30 January 2016

USA: MSC Delivers Essentials, Rolls-out Exercise Cobra Gold

By Grady Fontana

The ramp is lowered from USNS MAJ Stephen W. Pless (T-AK 3007), one of two ship Military Sealift Command ships delivering equipment for exercise Cobra Gold in Thailand. (U.S. Navy/Grady T. Fontana) >>

LAEM CHABANG, Thailand - Military Sealift Command’s (MSC) Surge Sealift, Roll-on/Roll-off ship USNS MAJ Stephen W. Pless (T-AK 3007) arrived at the port here to offload essential military equipment in support of exercise Cobra Gold 2016 (CG-16), Jan. 27.

Thailand and the United States are scheduled to co-host the annual, multilateral Exercise CG-16 in various areas throughout the Kingdom of Thailand Feb. 9-19. This year’s CG-16 will consist of three primary events: a command post exercise, which includes a senior leader seminar; humanitarian civic assistance projects in Thai communities; and a field training exercise that will build regional relationships.

The Pless was carrying more than 470 items that totaled approximately 2,500 long tons (5.38 million lbs.). The cargo included such items as military vehicles, aircraft and ammunition. A second MSC vessel, USNS 1ST LT Jack Lummus (T-AK 3011), is scheduled to arrive in the coming days to offload additional CG-16 gear.

Industry: Search and Rescue boost as new capability comes online

Australia's search and rescue capabilities are being bolstered by a $640 million service contract over 12 years for new technology and aircraft. This investment will provide essential eyes in the sky for people in distress, with the replacement aircraft based in Perth, Cairns and Essendon.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development Warren Truss was in Adelaide today to inspect the first of four Bombardier Challenger CL-604 jets which will replace the Search and Rescue aircraft currently used by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

"This capability is vital in Australia's search and rescue response, especially because of the vast area we cover… about one-tenth of the earth's surface," Mr Truss said.

"AMSA has used AeroRescue Dornier aircraft in hundreds of rescues since they came online in 2005. The replacement aircraft will use new technology and equipment to ensure there is a rapid response capability to save people in distress in the water or on land."

Industry: US Navy Awards Boeing 2.5 Billion Contract for 20 More P-8A Poseidon Aircraft

Order expands Navy maritime surveillance fleet, includes four aircraft for Australia

SEATTLE, January 29, 2016 – Boeing [NYSE: BA] will further equip the U.S. Navy and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) with maritime patrol capabilities, building 20 more P-8A Poseidon aircraft following a $2.5 billion U.S. Navy order announced yesterday.

The contract, for Lot 7 of the total P-8A program of record, includes 16 aircraft for the U.S. Navy and the next four aircraft for the RAAF. The RAAF’s initial four P-8A aircraft were included in the August 2015 Lot 6 contract award.

Industry: New contract for Royal Thai Navy offshore patrol vessel

HTMS Krabi (Image: Wiki Commons)
We have signed a new contract with Bangkok Dock to assist in the licensed construction of a second 90 metre Offshore Patrol Vessel for the Royal Thai Navy.

Under the agreement, we will provide engineering support and advice during construction of the vessel in Thailand.

Nigel Stewart, Commercial Director, BAE Systems’ Naval Ships business, said: “We’re looking forward to building and strengthening our relationship with Thailand’s shipbuilding industry. This contract to support delivery of a second Offshore Patrol Vessel to the Royal Thai Navy is a clear endorsement of our versatile Offshore Patrol Vessel design. 

"With three of these ships already in service in Brazil and a further three Offshore Patrol Vessels under construction for the UK Royal Navy, our design continues to attract significant interest internationally."

News Story: 20 More P-8s for US, Australia Ordered From Boeing

By Christopher P. Cavas

WASHINGTON — The Boeing Company received a hefty $2.5 billion contract award from the US Navy to provide that service with 16 more P-8A Poseidon maritime multi-mission aircraft, along with four P-8As for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), the Pentagon announced Thursday.

The P-8A is replacing elderly P-3C Orion aircraft in US Navy service, and AP-3C Orions flying for Australia.

All 20 aircraft in this latest order are Lot III full-rate production aircraft. The award is a modification to a previously awarded fixed-price-incentive-firm contract from the US Navy.

The award includes the second batch of four Poseidons for the RAAF. Australia is the second international partner for the P-8A, and agreed in 2014 to buy eight Poseidons, with an option for four more. A decision on the four option aircraft is to be part of the country’s new Defence White Paper, due this year.

Read the full story at DefenseNews

Editorial: Revealed - Why ISIS Hates the Taliban

By Akhilesh Pillalamarri

The Islamic State and the Taliban won’t get along–and that’s a good thing for South Asia.

