Today's D Brief: Undersea cables cut near Taiwan; China fears Starlink; USAF budget preview; Missile test over Pacific?; And a bit more.
Undersea internet cables linking Taiwan to one of its outlying islands were quietly severed early last month. Now officials in Taipei fear similar future actions could be a prelude to invasion or war, the Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.
Location: Matsu Island, which is close to China’s eastern coast, and is home to about 14,000 people.
One cable was damaged on February 2 by what Taiwan officials believe was a Chinese fishing vessel. Taiwan’s Coast Guard pursued the vessel, but it fled to Chinese waters. Six days later, a second cable was allegedly severed by the actions of a Chinese cargo vessel, according to Taiwan’s National Communications Commission. Fortunately, “A backup system that uses a high-powered microwave radio and is guarded by Taiwan’s military was used to establish internet connectivity via a tower roughly 100 miles away near Taipei, protecting some essential services,” the Journal writes.
Caveat: “Taiwan’s government stopped short of calling it a deliberate act on the part of Beijing, and there was no direct evidence to show the Chinese ships were responsible,” AP reports. “Local officials and media have theorized that illegal Chinese sand dredging around Matsu has exposed some of the cables and left them vulnerable to damage by fishing trawlers,” according to the Journal.
Notably, the cables have been cut more than two dozen times over the past five years, according to AP; but attribution for those instances remains elusive. Meanwhile, Matsu residents will have to wait until at least mid-April for repairs due to a lack of available ships. To prepare for possible future instances of cut cables, officials in Taipei are reportedly considering Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite internet coverage, including “plans to experiment with it at more than 700 locations,” according to the Journal.
By the way: Chinese military officials are worried about Starlink satellites almost as much as they worry about Javelin missiles, Reuters reported Wednesday, citing a “review of almost 100 articles in more than 20 defense journals.”
- “China 'seriously concerned' by Taiwan president 'transit' plans amid reported US trip,” Reuters reported separately Wednesday from Beijing and Taipei.
From Defense One
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Air Force Wants Faster A-10 Retirements // Marcus Weisgerber and Audrey Decker: 21 Warthogs are going away this year, and service leaders hope Congress will allow more.
Foreign Governments Are Still Targeting Americans on Social Media, NSA Says // Patrick Tucker: U.S. government efforts to stem these infowar efforts are meeting resistance.
Air Force Wants More Planes Faster—Plus a Thousand Drone Wingmen // Audrey Decker: The service secretary previewed the 2024 budget request.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to this newsletter, you can do that here. On this day in 1910, French aviator Raymonde de Laroche became the first woman to receive a pilot's license.
President Joe Biden rang his French counterpart President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday. The two discussed Russia’s Ukraine invasion, the Indo-Pacific region, and “challenges posed by the People’s Republic of China to the rules-based international order,” according to the White House.
European Union Commision President Ursula von der Leyen will visit Biden at the White House on Friday, which will be exactly a week after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz dropped by 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Von der Leyen visited Canada on Tuesday, where she visited a military base in Kingston and delivered an evening speech thanking lawmakers in Ottawa for their Ukraine support.
“Putin refuses to recognize [Ukrainians’] freedom and their independence; and this we can simply not accept,” she said to Canada’s House of Commons. “We will never accept this threat to European security and to the very foundation of our international community, and I know Canada's commitment is as adamant as ours,” she added.
Russia seems to have expanded several air bases since invading Ukraine one year ago. Brady Africk of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington shared a Twitter thread Tuesday showing before and after satellite imagery from above a half dozen locations, including inside occupied Ukraine.
And Russia’s military chief is recirculating old Soviet descriptions of Ukrainian territory (Bakhmut in this case, which he calls “Artemovsk”), purporting that it has been Russia’s territory all along. Reuters has more on Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s rhetoric Tuesday, here.
But prisoner exchanges continue to occur—including another on Tuesday involving 30 Ukrainian prisoners-of-war swapped for 90 Russian POWs.
Soft power alert: Russia may be losing some influence in Central Asia, Putin-watcher and British scholar Mark Galeotti pointed out on Twitter on Tuesday. The trend has very little to do with histories of colonialism, Galeotti writes; “This is rather about hard-nosed politics,” he says.
“It's not just that Putin has conclusively 'lost' Ukraine,” Galeotti writes. “His catastrophic bid to reassert authority there is also breaking the rest of Moscow's informal empire, and it's a process I don't think he can reverse.”
- “Lots of Russian soldiers want to surrender. Ukraine makes it easier with a high-tech hotline,” the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday;
- “Intelligence Suggests Pro-Ukrainian Group Sabotaged Pipelines, U.S. Officials Say,” the New York Times reported Tuesday off some seemingly very flimsy (aka “low confidence”) intelligence, about which Germany’s military chief advised skepticism and caution in his public remarks Wednesday, according to Reuters;
- “He Heeded Russia’s Call to Enlist. Five Months Later, He Was Dead,” the New York Times reported Monday;
The U.S. may soon sell Japan a few E-2D Advanced Hawkeye Airborne Early Warning and Control Aircraft for about $1.4 billion. Tokyo is interested in purchasing five of those, along with several engines and parts that help bring the likely ticket price over a billion dollars, according to the State Department’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which announced the likely future sale on Tuesday.
And Australia wants to buy more than 250 Javelin anti-tank missiles, which would likely cost at least $60 million, DSCA announced separately Tuesday. Selling Canberra Javelins “will improve the Australian Army’s capability to meet current and future threats by maintaining and increasing its anti-armor capability,” DSCA said. More, here.
The U.S. military appears to be gearing up for a missile test of some kind next Tuesday, on March 14, over the Pacific Ocean. Dutch astronomer Marko Langbroek noticed the alert, and shared it Wednesday on Twitter. The test could be a hypersonic missile, since “The [cordoned-off] areas [in the Pacific] are very similar to those of the 9 December 2022 [AGM-183 ARRW] test,” he wrote—and shared a bit more on why hypersonic missile technology is (as he described it ironically) “all the hype,” here.
In more rocket science news this week, a California startup called Relativity Space has created a 110-foot long rocket from “one of the world's largest metal 3D printers,” and it’s set to launch from Florida’s Cape Canaveral this afternoon, the Associated Press reported Wednesday in a nearly two-minute video.
Eighty-five percent of the rocket comes from that 3D printing process, and much of the rest comes from custom aluminum alloys. It won’t be putting anything into orbit, because today’s launch is more of a proof-of-concept to ensure the materials can withstand the rigors of the launch process. Space.com has more, here.
Watch the launch, scheduled for 1 p.m. ET, on Relativity Space’s YouTube channel, here.
And lastly: We have a few new photos of the U.S. Air Force’s secretive new B-21 Raider, which was unveiled for the first time late last year in California. The service posted three new images from that December unveiling that had not been publicly available until this week. Said Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber, “I suspect it had something to do with [the Air Force Association’s 2023 Warfare Symposium],” which is a three-day event that ends today in Aurora, Colo. Weisgerber guessed there might be “some general [who] wanted to use the picture on a briefing slide.” And sure enough, he was correct: Gen. Thomas Bussiere, who commands Air Force Global Strike Command, used the image in a slide deck during his afternoon keynote address.