Today's D Brief: Indo-Pacific arms race, cont.; North Korea’s new missile launch; USSOF on the Aleutians; China, Russian navies near Japan; And a bit more.

North Korea appears to have launched another alleged ballistic missile from a submarine. And it flew for about 360 miles and reached an apogee of almost 40 miles before falling into the East Sea (also known as the “Sea of Japan” in Tokyo) around 10 a.m. local time, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News agency. Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said two missiles were actually launched, according to the BBC. And if true, it would be a first for the North, as Joseph Dempsey noted on Twitter, and it would give North Korea a second-strike nuclear capability, as Agence France-Presse reports. 

This is Pyongyang’s eighth known missile test this year, and it happened as “Seoul's top nuclear envoy, Noh Kyu-duk, and his U.S. and Japanese counterparts, Sung Kim and Takehiro Funakoshi, plan to meet trilaterally to discuss a joint strategy on the North,” Yonhap reports. That meeting is slated for today in Washington. 

One big open question: “whether it was fired from a working submarine, or an underwater platform or barge,” AFP notes, and Dempsey seems to agree.

If you’re just now catching up, here is a partial list of weapons North Korea has tested since August: 

Judging from the text of a speech Kim Jong-Un delivered in January (what Carnegie’s Ankit Panda refers to as Kim’s “8th Party Congress military modernization wishlist”), the following weapons could be coming next: a multiple-warhead ICBM; a solid-propellant ICBM and submarine-launched ballistic missile; a nuclear-powered submarine with SLBM; and a military reconnaissance satellite. 

Nerd out: On Friday night, the Defense Intelligence Agency released its 2021 report on North Korean Military Power. Find that (PDF), here.

Coming soon: An apparent U.S. missile defense test off the Alaskan coast, according to a navigational warning that caught the eye of Dutch researcher Marco Langbroek.

U.S. special operators have also been practicing defending a key air defense outpost on the Aleutian Islands, as NORAD tweeted (with a video) on Saturday. The Drive explained what’s behind that tweet on Monday, here.

And ICYMI: Just three weeks ago, South Korea introduced its third submarine that can launch ballistic missiles, as Yonhap reported at the time. Seoul also tested a new cruise missile and a new air-to-ground missile about a month ago, too.

You may be wondering: What’s up with all these peninsular launches and rocket tests lately? Some considerations include delayed response times for national arms industries responding to the perception of an escalating existential threat. This could apply most directly to North Korea (ref. former President Trump's “fire and fury” era, in particular, or page eight of DIA’s recent DPRK military power report for a broad, historical overview) and China (given growing anti-Chinese Communist Party rhetoric across most of the U.S. political spectrum). 

But as far as Moscow is concerned, the true arms race began almost two decades ago when the U.S. withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty back in 2002 (and it’s hard to imagine this framing is limited to only Russia). Referring to the arms race, President Vladimir Putin said just one week ago, “We didn't start it.” And Putin, of course, is eager to do Russia’s part in all this, as his list of six new “super weapons” suggested after he unveiled them in 2018. 

By the way: The Russian and Chinese navies are exercising together this week in international waters near Japan, Reuters reports this morning. Making this especially notable: “It was the first time Japan has confirmed the passage of Chinese and Russian naval vessels sailing together through the Tsugaru Strait, which separates the Sea of Japan from the Pacific,” Reuters writes. “While the strait is regarded as international waters, Japan's ties with China have long been plagued by conflicting claims over a group of tiny East China Sea islets. Tokyo has a territorial dispute with Moscow, as well.” Read on, here.


From Defense One

The Taliban Is Just as Bad as It Always Was // Yasmeen Serhan, The Atlantic: As international attention subsides, the group is reverting to its old tactics.

Help Military Families by Stopping the Spread of COVID // Julie Bogen, The Atlantic: More than 4,700 troops have deployed for COVID relief. Those who won't get vaccinated are taking advantage of the military community’s altruism.

DDS Security Clearance Tool Evolves into ‘SITH’ Insider Threat Program // Aaron Boyd: The Defense Digital Service’s automated investigations tool turns to the dark side of insider threat hunting and gets rebranded to match.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 202 BCE, Rome and Carthage ended their 17-year conflict, known as the Second Punic War, when Carthaginian general Hannibal was defeated by the army of Publius Cornelius Scipio at the Battle of Zama, about 80 miles south of modern day Tunis. The battle occurred 16 years after Hannibal’s famous march (featuring war elephants) over the Italian alps. Almost 50 years after the loss at Zama, Carthage would be wiped from the map by the Romans in the Third Punic War, which concluded in 146 BCE.


America has a new Afghan envoy after Zalmay Khalilzad stepped down Monday evening. State Department Secretary Antony Blinken made it official with a statement praising Khalilzad for his “for his decades of service,” which ended with the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in mid-August.  
Khalilzad admitted “the political arrangement between the Afghan government and the Taliban did not go forward as envisaged,” according to a letter to Blinken. “The reasons for this are too complex and I will share my thoughts in the coming days and weeks” ahead of a “new phase of our Afghanistan policy,” Khalilzad wrote.
Khalilzad’s deputy, Thomas West, is taking over at the special envoy post, where he “will lead diplomatic efforts, advise the Secretary and Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, and coordinate closely with the U.S. Embassy Kabul presence in Doha on America’s interests in Afghanistan,” Blinken said in his statement. More at the BBC, here.
Related reading: State IG launches investigations into end of Afghanistan operations,” Politico reported Monday. And AP reports today that just as the group did when it took power in the mid-1990s, the Taliban are once again asking former technocrats to stay on the job because there is often simply no one else available.

And lastly today: Senate appropriators have announced a bigger-than-asked-for defense spending plan that amounts to “a 5 percent increase in defense spending for fiscal 2022 over last year,” despite containing no Overseas Contingency Operations fund, Military Times’ Leo Shane III reported Monday.
The bill includes roughly $24 billion more than the president’s budget request, and includes a 2.7 percent pay raise for troops, as well as $2.5 billion in investments in the Indo-Pacific. Read on, here.

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