Is the Islamic State (IS, also commonly known as ISIS) obsessed with the Taliban? And if so, why? A new issue of the group’s self-published magazine, Dabiq, offers some hints as to why this is the case. Dabiq’s pages are filled with refutations of the Taliban’s ideology.

Thomas Joscelyn, in the Long Wars Journal, describes how the hostility that ISIS bears toward the Taliban stems from the fact that the Taliban draws its legitimacy not from a universal Islamic creed, but from a narrow ethnic and nationalistic base. In other words, while ISIS fights to establish a Caliphate encompassing the entire ummah (Muslim community), the Taliban merely seeks to establish an Afghan state that they claim is ruled ruled by Islamic Law. However, in an interview with the ISIS Wali (custodian) of Khorasan, a self-declared ISIS province that includes Afghanistan, the group denies that the Taliban even rule by Islamic Law at all:

Does the nationalist Taliban movement have areas of consolidation in Khurāsān? And do they rule them by Allah’s law?
The Wālī: The nationalist Taliban movement only has control of some regions of “Afghanistan,” nowhere else. As for ruling them by Allah’s law, then it does not do that. Rather, they rule by tribal customs and judge affairs in accordance with the desires and traditions of the people, traditions opposing the Islamic Sharī’ah.
Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: Will Pakistan Buy Turkey’s New Advanced Main Battle Tank?

By Franz-Stefan Gady

Islamabad purportedly has expressed interest in acquiring Istanbul’s new main battle tank, according to media reports.

The head of Turkey’s defense procurement agency, the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries, Ismail Demir announced earlier this month during a testimony in parliament that Pakistan’s military is interested in procuring the country’s first indigenously-designed third generation+ main battle tank, dubbed Altay, according to local media reports.

“Including Pakistan and the Gulf countries, we can say that countries that we have good relations with are showing a large interest in the tank. Representatives of some countries are being invited to the ongoing firing tests,” Demir said. Tests are currently underway in Turkey’s Sarıkamış district in the eastern province of Kars.

The Altay main battle tank (MBT) is named after Army General Fahrettin Altay, a Turkish cavalry commander from the Turkish War of Independence. In 2008, the Turkish Ministry of Defense awarded the Turkish military vehicles manufacturer Otokar a $500 million contract for the design, development, and production of four MBT prototypes.

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: Vietnam Should Abandon Non-Alignment Now

By Nhung Bui

The outcome of the recent Party Congress provides Hanoi with the opportunity to rethink its foreign policy.

This month, Vietnam’s 12th Party Congress reappointed the conservative leader Nguyen Phu Trong for another term as the party’s General Secretary.

In the wake of this political reshuffling, it is important for Vietnamese leaders to rethink their foreign policy directions and explore new strategies to deal with an assertive China. In particular, while Trong’s victory is a disappointment to those championing broader economic liberalization, it provides a window of opportunity for Vietnam’s leaders to abandon the principle of non-alignment which has long served as a basic guideline in its foreign policy without provoking a severe backlash from China.

Vietnam’s non-alignment principle is part of the “three nos” package, summed up as no participation in military alliances, no foreign military bases on Vietnamese territory, and no reliance on one country to fight against another. Supporters of the principle believe that maintaining equal distance between the great powers would serve Vietnam’s interests, for leaning towards the United States would only provoke counterbalancing actions by China.

Yet rising tensions in the South China Sea between Vietnam and China have led to a fierce debate about the merits of this approach, with many voices calling Vietnam to abandon its non-alignment stance. These reformist voices argue that Vietnam needs greater concrete support from and even a military alliance with an outside power – potentially the United States – in order to protect its territory against China’s encroachments.

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: Asia Pivot - Does the US Need to ‘Rebalance Harder’?

By Graham Webster

The Obama White House is realistically out of time to articulate a newly integrated vision for the Asia-Pacific region.

As U.S. President Barack Obama enters his last year in office, it is increasingly clear that the so-called rebalance to the Asia-Pacific will be his administration’s major mark on U.S. policy toward the region. Four years after the rebalance was announced, however, a Congressionally mandated report found that there remains “consistent confusion about the rebalance strategy and concern about its implementation.”

The report, released this month by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and commissioned by the Department of Defense, found that the confusion was not limited to Asia-Pacific governments or the public, but rather extends throughout the U.S. government. Strikingly, the report points out that “there remains no central U.S. government document that describes the rebalance strategy and its associated elements.”

Since the moment the rebalance was announced, debate has flourished. Was it an unnecessary distraction from crises elsewhere, or an under-funded half-measure? Did it reassure allies and put China on notice, or has the administration over-promised and under-delivered? Whatever one’s views, it seems late in the game for outsiders to justifiably recommend the administration “develop and then articulate a clear and coherent strategy.”

