Fighting continues in Syria, although at lower levels of intensity than seen in recent months. Inspectors have not wavered from their earlier conclusion that Assad's forces used chemical weapons against insurgents and their surrounding population. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to whom the inspectors belonged, indeed found additional evidence that suggests the possibility that the Syrian government was employing chlorine gas in its attacks.
Kinetic operations involving Russian forces may be somewhat reduced, for now at least, but Israeli exchanges with Iranian forces and their proxies operating in Syria showed an increased tempo. These engagements contribute to heightened tensions between Iran and Israel. Missile and drone strikes have been conducted by both sides; conventional airstrikes by Israeli forces. The mid-month surge in Israeli strikes was a response to Iranian rocket attacks against the Golan Heights.
To look back at Russian and US operations in the theater, last month it was unclear whether Russian attentions had been directed at USAF EC-130H Compass Call airborne jammers or AC-130 gunships. Air Force public comment on the matter had been ambiguous. It's now clear that the Russians have been principally concerned with the AC-130s. The gunships had been particularly lethal when employed against deniable Russian forces, nominal mercenaries, during engagements in February.US forces are struck by the extent and effectiveness of Russian electronic warfare. The experience of being on the receiving end of jamming and other EW has contributed to a kind of revival of interest in electronic combat in the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps especially. The Services are expressing concern over their EW supply chain, doctrine, and organization. The Army in particular seems interested in quick, systematic improvisation to regain strong EW capabilities. Such improvisation is likely to be enabled by quick procurement authorities.
Israeli espionage and Iranian nuclear aspirations.
At the end of April Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu publicly revealed the results of an Israeli intelligence operation that brought out a large trove of Iranian documents related to its nuclear program. The burden of his announcement was expressed on the widely quoted PowerPoint slide the Prime Minister used to illustrate his briefing: "Iran lied." The documents presented are generally regarded of falling short of providing dispositive proof that Iran was cheating on its end of the nuclear non-proliferation undertaking it signed several years ago, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) but they didn't do Iran much credit, and suggested that Tehran had been less than candid concerning the history of its nuclear weapons program.
The Israeli intelligence operation was widely characterized as a physical "raid" and thus much more a traditional espionage operation than an electronic or cyber op. Netanyahu displayed cases of binders and CDs obtained by the raiders from warehouse storage inside Iran.
Reaction to the Netanyahu briefing has tended to follow the observers' predispositions with respect to the wisdom of the JCPOA. Proponents of the JCPOA see them as unwelcome but not fatal to the agreement, opponents see them as strong evidence that Iran is cheating, and those in the middle tend to regard the documents as showing at least that Iran negotiated details of the JCPOA under what amount to false pretenses. While a great deal of the publicly expressed hope that the JCPOA would inhibit nuclear proliferation in the Middle East centered on restraints the agreement imposed on uranium refinement, the documents Netanyahu presented focus on design work for a usable nuclear weapon. He claimed that design work has continued unabated into the present.
A number of observers found little new in the material, saying that much of it had been uncovered by International Atomic Energy Commission inspectors as long ago as 2011. Thus the presentation is regarded by most as more an attempt to influence world opinion than a fresh intelligence revelation. The weapon design displayed in the Prime Minister's PowerPoint deck appears to be a boosted implosion device, a more challenging bit of engineering than the gun-assembled weapon history and all the worry about uranium centrifuge cascades might have led one to expect.
US exits Iran nuclear deal.
The timing of the Israeli briefing came while the US was in the final stages of considering whether it would remain in the JCPOA or leave the agreement. US departure from the JCPOA had been very widely expected for some time, and so it came as no real shock when on May 8th President Trump announced that the US would do just that. "This was a horrible one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made," the President said. "It didn't bring calm, it didn't bring peace, and it never will." The US had for some time expressed reservations over what the Administration has characterized as weak inspection requirements, failure to address long-range missile development, and inattention to Iranian involvement in regional mischief, especially in Syria and Yemen.
