National Security

North Korea targets U.S. bases; U.S. intel botching Asia?; Russia wants talks; Drone art; Prince Harry and more.

By Kevin Baron

North Korea announces long-range targeting of U.S. bases. North Korea's state-run news agency said on Tuesday morning that the regime has ordered its "strategic rocket units" to target "U.S. invasionary bases on its mainland, Hawaii and Guam," and train its artillery on U.S. bases nearby in the Pacific. The regime put its military on the highest state of readiness against "imperialist aggressor troops." The new threat from Pyongyang comes one day after the U.S. and South Korea revealed that on Friday they signed a new plan in case of North Korean attack. North Korea, in its announcement, again complained of B-52s flying over South Korea, which the Pentagon says is part of regular exercises.

Welcome to Tuesday's edition of Situation Report, where we always find the afikomen. Gordon Lubold is on vacation this week, but I'm your huckleberry. Happy Passover, fellow M.O.T. Follow me @FPBaron and email me at Sign up for Situation Report here or just ask and I'll put you on the list. And as always, if you have a report, piece of news, or tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease. If we can get it in, we will. We love candy, all the happenings in the military/natsec world from the ridiculous to the real.

Is U.S. intelligence underestimating North Korea, and China? Tuesday's threat again highlights the question of whether North Korea's missiles actually could reach the United States. "I think that North Korea proceeded at a pace faster than we had anticipated," Northern Command's Gen. Chuck Jacoby told the House last week, of North Korea's long-range missile capability. The Pentagon is not taking chances, ordering a buildup of ground-based interceptors in Alaska two weeks ago. But last week, a four-star general and an independent panel alleged the U.S. was less than prescient in predicting the speed of military developments in Asia. It's not a new concern; Defense Secretary Robert Gates notably said in 2011 that the U.S. "underestimated" how fast China would rollout a "stealth" fighter jet, and the chief of naval intelligence at the time said China's anti-ship missile systems were appearing faster than predicted. Then, in December, the regime successfully sent an object into orbit. That launch, with Pyongyang's latest direct threats of nuclear war and Adm. Sandy Winnefeld's announcement that the road-mobile KN-08 missile could reach the U.S. , caused the Pentagon to green-light a $1 billion boost in Alaska-based missile defenses.
We honor that threat.
"There have been several attempts with TD-2 [North Korea's Taepodong-2 missile] to put a space vehicle into orbit," Jacoby explained. "The intelligence community was mixed on whether they would be successful. And I think that we have to consider that successful and we have to consider it a demonstration of their ability to pursue ICBM technology as reflected in the rollout of the long-range road-mobile missile. And so, from the NORTHCOM perspective now, what that means is we honor that threat."
Doubters not so sure
. Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, throws a skeptical wet rag on the fire, questioning exactly what the intelligence community is worried about, and why anyone would be surprised now. "I think one first has to be careful," he said, in an interview. "When it comes down to nuclear threats, we still have not seen anything approaching a mature, functioning system from North Korea. We certainly had always anticipated they might have nuclear weapons, it certainly was working on long-range missiles. If anything many of the estimates were probably premature. People didn't anticipate the number of failures the North Korean test program would have on the missile side. They've been very slow to develop anything approaching an implosion weapon with a relatively high-yield." He continued, "If anything, some of the warnings about North Korean missile development and proliferation have been going on for a decade. Exactly what surprised us, other than the fact that eventually they do make progress, I find a little puzzling."
Robert Carlin, former intelligence official at CIA and the State Department, wrote us from Beijing to add: "The intel community is a funny place -- on North Korea (and everywhere else) there's usually someone who underestimates, someone who overestimates, and someone who gets it pretty much in the ballpark."
But is there enough focus on Asia?
"As for too much attention to the Mideast over Asia," Carlin said, "that's been self evident for years, though just getting ‘more' attention to Asia isn't the solution.  If ‘more' means more inept, blinkered, two-dimensional analysis and policy, it won't do much good."
Sequester side-effect? 
Cordesman also questioned the Pentagon's move to increase the number of GBIs, suggesting the administration was taking advantage of the North Korean boogeyman to keep missile defense alive in the face of budget cuts and sequestration. "These missiles were rushed into service. The boosters, a lot of the technology, quiet frankly isn't exactly what you'd rush out and buy more of, if you could avoid it. ... But deploying a lot of extremely expensive interim systems with uncertain capability might have some kid of theoretical, political deterrent impact, but what it would add to the threat of retaliation, unless its really effective, is to me pretty questionable."
Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, wrote last week with the same skepticism, arguing, "A cynic, however, might observe that adding 14 interceptors is a great trade for the North Koreans. They deploy a few missiles with exactly no successful flight tests and watch the United States spend one billion dollars. Hey, at least the ground-based midcourse system works so well! That, by the way, is sarcasm."
They're still dangerous, but Kim's not insane.
That's the bottom-line assertion made in a Tuesday cover story on by Georgetown's Victor Cha, senior advisor for Asia and Korea chair at CSIS, and David C. Kang, international relations and business professor at the University of Southern California. The duo challenges five common assumptions about the North.