Reading the CSIS report, which was directed by former officials from the Obama and George W. Bush administrations, one encounters a vision of Obama-era Asia policy as incoherent and weak, but not wrong-headed. The core message of the report is that, particularly in the military dimension, the U.S. needs to rebalance harder.

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: South Korea Eyes THAAD, China Urges ‘Caution’

By Shannon Tiezzi

South Korea is sending more positive signals on the U.S. missile defense system, to China’s dismay.

A U.S. missile defense system would be helpful for South Korean security if deployed on the peninsula, a defense official from Seoul said on Friday. The comments are the latest sign that Seoul is again considering allowing the U.S.-made Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to be deployed on its soil.

Defense Ministry spokesperson Kim Min-seok said on Friday that the Korean government “will consider every measure to prepare against North Korea’s missile threats.” He added, “If U.S. Forces Korea deploys THAAD, it will help our national security and defense.”

However, Kim also refuted media reports that South Korea and the United States had begun negotiations on the subject next week. He said that the “South Korean government has not been offered negotiations by the U.S. government,” meaning no decision on the issue should be expected in the near future. Right now, he explained, both sides are discussing it internally – with South Korea in particular looking at how effective THAAD would be.

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: What Does 2016 Hold for China-US Relations in Cyberspace?

By Franz-Stefan Gady

Sino-U.S. relations in cyberspace in 2016 will be defined by three key policies.

Sino-U.S. relations in cyberspace in 2016 will be defined by three key policies: attribution, sanctions, and norms. The first two tacks will be used by the United States to contain malicious Chinese activities in cyberspace (and to assuage the U.S. private sector and U.S. public opinion), whereas the last device will be used for promoting strategic stability between both nations by deepening the understanding of what is acceptable behavior in the cyber realm.

First, while it is true that attribution, i.e. tracing a cyber attack back to its originator, remains difficult, it is not impossible. Both the U.S. government and the private sector have repeatedly called out Chinese hackers in so-called “naming and shaming” campaigns. This tactic consists of either leaking classified intelligence to the press or publishing cyberattack reports by U.S. cyber security firms (which over the years became a clever marketing ploy for those companies). And while “naming and shaming” sustained a severe setback with the Snowden revelations, we will certainly witness a number of such cyberattack disclosures in 2016. However, the shock value—and as a consequence its potential negative impact on the Sino-U.S. bilateral relationship—will be less severe than in 2014 and 2015, given that, after the recent Office of Personal Management data breach and the Snowden disclosures, the threshold for disclosures with the potential to severely undermine the Sino-U.S. bilateral relationship has substantially risen. At the same time “naming and shaming” will at least contain both sides from going overboard when it comes to cyber espionage activities and aggressive network intrusions.

Read the full story at The Diplomat

29 January 2016

News Story: Japan Unveils First Homegrown Stealth Plane

Japan on Thursday unveiled its first stealth fighter jet, officials said, with the maiden test flight planned for next month.

The defense ministry's acquisition agency showed off the domestically developed, radar-dodging X-2 fighter at a regional airport near the central city of Komaki.

Its first flight is scheduled in mid-February before delivery to the defense ministry by the end of March next year, the acquisition agency said.

The X-2, developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, measures 14.2 meters (47 feet) long and 9.1 meters wide and was built as a successor to the F-2 fighter jets developed jointly with the United States.

Read the full story at DefenseNews

Editorial: Singapore Ratifies ASEAN Anti-Trafficking Pact

Image: Flickr User - European Commission DG ECHO
By Prashanth Parameswaran

City-state signs on to a new ASEAN convention against trafficking in persons.

Singapore has ratified an ASEAN convention against human trafficking, government officials confirmed January 26.

The city-state announced Tuesday that it had ratified the ASEAN Convention Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (ACTIP), making it one of the first Southeast Asian states to do so.

ACTIP, a legally-binding document approved at the 27th ASEAN Summit last November, seeks to prevent human trafficking and protect its victims in part through greater cooperation among the ten ASEAN states (See: “ASEAN Creates New Community Under Malaysia’s Chairmanship”).

The convention, adopted during Malaysia’s ASEAN chairmanship, was a response to growing trafficking concerns in 2015 amid a humanitarian crisis where thousands of Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi migrants stranded in crowded boats in the Andaman Sea and Straits of Malacca as well as the discovery of mass graves on the Malaysia-Thailand border thought to be mainly Rohingya victims of human traffickers (See: “Can Southeast Asia Tackle Its Human Trafficking Problem?”).

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: Indonesia to Boost Deradicalization After Islamic State Attack

By Prashanth Parameswaran

Top presidential adviser says more funds are on the way for deradicalization programs.

Indonesia will look to boost its budget for deradicalization programs as the country faces a rising threat from the Islamic State (IS), a top adviser to the country’s president said Wednesday.

