The leaders of North and South Korea, Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in, met in the treaty village of Panmunjom along the demarcation line between the two states. As has been widely noted, the meeting represented a historic first, the only time a North Korean leader has visited the South since partition. A joint declaration committed the two countries to increased exchanges (including reunification of families), reduction of military tensions, and a commitment to removing all nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula.
How seriously the North Korean half of the undertaking may in fact be has been widely questioned, with many observers thinking the Kim is playing his opponents. But there are signs that sanctions led by the US (and tightened recently by China) have continued to bite the DPRK's already fragile economy, and that quiet meetings between North Korean leaders and US Director of Central Intelligence Pompeo may have helped open Pyongyang to more serious negotiation. A US-North Korean summit is still expected, details to be worked out later.
Questions over DPRK capabilities and intentions.
North Korea has not, really, stopped cyber operations. Researchers at McAfee say they tracked Operation GhostSecret, a major DPRK cyber espionage operation, through most of March. The Pyongyang-associated threat group Hidden Cobra is thought to be behind the campaign. Hidden Cobra has been implicated in both espionage and financial fraud.
North Korea's nuclear testing program may be facing a technical setback. Its underground testing site is reported to have become unstable. The country's nuclear weapons program may, observers continue to fear, be directed as much toward delivering electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attacks against electronic systems as it is to the more obvious nuclear effects of blast, heat, and radiation.
Heightened tensions over Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Iran and the US remain at odds over Iran's compliance with international undertakings to halt development of nuclear weapons. The US Administration thinks Iran is cheating, and has made noises about ending or at least renegotiating the non-proliferation accords. Iran complains that the US is itself already out of compliance, and threatens to accelerate its weapons program should diplomacy fail. France and Germany, interested in seeing the existing agreements work, are seeking to convince the US to stay with them.
US, France, UK strike Syrian targets.
In the early morning hours of Saturday, April 14th (Damascus time), a combined US, French, and British task force delivered missile strikes against targets connected to Syria's chemical weapons program and deployed capabilities. Three sites were hit: a research and development facility at Barzan on the outskirts of Damascus, and two chemical weapons installations west of Homs. One of the sites near Homs was a sarin production facility (Sarin being the nerve agent apparently used against civilians in Douma early in April), the other described variously as a "bunker" or a "military command-and-control center."
US forces hit Barzan: fifty-seven ship-launched Tactical Tomahawks from US cruisers, destroyers, and submarines were joined by nineteen Joint Air-to-Service Standoff Missile-Extended Range (JASSM-ER) cruise missiles delivered by B-1B Lancer bombers.
The Hims-Shinshar chemical weapons storage installation near Homs was targeted by the Royal Air Force and the French Navy and Air Force. RAF Tornado strike aircraft operating from Cyprus delivered eight Storm Shadow cruise missiles, a French Frigate contributed three Missiles De Croisière Naval, and the French Air Force dropped two SCALP missiles.
The French Air Force hit the third target, also at Hims-Shinsahar, with six air-launched SCALP weapons.
Some reports indicated the participation of a Royal Navy submarine in the strikes as well. The three nations' forces closely coordinated their strikes. By most accounts the ordnance was delivered to the targets within ten minutes. The strike against Barzan represented the first combat use of the JASSM-ER.
Russia protested the strikes, essentially seconding Syrian president Assad's protestations of innocence concerning chemical attacks and claiming that Western evidence of chemical weapon use by Assad was a hoax. That claim, implausible on the face of it, hasn't stood up to scrutiny: evidence of hoaxing produced by Russian media was itself a hoax. Russian authorities also claimed that their S-400 Triumph air defense system deployed to Syria shot down seventy-one of the missiles launched. US, British, and French officials dismiss these claims, saying no missiles (or aircraft) were lost. And indeed such open-source bomb damage assessment imagery as has become available shows extensive damage to the targets.
Russia also claimed to have obtained a Tomahawk, which it intends to reverse-engineer to improve its own weapons. The US dismissed the claim as "absurd."
It's not just the Russian S-400 whose effectiveness is being called into question. Observers continue to cast doubt on how well the US Patriot air defense system has worked in combat, most recently against Houthi Scud-derivatives fired against Saudi Arabia. Lieutenant General (retired) David L. Mann, who recently commanded the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command, is among those who've come to the Patriot's defense, arguing that it has a good hit-to-kill record, and that criticism of the system derives from unreasonable perfectionism and sketchy reports of combat results.
The long-awaited US Missile Defense Review, which the Department of Defense had originally planned to publish late in 2017, has been delayed until this May. The Pentagon says it wants to produce a thorough, high-quality report of appropriate scope, and that it's worth taking their time to do so.
Russian EW operations.
US EC-130 Compass Call electronic warfare aircraft are said to be encountering "disabling" Russian electronic warfare (presumably jamming) as they operate over Syria. Army General Raymond Thomas, head of US Special Operations Command, as having made remarks to this effect at the GEOINT conference on April 24th. Compass Call has what the US Air Force calls "offensive counter-information and electronic attack capabilities." It's best known as a big jammer. Most take "disabling" to mean "effectively jammed." There's no suggestion that any of the aircraft have been lost.
