Global Hawks, a new radar for Japan; Is the playing field actually level for same-sex DOD couples?; Vets as pawns; Hagel, finding his voice; Kerry: we won’t be played for “suckers;” What do we know about North Korea’s Kim?; and a bit more.
By Gordon Lubold
Hagel and Kerry announced that Japan would accept a new U.S. base for Global Hawk drones. Japan has agreed to host an American base to operate up to a few Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles from an as-yet-undisclosed location as early as next spring, marking the first time the U.S. will be allowed to base UAVs in the region as China builds up its military capabilities and North Korea threatens the region. At a so-called 2+2 meeting here in Tokyo, the U.S. and Japan announced that the U.S. Air Force would base two or three long range Global Hawks somewhere in Japan. While the U.S. has operated unmanned systems over Japan in the past, for example after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the agreement marks the first time the U.S. can actually base them here. The basing of the UAVs puts an American long-range intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability in the heart of Asia.
American officials visiting Tokyo hailed the move as part of a package of "advanced capabilities" the U.S. was providing to Japan even as the government confronted the budgetary impasse in Washington. The U.S. will also introduce two MV-22 Osprey squadrons in Japan. The U.S. will also deploy, for the first time outside the U.S., a Navy P-8 patrol plane beginning in December as part of the phase-out of the P-3. The agreement also allows the U.S. Marine Corps to deploy F-35B Joint Strike Fighters to Japan in 2017 in what will be the first deployment of the controversial jet outside the U.S.
The revised security agreement between the U.S. and Japan includes a couple other things. The agreement on the Global Hawks and the other capabilities come as part of a broader revision of the U.S. and Japanese security agreement, last modified in 1997. It includes a new "cyber working group" as well as a commitment to expand Japan's ballistic missile defense capabilities by deploying a second TPY-2 radar system to be based somewhere in Japan in the next year or so.
Japan has been pushing to become more muscular. Pinched between China's growing military capabilities and North Korea's saber-rattling, Japan has been making noise about growing its military to become more muscular. Japan's military is still constitutionally intended only for self defense. But hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said that changing Japan's Constitution to lift the self-imposed ban, in effect allowing Japanese forces to assist an ally if it came under attack, is his "historic mission." That could upset the fragile balance in the region and it's expected to take a long time to achieve.
But the agreement yesterday marked a serious down payment on he kind of security assurance Japan has sought. And though the package of platforms didn't include strike platforms that would give Japan greater comfort, it was a start. Not only does it help to mitigate Japan's security concerns, at least in part, but also gives the U.S. a way to demonstrate with hardware its own commitment to the "pivot to Asia." (Read FP's Isaac Stone Fish's interview with the Japanese defense minister from last month here.)
Also in Tokyo, Kerry and Hagel forcefully pushed back on the idea that engaging with Iran was dangerous. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel took on questions about Iran after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested at the U.N. that the U.S. could be fooled by a more dovey-sounding Iran. Kerry said it would be "diplomatic malpractice" if the U.S. didn't pursue Iran's apparent willingness to respond to demands about its nuclear program.
"It would be diplomatic malpractice of the worst order not to examine every possibility of whether or not you can achieve that before you ask people to take military action and do what you have to do to prevent it," Kerry said at a presser with American and Japanese press following the "2+2" U.S.-Japanese meeting here in Tokyo. He added, responding to a question using similar language, that he didn't interpret Netanyahu's comments to mean the U.S. was being played "for suckers." "I understood it to be a warning, don't be played," Kerry said.
Hagel seemed to find his voice. Even before Kerry spoke, Hagel was eager to respond to the question about what Netanyahu had said about Iran's "charm offensive." Although the question really fell into Kerry's court, Hagel, who has worked to cement ties with his Israeli counterpart, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, saw an opening to articulate the administration's position forcefully.
"I don't minimize their concerns... but I also think there may be an opportunity... with the possibility of holding a dialogue," he said. "Engagement is not appeasement, it's not surrender, it's not negotiation. But I think we are wise, if the Iranians have reached out, which they have, to, in a very clear-eyed way, and we are, test their actions with their words." It seemed to be a moment for Hagel, who can fumble rhetorically even when he has something he wants to say. "I don't believe that foreign policy is a zero sum game," he continued. "We all have security common interests. And the challenge is the threats that face the world today are global... and aren't we wiser if we can find ways to resolve disputes, recognizing danger, being very clear-eyed, keeping the strongest military in the world, which we have, to protect our interests along with our allies and strong alliances, aren't we wiser to pursue engagement?"
Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report where we're still in Tokyo with "SecDef Hagel," now winding up the second and final leg of his Asia trip. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us at email@example.com and we'll stick you on. And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease. Remember, if you see something, say something -- to Situation Report. That and please follow us @glubold.
