Summit plans hit a snag; How China steals US military tech; Secret Iranian missile lab, revealed; Russia is back in Africa; and just a bit more...
Record scratch: “There’s a very substantial chance that [the June 12 summit with President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-u] won’t work out,” Trump told reporters Tuesday (video, via Politico, here) while seated beside South Korean President Moon Jae-in. “That doesn’t mean it won’t work out over a period of time, but it may not work out for June 12, but there’s a good chance we’ll have the meeting,” Trump added.
Where some of this hesitation comes from: White House concerns “that the North Koreans are not serious about discussing denuclearization and that the president could be set up for failure,” the Washington Post reports. Case in point: “[L]ess than two weeks after a North Korean delegation failed to show up for a similar planning meeting with U.S. officials in the island country, a failure that raised red flags at the White House, according to people familiar with the situation.”
The view from Pyongyang: Increasingly hostile, the Associated Press reported Tuesday. State-run media "stepped up their rhetorical attacks on South Korea and joint military exercises with the United States, warning Tuesday that a budding detente could be in danger."
Also complicating preparations: The fate of North Korea’s leader while traveling to Singapore, the Post writes citing “people familiar with the deliberations.” Kim’s worries include “ensuring that his plane would be able to access enough fuel for the 6,000-mile round trip flight and safeguarding his security while on the ground in Singapore... Kim purportedly is concerned that a trip so far from home could expose him to a military coup or other internal attempts to unseat him.”
Where to go from here? White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joseph Hagin and deputy national security adviser Mira Ricardel have been dispatched to sort out the way ahead.
Contingency watch: “The Pentagon has embraced a controversial policy of destroying enemy nuclear missiles before they launch, an internal policy document from May 2017 shows,” The Daily Beast’s Spencer Ackerman reported Tuesday, calling it, “an effort that appears to include executing cyberattacks against missile control systems or components.” Worth the click, here.
There’s also this reminder: “Pentagon Report: Nukes Are Central To North Korea Strategy,” writes AP’s veteran national security reporter Bob Burns.
The gist: Delivered to Congress in April, the report was “based on the Pentagon’s analysis of North Korea’s military capabilities and strategies through 2017, when it was widely believed in the U.S. government that Kim had no intention of surrendering his nuclear weapons.”
Worth noting: “The report offers little suggestion that the Pentagon anticipated a circumstance in which North would consider giving up its nuclear weapons.” Read more of Burns’ report, here. Or dive into DoD’s report for yourself.
Speaking of nuclear-capable missiles, Russia just fired four ICBMs from a submarine in the White Sea, off the northwest coast of Russia, AP reported from Moscow. “The exercise marked the first simultaneous launch of four Bulava missiles, which can carry multiple nuclear warheads and has a range of up to 9,300 kilometers (about 5,770 miles.)... The navy said the mock warheads the missiles carried reached their practice targets on the opposite side of Russia — the Kura shooting range on the far eastern Kamchatka Peninsula.” A bit more, here.
And Russia wants a huge new nuclear submarine. Problem is, it can’t afford it — so the plan is now reportedly cancelled. The Diplomat has that budgetary development — citing “a Russian defense industry source” — here.
From Defense One
Save the Tomahawk // Sandy Clark: The U.S. Navy wants to stop production of America’s most useful long-range missile, betting that a replacement will arrive without delay.
The US Should Seize Its Chance to Help Shape a Key Ally’s Capabilities // Rowan Allport: Britain’s 2015 defence plan fell apart; a new review offers a door to new discussions.
Russia Is Back In Africa — and Making Some Very Odd Deals // Marcel Plichta: Since December, Moscow has struck major deals in the Central African Republic with both government and rebel leaders.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson, Caroline Houck and Bradley Peniston. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. They can subscribe here for free. On this day in 1944, the Japanese navy lost its fifth submarine in a week to the crew of the USS England (DE 635).
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The possible new U.S. commander of the Afghanistan war — Lt. Gen. Scott Miller — came from Delta Force, The Wall Street Journal reminded us Tuesday in a preview of what could lie ahead for the 17-plus-year struggle for stability on Russia’s, Iran’s, and China’s doorsteps.
Miller’s most recent job (surprise, surprise): commanding Joint Special Operations Command.
Writes the WSJ: “If all goes as expected, Gen. Miller will take over the Afghan war at a time when a fragmented, Taliban-led insurgency remains in control of swaths of the countryside and is renewing a push into major cities, despite the arrival of thousands of additional U.S. forces.”
For what it’s worth: When one of your D-Brief-ers was attached to U.S. special operators in Afghanistan seven years ago, Miller was the commander of those troops. And not a single bad word was uttered by them during that time. Read a bit more from the Journal, (paywall alert), here.
ICYMI, “Several dozen Afghan security personnel have died in several days of heavy fighting with the Taliban in some districts of Ghazni province in Eastern Afghanistan,” Voice of America reported Tuesday from neighboring Islamabad.
The Ghazni districts newly under Taliban control: Jaghatū and Dehak. An Afghan provincial official told VOA “20 police personnel, including the district police chief and the police reserve force commander of Dehak died in the fighting.”
And in nearby Ajristan district, “Taliban insurgents killed another 20 security forces personnel... where the insurgents managed to surround the governor’s compound Sunday.”
And to the south in Kandahar, some kind of explosion “left at least six people dead and many others wounded. Doctors at the local Mirwais hospital told VOA on the condition of anonymity that eight security personnel and 21 civilians, including four children, are among the wounded. Most of the victims worked at a car workshop nearby. So far no group has claimed responsibility for the attack.” More of the same from that “graveyard of empires,” here.