There's some dispute among reporters covering GEOINT whether the general said "EC-130" or "AC-130." The EC-130 is the dedicated electronic warfare ship. The AC-130 is a gunship that's seen a lot of use in the relatively benign airspace one usually encounters in counterinsurgency and counterterror operations. While it isn't an EW platform, the AC-130 does sometimes carry an electronics warfare operator as part of its crew.
Whatever's being jammed, the Russians have long had a reputation for capable electronic warfare, and it wouldn't be surprising if Syria had indeed become the world's most aggressive EW environment, as General Thomas characterized it.
Cyber continues to get more tactical.
All the Services are devoting increased attention to pushing cyber operations down to the tactical level. The Army is working cyber elements into task-force-level training, the Marines are moving cyber capabilities into MARSOC, and the Air Force and Navy are taking comparable steps. US Cyber Command has established a new planning cell in South Korea.
NATO's annual Locked Shields cyber exercise was also held this month in Estonia. This year's exercise also involved participation by non-NATO partners of the Atlantic Alliance. The exercise was coincidentally lent additional point this year by NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg's comment early this month that under certain circumstances NATO might invoke its Article 5 (collective defense) in the face of a cyber attack.
A report by the Secure World Foundation concludes that satellites are becoming more vulnerable to a wide range of attacks, both kinetic and cyber. Russia, China, and the US are all working to develop an array of anti-satellite capabilities. Two developments arouse particular concern among the report's authors. Satellite systems are vulnerable to the same kinds of cyber attack as other connected systems, and, the report suggests, space systems may be lagging purely terrestrial systems in their resilience to such attack. The other problem is posed by an increasingly globalized supply chain. With Chinese components in particular finding their way into many electronic systems, concerns that such components may be backdoored or otherwise compromised cannot be ignored.
There's also the possibility of cyberattack by criminals or hacktivists. As the report notes, "A growing number of non-state actors are actively probing commercial satellite systems and discovering cyber vulnerabilities that are similar in nature to those found in non-space systems. This indicates that manufacturers and developers of space systems may not yet have reached the same level of cyber hardness as other sectors." This threat, however, is distinctly secondary: it's the Russian and Chinese governments the US has to watch.
Space launch market.
Orbital ATK indicates its intentions to make a push into the space launch market, challenging both SpaceX and United Launch Alliance.
Blue Origin held a test launch of its New Shepard reusable rocket and capsule at the end of April. New Shepard is generally being described as a "space tourism" play.
Supply chain security and the Defense Industrial Base.
The long-anticipated review of the Defense Industrial Base is expected to be released in mid-May. One of the more difficult issues that review will address concerns the security challenges presented by a globalized supply chain. Globalization is particularly pronounced and problematic with respect to electronics, notably computer hardware and software. The report is expected to focus on US dependance on Chinese-made components. One interesting feature of the report is that its conclusions are said to have been shaped by rounds of wargaming.
US senior leadership changes.
The Senate has confirmed Army Lieutenant General Paul Nakasone as the next Director, National Security Agency, and Commander, US Cyber Command. John Bolton has replaced H.R. McMaster as National Security Advisor. He's brought in Mira Ricardel from her post as Undersecretary of Commerce for Export Administration as his deputy, and is making other weeping changes in the National Security Council staff.
Mike Pompeo, former Director of Central Intelligence, has been confirmed by the Senate as Secretary of State. Gina Haspel, nominated to succeed Pompeo as DCI, is undergoing her own confirmation process.
Today's edition of the CyberWire reports events affecting China, France, Germany, Iran, Japan, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Yemen.
Russia Widens EW War, ‘Disabling’ EC-130s In Syria(Breaking Defense) The Compass Call is supposed to be one of America’s foremost electronic warfare weapons, but the EC-130s flying near Syria are being attacked and disabled “in the most aggressive EW environment on the planet,” the head of Special Operations Command said here today.
Raytheon to Demomstrate Army Mobile Intelligence Platform(Aerotech News) Raytheon has been awarded a U.S. Army contract to demonstrate the company’s commercially available mobile intelligence platform that will allow soldiers to quickly collect and access information on the battlefield.
The Right Way to Coerce North Korea(Foreign Affairs) The Trump administration must ground its summit diplomacy and overall approach to North Korea in a strategy of comprehensive coercion that clearly defines U.S. objectives, leverages Washington’s most effective diplomatic and military tools, and aligns its Korea policy with the broader U.S. strategy in Asia.
Mike Pompeo’s Secret Mission to Pyongyang(Atlantic Council) The remarkable news that CIA Director and US Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo made a secret trip to North Korea where he met North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is a measure both of the head-spinning pace of diplomacy on the Korean Peninsula...
Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson in conversation with SpaceNews(SpaceNews.com) Wilson sat down with SpaceNews at the recent Space Symposium in Colorado Springs to discuss the ongoing reorganization of the Space and Missile Systems Center, space investment priorities and her plans to secure congressional support for budgets and management reforms.
Marines cyber forces to grow(Fifth Domain) The Marine Corps is building up its proficiency and talent in the cyber career field to be better postured to fight and win in an increasingly modern battlefield.
Why Washington’s New Drone Export Policy Is Good For National Security(War on the Rocks) Last Thursday, the State Department announced its updated export policy for unmanned aerial systems, popularly known as drones. While the White House framed the new plan as a means to promote American industry, the guidelines — which make it easier for the United States to sell drones to foreign allies — will almost