Russians, Hagel agree to restart missile defense talks. As many predicted, within two weeks of cancelling plans to install new anti-ballistic missile defenses in Poland, Russia asked the U.S. for new missile defense talks. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel took a phone call from his Russian counterpart, Minister Sergey Shoygu, on Monday. "Minister Shoygu expressed his desire to reconvene missile defense discussions with the U.S. at the deputy minister level," according to Pentagon press secretary George Little. "[Hagel] assured Minister Shoygu that these discussions would continue and be carried forward by Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Dr. Jim Miller."
Some explaining to do. The backstory is that the Russian and American sides held roughly a half a dozen meetings on missile defense back in 2011, but those slowed in 2012. Credit two things for the desire to restart talks: new defense leaders are now in place, and the U.S. has a new missile defense posture. On March 15, Hagel announced the U.S. was not only boosting the number of ground-based interceptors in Alaska, but also cancelling the so-called Phase 4 of President Obama's plan for European missile defense. That final phase would have placed SM3-IIB missiles on Russia's doorstep, potentially threatening to knock down its ICBMs, so it was blamed for stalling further talks on nuclear arms. Initial reactions in Moscow to the cancellation were skeptical. But with Miller now settled in, and Hagel ready to get it started, the phone lines are back open. 

Reaction to USARPAC's four-star. Several readers of Monday's edition wrote us to argue that, North Korean threat notwithstanding, pride among the brass and a service rivalry for tight resources and attention may have as much to do with the decision to elevate the job of U.S. Army Pacific commander to the four-star level. "Shades of Nimitz and MacArthur? I have suspicions that this is ‘scene stealing' arising from the Army GOMO (General Officer Management Office) and will do little to improve the vaunted ‘Turn West,'" wrote retired Lt. Col. Ralph Trenary, Colorado National Guard.
We love you too, U.S. Forces Korea. Situation Report, for our part, was reporting the pending change in USARPAC's commander, and the bump from three-stars to four-stars. As part of that change, USARPAC takes command of some duties formerly assigned to the 8th Army, on the Korean Peninsula. Some readers noted that four-star Gen. James D. Thurman already commands all troops in Korea under U.S. Forces-Korea. Of course that's true. But the change in command applies to the Army across the Pacific, not just troops in Korea.

Shrewd attempt to butter up the brass of the week. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), House Intelligence Committee chairman, in last week's posture hearing, buttering up Gen. Chuck Jacoby, of Northern Command, and Gen. John Kelly, of Southern Command: "General Jacoby, before I get to my questions, I hope you remember my invitation for you to join me for this fall's Talladega 500. General Kelly, you come with him. You'll have a good time."

