Monday evening, helping to piece together what took place that day.” Story, here.
Pyongyang may have an ICBM next year. NYT: “American intelligence agencies have shortened their estimate — to one year — of how long it is likely to take North Korea to put the finishing touches on a missile that can reach the continental United States, according to several administration officials briefed on the new assessment.”
U.S. senators will take up a new round of sanctions “that would punish Russia, after the U.S. intelligence community concluded that Moscow had sought to interfere in the 2016 presidential election,” The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday after the 419 lawmakers voted yes, and just three Republicans voted no. “The White House has said Mr. Trump supports sanctions but continues to have concerns about the provision that would expand congressional influence in this area... he provision the White House has objected to would require the president to obtain congressional approval before relaxing any sanctions against Moscow or restoring Russia’s control over diplomatic compounds in the U.S. that the Obama administration had seized. The measure must now pass the Senate, which approved a different version of the bill last month that also included the congressional oversight language.” More here.
The Russian-brokered ceasefire for Damascus isn’t looking so healthy, Reuters reports after airstrikes near the capital city killed at least nine overnight while shelling from rebel-held turf landed near the Russian embassy. Russia calls it all an “absolute lie.” That, here.
ICYMI: Russian troops are now monitoring the Trump- and Putin-brokered ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta, in the suburbs of Damascus, Moscow’s defense ministry announced Monday. That’s one of the four “de-escalation zones” approved by Russia, Iran and Turkey in May. More on that from AP, here.
The ceasefire is handing Russian and Iran the keys to southwestern Syria, writes Michael Carpenter, a former deputy assistant defense secretary for Russia, Ukraine, Eurasia. What can be done? He recommends that U.S. — and Jordan, the other party to the ceasefire agreement — should get their own monitors to the area, post-haste. Read that, here.
Could a cease-fire be coming to Libya? Reuters: “Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj and the divided country's eastern commander Khalifa Haftar committed to a conditional ceasefire and to work towards holding elections next spring in talks chaired by French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday. Macron "wants France to play a bigger role in coaxing Libya's factions to end the turmoil that has allowed Islamist militants to gain a foothold and migrant smugglers to flourish in the absence of a strong central government. Haftar, who this month declared victory over rival armed groups in the battle for Libya's second city Benghazi, has refused to accept the government's legitimacy. He has been gaining ground backed by allies Egypt and United Arab Emirates. Serraj is backed by Haftar's rivals, armed brigades in the western city of Misrata, and by some factions in Tripoli. But he has struggled to extend his government's influence and faces resistance from some hardliners in the capital." More here.
More Russian-made weapons have made their way to the Taliban, CNN reports after obtaining video footage alleging to show as much, a claim the network says “add[s] weight to accusations by Afghan and American officials that Moscow is arming their one-time foe in the war-torn country.”
What’s on the videos: "These two videos show sniper rifles, Kalashnikov variants and heavy machine guns that weapons experts say are stripped of any means of identifying their origin.”
And the benefactors: “Two separate sets of Taliban, one in the north and another in the west, claim to be in possession of the weapons, which they say were originally supplied by Russian government sources. One splinter group of Taliban near Herat say they obtained the guns after defeating a mainstream rival group of Taliban. Another group say they got the weapons for free across the border with Tajikistan and that they were provided by 'the Russians.'”
Critical caveat: “The videos don't provide incontrovertible proof of the trade, of which Moscow has categorically denied involvement. Yet they offer some of the first battlefield evidence of a flow of weapons that has the Afghan and American governments deeply concerned about Moscow's intentions here." Story and footage, here.
American “armored vehicles, night vision devices, M-4s, laser illuminators and scoped optics have all found the way into Taliban hands over the years,” prompting the U.S. military to order airstrikes “to destroy stolen Humvees, [and] to prevent the resurgent Taliban threat from using them as SVBIEDs,” Navy Times reminded readers Tuesday.
The province of concern: Uruzgan, where “the Afghan National Army, or ANA, is afraid to conduct night operations, impacting its ability to hold re-captured terrain” because “Large numbers of Taliban fighters in the area have night vision, ACOGs, and M-4s, and they are fighting an ANA force supplied with only M-16s, helmets and flak jackets.” More to that, here.
Are reports of Afghan mineral wealth the best way to convince President Trump to shift more focus to the war-torn country? Quite possibly, NYT reports. “To explore the possibilities, the White House is considering sending an envoy to Afghanistan to meet with mining officials...Stephen A. Feinberg, a billionaire financier who is informally advising Mr. Trump on Afghanistan, is also looking into ways to exploit the country’s minerals, according to a person who has briefed him. Mr. Feinberg owns a large military contracting firm, DynCorp International, which could play a role in guarding mines — a major concern, given that some of Afghanistan’s richest deposits are in areas controlled by the Taliban.”
For what it’s worth, “Under President Barack Obama, the Pentagon set up a task force to try to build a mining industry in Afghanistan — a challenge that was stymied by rampant corruption, as well as security problems and the lack of roads, bridges or railroads.” Still the dream lives on. More, here.
Surprising find in east Africa. A joint U.S.-Somali raid on Sunday “resulted in the capture of an al-Shabaab facilitator who is suspected of being a lawful US resident,” U.S. defense officials told CNN on Tuesday. “During the raid the officials said a 'known al-Shabaab facilitator and suspected lawful resident of the US was captured by the Somali National Security Forces.' One official called the capture "a target of opportunity" and said that the individual recently traveled to the United States. The official said the detainee is not an American citizen and that the military is working to confirm the nature of his US residency with US law enforcement. The individual is currently being detained by the Somali government.” Story, here.
Lastly today: Check out a new gadget to help project U.S. defense budget trends through 2022, from the folks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. CSIS tells us, “We’ve essentially mined the data from dozens of government PDFs and put it in one easy to use, centralized place. You can search broader activities or right down to the line item and see where its future lies in DOD’s plans. It’s all downloadable and open-source and is part of a broader effort to create tools that make it easier to understand the defense budget.” Check it out, here.
NEXT STORY: Counties Are on the Front Lines of Cyber War