Speaking just weeks after terror attacks rocked Jakarta on January 14 and left eight people dead, Coordinating Minister for Political, Security and Legal Affairs Luhut Panjaitan said that the Indonesian government planned on increasing funding for deradicalization efforts in the Muslim-majority nation.

“We have not yet discussed it but we do have such a plan,” he said according to Indonesian media outlet Tempo.

Pandjaitan’s comments are the latest in a series of statements expressing concern about Indonesia’s deradicalization efforts after police revealed that one of the gunmen in the terrorist attack was a previously jailed militant who was indoctrinated into IS while behind bars. Experts say Arif, who was jailed for seven years but was released early in mid-2015 for good behavior, may have been gradually radicalized behind bars by his cleric cellmate Aman Abdurrahman but managed to hide this from the authorities.

Radicalization in prisons is hardly a new concern for Indonesia, and many similar concerns were heard when the country confronted the Al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah in the 2000s. According to Sidney Jones, a longtime terrorism expert who now directs the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict in Jakarta, pro-ISIS networks are still able to freely disseminate information and contacts in Indonesian prisons today since every inmate has ready access to a smartphone, while the dozens released every year after serving their sentences are not monitored by the authorities.

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: Pakistan’s Militant Dilemma

Image: Wiki Commons
By Umair Jamal

Pakistan needs to address the underlying ideologies driving radicalization within its borders.

The start of the new year has been brutally effective for terrorists in Pakistan: more than 60 people have already lost their lives in terror-related incidents. The Pakistani Taliban’s name has resurfaced again, which has renewed existing concerns that the Taliban insurgency–even if reduced–has survived and retained its previous ability to strike back.

The Pakistani Taliban’s resurgence has taken place at a time when other militant groups are trying to fill the vacuum left by the former–the group has been on the run due to a military operation against them. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and groups associated with it are posing a serious threat in this regard. The group has been actively looking for recruits in the country. A week ago, dozens of suspects across the country were detained by security agencies in connection with the group. Moreover, reportedly, the group has established regional chapters across the country.

The group’s ideology and propaganda tactics make it far more lethal than any other group with militant roots in the country. Its virtual presence across the globe has turned it into a successful terror brand, which every militant group wishes to follow or imitate. The recent attacks in Jakarta are an example that ISIS is rallying militants across the world under its banner.

So far, ISIS’s recruitment patterns in the country have emerged across all societal strata, raising grave concerns for what may transpire in the future. More than 100 people, including a large number of children and women, have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight for the group. ISIS has reportedly vowed to unite all Pakistani militant groups under its flag.

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: Is North Korea Preparing to Launch A Long-Range Ballistic Missile?

By Franz-Stefan Gady

The North could launch a long-range missile within a couple of days, according to media reports.

North Korea could fire a ballistic missile from its Sohae satellite launching station in North Pyongan Province in northwestern North Korea, The Yomiuri Shimbun reports based on information provided by a South Korean government source.

Similar to past North Korean practices prior to a missile launch, the area around the launching station has been screened off and an increase in traffic of both humans and vehicles observed, according to the source. Freight trains were also seen to be moving back and forth between missile factories and the rocket launching site.

Earlier, Japan’s Kyodo News agency had announced that North Korea could test-fire a long-range missile within a week, based on satellite imagery analyses. However, it is “unlikely that North Korea will launch a missile out of the blue within a week,” the source said.

“North Korea is likely to do it abruptly when they launch important provocative acts in the future,” South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said in a regular briefing, according to Yonhap News.

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: Needed - A Long Telegram from Beijing

Image: Flickr User - U.S. Department of State
By Francis P. Sempa

Washington could do worse than reflect on the wisdom, profundity, and erudition of George Kennan’s Long Telegram.

On February 22, 1946, a relatively unknown diplomat from the U.S. embassy in Moscow wrote a lengthy telegram analyzing the motivations of Soviet/Russian foreign policy and recommending a general policy approach that came to be known as “containment.” That diplomat, George F. Kennan, was subsequently appointed by Secretary of State George Marshall to head-up the newly created Policy Planning Staff at the State Department. Kennan and his staff were charged with taking a long-term view of American foreign policy based on current trends in international relations in the context of fundamental American geopolitical interests.

In the Long Telegram, Kennan combined penetrating insight into the motives of Soviet leaders, an analysis of the cultural and historical forces that influenced Soviet conduct, and realistic policy recommendations for meeting the Soviet challenge. A year later, Kennan, using the pseudonym “X,” wrote an article inForeign Affairs entitled “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” which popularized many of the ideas and policy recommendations of the Long Telegram. This ignited an important policy debate within the United States over the best way to respond to Soviet/Russian aggressive moves around the world. The influential columnist Walter Lippmann, for example, wrote a series of articles that criticized Kennan’s proposed policy for over-committing the United States to the defense of peripheral interests. Meanwhile, the political philosopher James Burnham wrote three books that criticized containment as insufficient and too defensive, and advocated a more offensive policy of “liberation.”