It's doubtful that the Israeli presentation had any decisive influence on the American decision, but the US exit was welcomed by Israeli authorities (and, more quietly, by Iran's regional Arab rivals, notably Saudi Arabia, which itself has suggested it might be driven to respond to Iran with a nuclear program of its own).
One of the JCPOA's benefits from Iran's point of view was a relaxation of trade and financial sanctions. These are now in the process of being reimposed by the US. European parties to the agreement have reacted coldly to the US decision, and have considered taking various steps under EU law to block or otherwise circumvent a fresh round of American sanctions, but so far such measures appear to have had little effect. A number of major European companies, Siemens among them, to take one example, are preparing to exit the Iranian market, preferring to retain access to US markets.
The aerospace sector will be particularly affected by a fresh round of sanctions. Boeing and Airbus were expecting large commercial aircraft orders from Iran, by most reports amounting to some $40 billion. That business now appears to be off the table.
For its part Iran is widely expected to look to Russia and China to redress its lost opportunities for trade with the West. Tehran is also expected to increase its offensive cyber operations against Western targets. Security firm CrowdStrike said that it observed a distinct uptick in Iranian cyber battlespace preparation within hours of the US announcement that it would exit JCPOA. The most noticeable initial surge was in phishing and harassing emails sent to diplomatic targets.
US-DPRK summit on, then off, back on.
The other current major proliferation concern is North Korea. Plans for a summit between DPRK leader Kim Jong-un and US President Trump were announced late last month to great éclat. By the middle of May the talks seemed to be on the rocks: Kim had disdainful things to say about the possibilities of renouncing his nuclear weapons, and Trump sent him a sharply worded letter cancelling the summit. By the end of May Kim had made sufficiently conciliatory noises expressing a willingness, an eagerness, to meet, and the summit was back on. The renewed agreement to meet was unaffected by conversations between President Trump and Japan's Prime Minister Abe, the public upshot of which was that North Korean denuclearization remained a matter of the first importance. Some observers say they see signs that Kim may now see the US as a potential guarantor of Kim's personal survival. Others think Kim may be in a bit of hot water at home. The summit is on for June 12th in Singapore.
There have been reports of some drop-off in North Korean hacking, but it continues even as the summit approaches. US-CERT attributed two malware families, the Joanap backdoor Trojan and the Brambul worm, to Pyongyang's Hidden Cobra threat group. Hidden Cobra is also known, perhaps more widely, as the Lazarus Group. North Korean hacking continues to focus on financial crime.
Cyber Command developments.
General Paul Nakasone, now with his fourth star, is beginning to address challenges at NSA and US Cyber Command, clarifying his two organizations' roles and missions while leading Cyber Command into its new place as a Combatant Command. On May 4th General Nakasone succeeded Admiral Michael Rogers, who has retired. That's the same day Cyber Command formally received its new status.
The Air Force Cyber Mission Force achieved full operational capability on May 11th.
Space Command or Space Force?
Some in Congress continue to like the idea of a new uniformed space force, probably to be constituted within the Department of the Air Force the way the Marine Corps has its home in the Department of the Navy. Such a reorganization remains merely speculative at this point, but there is some Congressional (and Presidential) sentiment in favor of the idea. Some recent opinion pieces have taken a mildly surprising turn, suggesting that the Coast Guard offers a better model for a new space force.
Whether a space service would be likelier to have a Semper Fidelis or a Semper Paratus spirit remains to be seen, but in the near term at least reorganization of space operators along more conventional command lines seems likelier.
Space launch services.
SpaceX successfully flew and recovered a Falcon 9 block 5 launch vehicle, which is regarded as a significant step forward in the company's heavy lift offerings, affording cost savings and faster turnaround between flights. The Air Force was sufficiently impressed to push back a GPS satellite deployment so it can consider flying the system on a Falcon 9 block 5. SpaceX is experiencing delays in its human flight program, with test flights of the Dragon crewed vehicle pushed back into late 2018. Boeing has suggested that tests of its own crew-delivery system may also be delayed.
Orbital, which has expressed its intention to compete in the launch market, this month delivered a payload to the International Space Station aboard one of its Antares vehicles.