Drone strikes as art. Terrifying art. Did you see the new, cool and troubling animated chart of all the drone strikes over Pakistan? Called "Out of Sight, Out of Mind," the site allows users to rollover graphics of 3,105 alleged deaths by drone, of which 175 were children. The deliverable moment in the animation -- don't think we're spoiling anything here -- is when you reach the year Obama is elected, the number of strikes skyrockets. The site was built by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a two-year old nonprofit outfit of City University, London, that is lifting the veil of secrecy on remotely unmanned piloted flying machines. The group has dubbed Obama's tenure "The Reaper Presidency" and maintains a section called "Covert Drone War."

Here comes Harry. Prince Harry, Great Britain's most famous Afghanistan war veteran, helicopter pilot, and friend of Las Vegas, is returning to the United States for a weeklong tour including a visit to the 2013 Warrior Games. Harry's schedule mixes charity and polo, of course. From May 6-15, the British Embassy says he will hit Washington, DC to visit Arlington National Cemetery and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, attend a landmine clearance event on the Hill, and appear at a hot-ticket reception hosted by the British ambassador. Harry then will head west to Denver and then Colorado Springs for the wounded warriors' games. The prince will close out the trip in New York City, touring Hurricane Sandy landfall in New Jersey, and playing in Connecticut at the Sentebale Polo Cup.

Karzai tells Kerry what he came to hear. Secretary of State John Kerry emerged from meeting President Hamid Karzai in Kabul to say, "I am confident the president does not believe the U.S. has any interest except to see the Taliban come to the table to make peace and that we are completely cooperative with the government of Afghanistan with respect to the protection of their efforts and their people." So we're good now, right?

Carnegie hunkers down on defense spending. The prominent think tank has dedicated five hours today to answer this question: "How can and must US defense policy change to meet new strategic and fiscal realities?" Good luck. Speakers from event-sponsors the Project on Defense Alternatives and the Center for International Policy, will be joined by notables such as budget dean (and FP contributor) Gordon Adams, Amy Belasco of the Congressional Research Service, and NDU's Gregory Foster.

Out of Afghanistan

  • Guardian: U.S. will spend $6 billion to remove military equipment from Afghanistan by 2014
  • Reuters: Australia to withdraw most troops from Afghanistan by year-end
  • AFP: Afghan insurgency will outlast U.S. withdraw: General

Wonder Women 

  • NPR: As Qualified Men Dwindle, Military Looks For A Few Good Women
  • Washington Times: She has the right stuff: Female combat pilots have been flashing their skills for 20 years

National Security

Kerry in Afghanistan; “Right time” for USARPAC’s four-star; Bagram be gone; WTF, Iraq? What happens in Syria; F-35 meta-conspiracy; and more.

By Kevin Baron

Afghanistan takes control of detention center. Overnight and with little fanfare or early warning, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) finally relinquished full control of the U.S. Detention Facility in Parwan (DFIP) -- formerly known as the Bagram prison -- to the government of Afghanistan. The facility's new name is Afghan National Detention Facility at Parwan (ANDF-P). Yes, they even gave themselves an unnecessary acronym.
Take my Bagram, please.
After sparring over the handoff for months, the Americans agreed to let Afghans take the watch over the final several dozen prisoners considered most dangerous, after the Afghans reportedly promised to provide a tougher review before setting any of them free. Gen. Joseph Dunford, Afghanistan war commander, said, "The transfer of the detention facility is an important part of the overall transition of security lead to Afghan National Security Forces." But the U.S. will still provide transition teams and cough up another $39 million to help run the facility. So far, the U.S. has spent more than $250 million on two detention centers, USFOR-A said.

Kerry in Afghanistan. Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Afghanistan just hours ago for an unannounced visit. Kerry has hopped from Iraq, back to Jordan to meet Pakistan's Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and now into Afghanistan on his first trip there since taking over the State Department. 

You asked for it, North Korea. U.S. Army Pacific set to hand keys up to new, four-star commander. The reason the Pentagon elevated the U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) commander from a three-star job to a four-star job, even though it would create yet another top general officer billet during a time of downsizing, is simple: North Korea. According to a former USARPAC commander, it was the Pentagon's belief that war on the Korean Peninsula has become increasingly likely which led to the decision that a four-star commander should run the show. Given the renewed bluster from Pyongyang, the Pentagon may have gotten this one right.