The Truman administration codified containment in a series of National Security Directives, including most famously NSC-68, and responded accordingly to Soviet moves in Berlin and the Eastern Mediterranean, and North Korea’s invasion of South Korea. The unpopular Korean War stalemate and the “loss” of China to the communists brought renewed criticism of containment, and the 1952 Eisenhower presidential campaign, led by the soon-to-be Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, called for replacing containment with a policy of “rolling-back” the Soviet empire. Eisenhower and his successors, however, hewed generally to the policy of containment throughout the Cold War, which is a testament to the practical realism and farsightedness of Kennan’s policy analysis.

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: From South China Sea Island, Taiwan's President Presents 'Roadmap' for Peace

Image: Wiki Commons
By Shannon Tiezzi

Ma Ying-jeou reaffirmed Taiwan’s sovereignty claims but also offered a plan for moving beyond the disputes.

As planned, on Thursday, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou traveled to Itu Aba, the largest naturally-occurring member of the disputed Spratly Island group in the South China Sea. The stated reason for the trip was to greet the roughly 200 Taiwanese coast guard personnel stationed on the island, the lone feature in the South China Sea controlled by Taiwan.

Ma traveled to Itu Aba (known as Taiping Island in Chinese) on board a C-130 transport plane, making use of the newly-extended airstrip on the island. He arrived around 11 a.m. local time, and was back in Taipei before 6 p.m. Ma was the second Taiwanese president to visit Itu Aba, following a trip in 2008 by Chen Shui-bian.

Ma’s visit functioned as a strong confirmation of Taiwanese control over the island, which is 1,600 kilometers away from the island of Taiwan. As Ma put it in his speech on Itu Aba, he chose to visit the coast guard personnel on Itu Aba “to show the great importance we attach to you and your mission.”

He also used his speech to reemphasize Taiwan’s claims over the South China Sea, which stem from the days when the Republic of China (ROC) governed the entire Chinese mainland. “Whether from the perspective of history, geography, or international law, the Nansha (Spratly) Islands, Shisha (Paracel) Islands, Chungsha (Macclesfield Bank) Islands, and Tungsha (Pratas) Islands, as well as their surrounding waters, are an inherent part of ROC territory and waters,” Ma said. “This is indisputable.”

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: Don't Expect an Improvement in Russia-Japan Relations Soon

Image: Wiki Commons
By Ankit Panda

Emphasis on “former enemy clauses” and general intransigence suggest Russia is in no mood to improve ties with Japan.

I wrote yesterday about a act of Russian provocation toward Japan earlier this week; on Tuesday, two nuclear-capable bombers circumnavigated Japan’s four main islands. Following that up, on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made a series of remarks that continue to highlight why a Russia-Japan rapprochement isn’t in the offing any time soon.

Speaking to reporters in Moscow on the issue of the Kuril Islands dispute between Japan and Russia, Lavrov essentially outlined Russia’s conditions for any peace treaty with Japan. He emphasized that Japan should not expect any Russian concessions on the issue of “former enemy clauses,” which under the United Nations Charter legitimize the post-Second World War actions by Allied States.

“We are not thinking that the peace treaty (with Japan) is synonymous with the solution of the territorial issue,” Lavrov said. “It is impossible to move forward without recognizing the outcome of World War II,” he added. He made his insistence on the issue of the “former enemy clauses” clear, adding that he did not “think that it is an excessive demand.”

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: In Okinawa, a Phantom Victory for the Abe Administration

Marine Corps Air Station Futenma
By Yuki Tatsumi

The recent mayoral election in Okinawa is a step forward for Tokyo, but challenges still remain on the Futenma issue.

On January 24, a critical election took place in Okinawa. In the city of Ginowan, where U.S. Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma is located, two candidates fought for the mayorship. In the end, the incumbent Atsushi Sakima who called for the earliest closure of MCAS Futenma and the return of the land occupied by the base, fended off the challenge from Keiichiro Shimura.

This election attracted a great deal of attention because it has been regarded as a “proxy war” between the Abe administration and Okinawan Governor Takeshi Onaga. The incumbent Sakima received support from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party-Komeito coalition. The opponent Shimura had the full support of Governor Onaga, who rallied around Shimura throughout the campaign.

The election result brings both positive and negative news to the Abe administration. On the positive side, this was the first local election in Okinawa in which the candidate backed by the LDP won, particularly after the election of Onaga as a governor. Voters responded positively to Sakima’s central message throughout the campaign — close Futenma as soon as possible, so that its land can be returned to the local community and the risk of keeping Futenma in Ginowan can be reduced. With the voting rate inching close to 70 percent, Sakima’s successful reelection reflects the sentiment in Ginowan City, which strongly desire the relocation of MCAS Futenma out of its current location.

