23 December 2018

China builds air assets in Tibet, Indian missile units head east

by Sushant Singh 

Extensive exercises by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), the Chinese air force, in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) across the disputed Line of Actual Control (LAC), and enhancement of Chinese aviation infrastructure in the region, have prompted the Indian Air Force (IAF) to activate plans for greater deterrence in the eastern sector, including deployment of six units of the Akash missile system. For the contentious eastern border with China, the IAF also plans to deploy a squadron each of Chinook and Apache helicopters, besides the Russian S-400 missile system and a squadron of the Rafale fighter aircraft.

While the induction of Chinook and Apache helicopters is scheduled to be completed by 2020, the S-400 air defence missile system and Rafale fighter jets will be inducted by 2021, sources said. Discussions are also underway for induction of one more squadron of the Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighters in the region, in response to increased Chinese activity across the LAC. 

Indian Air Force is showing the country how to go the biofuel way


The total import substitution based on IAF consumption of biofuels alone could reach Rs 25,000 crore by 2024.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) wants to go the biofuel way and the first flight of Antonov AN-32 aircraft using blended biofuel this week was a significant technical milestone.

This was the first time a Russian aircraft had been flown with a biofuel blend, and the IAF and other project stakeholders had conducted all the work leading up to the test flight with no OEM involvement.

It comes less than five months after Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa committed to fly a biofuel aircraft over New Delhi on Republic Day 2019.

The breakthrough could eventually be key to a significant reduction in IAF’s operating costs and the establishment of India as a serious player in the global market for biofuels. Sources in Air Headquarters indicated Monday that the total import substitution based on IAF consumption alone could reach Rs 25,000 crore by 2024, creating a strategic advantage for India in terms of fuel dependence and reserves, as well as reduced forex outflows.

Iran—Suicide Attack in Chabahar Underscores Local Turmoil

Brian M. Perkins

A suicide bomber detonated an explosive-laden vehicle at a police headquarters in the Iranian port city of Chabahar on December 6. The bombing left at least two individuals dead and injured more than a dozen others (PressTV, December 6). The incident follows an earlier attack in Ahvaz on September 22, when several gunmen attacked a military parade, killing at least 29 and injuring more than 60 others (See TM, October 19).

Ansar al-Furqan—a Sunni Baloch militant group—claimed responsibility for the attack in Chabahar the following day (SITE, December 6). Ansar al-Furqan is based in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan Province and has claimed responsibility for several anti-regime attacks over the past several years, including an attack on an oil pipeline in Ahvaz in December 2017. Iranian authorities have reportedly arrested 10 individuals suspected of involvement in the attack and stated that more arrests would follow (PressTV, December 9).

Pentagon withdrawing 7,000 troops from Afghanistan

By: Leo Shane III and Tara Copp   

Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters arrive at a mission support site in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, June 13, 2018. President Donald Trump is considering a major drawdown of U.S. troops from in Afghanistan in coming months, the latest dramatic military move from the White House this week. (Tech. Sgt. Sharida Jackson/Air Force)

President Donald Trump has directed the Pentagon to withdraw thousands of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in coming months, with an eye towards ending the 17-year deployment of American forces there, a U.S. official confirmed to Military Times.

The Wall Street Journal first reported that more than 7,000 service members will begin returning from Afghanistan in coming weeks, per a White House order. The move comes just a day after Trump signaled plans to remove all U.S. forces from Syria, declaring that “We have won against ISIS.”

The rise and rise of Bangladesh

DHAKA -- Bangladesh defies economic and political gravity. Since its 1971 war of independence with Pakistan, the country has been known for its tragedies: wrenching poverty, natural disasters and now one of the world's biggest refugee crises, after the influx of 750,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in neighboring Myanmar.

Yet, with remarkably little international attention, Bangladesh has also become one of the world's economic success stories. Aided by a fast-growing manufacturing sector -- its garment industry is second only to China's -- Bangladesh's economy has averaged above 6% annual growth for nearly a decade, reaching 7.86% in the year through June.

From mass starvation in 1974, the country has achieved near self-sufficiency in food production for its 166 million-plus population. Per capita income has risen nearly threefold since 2009, reaching $1,750 this year. And the number of people living in extreme poverty -- classified as under $1.25 per day -- has shrunk from about 19% of the population to less than 9% over the same period, according to the World Bank.