China is working on a reusable version of its Long March launch vehicle.
Ariane Group is expressing animadversions about the effect SpaceX is having on the launch market.
United Launch Alliance and its unions appear to have settled a troubling labor dispute.
Microsoft has won a substantial cloud computing contract with the US Intelligence Community, making considerable inroads into a market where Amazon had shown early dominance. It's a hunting license for Azure deployments to the seventeen agencies that comprise the Intelligence Community. Redmond's win is seen as positioning it to compete for an even larger award from the Department of Defense.
Today's edition of the CyberWire reports events affecting China, France, Germany, Iran, Israel, Japan, Kenya, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea, Syria, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Why Netanyahu’s Revelations Are Significant(Atlantic Council) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on April 30 provided a twenty-minute PowerPoint presentation of secret Iranian nuclear documents, acquired by Israeli intelligence. The information revealed will be unlikely to change many minds about the...
Russia brandishes 'invincible' hypersonic missiles(Washington Examiner) Russia on Saturday announced it has fit 10 of its fighter jets on test combat duty with new air-launched hypersonic missiles that top officials say can dominate any missile defense system.
The Morning Risk Report: Companies Walk Away From Iran(Wall Street Journal) Companies that choose to leave Iran because the U.S. exited the nuclear deal are doing so for reasons ranging from a need to stay in the U.S. market to potential banking problems or secondary sanctions.
Boeing Loses $20 Billion in Contracts After President Trump Violates Iran Deal(Gizmodo) President Trump announced yesterday that he was unilaterally pulling the U.S. out of the so-called Iran Deal, an international agreement that lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for the cessation of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. But now that the sanctions are being reinstated, some American companies stand to lose a lot of money. Boeing alone is losing about $20 billion in contracts.
Raytheon Sustaining the Air Force CENTAUR System(SIGNAL) Raytheon Co., Intelligence, Information & Services, Richardson, Texas, has been awarded $37,366,000 ceiling indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contact for the sustainment of services to the Cross Domain Enterprise All Source User Repository (CENTAUR) system.
A proxy battle of innovation vs. legacy technology(C4ISRNET) The vigorous jousting among competitors over the Department of Defense's JEDI cloud contract is revealing a broader struggle between conflicting approaches to technology and to meeting future government computing needs.
Tech Group Asks Lawmakers to Release Pentagon Cloud Award Report(Bloomberg.com) A group representing some of the tech industry’s largest companies is urging Congress to increase transparency of the Pentagon’s winner-take all competition for a broad-based cloud services contract that may be valued at billions of dollars.
Northrop Grumman Receives Nunn-Perry Award for Mentor-Protégé Program Participation With QTEC(ExecutiveBiz) The Defense Department has given a team from Northrop Grumman the Nunn-Perry award for supporting QTEC Aerospace with its business operations for three years under the Missile Defense Agency’s Mentor-Protégé Program. Northrop Grumman said Monday QTEC saw its business and workforce expand during the effort. The Va.-based firm also worked on the program in collaboration...
SpaceX delays first commercial flight(Deutsche Welle) A technical glitch has caused SpaceX to delay the first commercial flight of a new rocket as it was about to blast off. The rocket needs to complete seven successful flights before it can transport astronauts for NASA.
Army leaders need more payoff from cyber(Fifth Domain) As the military seeks to better integrate capabilities across the five domains of warfare more seamlessly, operational vignettes provide concrete examples that progress has been made, but more work is required.
Are DoD’s cyber forces too focused on the network?(Fifth Domain) Some believe the Department of Defense should move away from typical information network defense and expand its coverage to include industrial control and data acquisition systems more extensively.
European MALE UAV flies under satellite control for first time(Jane's 360) Leonardo and its partner Thales have conducted the first satellite-controlled flight of a European medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE)-class unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).
The milestone, announced on 23 May, involved an unmanned Piaggio Aero P.1HH Hammerhead aircraft demonstrate the ability to be
The Army is grooming an elite tier of electronic warriors(C4ISRNET) The Army is undergoing a change to its cyber and electronic warfare personnel. Announced last year, the service will transition its cadre of electronic warfare soldiers into the service’s cyber branch, effectively making them cyber planners.