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: Japan’s Elite Amphibious Assault Force Trains With US Marines

By Franz-Stefan Gady

US Marines teach Japanese soldiers how to fight from the sea in a bilateral military exercise.

For five weeks, 270 Japanese soldiers from the Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) Western Infantry Regiment, along with other units, will participate in an annual, bilateral amphibious training exercise, codenamed Iron Fist, jointly held with the United States Marine Corps (USMC) at Camp Pendleton in southern California.

The goal of the exercise, which will include combat marksmanship, military planning, and fire support operations, is to train the GSDF and USMC in combined amphibious operations, according to a U.S. Department of Defense press release. “Since 2006, Exercise Iron Fist has enabled Japanese soldiers to train with U.S. Marines on American soil to improve the planning, communications, and conducting of combined amphibious operations,” said USMC Colonel Clay C. Tipton, commanding officer of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit. “In the short span of a decade, this exercise has allowed our two services to come together and practice amphibious operations at the platoon, company and battalion level.”

Japan wants to set up its first Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade by the spring of 2017. The initial size of the brigade will be around 2,000 troops, but this is slated to increase to 3,000 once the force becomes fully operational sometime in 2018. The new brigade’s principal mission will be to defend the 6,000 islands and islets of the Ryukyu Islands chain, which stretches southwest from Kyushu to Taiwan.

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: US South China Sea FONOPs to Increase in Scope, Complexity - Commander

Image: Flickr User - Greg Bishop
By Prashanth Parameswaran

PACOM commander Harry Harris reveals what the future outlook might be for US FONOPs.

U.S. freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) in the South China Sea will increase not only in number but also in scope and complexity amid China’s growing control of surrounding waters, the commander of the U.S. military forces in the Asia-Pacific said Tuesday.

While U.S. officials are fond of reiterating that FONOPs have been in place for decades and are not directed at any one country, the FONOP conducted by the USS Lassen last October by transiting inside 12 nautical miles of five maritime features in the Spratly Islands claimed by China, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines last year had drawn Beijing’s ire. Since then, many have been wondering about the future shape of U.S. FONOPs, including which features might be included as well as whether Washington could begin doing them with other allies and partners such as Japan and Australia.

Speaking on January 27 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, Admiral Harry B Harris Jr., the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), confirmed that U.S. FONOPs can be expected to not only become greater in number, but also more broader in scope as well as more complex.

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: New Realities, Old Fears - Escalation on the Korean Peninsula

Image: Flickr User - Ash Carter
By Clint Work and Daniel A. Pinkston

When tensions rise, history illuminates U.S. and ROK fears of entrapment and abandonment.

Alliance tensions over abandonment and entrapment fears come sharply into focus at times of conflict escalation or the possibility of escalation. Therefore, understanding escalation dynamics and the processes for de-escalation and the restoration of deterrence is an important aspect of U.S.-ROK alliance management. The DPRK’s recent nuclear test, SLBM ejection tests, and advancements in other asymmetric capabilities such as cyber-warfare make escalation management more complicated and difficult for the alliance.

Before examining escalation problems in the current context of the DPRK’s growing asymmetric threats, it is helpful to understand the historical lessons of past escalation episodes and how they affected fears of abandonment and entrapment over time.

Read the full story at The Diplomat

28 January 2016

News Story: Taiwan Exercise Demonstrates Self-Protection Abilities

Tuo Chiang-class corvette
By Wendell Minnick

TAIPEI — In preparation for upcoming Chinese New Year celebrations, a tri-service exercise by the Taiwan military demonstrated its resolve to protect the self-ruled island from a surprise Chinese attack during the week-long holiday in February. The Jan. 26-27 exercise was designed to shore up public confidence in the military’s ability to protect Taiwan during celebrations.

The exercise comes on the heels of a landslide victory in both the legislative and presidential elections for the independence-minded Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The DPP swept the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang (KMT) from power during Jan. 16 polls. China claims Taiwan as sovereign territory and has threatened to invade the fledgling democracy should it declare formal independence.

Read the full story at DefenseNews

News Story: US Pacific Chief Talks China, Regional Partnerships

Image: Wikipedia
By Christopher P. Cavas

China's provocative actions don't befit a great power, US commander says

WASHINGTON — “The rise of China is not a bad thing, but it’s how that power is used that is a concern to me,” the top US military officer in the Pacific said Wednesday.

Adm. Harry Harris, commander of the US Pacific Command, told a Washington audience that China’s intentions “remain clouded.” He highlighted the South China Sea land-reclamation projects that threaten to alter the balance of power in the region.