China Holds Long-Range Air Combat Drill Near Taiwan

By Franz-Stefan Gady

The Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) scrambled fighter jets to intercept and escort an undisclosed number of People’s Liberation Air Force (PLAAF) Xian H-6K bombers, Sukhoi Su-30 fighter aircraft, and a Shaanxi Y-9JB (GX-8) electronic warfare and surveillance plane conducting a long-range patrol near Taiwan on December 18, according to Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense.

The PLAAF aircraft took off yesterday morning from undisclosed airfields in China’s Guangdong Province and flew over the Bashi Channel, a strategically pivotal waterway connecting the South China Sea with the western Pacific Ocean, into the Pacific before returning to their home bases. It is unclear whether the aircraft circumvented the island. The aircraft were supported by two People’s Liberation Army Navy warships, which were spotted by Republic of China Navy vessels and ROCAF aircraft just outside Taiwan’s southeastern air identification zone.

China Conducts First Test of New JL-3 Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile

By Ankit Panda

On November 24, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy conducted the first known flight-test of the JL-3 solid-fuel, submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), U.S. government sources with knowledge of the test confirmed to The Diplomat.

The test, which was first reported by the Washington Free Beacon, took place in the Bohai Sea from a modified conventional submarine, the sources said. The Type 096 nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) remains under construction and is expected to begin sea trials in three to four years.

Chinese authorities have not publicly confirmed the test.

How Google took on China—and lost

by Matt Sheehan

Google's first foray into Chinese markets was a short-lived experiment. Google China’s search engine was launched in 2006 and abruptly pulled from mainland China in 2010 amid a major hack of the company and disputes over censorship of search results. But in August 2018, the investigative journalism website The Intercept reported that the company was working on a secret prototype of a new, censored Chinese search engine, called Project Dragonfly. Amid a furor from human rights activists and some Google employees, US Vice President Mike Pence called on the company to kill Dragonfly, saying it would “strengthen Communist Party censorship and compromise the privacy of Chinese customers.” In mid-December, The Intercept reported that Google had suspended its development efforts in response to complaints from the company's own privacy team, who learned about the project from the investigative website's reporting.

Observers talk as if the decision about whether to reenter the world’s largest market is up to Google: will it compromise its principles and censor search the way China wants? This misses the point—this time the Chinese government will make the decisions.

China’s South China Sea Grab


Over the last five years, China has turned its contrived historical claims to the South China Sea into reality and gained strategic depth far from its shores. China's leaders did not leave that outcome to chance.

MANILA – It has been just five years since China initiated its major land reclamation in the South China Sea, and the country has already shifted the territorial status quo in its favor – without facing any international pushback. The anniversary of the start of its island building underscores the transformed geopolitics in a corridor central to the international maritime order. 

In December 2013, the Chinese government pressed the massive Tianjing dredger into service at Johnson South Reef in the Spratly archipelago, far from the Chinese mainland. The Spratlys are to the south of the Paracel Islands, which China seized in 1974, capitalizing on American forces’ departure from South Vietnam. In 1988, the reef was the scene of a Chinese attack that killed 72 Vietnamese sailors and sunk two of their ships.

Why the U.S. Should Stay Out of Saudi Politics

By F. Gregory Gause III

In the May/June 2018 issue of Foreign Affairs, I wrote that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), had consolidated his position within the ruling family to such a degree that he was free of the constraints imposed by the collective leadership model that characterized the Saudi regime in the past. That freedom of action allowed MBS to take important steps toward economic and social change, such as privatizing five percent of the state oil company, Saudi Aramco, and allowing women to drive. But it also facilitated foreign policy adventures that would not have occurred previously. “Given his ambition and impulsiveness,” I warned, “the world should expect more surprises.”

The grisly and brutal murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a former regime insider and mild critic of the crown prince, in Istanbul in October 2018 was just such a surprise. The Saudi regime has dealt brutally with its critics abroad in the past, but never in such a flagrant way. The crown prince is obviously responsible for Khashoggi’s death, despite official Saudi denials and attempts by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump to question his role. 

