N. Korea fires 2 missiles; Iran deal takes another hit; Space Force price tag; FBI vs domestic terrorists; And a bit more.
North Korea wants everyone’s attention (or more negotiating leverage), so it carried out its second weapons launch in a week, this time from its western coast, Bloomberg reports this morning from the Korean peninsula.
Location: “The northwestern area of Kusong…about 40 km north of Sino-ri,” which is allegedly “where the North has a base holding medium-range Nodong missiles,” South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reports. The missiles traveled eastward “before landing in the East Sea."
Launched: two short-range missiles at about 4:30 p.m. and 4:40 local time, which flew about 420 km and 270 km. That’s according to South Korean officials cited by Agence France-Presse and the BBC’s Lauren Bicker.
If early numbers are correct — big if — the missiles reached apogee at 50 km. “That is too low for a ballistic trajectory at either stated ranges on a minimum energy trajectory,” Jeffrey Lewis tweeted this morning. “So it’s either an error or each missile flew a quasi-ballistic trajectory. That would imply it’s the new DPRK [short-range ballistic missile]. (Iskander's reported apogee is 50 km.)” More on that Iskander via the folks at 38 North, here.
And the timing? It happened right as President Trump’s Korean envoy, Stephen Biegun, arrived in South Korea for talks with his counterpart in Seoul, Lee Do-hoon, then later with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul, on Friday.
“We got this covered,” RoK’s military essentially replied. The formal language in that message: "Our military has strengthened surveillance and vigilance in case of a further launch from North Korea, and has maintained a full-fledged posture in close coordination with the United States," according to Yonhap.
The Japanese military said none of the missiles landed near their coastline, announcing, “At present, we are not aware of any situation that would pose an immediate threat to Japan’s national security,” according to the Associated Press, which has begun a rolling updates page, here.
Tight sequencing: “This is [the] 2nd major weapons test in 5 days after a 522 day gap in missile testing,” the BBC’s Bicker writes.
Bicker’s bottom line: “However, once again, [what happened today] does not violate NK’s self-imposed moratorium on testing long range ballistic missiles or nuclear weapons. But North Korea's patience with Seoul and the US appears to be running out.”
Also this week: “The Pentagon says it has given up hope of recovering any more remains of U.S. troops killed in the 1950-1953 Korean War in the near future,” Reuters reported Wednesday morning in another sign the Trump administration’s relations with North Korea are cooling.
From Defense One
CBO: Space Force Could Cost $3B Up Front, $1.3B Annually // Marcus Weisgerber, Defense One: The new independent analysis comes as lawmakers weigh the creation of a new branch of the military.
The FBI Has 850 Open Domestic Terrorism Investigations // Patrick Tucker, Defense One: Homegrown extremism is rising, one year after the Trump administration cut funding to programs that counter hate groups.
Senior Military and Trump Officials in Washington Escalate Iran Warnings // Katie Bo Williams, Defense One: General says sending aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers is not a pretext for war.
Tech Companies Are Deleting Evidence of War Crimes // Bernhard Warner, The Atlantic: Algorithms that take down “terrorist” videos could hamstring efforts to bring human-rights abusers to justice.
How Much Will It Cost to Protect America's Electrical Grid? Who Will Pay? // Manimaran Govindarasu and Dominic Saebeler: The answers are: Likely tens of billions of dollars, and probably us, the electricity customers.
Did Israel Have the Right to Bomb Hamas’ Cyber HQ? // Stefan Soesanto: The May 5 counterstrike raised questions — and set precedents.
Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson. Thanks for reading! Subscribe here. On this day in 1972, President Nixon ordered mines to be emplaced in major North Vietnamese ports in an effort to try to stop the flow of weapons to the North. See the New York Times’ front page #OTD here.
The latest in Trump-Iran tensions: European leaders today rejected Iran’s "ultimatums" from Wednesday, but they’re still very much interested in saving the nuclear deal despite heated rhetoric and sanctions from the U.S., AFP reports.
Bigger picture: We may all be witnessing at last “The Slow Death of the Iran Nuclear Deal,” as Ankit Panda put it Wednesday in The Atlantic.
Cutting to the chase: "As far as the administration will be concerned, the 'maximum pressure' campaign prosecuted against Iran over the past year worked—not because it was ever meant to bring Iran to the negotiating table to reach a new agreement, but because it got Iran to begin a unilateral move away from compliance with the JCPOA." Read on, here.
Trump second-guessing Bolton? The White House is messaging through the Washington Post that President Trump “is questioning his administration’s aggressive strategy in Venezuela following the failure of a U.S.-backed effort to oust President Nicolás Maduro,” WH officials and advisors told the Post on Wednesday.
The gist: “Bolton publicly revealed the defection plan to apply pressure to Maduro, which U.S. officials said has worked. They claim Maduro is sleeping in a bunker, paranoid that close aides will turn on him. But Trump has expressed concern that Bolton has boxed him into a corner and gone beyond where he is comfortable.”
Key line: “Trump has said in recent days that Bolton wants to get him ‘into a war’ — a comment that he has made in jest in the past but that now betrays his more serious concerns.” Read on, here.
The U.S. has a no-longer-secret missile “for pinpoint airstrikes that kill terrorist leaders with no explosion,” the Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold and Warren P. Strobel report this morning off input from “more than a dozen current and former U.S. officials.”
It’s essentially a “modified version of the well-known Hellfire missile,” and referred to officially as the R9X — and informally as “the flying Ginsu.” But “[i]nstead of exploding, it is designed to plunge more than 100 pounds of metal through the tops of cars and buildings to kill its target without harming individuals and property close by.”