More U.S. troops rotating to Afghanistan this summer include the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, the U.S. Army announced Tuesday.
Rotating out: the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division.
Headed to Iraq this fall: Paratroopers of the XVIII Airborne Corps Headquarters, out of Fort Bragg.
Exiting: III Corps Headquarters personnel. Tiny bit more, here.
CENTCOM’s Gen. Votel says the U.S. will stay in Syria to fight ISIS and keep an eye on Iran, the Tampa Bay Times’ Howard Altman reported Tuesday from the ongoing Special Operations Forces Industry Conference.
Also in Syria — well more like in and around Syria, Russia has lost a score of aircraft (that is, exactly 20) since it formally began military support the Assad regime, the open-source watchers of the Conflict Intelligence Team reported Tuesday in a detailed infographic.
Travel to the “front lines of ISIS's last stand in Syria” with Vice News’ Aris Roussinos, who reported Tuesday from Deir Ezzor. The set-up: “Rich in oil, and sitting astride lucrative trade and smuggling routes to Iraq, Eastern Syria is a crucial piece of the greater Syrian chessboard, and both [the U.S. and Russia] are looking to manipulate the region’s complex tribal political networks in a bid for regional supremacy." That, here.
Apropos of nothing: Odd Syrian war math. “Deir Ezzor villagers angered by regime soldiers stealing 150 goats and 10 cows, capture 5 soldiers & successfully trade them for their stolen cattle,” MidEast analyst @Weddady relayed Tuesday from Baladi-News.com.
Extra reading: Get to better know the militaries of the Middle East in this new 48-page report from the French Institute of International Relations.
Iran appears to have restarted its long-range missile program, according to the New York Times this morning.
What you need to know: A secret desert facility 25 miles from the city of Shahrud has been uncovered by a team of researchers. Satellite photos indicate “that work on the site now appears to focus on advanced rocket engines and rocket fuel, and is often conducted under cover of night.”
Researchers say the lab might be only for medium-range missiles or Iran’s space program, but the evidence “strongly suggests, though does not prove, that it is developing the technology for long-range missiles.”
Holding short of an ICBM. The team’s leader, @ArmsControlWonk Jeffrey Lewis, “concluded that the program is holding deliberately short of a functional long-range missile. But if President Trump succeeds in tearing up the agreement, or if Tehran feels threatened, Mr. Lewis warned, Shahrud suggests that Iran could acquire a long-range missile more quickly than has been previously known. ‘The Iranians are choosing to restrain themselves for political reasons,’ Mr. Lewis said, ‘and if we tell them to go to hell, we’re not going to like what they do.’”
New sanctions on five Iranians. The U.S. Treasury announced a freeze on the U.S.-held assets of several Iranians said to be helping with missile support to the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The Wall Street Journal has a bit more, here.
China tech-theft watch. “[A] six-month Politico investigation found that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, the main vehicle for protecting American technology from foreign governments, rarely polices the various new avenues Chinese nationals use to secure access to American technology, such as bankruptcy courts or the foreign venture capital firms that bankroll U.S. tech startups.”
One problem: “National security specialists insist that such a stealth transfer of technology through China’s investment practices in the United States is a far more serious problem than the tariff dispute — and a problem hiding in plain sight.” Read on at Politico, here.
Read the Pentagon report that sounded the alarm last year, and D1’s story on it, here.
Congress tried to do something about it last summer. Read, here.
Also read Defense One’s ongoing coverage of the problem:
- “The US Navy Wants a Better Way to Keep China’s Nose Out of Its Contracts” (April 2018)
- “China and the CIA Are Competing to Fund Silicon Valley’s AI Startups” (November 2017)
- Don’t Let China Steal the US Military’s Logistical Edge (March 2016)
Finally: A plea for CFIUS reform, and not throwing the baby out with the bathwater (January 2017), here.
Debate continues on the House floor today on the National Defense Authorization Act, the annual bill that sets policy for the Pentagon and guides how it spends a $717-billion budget in 2019. As one of the few pieces of legislation that passes every year, it’s the target for hundreds of amendments — some more tied to national security than others. Many of the more controversial proposals, like one prohibiting the deportation of DACA recipients serving in the military, were rejected by the House Rules Committee and won’t see the floor. A list of the 168 approved amendments up for debate today can be found here.
America’s newest carrier goes back for (more) repairs. The USS Ford sailed from Norfolk on May 19 for “what had expected to be a long testing period,” Navy Times reports. But today, the carrier is back in port for propulsion repairs. “Details on exactly what in that drivetrain was redesigned and needs adjustment has not been released, though officials did say that this latest issue is unrelated to another propulsion-related issue that popped up earlier this year.” More, here.
Meanwhile across the Pacific, “First Chinese-Built Carrier Returns From Successful Sea Trials.” Via USNI News, here.
Can you hear me now? The State Department has issued a new “health alert” to Americans traveling in China after “a government employee reported unusual ‘sensations of sound and pressure’ and was later diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury — a case that recalls a wave of so-called ‘sonic attacks’ on U.S. diplomats in Cuba.” WaPo’s Emily Rauhala has that story from Beijing, here.
Allies and accounting: “Britain’s defense secretary has put at least a £3 billion-a-year (U.S. $4 billion) price tag on the value of the country’s close military relationship with the US, but conceded that the arrangement was priceless to the government,” Defense News reported Tuesday from London.
And finally today: Some leisure reading, and it’s a very #LongRead on “How The American Aircraft Carrier Became King Of The Seas,” from Popular Mechanics. The shorter title: “History of the aircraft carrier.” Get started, here.