“There are five countries involved in land-reclamation projects in the last 40 years” in the South China Sea, Harris told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “and we have called on all of them to stop.”

China’s efforts, he pointed out, “far outstrip all the others.” Harris put up a chart showing that together, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan have reclaimed 215 acres of land over the past 40 years, while China has reclaimed more than 3,000 acres in the past 18 months.

“If they are to build out all their reef projects, they will control all of the South China Sea militarily with the exception of the US,” Harris warned.

Read the full story at DefenseNews

News Story: DND forges P2.68-B deal for air surveillance radars

By Alexis Romero

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of National Defense (DND) and an Israeli firm are close to forging a deal for the supply of three air surveillance radars worth P2.68 billion to boost the Philippines’ territorial defense capabilities.

The Philippine government and Israeli company Elta System Ltd. could sign a contract for the radars anytime, DND Undersecretary Fernando Manalo told The STAR over the weekend.

Manalo said a notice of award was issued to Elta early this month. The issuance of the notice of award is an important step in the procurement process as it leads to the actual implementation of the project.

“The signing will be done anytime,” Manalo said when asked for the status of the air surveillance radars project.

“The radars will enhance the capabilities of the Air Force in terms of maritime domain awareness,” he added.

Read the full story at The Philippine Star

Editorial: Why Did Russian Nuclear-Capable Bombers Circumnavigate Japan?

Image: Wiki Commons
By Ankit Panda

Continued Russian bomber flybys near Japanese airspace suggest that the bilateral relationship remains cool.

On Tuesday, January 26, Japan’s Ministry of Defense revealed that the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force had scrambled jets in response to two Russian Tu-95MS “Bear” strategic bombers near its air space. According to a map released by the Japanese government, the two Russian bombers approached Japanese airspace from Russia’s Primorsky province, flying over the Sea of Japan, and eventually flew along the perimeter of Japan’s territorial airspace, encompassing the four main Japanese islands of Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku, and Hokkaido, before returning to Russia.

The incident isn’t the first incident involving Russian strategic bombers near Japanese airspace by any means. Moscow regularly conducts such activities and Japan scrambles fighters to ensure that its territorial airspace isn’t violated.

However, the Tu-95′s flight path in this instance—along the perimeter of Japan’s islands—appears more provocative than usual. Generally, Russian bombers fly long-distance runs. For instance, Russian Tu-95s have been known to fly the length of the Ryukyu Island chain before returning to Russian airspace. (I discussed one such incident here at The Diplomat in late 2013.) Last March, Japan intercepted and escorted a Tu-95 over the Korean Strait between South Korea and Kyushu.

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: Indonesia - Staying Calm and Carrying On

Densus 88 - Indonesian Counter-Terrorism Force
By William Mackey

Indonesia’s restrained response to the recent Jakarta attacks is welcome.

It had been years since Indonesia had experienced an attention-grabbing terrorist attack. That changed on January 14. Early in the morning, four militants launched a brazen assault in downtown Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital.

Several of the militants were suicide bombers, and detonated their explosives near a Starbucks outside of Sarinah, a popular shopping plaza. Others threw grenades, and fired at police officers stationed at a nearby traffic post. Once the smoke finally cleared, eight people were dead, including the four militants. More than twenty others were injured.

Soon afterwards, the Islamic State (ISIS) issued a statement via social media, claiming responsibility for the attack.

The attack, according to some, was the opening of a new battlefront for ISIS – yet another signal of how dangerous the group was becoming, not only in the Middle East but also in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country.

But such claims – that ISIS poses a major danger to the peace and security of Indonesia – are overblown. Yes, ISIS sympathizers and militants are active in Indonesia, as they are in other countries in the region, such as Malaysia and the Philippines. But that does not mean that they pose – or are capable of posing – a major threat to the Indonesian state and its people. Indeed, most Indonesian militants are poorly trained and largely incompetent, and prior to the January 14 assault they had failed to launch any large-scale attack, despite several attempts.

With this in mind, the Indonesian government response to the January 14 attack should be careful and measured. An overblown reaction risks the government losing popular support, and driving more Indonesian Islamists into the arms of ISIS.

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: Vietnam’s Party Chief Nguyen Phu Trong Keeps His Post

Image: Flickr User - U.S. Department of State
By Shannon Tiezzi

After rumors of an intense leadership struggle, Vietnam’s top leader will retain his post.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss – Vietnam’s new leader will in fact be its current leader, Nguyen Phu Trong, who has won a second term as general secretary of Vietnam’s Communist Party, local media reports. The state-run Vietnam News Agency released a photo of Trong receiving a bouquet from other members of the party’s Central Committee, with the caption saying he was being congratulated on his re-election.