Required (or maybe strongly desired) before use: “extraordinarily accurate intelligence about a target’s location and surroundings.”
Not a Trump weapon; rather, this thing was created “under former President Obama, [to assist in] avoiding civilian deaths in long U.S. campaign of airstrikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen and other locales” since “Increasingly, terrorist fighters were adapting to U.S. airstrikes, hiding among groups of women and children to put themselves out of reach,” officials told the Lubold and Strobel.
It’s already been used at least twice, the Journal writes: once over Syria in February 2017, and again this past January in Yemen.
One big plus for the Pentagon: “A Hellfire, which is a little more than five feet long and weighs just over 100 pounds, typically leaves behind mangled, burned-out shells of vehicles, surrounded by debris and scorch marks over a large radius. The R9X leaves no such signature.” Read more behind the paywall, here.
Missiles and drones — likely deployed by UAE — are being used to support a rogue Libyan general’s offensive on the city of Tripoli, AFP reported Monday.
That’s according to an analysis of a “April 19-20 missile attack on the southern suburbs of Tripoli” by a United Nations panel of experts, which has “written to China to request information that could help identify the suppliers.”
The munition that appears to have been used: “a Blue Arrow air-to-surface missile, which has not been used in Libya before,” AFP writes off a UN Security Council report. “The Chinese-made missile is only in use in three countries — China, Kazakhstan and the United Arab Emirates — and is paired with the Chinese-made Wing Loong drone.”
Why the UAE? The Emiratis "are seen as key supporters of [field marshall Khalifa] Haftar, praising his battlefield successes against the Islamic State group and other extremists in Libya." More here.
How are things in Libya going otherwise? “Libyan PM Accuses [Haftar] of Seeking a Coup,” Voice of America reported Thursday evening. So… the answer would seem to be not great — or about as things were going last week. And the month before. And so on.
If you’re just tuning in, “Haftar leads a rival government in eastern Libya,” VOA writes. “His Libyan National Army moved against al-Sarraj's U.N.-installed government last month, but has been bogged down by government forces and their allies in Tripoli's southern suburbs, unable to take the capital.” Read the rest of VOA’s dispatch, here.
Meanwhile in Kazakhstan, a man decided to "test the limits of his right to peacefully demonstrate" by standing "in a public square holding a sign with nothing on it. His prediction: he would be detained, the New York Times reports. The result? “He was right.” Story here.
Japan recovered parts of the flight data recorder from that F-35A that crashed off its north coast last month, The Diplomat’s Ankit Panda reported Thursday. The recovery happened about six days ago, but the defense ministry still has not located what it called “the all-important memory (of the flight data recorder).”
For what it’s worth, “the exact discovery location is being kept secret for security reasons,” Panda writes.
Also in pursuit: “The U.S. Defense Department has chartered a privately-owned deep-sea search vessel, the Singapore-operated Van Gogh, to help with the search. It joined the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology research vessel Kaimei in the search for the missing aircraft.” More here.
Taiwan wants to build eight diesel-powered submarines as a counter to China, so it just broke ground on a new shipyard, the Associated Press reports this morning from the southern city of Kaohsiung.
Said President Tsai Ing-wen at the ground-breaking: “We must have concept and thinking of asymmetric warfare.” The first sub, however, won’t be ready for another six years.
Lots of ground to make up. “Taiwan operates just four aged submarines,” AP writes. By contrast, “China, which claims Taiwan as its territory to be annexed for force if necessary, operates a growing navy that boasts some 75 submarines.” Read on, here.
Back stateside, the Trump administration wanted to know how much refugees are costing taxpayers. “Turns out,” Zachary Fryer-Biggs of the Center for Public Integrity reported Wednesday, “they're actually propping up the government by contributing $6 billion more in taxes than they use in public services annually.”
Notes Defense One’s Patrick Tucker: “This echoes economic studies (like this one from the University of Maryland in 2012, for example) showing that both documented and undocumented immigrants contribute more to GDP than they cost. This did not used to be controversial. Basic economics is stubbornly resistant to political theater.”
Because it’s easy to forget things that happened three years ago, “A Montenegro court has handed jail sentences to two pro-Russian opposition politicians and a dozen others, including Russians and Serbians,” AFP reports, “over their alleged plot to overthrow the government in 2016 and halt a bid to join NATO.”
It’s worth emphasizing that last line again: “plot to overthrow the [Montenegrin] government…and halt a bid to join NATO.”
The largest sentences were given to two alleged Russian intelligence officers (12 and 15 years respectively), according to AFP. For the record, Moscow denies any involvement and calls the allegations “absurd.”
So what transpired after the alleged coup? “Montenegro joined NATO and the government continued its negotiations for accession to the European Union,” AFP writes. Read on, here.
And finally today: What’s this thing the British Royal Navy attached to their sub, the HMS Talent, as it passed through Gibraltar Tuesday ahead of its current deployment to the Mediterranean Sea? IISS’s Joseph Dempsey is just one of a couple open-source analysts who asked the question after spotting the new mechanism attached to the vessel’s forward hull.
One humorous guess: “Rogue Russian Beluga spy whale detector?”
The Drive took a stab at the question: Joseph Trevithick asserts it’s a wake-detection system for subhunting without sonar. More on that: “The system has four individual probes in front and is visually reminiscent of features most commonly seen on multiple types of Soviet and now Russian submarines…these are commonly referred to collectively as System Obnarujenia Kilvaternovo Sleda (SOKS), which translates Wake Object Detection System.” Read on, here.