Here’s the situation report for Asia-Pacific so far this week.
UAE Head of State Met Afghan Taliban Senior Official
In a rare chance meeting, the acting defense minister of the Afghan Taliban sat down with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) president to discuss “strengthening relations” and “bilateral cooperation,” among many others, between the two countries.
According to reports, UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan met the son of the late Taliban supreme leader, Mullah Yaqoob, who is also the acting defense minister of the group, in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, December 4. This was the first meeting of the two senior officials months after the finalization of the airport services contract, which involved the UAE company GAAC Holding.
In September, the Emirati company won over the contract that would “provide flight services and manage plane landing and taking off at key airports in Afghanistan” over rival bidders Qatar and Turkey. The agreement also includes installing equipment and training Afghan personnel at the country’s three major airports, namely Kabul, Herat, and Kandahar.
During the signing ceremony, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban-appointed deputy prime minister, said that despite the criticism it has been receiving from the international community, the “strengthening of the economy is a priority for the (Taliban) government.”
“This agreement will have a positive effect on trade and economic growth of the country,” he added.
Last year, after the nearly 20-year-old War in Afghanistan ended and the US forces evacuated the country, the Taliban reclaimed the entire Afghanistan and has been running the government since. Nonetheless, the rest of the international community continues to be skeptical of Kabul’s new ruler and has refused to recognize the Taliban government, with most of Afghanistan’s assets abroad still frozen.
US B-21 Stealth Bomber Poses New Defense Challenges to China: Analysts
The United States Air Force (USAF) unveiled its newest nuclear stealth bomber, giving the world the first glimpse of its latest strength and a power flex to its adversaries during the much-awaited unveiling event held in Palmdale, California. The B-21 Raider is the first American bomber aircraft in over three decades.
Unveiled today, the B-21 Raider will be a dual-capable, penetrating-strike stealth bomber capable of delivering both conventional and nuclear munitions. The B-21 will form the backbone of the future Air Force bomber force consisting of B-21s and B-52s.(U.S. Air Force photo) pic.twitter.com/X6KSU7sy6U
— U.S. Air Force (@usairforce) December 3, 2022
Shortly after the showcase, Chinese analysts saw the strategic stealth bomber as the US’ attempt to remind China of its deterrence strength. Nonetheless, it recognized how it could pose a serious challenge to Beijing’s air defense capabilities, especially if Washington managed to build a large fleet of B-21s. To counter America’s latest super aircraft, China would have to 1) attack the US airfield where these bombers are based or 2) build a similar aircraft, and as soon as possible, an expert told Global Times.
Nonetheless, China is said to be working on developing its next-generation stealth strategic bomber, the unofficial alias H-20. According to reports, the underdeveloped bomber has a “flying wing aerodynamic design” similar to the B-2 and B-21—but none of this has been confirmed. Even if it did, the USAF stealth bomber would be soaring a hundred feet ahead and would almost certainly be outfitted with upgrades. However, the arrival of the H-20 in the future would complete the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) nuclear triad ambition.
Taking notes of the lessons learned from the shortcomings of its predecessor, the B-21 is a powerful yet more costly version of the B-2. The latest stealth bomber can deliver both conventional and nuclear munitions and is easy to maintain with an open-system architecture that makes it more adaptable to different types of missions.
According to US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, the B-21 can also “carry out intelligence gathering and battle management missions with enhanced stealth, such as reducing radar cross-section and becoming evasive to more radio frequency bands.”
The B-21 is slated to make its maiden flight in 2023, but considering its pricey price tag and the current economic challenges, some observers said that there might be some schedule adjustments and delays that would happen—especially with cost hikes also being faced by the production of B-2, F-22, and F-35.
New Provocations in the Korean Peninsula
New month, a new provocation for North Korea against its neighbor, South.
On Monday, Reuters reported that North Korea fired over a hundred shells into the sea off its eastern and western maritime buffer zones after detecting joint military drills across the border in the South with the United States forces.
More than 130 artillery shells were fired, with some projectiles landing into the buffer zones north of the Northern Limit Line, a de facto sea border set under the 2018 inter-Korean agreement—a deal signed by both countries that aim to reduce tensions in the peninsula. Moreover, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), the detected artillery firings reportedly involved multiple rocket launchers coming from Kumgang County in Kangwon Province and Jangsan Cape in South Hwanghae Province around 2:59 PM (KST).