Welcome to Monday's edition of Situation Report, where we hope you all are reading this on Spring Break in Florida, as 2-4 inches of depressing late season snow blanket the Washington region. Don't adjust that dial, kids, the byline is correct. Gordon Lubold is on vacation, so I'm in the driver's seat all week. Mwah ha ha! Follow me @FPBaron. Or hit me anytime at Sign up for Situation Report here or just shoot me an e-mail and I'll put you on the list. And as always, if you have a report, piece of news, or tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease. If we can get it in, we will. Candy? Why, yes, thank you for sending news from your hooch, the military weird, strange trends, odd sightings, personnel changes or genuinely serious tales of DOD VIP SNAFUs.

U.S., ROK sign new in-case-of-war action plan. The ascension of Lt. Gen. Vincent Brooks at USARPAC is expected within weeks, and follows news this weekend that the U.S. and South Korea signed a new response plan to defend the peninsula, giving operational control (OPCON) to the Koreans for limited "provocations." Is this the real OPCON transfer we've been waiting for? U.S. officials weren't talking immediately, several outlets reported this weekend.

For decades the 8th Army on the Korean Peninsula was commanded by a 3-star. That unit was the Army's service component for Korea. But they also were responsible for the command and control of all Army forces, and the Army's support to all other services, known as "Title 10 support," on the peninsula.

The Pentagon has instead shifted those latter duties and responsibilities up to USARPAC, based in Honolulu, which is getting a new headquarters. USARPAC now controls the required flow of troops to and from Korea in case of war, while the 8th Army is freer to focus on its expected land role as the 8th Field Army.

"It's an absolute right decision at the right time," explained retired Lt. Gen. Benjamin "Randy" Mixon, in an interview. "It made sense because in the event of hostilities in Korea, forces would move -- not only move directly through and onto the peninsula, but they would move through Japan and other places where U.S. Army Pacific was already in command control of Army forces."
Because North Korea is being scarier than usual.
"I think it's a very serious situation. It appears to be, to me, from my experience over there, something that we just can't treat as normal behavior," Mixon said of North Korea.
Because in Asia, rank is currency.
The bump to four stars also gives the Army commander the rank many felt was overdue. Mixon said while the U.S. historically considered the Pacific theatre one for the Navy and Air Force, most Asian nations consider their armies their premier forces and want Army training. Mixon traveled from California to India as a three-star general often meeting with four-star counterparts during constant multinational exercises. He never had a problem with access, but Asia wants more training, and this shows the Army is serious about the Pacific -- and the Obama administration's pivot. "Across the board, we are seeing growth over the last three or five years or so [in exercises], and with this ongoing change on the Korean Peninsula, it makes perfect sense to move that to a four-star position."

"We had a very spirited discussion on the subject of the overflights." Or so said John Kerry, on Sunday, after the unannounced visit to Baghdad that preceded his unannounced visit to Afghanistan. Kerry told the Iraqis the U.S. did not appreciate Iranian arms reaching Syrian strongman Bashir al-Assad's hands via Iraqi airspace. "I also made it clear to him that there are members of Congress and people in America who increasingly are watching what Iraq is doing and wondering how it is that a partner in the efforts for democracy and a partner for whom Americans feel they have tried so hard to be helpful -- how that country can be, in fact, doing something that makes it more difficult to achieve our common goals, the goal expressed by the prime minister with respect to Syria and President Assad."