Kerry's Magical Mystery Tour. Hagel's stop in Tokyo coincided with Secretary of State John Kerry's stop here for the talks with their Japanese counterparts - the first time each pair has sat down with the other. But Kerry's one-week trip to Asia turned into a two-week trip after the government shutdown forced President Barack Obama to cancel two of his stops in Asia, in Malaysia and the Philippines. So Jetsetter Kerry, known for the miles he puts on his 757, picked up those stops in Obama's stead. Now Kerry will travel, not only to Bali and Brunei, but Malaysia and the Philippines. Reporters travelling with Kerry got a heads up the day before wheels up saying should pack a little heavier for a longer trip.
What does the U.S. military know about Kim Jong-un? (Answer: not much). Kim, North Korea's inexperienced young dictator remains a mystery to the U.S. intelligence community but has shown himself to be an unpredictable leader as he works to live up to the bad-boy image of his forebears. Kim's successful missile launch in December and his nuclear test in February raised tensions to some of their highest levels in years and shook the South Koreans. U.S. military officials portrayed North Korea's leader and the capabilities of his military in stark terms, pointing to its large size (at 1.1 million, the world's fourth-largest), its composition (about 70 percent is "forward-deployed" or stationed south of Pyongyang), and its secrecy (an estimated 11,000 underground facilities). North Korea's navy has more than 800 surface ships and more than 70 submarine combatants, the U.S. military believes. Pyongyang possesses about 1,700 aircraft, most of which are relatively rudimentary. Kim has about 4,000 tanks at his disposal and about 13,000 artillery systems, U.S. military officials say.
Additionally, U.S. military officials say, North Korea has the world's largest special operations force (SOF) -- about 60,000 personnel and about 130,000 "SOF-like" personnel, according to a brief provided by U.S. officials. North Korea also poses a growing cyberthreat, especially to South Korea, which is considered to be one of the world's most wired countries, with 80 percent of the South's population using the Internet.
Kim himself remains a mystery. "We've been looking at him for a little over 18 months now, but we still don't understand his intent," a military official said this week. And a new report out by the Center for Naval Analyses, a Washington-area think tank, concludes that Kim has yet been unable to consolidate power -- yet still remains a threat. "If Kim Jong-un is able to survive this final period with his position intact, regime stability will probably be ensured for the foreseeable future," the report notes. "But, there is a possibility that his powers will be curbed or that he will become a puppet to powerful forces inside the regime." If that happens, "the stability of the regime could come into question." With so much uncertainty looming, it's no wonder the South Koreans are so reluctant about taking military control. Read the rest of our story here. Read CNA's report on Kim here.
Here's a Kafka-esque story about terps being held against their will in a Kuwaiti hangar. FP's Yochi Dreazen: "Faycal Maroufi, a U.S. military translator from Florida, has spent the past three months confined to an American base in the deserts of Kuwait. The local authorities have promised to arrest Maroufi if he leaves the compound, and American officials have so far been powerless to help. Maroufi isn't wanted for a crime or accused of wrongdoing. He, like more than 50 other U.S. citizens, is instead being effectively imprisoned in Kuwait because of a nasty and complicated business dispute between an American contractor and its local partner." Read the rest here.
In Asia, everyone wants an aircraft carrier. CNN: "Want to be an Asian superpower? Then an aircraft carrier, it seems, is the minimum requirement for joining this elite club. In China, a retro-fitted former Ukrainian carrier dating back to the Soviet era is the flagship of the country's hopes for a ‘blue water' navy -- a fleet that can operate on the high seas thousands of nautical miles from base. India has launched its first home built aircraft carrier as part of a plan to operate three carrier battle groups by 2020. And Japan -- whose navy is officially classed as a self-defense force -- has controversially unveiled what it has classed as a flat-topped helicopter as a flat-topped helicopter destroyer, but to China looks perilously akin to an aircraft carrier." Read the rest here.
Scott Truver of Gryphon Technologies argues for why the U.S. needs aircraft carriers. Writing on Breaking Defense, Truver writes: The Navy's aircraft carrier programs are once again at the vortex of intense scrutiny and debate, fueled by strategic ambiguity, questions about spending billions of dollars for a single ship during a period of painfully tight budgets, and uncertainty whether advanced technologies and systems will deliver the "goods." As well, carrier critics point to supposed warfighting vulnerabilities to potential adversaries' anti-access/area-denial strategies, tactics and weapons as reasons to change the Navy's course." The critics, Truver argues, "are short-sighted." Read the rest of his piece here.
Shutdown's impacts, happening: the Air Force has grounded its fighter jets. FP's John Reed: "Entire fighter squadrons are grounded. The Defense Department's Middle East specialists are barred from the Pentagon. Thousands of the Intelligence Community's top geeks are at home playing Minecraft. The shutdown of the United States government is starting to have very real impacts on the American defense and intelligence infrastructure. Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper even calls it a "dream scenario" for other countries to recruit spies who ordinarily work for the federal government -- when that government is actually open. There's even a poor Air Force reservist who has been deemed "nonessential" at all three jobs he holds." The rest of the story here.
