China accelerates nuke work; Summit scramble; PACOM renamed; How spies tap your cellphone; and just a bit more…

China is simulating an average of five nuclear tests a month in order to develop an “arsenal of usable next-generation weapons,” Politico reported this week off a report from a Chinese weapons research institute which eyes the work from “tunnels deep under mountains in Mianyang, southwestern Sichuan province,” where “loud blasts from these experiments can be heard more than once a week.”

The quick read: “Between September 2014 and last December, China carried out around 200 laboratory experiments to simulate the extreme physics of a nuclear blast, the China Academy of Engineering Physics reported in a document released by the government earlier this year and reviewed by the South China Morning Post this month. In comparison, the US carried out only 50 such tests between 2012 and 2017 – or about 10 a year – according to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.”

About these tests: They’re “typically carried out using high-powered gas guns that fire projectiles at weapons-grade materials in laboratories” since “an international ban prevents nuclear weapons from being tested” in actuality.

So why now? Politico cites advances in artificial intelligence and hypersonic weapons that have “opened the door for the development of new nuclear weapons that could be smaller in size and more precise.” Read on, here.

So China was disinvited from the U.S. military’s upcoming RIMPAC naval exercises. And in its place — kind of, anyway — are four new participants: Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Brazil, and Israel, Stars and Stripes reported Wednesday from Hawaii.

Back for more: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, South Korea, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Tonga and the United Kingdom. More here.

The view from outgoing U.S. Navy Adm. Harry Harris: "North Korea remains our most imminent threat and a nuclear-capable North Korea with missiles that can reach the United States is unacceptable," he said during a change-of-command ceremony at U.S. Pacific Command — oof, make that “U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.”

But then Harris added, "China remains our biggest long-term challenge. Without focused involvement and engagement by the United States and our allies and partners China will realize its dream of hegemony in Asia." More from that scene, via CNN, here.

From Defense One

Pentagon Rebrands PACOM as 'Indo-Pacific Command' // Caroline Houck: The change is symbolic, defense officials say, but it emphasizes the U.S.'s commitment to new partnerships.

Special Operations Command Takes Aim At Enemies Hiding Files Inside Seized Electronics // Patrick Tucker: Terror groups are using new techniques to reduce the intel value of seized laptops and cellphones.

The US Military Has a New Tool to Connect Its Far-Flung African Bases // Caroline Houck: A medium-earth-orbit satellite contract hints at AFRICOM's data and connectivity needs.

How to Admit Georgia to NATO — Without Triggering a War // Luke Coffey: Russia's partial occupation of the Caucasian country has given it a kind of veto on alliance membership. Here's a way around that.

Syria Is Now In Charge of the UN's Disarmament Efforts. Really. // Krishnadev Calamur: The U.S. says the Assad regime's repeated use of chemical weapons on civilians should disqualify it from the post.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. They can subscribe here for free.

In summit-scramble news, we were given a window into what the Singapore planning venue looks like for U.S. and North Korean negotiators after the Washington Post’s John Hudson crashed the five-star Capella hotel on the country’s southern Sentosa Island on Wednesday. The press was banned from the resort, but Hudson went to the bar for a drink and snapped a few photos of the entourages. Find that, here. Or read Hudson’s write-up from the scene, where the actors "dealt purely with logistics... shrouded in secrecy," here.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford linked up with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts today in Seoul, the Yonhap news agency reports. Also present: Adm. Harry Harris and his successor Adm. Philip Davidson.
The focus: “Dunford reaffirmed that Washington will provide extended deterrence to ensure the security of its key Asian allies. Extended deterrence refers to the U.S. commitment to defend its ally by mobilizing all military capabilities against an adversary's aggression.”
And if you want a 30,000-ft. view of what’s going on: “The talks came amid fast-paced diplomacy aimed at denuclearizing North Korea and establishing a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.” A bit more, here.