What happens in anyone's guess. With so few Western reporters on the ground inside Syria, it's always been unclear exactly what's going down between the regime and rebels. Rumors of something as big as President Bashar al-Assad being assassinated this weekend had the Associated Press scratching their heads for a while.
Except for this woman. She's been there. Elizabeth O'Bagy, senior research analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, wins some sort of "nice timing" award for releasing today her detailed 50-page report on rebel life, "The Free Syrian Army." What they need, she writes in a copy provided to Situation Report, is "an operational level headquarters that can designate campaign priorities" and then task and fund them. The rebels finally have a Supreme Military Command, but the body rules from the bottom-up, not top-down.
Now, they need more arms. O'Bagy argues that worrying about loose arms is no reason to withhold them from the good guys. "The current policy of inaction carries much more risk. This policy has not prevented extremists from acquiring arms. Instead, it has prevented more moderate forces from acquiring arms and consolidating their authority while allowing the extremist forces to develop their own independent sources of support that are less easily monitored."

He pays attention to the F-35 conspiracy, so you don't have to. In Winslow Wheeler's latest FP article, the defense watchdog asks if the GAO is in the bag for DOD. It's a significant allegation, even for Wheeler, who is expected to look at the Pentagon's most expensive weapon ever with a sharp eye -- he worked at GAO for nearly a decade.
The F-35 story only seems to be getting worse.
"In 2013, the pace of negative events and reports has only increased," Wheeler writes. The aircraft have been grounded twice in three months and received back-to-back negative DOD reports. "The first four F-35 production contracts have overrun their targets by $1.2 billion; above that, the F-35s built before 2016 will need an additional $1.7 billion to fix the problems uncovered, so far, by testing. In addition, the amount needed to sustain the F-35 will climb to almost $14 billion in 2018," Wheeler argues.
Has GAO gone soft on F-35? But what's new this time, Wheeler warns, is that a GAO report last week appeared to suddenly start believing DOD claims of "progress" on F-35 issues. "GAO simply regurgitated the assurance in its report." Wheeler's proof why we should worry about the GAO finding: Lockheed liked it.

CENTCOM Ch-ch-ch changes. The flag was passed at Central Command, on Friday, as Army Gen. Lloyd Austin took command from retiring Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis. With the new boss comes a decidedly new focus, as CENTCOM leaves a dozen years of major ground warfare behind and enters an end-of-combat period for Afghanistan and expanded counterterrorism across the rest of the region. Read highlights of the ceremony, including a reminder of why Mattis hid from the press during his tenure, as Mad Dog gave us one final "Mattisism" for the road, in The E-Ring.
Please invent a cooler way to change command. P.S.: We love and respect many a military tradition. But one of the lamest has to be when a four-star commander stoically hands a flagpole to the defense secretary, who then hands the flag to the new commander. That's it? That's the whole sh'bang? Not even a flyby? Think about it, is all we're asking. Just no more Dionne Warwick. (We're looking at you, AFRICOM.)

Speaking of which... In the month and a half since President Obama nominated and the Senate confirmed Lt. Gen. Vincent Brooks to become the first four-star U.S. Army Pacific commander, North Korea has rattled its saber enough to convince the Pentagon to increase its ballistic missile defenses. So how quickly will he actually assume command? The command isn't talking, which is ironic since Brooks was once famous as the "smooth mouthpiece" for the Army in Central Command, in the early days of the Iraq war.

Contractors cashing in at LanPac. If you're still not convinced the Army is serious about Asia, don't take our word for it, just follow the money.  The Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) next month is holding an inaugural land warfare conference right in Honolulu. Mixon is heading back to his old stomping grounds, this time to see what the Army may like to buy from General Dynamics, where he now works.

Longform picks of the week. Every weekend, the FP staff round up some of the best long-form reading on the web. In this week's corral, with a natsec flair, is an interview with Jordan's King Abdullah II by the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg; Richard Engel talks about his kidnapping in Syria; and a profile of murdered prolific sniper Chris Kyle, who said of his targets, "They're just targets."

Budget Realities 

  • Miami Herald: Blue Angels perform last show for awhile
  • Reuters: Stop-gap spending measure funds MEADS missile defense
  • Boston Globe: B-52s should remain strategy relics

Gay Marriage Day in Court

  • CNN: Marriage and the Supreme Court: Five things to watch
  • The Hill: High court takes up gay marriage at key moment in rights debate
  • Politico: Republicans see cash opportunity in gay marriage shift