“The artillery firings into the eastern and western maritime buffer zones are a clear violation of the September 19 military accord, and we strongly urge the North to immediately halt them,” the JCS said.
South Korea’s ministry of defense added it sent “several warning communications” over to the North following the firing, while Pyongyang explained that they were only retaliating after detecting dozens of “projectiles” fired in the South near the shared border.
#NorthKorea fired around 130 artillery shells into the sea off its east and west coasts on Monday, #SouthKorea's military said.
Some of the shells landed in a buffer zone near the sea border in a violation of a 2018 inter-Korean agreement to reduce tension. pic.twitter.com/FqzXJrkJOP
— Indo-Pacific News – Geo-Politics & Military News (@IndoPac_Info) December 5, 2022
North Korea’s state news agency KCNA cited a spokesperson of the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army, who said that the North would not hesitate to “respond firmly” to any provocations.
“The enemy should immediately cease military actions that cause escalation of tensions in areas near the front lines where visual surveillance is possible,” said the unspecified spokesperson. “We sternly warn the enemy not to stir up unnecessary escalation of tension along the front lines.”
With North Korea’s escalating series of ballistic missile test-fires conducted this year, South Korea and its trusted ally, the US, have cranked up their joint military exercise to prepare themselves in case the former communist-ruled North decides to revive its nuclear program. It was long assumed that the consecutive ballistic missile testing was the prologue to Pyongyang’s reactivation of its nuclear program, which the latter halted in 2017.
Both Seoul and Washington deemed these military drills imperative to deter any potential provocations in the region, but the North heavily criticized this, which saw it as a threat.
This year alone, Pyongyang has conducted dozens of artillery drills, which Seoul considered a clear violation of the agreement forged between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and then-South Korean President Moon Jae-in in 2018 (also known as the 2018 Comprehensive Military Agreement). The highest recorded missile test fire occurred in mid-October when the North fired more than 500 rounds into the sea in just one day.
Indo-Pacific Command News
On December 1, USS Tripoli (LHA-7) safely returned home after successfully completing its first deployment to the US 3rd and 7th Fleet areas of operations. It significantly played a role in diplomatic and military engagements with regional partners and allies in the Indo-Pacific region. According to the press release, the amphibious assault ship also accomplished integration with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit to support maritime security operations, theater security cooperation, crisis response, and maintaining a forward Navy-Marine Corps presence.
“I am proud of Tripoli for a successful first deployment,” said Rear Adm. James Kirk, commander of the Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 3. “The ship and crew are on the leading edge, setting the example and testing the limits of the assault ship. LHAs are designed to support the future of the Marine Corps Air Combat Element, and Tripoli has done just that. I am excited to see what else they can bring to the fight.”
The USS Tripoli, moreover, has lent support to a couple of military exercises conducted by the US Marine Corps and Navy alongside its partners and allies in the region, including the Valiant Shield 22, Noble Fusion, and Kamandag 2022, together with the Philippine Armed Forces. The venerable assault ship also operated alongside Japan and the Republic of Singapore around the Indo-Pacific and made port calls in Tasmania, Australia, Japan, Singapore, and the Philippines.
USS Tripoli Returns to San Diego After Seven-Month Maiden Deployment – USNI Newshttps://t.co/1bffLpLI7v
Photo via @SanDiegoWebCam pic.twitter.com/NgqeYf84We
— U.S. Naval Institute (@NavalInstitute) November 29, 2022
Commissioned in July 2020, the USS Tripoli is the second America-class amphibious assault ship built for the US Navy. The third vessel to bear the name Tripoli is homeported in Naval Base San Diego and operates under the ESG 3, comprising four amphibious squadrons, 15 amphibious warships, and eight naval support elements, including approximately 18,000 active-duty and reserve Sailors and Marines. Welcome home, Tripoli!
Meanwhile, the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group began its Sustainment Exercise (SUSTEX) in late November to exhibit its steadfast commitment to keeping America’s sea dominance.
Under the command of Rear Adm. Kevin Lenox, the strike group participating in the exercise includes:
- The flagship USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72).
- The squadrons of Carrier Air Wing (CVW 9).