Cyber training needs pain and consequences(C4ISRNET) Fully experiencing the disruptions caused by cyberattacks during training exercises can provide important lessons for commanders on how to deal with network attacks in the field, according to experts who spoke at the 2018 C4ISRNET conference.
Russia debuts electronic warfighter drone(C4ISRNET) Unmanned aerial systems, intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance: More and more these assets are powering military operations and informing decision-making.
HF communications gain momentum with NATO forces(Jane's 360) High Frequency (HF) communication systems are witnessing a resurgence as forward deployed and small unit teams seek to overcome emerging challenges associated with operating in Command and Control Denied or Degraded Environments (C2D2Es), Jane’s has learned.
According to senior service
BAE Developing GPS-Denied Seeker For Precision Munitions(Aviation Week) BAE Systems is preparing for the potential rapid transition, from demonstration to production, of a low-cost optical seeker that will equip precision-guided munitions with the ability to navigate autonomously when GPS is denied and to automatically detect, identify and home onto fixed, moving and relocatable targets.
Nuclear Option(Times) There were always problems with the Iran nuclear agreement because it did not stop enough of Iran’s nefarious activities. Those it stopped, it did not stop for long enough. Far from encouraging...
How Iran Will Determine the Nuclear Deal's Fate(Foreign Affairs) Iran's foreign policy decision-making process is not a simple top-down exercise by the Supreme Leader but the result of a complex push and pull within a web of organizations.
Saudis bid to match Iran by enriching uranium(Times) Saudi Arabia is seeking to enrich its own uranium, prompting fears of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East after President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran deal. Riyadh says it wants to make...
Is a Deal With North Korea Really Possible?(Foreign Affairs) The fundamental issue at hand—should the meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un take place—is what a minimally successful agreement should look like.
Deciphering Kim Jong Un's Motives(Foreign Affairs) Trump should think strategically about the motivations of all the summit’s key players: North Korea, China, South Korea, Japan, and Russia. What is it that they really want?
Is Kim Jong-un in trouble?(Asia Times) With his country's future tied to its nuclear weapons program, some diplomats think hardliners in the North are uneasy about any upcoming deals
US anti-ISIS office gets reprieve as Syria pullout accelerates(Military Times) The State Department unit overseeing the fight against the Islamic State group will stay in business for at least six more months, reversing an administration plan for the unit’s imminent downgrade even as President Donald Trump presses ahead with a speedy U.S. exit from Syria.
DISA saved from congressional scalpel, for now(FederalNewsRadio.com) The House Armed Services Committee’s final draft of the 2019 defense authorization bill is pulling back from its original plan to eliminate seven agencies, such as DISA, from DoD.
Broad new war authorization roils US lawmakers(Defense News) Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said he wants to reach consensus on his expansive new war authorization before putting it to a vote, but that consensus seemed far away Wednesday.
Syria Strikes: The Politics of Legality and Legitimacy(War on the Rocks) When, on April 14, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said “If the law is ignored, it is undermined,” he could have been talking both to those who condoned the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and to those who resorted to military action to uphold the prohibition on such attacks. Many discussions have followed
HASC Wants a U.S. Space Command Within USSTRATCOM(Space Policy) The House Armed Services Committee will mark up the FY2019 National Defense Authorization Act on May 9, 2018. Among its provisions is creating a U.S. Space Command as a sub-unit of U.S. Strategic Command.
Russia Under Fire At UN Over Downing Of MH17(RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty) Russia has rejected calls at the United Nations to accept responsibility for the downing of Flight MH17 over Ukraine after an investigation found that a Russian Army missile caused the explosion that killed all 298 people on board.
NATO, EU Urge Russia to Admit Role in 2014 Boeing Downing - WISC24(WISC24) NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini called in two separate statements on Russia to accept responsibility for the crash of the Malaysian Boeing in Donbas and cooperate in the investigation of the crash. “I call on Russia to accept responsibility and fully cooperate with all efforts to establish accountability, in …