Reading the fine print of the Pentagon's new policy on same-sex marriages. The LAT's David Cloud reports that maybe not. Cloud: Gays and lesbians in the military are running into widespread obstacles as they seek to take advantage of a new Obama administration policy designed to make it easier for same-sex couples in the armed services to get married. The policy, announced with great fanfare at the Pentagon in mid-August, was meant to give same-sex couples up to 10 days special leave to get married in the 13 states that allow it - and thus equal access to low-cost healthcare, base shopping and other benefits available to married couples in the military. But implementation of the policy has caused widespread confusion. Only the Marines have issued final guidelines to their ranks on the new leave. The Army and Navy put out interim directives and are still working on final versions, while the Air Force has yet to even issue any instructions on granting the time off... The frustrations are palpable for soldiers such as Spc. Jodie Harper, an Ohio National Guard member and Army supply clerk stationed in Kuwait. When he heard about the new policy, he immediately applied for 10 days leave to wed his longtime male companion, Craig Roberts, in Washington, D.C., where gay marriage is legal. With Harper on a nine-month deployment and Roberts in school and working two jobs, the couple is struggling to make ends meet. Once married, Roberts could register for federal benefits available to spouses of other National Guard troops, including military healthcare, tuition assistance and payments to help defray housing expenses. But Harper's battalion commander, Lt. Col. Mark Raaker, refused, saying only emergency leave was being granted. "He said if leave is granted for me to be married then it's not fair to heterosexuals," Harper said. Read the rest here.
In #shutdown, are vets becoming pawns? Answer: probably. Military Times' Rick Maze: "Lawmakers are not above using veterans as pawns in their partisan fight over government funding. On Tuesday, the House of Representatives failed to get the two-thirds majority required to pass an expedited bill that would fully fund the Veterans Affairs Department during the partial shutdown of the federal government. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., co-chairman of the House Military Family Caucus and ranking Democrat on the appropriations subcommittee responsible for veterans' funding, said he was ‘very, very saddened' that Republicans would ‘hide behind the garment of sacrifice' for veterans in a political fight over funding. The bill, Bishop said, ‘is really a fraud,' because it does not fully fund VA and would do nothing about the rest of the federal government. More here.
Department of Impact of the Shutdown, con't.: As the shutdown continues, more groups are raising concerns about their impact. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, or IAVA, argues that the shutdown slows the VA disability claims backlog. IAVA's Paul Rieckhoff: Responding to pressure from the veterans community, VA has made significant progress reducing the backlog. Yet, much more work remains to help the 436,000 veterans still in the backlog. Because the VA is losing administrative support, claims processing will be slowed and all work processing appeals or new claims will stop. Additionally, mandatory overtime - a key component of the VA's major progress on the disability claims - is discontinued during the government shutdown. IAVA's FAQ on shutdown, here.
ICYMI: The Corps' Bobby Hogue is defending the decision to remove a Marine JAG after he raised questions about Jim Amos. Marine Corps Times' Hope Hodge Seck: "A senior adviser for the Marine Corps commandant is defending last week's firing of a whistleblower who accused top brass of wrongdoing, saying a strongly worded email written by Maj. James Weirick triggered safety concerns after the Navy Yard shootings last month. Weirick, a Marine attorney who filed a complaint to the Defense Department inspector general earlier this year alleging the commandant's office interfered with legal proceedings related to a war-zone scandal, was removed from his job in late September, and told to seek a mental-health evaluation and surrender his personal firearms. Some in the Marine Corps legal community see the move as retaliation and an abuse of the legal safeguards afforded to whistleblowers. But Robert Hogue, the top civilian attorney for Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos, called Weirick's missive a red flag in light of the Sept. 16 massacre inside the Washington, D.C., headquarters for Naval Sea Systems Command. The mass shooting left 13 dead, including the gunman. ‘Like all members of the Navy-Marine Corps team, I am deeply moved and motivated by the recent tragedy at the Washington Navy Yard,' Hogue told Marine Corps Times in a brief written statement issued through a Marine public affairs officer at the Pentagon. ‘Against the backdrop of that tragedy, I am very concerned for the safety of my clients and staff given the bizarre nature of the communications in this case." Read more on that here.
Meanwhile, Walt Jones wants to make sure the Marine Corps didn't silence a whistleblower. Rep. Walter B. Jones, the Republican from North Carolina, sent a note to the DOD Inspector General about Weirick's removal. That story, by MCT, here.
Bob Gates doesn't weigh in on much since he left the Pentagon. But the passing of Tom Clancy moved him. When Air Force Times' Jeff Schogol asked former Defense Secretary Robert Gates what he thought about Clancy, who passed away this week, Gates, a Sovietologist who served in prominent roles at CIA toward the end of the Cold War, bit. Gates was one of Clancy's biggest fans. Gates, to Schogol: "I am saddened by the passing of Tom Clancy, who brought so much reading and viewing pleasure for so long to millions of us. Mr. Clancy was always a strong supporter of American men and women in uniform and of those serving in our intelligence agencies as well. His consistent presentation of them as competent professionals with both skill and integrity was as welcome as it was and is true." Read the rest here.