- Ships from Destroyer Squadron (DESRON 21).
Just days before the SUSTEX, a fire broke out aboard Abraham Lincoln while operating approximately 30 miles off the coast of southern California, which was immediately extinguished. As a result, nine sailors were reported to have minor injuries and were treated on board. The cause of the fire is still being investigated, but the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier suffered no irreparable damage.
Aside from flight operation drills, a series of integrated training evolutions will also take place that would test the core warfare area of the strike group, such as information warfare, air defense, and more.
“Since returning from deployment in August, the ships and squadrons of CSG-3 have trained continuously to ensure that they are ready to answer the call if needed. SUSTEX takes that training to the next level, emphasizing the integration and teamwork that gives us competitive advantage in all warfighting domains against any potential adversary,” said Lenox in the press release. “These talented Sailors stand ready to respond, compete and win across the full spectrum of competition and conflict.”
The Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group supports maritime security in the Indo-Pacific region, peacekeeping operations, maintaining free and open seas, and promoting regional stability.
Other members of the Strike Group include the Ticonderoga class guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53); and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62), USS Gridley (DDG 101), USS Sampson (DDG 102), USS Spruance (DDG 111), USS Preble (DDG 88), USS Momsen (DDG 92) and Pre-Commissioning Unit Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG 123).
Can US-Japan Joint Hypersonic Program Catch Up?
Hypersonic missile technology has risen to prominence in the 21st century, and with China and Russia leading the race, the US and Japan announced joining forces in conducting extensive research and development (R&D) that would intercept the hypersonic glide missiles against hostile countries.
Moscow was the first to reveal its Avangard hypersonic glide vehicles (HGV), which Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled in 2018. Meanwhile, during the PLA’s foundation anniversary parade in 2019, Beijing showcased its homegrown Dongfeng-17 medium-range ballistic-capable vehicle, which snagged the world’s first fully operational title.
CCTV made public for first time the images of the announced 🇨🇳DF-17 medium-range ballistic missile launch with the hypersonic glide vehicle
(Via wb/疯子白杨)@REjercitos @oryxspioenkop @FeWoessner pic.twitter.com/OAVVn7dfQv
— Jesus Roman (@jesusfroman) July 30, 2022
According to Asia Nikkei, Japan’s Defense Ministry will develop an anti-missile interceptor capable of reaching altitudes beyond the current anti-missile defenses next year. To make this happen, Tokyo will need Washington’s assistance. The deterrence technology must include a feature that allows rockets to change flight paths, allowing the projectiles to home in on maneuvering hypersonic targets and counter-hypersonic weapons during their ultra-high-speed approach. If the program is successful, Japan will incorporate the developed technology into its two Aegis-equipped destroyers, scheduled to enter service in 2027 and 2028, respectively.
The prospect of collaboration between the US and Japan first transpired this year when US Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed the R&D agreement between the two nations. However, despite these efforts to catch up, a Russian military analyst said that “neither Washington nor Tokyo would be able to create a missile that could take down the Russian Avangard hypersonic missile.” According to him, it would be a challenging feat to beat as there is no way to predict the trajectory of the Russian HGV or engineer a missile “with a speed several dozen times faster than sound.”
“The Japanese media talk about the creation of technology for intercepting hypersonic gliding units, but the nuance is that the Avangard is a maneuvering block, that is, it is impossible to predict at what point in the airspace it will be in the next second. Now, this is an unsolvable task,” Alexei Leonkov explained.
Leonkov went on to say that for the US and Japan to test such anti-hypersonic missile systems, they would need to build a suitable target, preferably an exact replica or something similar to the Avangard, which would be impossible to make even for highly advanced military-industrial facilities.
Avangard Russian strategic hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) rocket complex. It can deliver both nuclear and conventional payloads.
Mass: ~2 t
Blast yield: 0,8-2 Mt
Max speed: Mach 27
Operator: 13th Red Banner Rocket Division, Orenburg pic.twitter.com/cLwTmOgGw6
— Trollstoy (@Trollstoy88) November 10, 2022
“Our Avangard develops a speed of 27 Mach numbers; the US-Japanese rocket should fly faster than the speed of sound by 40 times – this is simply unrealistic,” Leonkov noted.
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