Grey zone deniability in the Middle East.
The US offered additional confirmation that debris from an attack on Saudi oil facilities in fact indicate that the strike was mounted by Iran. Reuters reports that US investigators concluded that the drone attack against Abqaiq originated from the north, and that the debris collected at the site appeared consistent with an Iranian-produced IRN-05 UAV. The strike was claimed by Yemen's Houthi rebels. Tehran backs the Houthis, but has denied that it had anything to do with the attack. The direction from which the drones approached is significant because, of course, the Houthi center of activity is to the south, whereas Iran itself is to the north of Saudi Arabia. Eighteen drones and three missiles were used in the strike, and some of their flight paths crossed either Iraq or Kuwait. The activity is consistent with the sort of grey zone deniability Iran has sought in its increasingly sharp operations against the US and its allies. Attribution can be expected to remain a challenge.
Another confrontation took place in Iraq late in December. According to the New York Times, Iran has been moving missiles into Iraq, where it supports a number of insurgent militia groups. A rocket strike against a compound killed at least one American and prompted US airstrikes against militia positions. The militias retaliated by organizing mobs to rush the US embassy in Baghdad, an assault thwarted by US deployment of additional Marines. ("No Benghazis," as a partisan note in the New York Post puts it.) Tehran again denied any involvement in the incident, but it's widely seen, as the Wall Street Journal notes, as Iranian-inspired and quite probably Iranian directed.
Russia has also continued its use of deniable forces in the region, in Russia's case "mercenaries" who have deployed to Syria and, more recently, to Libya. Reuters reports that the US has charged Russian forces with shooting down an American reconnaissance drone over Libya on the 21st of November.
North Korea's promised end-of-year big show fails to materialize.
But that doesn't mean Mr. Kim is done. A New York Times op-ed calls Pyongyang's recent promises that something big was coming (probably a test and demonstration of enhanced nuclear and nuclear delivery capabilities) "trolling," but trolling with the serious purpose of establishing a "new normal" in which North Korea can threaten US cities with incineration and the US will do nothing in response. The National Interest sees the newfound assertiveness as a mistake, and the sort of mistake regimes experiencing severe internal stresses tend to make.
Space Force takes shape.
Congress finally approved Space Force when it passed the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act on December 17th. (Defense News observes that Capitol Hill horse-trading brought Space Force into being in exchange for enhanced parental leave.)
Observers have generally welcomed the creation of Space Force, with many stressing, as an op-ed in TheHill does, the importance of getting the new Service's culture off on the right foot. They look in particular for effective, productive alignment with industry, and a procurement system more supple and responsive to emerging needs than traditional Defense acquisition systems have proven. Retired Admiral James Stavridis, a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, published an opinion piece in Bloomberg in which he offered one sentimental and three serous recommendations to those who'll be charged with establishing Space Force. He advises them to, "first, study the history," and specifically the history of the creation and development of the US Air Force and Marine Corps. Second, they should "build solid relationships" with both the Air Force Secretariat and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and also with Space Force's principal customers, the Combatant Commanders. He thinks a close working relationship with US Special Operations Command will be particularly important. And third, he advises that the new Service's top leadership should be long-tenured, and here he has the success of Naval Reactors in mind, where the leadership had eight-year tours (much longer, of course, in the case of Admiral Rickover). His sentimental recommendation? He'd like to see the new Service's personnel be given naval ranks and uniforms that evoke the sea services.
Competition over commercial satellites.
Amazon is looking for a waiver of FCC regulations that would facilitate its plans to fly more than three-thousand satellites intended to deliver Internet access. SpaceX is lobbying against any waiver, Vice reports. Since they had to follow the FCC rules, why should Amazon's Project Kuiper get a break?
Amazon isn't the only new entrant into the space-delivered Internet competition. Apple is said, by Bloomberg, to be quietly hiring personnel necessary to building out its own space-based Internet service. Cupertino's goal is to begin deploying satellites within five years.
Inmarsat is convinced the US Department of Defense will need more bandwidth to support operations in the Middle East. The company's Global Xpress 5 satellite, launched in November and expected to become operational early this year, is, C4ISRNET reports, designed to enhance the coverage the company can provide for the region.
Science and technology priorities.
The US Army Research Laboratory looked back at 2019 and selected its favorites from among the past year's science and technology advances. These are, counting down from number ten:
- "Artificial muscles made from plastic," intended for use in robots.
- "Monitoring Soldier health and performance with biorecognition receptors."
- "A water-based, fire-proof battery."
- "Generating power on-demand with hydrogen."
- "3-D printing ultra-strong steel."
- "Human interest detector," a way of tracking neural responses so commanders have a better fix on what Soldiers are actually paying attention to on the battlefield.
- "AI to identify fuel-efficient materials."
- "Robotic arrays for directional communication."
- "Self-healing material."
- "Soldier-robot teams."
Most of these have a familiar look, as they've appeared in the Services' S&T portfolios for some time now. But notoriously science and technology results have proven difficult to transition to the warfighters, and these developments would seem naturals for rapid prototyping.