Trong’s leadership position, and the make-up of the rest of the Politbuto, will be officially approved by Vietnam’s 12th National Party Congress tomorrow. As for the other leadership positions up for grabs, Thanh Nien News reports that the current Minister of Security Tran Dai Quang will take over as president and Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc will be prime minister (though those posts won’t be confirmed until the early summer, when the National Assembly meets). That conforms to early reporting based on deliberations by the Central Committee in early January.

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: Obama's Asia Engagement Architecture - A Framework on Which to Build

Image: Flickr User - The White House
By Brian Harding

This administration will bequeath radically enhanced structures to engage Asia.

Less than one month into 2016, Secretary of State John Kerry visited Laos, Cambodia, and China, U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to the White House, and Secretary Kerry and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter hosted their Philippine counterparts for a 2+2 ministerial meeting. The pace of top-level engagement with Asia-Pacific leaders will accelerate in February when President Obama hosts a landmark summit with all ten ASEAN leaders at Sunnylands.

Already scheduled to visit Japan in July for the G7 summit, Laos in September for the East Asia Summit, Vietnam before or after Laos, and China in September for the G20 summit, President Obama is set to blow by President George W. Bush’s record for the most visits by a U.S. president to countries in the region. In the first seven years of his presidency, Obama’s seven trips to Asia have been a major pillar of the “new normal” of U.S. engagement in Asia that Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Danny Russell often touts.

Presidential attention has contributed to substantial gains for the United States in Asia during the Obama administration – a successful conclusion to the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, agreements for military access in Southeast Asia and Oceania, a historic climate agreement with China, and new guidelines to modernize the U.S.-Japan alliance, among others. These accomplishments leave a substantial legacy on which the next U.S. president can build even deeper ties with the region.

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: Why the New US-Philippine Defense Pact Could Be a Double-Edged Sword

Image: Flickr User - US Embassy Manila
By Richard Javad Heydarian

The EDCA does little to boost Manila’s security and may end up exacerbating superpower rivalry.

An already growing security alliance between the Philippines and the United States received a huge boost when the Philippine Supreme Court cleared a legal obstacle to the implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). For about a year, the new agreement, which was signed shortly before U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to the Philippines in mid-2014, was stuck in a constitutional limbo.

The Philippine Senate had adamantly demanded that the EDCA go through the ratification process, deeming it as a treaty agreement that mandates the concurrence of the upper chamber. Meanwhile, progressive groups challenged the constitutionality of the new security agreement, characterizing it as an affront to the Philippines’ national sovereignty. After extensive deliberations, members of the country’s highest court overwhelmingly (10-4) voted in favor of EDCA’s implementation.

The agreement paves the way for a massive increase in the American military footprint on Philippine soil, particularly across a series of much-prized bases, some of which are close to the South China Sea. Yet there is no assurance that this will significantly enhance Manila’s hands in the disputed waters. If anything, the regional maritime disputes could get even more complicated as two superpowers, China and the United States, move dangerously close to each other.

Read the full story at The Diplomat

Editorial: The South China Sea Arbitration Case Could Exacerbate Disputes in the South China Sea (China's View)

By Wu Shicun

“The Tribunal’s decision is illogical, unfair, and risks escalating tensions in the South China Sea.”

On October 29, 2015, the Arbitral Tribunal of the Philippines vs. China Arbitration case in the South China Sea (“the Tribunal”) ruled that it had jurisdiction to hear the case and found the Philippines’ submissions admissible. The Tribunal’s decision is illogical, unfair, and risks escalating tensions in the South China Sea.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (“UNCLOS” or “the Convention”) created dispute settlement mechanisms, including arbitration, to ensure a fair and effective implementation of the Convention, so as to bring to bear equitable and authoritative decisions by the international judiciary and help mitigate and resolve maritime disputes. But any adjudication or arbitration which disregards history and reality and is based on biased notions will not only cause it to miss the goal of the UNCLOS, but also aggravate the dispute.

The Tribunal’s jurisdiction and admissibility decision effectively refutes the entire “Position Paper of the Government of the People’s Republic of China on the Matter of Jurisdiction in the South China Sea Arbitration Initiated by the Republic of the Philippines” (“Position Paper”) issued on December 7, 2014. The decision has also negated China’s 2006 declaration on the exclusion of maritime delimitation disputes and historic title from compulsory arbitration and other compulsory dispute settlement procedures,overlooked the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (“DOC”), and disregarded the priority given to consultation and negotiation in dispute resolution. The Tribunal essentially determined that the Philippines’ action was not vexatious, and that the Parties had exchanged views as required by the Convention. It also found that the Philippines’ submissions fall within the scope of application and interpretation of UNCLOS, and that the disputes do not concern territorial sovereignty or maritime boundary delimitation.

Read the full story at The Diplomat