Jihadists Are Making Gains in Idlib

By: Nicholas A. Heras

The de-militarized zone (DMZ) agreement reached by Russia and Turkey in Sochi on September 17—intentended to stabilize the “Greater Idlib” region of northwest Syria (which includes all of Idlib governorate and parts of northern Hama, eastern Latakia, and western Aleppo governorates)—has been tested recently by the activities of the most prominent militant Salafist organization in Syria. Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS-Organization to Liberate the Levant)—which includes a large part of the former Syrian affiliate of al-Qaeda Jabhat al-Nusra (JN-Victory Front)—continues to conduct attacks against the Assad government, despite the Sochi agreement (Horrya [Idlib], December 15; Okaz[Riyadh], November 2). The continued military activities of HTS in the Idlib DMZ has created tensions between Russia and Turkey; led to a large mobilization of Assad government forces on the periphery of the zone; and resulted in significant kinetic activity by the Syrian military inside the DMZ since September (ETANA, December 10; al-Monitor, December 5; Enab Baladi [Idlib], December 2).

To Succeed in Syria, Don’t Withdraw — Rebrand


At an Ohio rally in March, President Donald Trump announced that the United States would leave Syria “very soon.” Discussions within the administration after the remarks ultimately led Trump, by September, to commit to a broader plan to remain in the country to ensure the defeat of Islamic State.

Despite that official recommitment, Trump’s words in Ohio did great damage, notably by eroding trust in and among the Kurdish-dominated forces. Before Ohio, the popularity of the U.S.-backed force was actually growing as it drove out ISIS from much of the country and created a de facto safe zone that Bashar al-Assad would not dare to bomb or attack. Widespread goodwill promised to ease the process of creating local and legitimate alternatives to the extremists and the regime in nearly one-third of Syria.

Clap Your Hands If You Believe in Brexit


On the evening of Dec. 16, Britain’s blink-and-you-missed-it former Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, tried to sum up the philosophical differences boiling away beneath the country’s warring political factions. “Remainers,” he wrote, “believe UK prosperity depends on its location, Brexiters believe UK prosperity depends on its character.” Of all the delusions that currently grip British politics, Raab’s faith in “character” is perhaps the most destructive—and widely shared among his fellow Brexiteers. Yet it is nourished by a deep seam of popular memory: a set of myths about British power that depend on a fundamental misunderstanding of its past

In the children’s book version of history to which Raab and his ilk subscribe, Britain’s glorious past can be traced to a single source: not to geography; not to the global empire that supplied it with wealth, soldiers, and the control of world trade; not even to its abundant harbors and easily mineable coal; nor to the migrants who helped birth the industrial revolution. The secret to British greatness lies simply in this: the sheer pluck and determination of its people.

Trump’s ‘Stunning’ About-Face on Syria


In an unexpected decision that blindsided his own senior officials and signaled a concession to Turkey, U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday suggested he is preparing to pull all U.S. troops out of Syria, a move that experts said will seriously undermine America’s already weak hand in the war-torn nation.

For Trump, it was the latest instance of conducting policy by tweet without forewarning, and it came even as key officials such as Syria special envoy James Jeffrey were signaling that U.S. policy was to stay in the country. Only the day before, State Department Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino told reporters that U.S. forces were there “to ensure the enduring defeat of [the Islamic State]. We’ve made significant progress recently in the campaign, but the job is not yet done.”

But on Wednesday morning, the president tweeted: “We have defeated ISIS, in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump presidency.” The tweet appeared to confirm multiple news reports that the administration is preparing for a “full” and “rapid” withdrawal of the 2,000 or so U.S. troops on the ground there.

How Russia Hacked U.S. Politics With Instagram Marketing


In June 2017, some eight months after the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president, Kremlin operatives running a digital interference campaign in American politics scored a viral success with a post on Instagram.

The post appeared on the account @blackstagram__, which was in fact being run by the Internet Research Agency, a Kremlin-linked troll farm that U.S. authorities say orchestrated an online campaign to boost Trump’s candidacy in 2016. It racked up 254,000 likes and nearly 7,000 comments—huge numbers for the Kremlin campaign.

But oddly, the post contained no political content.