In case you were wondering, America’s ground-based missile defense system is reportedly doing a bit better these days, Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio reported Wednesday off a May 30 Government Accountability Office report.
The better news: “The system managed by Boeing Co. conducted its first successful flight test of an improved interceptor last year ‘when it successfully intercepted a target representative of an intercontinental ballistic missile,’ according to the annual report published Wednesday. It also met a Pentagon goal set by the Obama administration of increasing the number of interceptors, which are based in California and Alaska, to 44 from 30.”
The bad news: U.S. “Missile defense elements continue ‘to have cyber vulnerabilities that place’ operations in ‘certain geographic areas at risk.’” Continue reading, here.
Related: Japan is purchasing a few new aircraft-mounted radar warning systems (these things) from Raytheon at a cost of about $90 million, Defense News reported this week.

In Iraq, mo’ problems for the U.S. from Moqtada al-Sadr. “The firebrand Shia cleric and head of Iraq’s newly elected ruling class, vowed on Wednesday to deny the U.S. any role in the country’s national security efforts, casting further doubt on the future of the American mission there,” the Washington Times’ Carlo Muñoz reported Wednesday.
In Sadr’s own words: “The U.S. is an invader country; we do not allow it to interfere at all.” Surprised? We didn’t think so. Read on, here.

Some of the problems for America’s global train-and-equip strategy, according to a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office:

  • Partnered-nation troops sitting out battles;
  • Inadequate weapons maintenance;
  • Too few junior NCOs;
  • Illiteracy.

FWIW: These programs — run from Trinidad and Tobago, then across northern Africa and the Middle East, and to the Philippines — have run a tab of more than $4 billion from FY2009 through 2017, the report’s authors write.
And for the last two years, nearly half of the annual funding has been focused on just two countries: Lebanon and Jordan. Read on for recommendations on how to improve the program in the PDF, here.

We now have video footage of that HIMARS artillery strike in Afghanistan from last week — Helmand province, to be a bit more precise — courtesy of the NATO Resolute Support PR team, which released a photo and video on Wednesday. The strikes appear to have fallen sometime in the early morning, and seems to have spared the surrounding compounds.

CODELs (update: and StaffDELs) this week include trips to Kuwait, Afghanistan, Poland, India, and Djibouti. Who’s traveling to those locations? Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) hit up the first three spots; Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) visited India; and the chief of staff for Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) dropped by Djibouti to talk about alleged laser attacks on U.S. troops at Camp Lemonnier.

The Trump White House has issued now its sixth round of sanctions against Iranian entities — this time with a human-rights focus, The National’s Joyce Karam reported Wednesday. Read on for a bit more on the "semi-official paramilitary group Ansar-e Hezbollah, Evin Prison and Hanista Programming Group," and six other individuals targeted, here.

Kaspersky gets slapped down. A D.C. federal judge on Wednesday dismissed Kaspersky Lab's lawsuits challenging the U.S. federal government’s ban on its products, Buzzfeed News’s Legal reporter Zoe Tillman noticed on Twitter — linking to the court decision (here).

Your cellphone’s location and messages are easy pickings for spies and well-heeled criminals. That’s the takeaway from an exchange of letters between Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., DHS, and the FCC, reported Wednesday by the Washington Post. It seems that our cell network is connected by a decades-old system, called SS7, that runs largely on trust. That may have worked in the days of Ma Bell, but is wildly unsuited for a global network made up of thousands of companies.
The upshot: your friendly neighborhood spy agency or mob boss can buy products that tap into the system to reveal where your phone is, and what messages you’re sending.
In a fire-breathing May 29 letter, Wyden upbraids FCC chair Ajit Pai for failing to force telecom companies to improve security around SS7. He cites a DHS report from last year that says that “all U.S. carriers are vulnerable...resulting in risk to national security” and a letter from then-NSA chief Adm. Michael Hayden calling for improvements to SS7 and cellphone security in general. Read on, here.
ICYMI: Here’s an SS7-vulnerability explainer from 2016, via The Guardian.

Facebook’s new “massive” data center will be just a 30-minute drive from the NSA’s massive data center in Utah, the state’s Deseret News reported Wednesday.

And lastly, and apropos of nothing: Read this brief report on “infernal machines” from the WWI battlefields of France, which read much like our modern-day descriptions of improvised explosive devices. (h/t Angry Staff Officer)