The Death of Global Order Was Caused by Clinton, Bush, and Obama


President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, former President Barack Obama, former first lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton listen during a state funeral for former U.S. President George H. W. Bush at the Washington National Cathedral on Dec. 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. A recurring theme of foreign-policy commentary since 2016 has been the prior status and uncertain future of the so-called liberal order. Some writers question whether a liberal order ever existed or challenge its alleged virtues, while others are quick to defend its past achievements and bemoan its potential demise.

If there is a consensus among these various commentators, however, it is that U.S. President Donald Trump poses a particular threat to the U.S.-led, rules-based order that has supposedly been in place since 1945. If only Hillary Clinton had become president, some believe, the United States would have remained the “indispensable nation” guiding the world toward a more benign future, and the familiar elements of a rules-based order would be thriving (or at least intact).

Trump orders rapid withdrawal from Syria in apparent reversal

By Barbara Starr, Ryan Browne and Nicole Gaouette

Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump has ordered staff to execute the "full" and "rapid" withdrawal of US military from Syria, declaring that the US has defeated ISIS. "We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency," Trump tweeted Wednesday morning. Planning for the pullout is already underway, a US defense official and an administration official told CNN. The decision, a sharp reversal from previously stated US policy, surprised foreign allies and lawmakers, sparking rebukes, rebuttals and warnings of intensified congressional oversight, even as the White House said troops are already on their way home. "I'm pretty annoyed," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and Trump ally, who told CNN's Manu Raju the President's decision was "Obama-like" -- a reference to President Barack Obama's decision to pull troops out of Iraq in 2011, which critics say gave rise to ISIS. Graham said the role of Congress is "to make administrations explain their policy, not in a tweet, but before Congress answering questions."

The Search for Anti-Conservative Bias on Google

By Sue Halpern

Last Wednesday, a day after Google’s C.E.O., Sundar Pichai, sat before the House Judiciary Committee to answer questions about the company’s search engine, Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, wrote a post on Twitter that ended with the hashtag #StopTheBias. Parscale, the digital director of Trump’s 2016 campaign, is considered a master of online marketing—the nearly ninety million dollars that he spent on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and other digital media is widely credited for playing a major part in Trump’s unlikely victory—so it might have seemed strange that he was complaining about Silicon Valley’s anti-conservative bias. “They make bias decisions all the time to tweak search results when Democrats are damaged from results,” Parscale tweeted about Google, “but leave negative Republican results because ‘that’s how it works.’ Bias is in their corporate DNA.” It’s a claim we’re going to hear a lot in the months to come.

The Art of (Cyber) War, Or How A Little Known Policy Exclusion Can Nullify Your Insurance Coverage

In June 2017, the NotPetya virus crippled many large companies including Merck and Mondelez (the manufacturer of Nabisco, Cadbury, and Toblerone). The aggregated losses, including property damage, operational disruptions, and supply chain disruptions, added up to hundreds of millions of dollars per large corporation. The billion dollar question: who would bear this loss? A case in Cook County, Illinois, will provide at least a partial answer.

By way of background, companies mitigate the risk of losses through their Commercial General Liability (CGL) policy. The policy protects the company from extraordinary events. CGL policies generally offer coverage for bodily injury and property damage claims, but CGL policies did not protect against most cyber losses. Most insurance policies now specifically exclude coverage for such losses.

Corporations have responded by purchasing customized cyber liability coverage. Cyber insurance offsets the CGL cyber exclusion. Cyber policies specifically cover losses stemming from computer operations. Most combine traditional liability coverage protecting against third-party claims with first-party coverage that protects the insured.

Management of “Fake News” on Social Media Will Continue On Its Downward Spiral

By Brian NeSmith

Over half of the population claims to regularly see fake news on sites such as Facebook or Twitter. Yet, despite fake news being more commonplace than one would think, social media companies have been highly ineffective in doing anything — except around the most egregious events. Next year, this trend will increase substantially, especially as our nation gears up for the 2020 elections.

The most notable example of hackers leveraging fake news was when Russian agents used misinformation campaigns, including 3,500 divisive Facebook ads, to allegedly influence the 2016 U.S. elections (CNBC). Such instances have made it clear to malicious actors that it is just as impactful to influence an election by stirring the pot as it is to directly attack voting machines. As we continue to see more instances in which false campaigns on social media impact our nation, we will begin to see more regulation of social media, especially around key, controversial topics.