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March 2, 2017
Notes from the Pentagon

U.S.-Russia helmet video gap?
Russia is using GoPro video on the helmets of its fighter pilots, while the U.S. Navy and Air Force do not routinely use helmet cameras that are needed to record the increasing number of dangerous aerial encounters.

The Navy delayed for two years before meeting a Pacific Fleet admiral’s request to outfit pilots with helmet-mounted video cameras. The Navy also has not released any video showing some of the recent threatening encounters with Chinese aircraft since the cameras were introduced last year.

The helmet video cameras were requested by Adm. Harry Harris when he was Pacific Fleet commander in 2014, amid concerns that U.S. pilots flying over international waters were unable to record dangerous encounters with Chinese jets that routinely attempt to intimidate U.S. surveillance and other aircraft flying over the East China and South China seas. Adm. Harris is commander of the U.S. Pacific Command.

Despite the request, it took the Navy two years to approve the request and begin using the cameras.

Navy Capt. Charlie Brown, Pacific Fleet public affairs spokesman, said Adm. Harris directed his staff in 2014 to look into equipping maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft with the ability to record video of aerial encounters.

Sean Stackley, then the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, “validated in early 2015 the urgent operational need for that capability, and the first systems were fielded in 2016,” Capt. Brown told Inside the Ring.

Chinese jets during that period have conducted dangerous aerial intercepts of U.S. aircraft, including an August 2014 incident in which a Chinese J-11 jet did a barrel roll maneuver over the top of a P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft. A year later, a Chinese jet made a dangerous pass near an RC-135 reconnaissance jet flying over the Yellow Sea near Japan’s Senkaku islands.

A more recent incident took place in May when two Chinese jets flew close to a U.S. reconnaissance jet over the South China Sea.

Lt. Seth Clarke, a Navy spokesman, said some aircraft and helmets have integrated cameras. “We do not currently fly with externally mounted ‘off the shelf,’ i.e. GoPro cameras,” he said. “Equipment like that requires specific flight clearances.”

Air Force spokesman Mark Graff said the service does not use helmet-mounted video cameras in fighter aircraft during operations or training.

“Some of the helmets have helmet-mounted sights for the head-up display — which have a recording capability — but they are not used for the purpose of monitoring any type of activity,” he said.

This issue was highlighted by a recent video released by the Russian Defense Ministry showing that a pilot who flight-tested a new Su-35 jet was equipped with a helmet mount from what analysts say appears to be for a GoPro video camera.

House and Senate Republicans have introduced legislation designed to force the Trump administration into counteracting Russia’s violation of a nuclear missile treaty.

The INF Preservation Act was introduced in the House by Rep. Mike Rogers, Alabama Republican and chairman of the Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces.

“The Obama administration’s failure to confront Russian aggression in practically every sphere has only emboldened Vladimir Putin,” Mr. Rogers said.

“His belligerence has brought us to the point that one of the seminal achievements of the nuclear age, President Reagan’s Treaty on Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF), has been left in shreds across Moscow,” he added. “This legislation will give President Trump the tools he needs to show our friends and adversaries alike that ‘peace through strength’ is back.”

U.S. intelligence agencies recently reported that Russia has moved from testing to deployment of a new ground-based cruise missile, the SSC-8, that violates the range limits of the treaty. The INF treaty bans missiles with ranges of 310 to 3,420 miles.

The bill would declare Russia in material breach of the accord and provide funding for weapons systems including similar “counterforce” missiles, active defenses against intermediate-range missiles and other strike capabilities to negate the advantage of the new Russian missiles.

The legislation also seeks to mandate a program to build dual-capable nuclear and conventional road mobile missiles with INF ranges; new missile defense systems; transfer of INF missiles to U.S. allies; and limiting funds for any extension of the 2010 New START arms treaty with Russia until Moscow returns to INF compliance.

“If Russia is going to test and deploy intermediate-range cruise missiles, then logic dictates that we respond,” said Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican and one of the Senate sponsors of the bill.

China’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday released a strategy report revealing that China’s military is gearing up for cyberwarfare.

The strategy published in Chinese state media asserts that China seeks international cooperation in cyberspace and calls for the United Nations to play a greater role in controlling the internet.

The Chinese strategy restates past propaganda themes on cyberspace, such as calling for the notion of the “peaceful settlement of disputes” in the digital arena and not using threats of force.

For the Chinese, “state sovereignty” appears to be the basis for all efforts by Beijing to maintain peace and security in cyberspace and for its military cyber buildup. “The tendency of militarization and deterrence buildup in cyberspace is not conducive to international security and strategic mutual trust,” the strategy report says.

While urging the peaceful settlement of disputes, the strategy also notes that consultation mechanisms are needed to “forestall and avoid conflict, so that cyberspace will not become a new battlefield.”

“Enhanced defense capability in cyberspace is an important part of China’s endeavor to modernize its national defense and armed forces, which complies with the strategic guideline of active defense,” the strategy says. “China will give play to the important role of the military in safeguarding the country’s sovereignty, security and development interests in cyberspace.”

The report adds that China “will expedite the development of a cyber force and enhance capabilities in terms of situational awareness, cyber defense, supporting state activities and participating in international cooperation, to prevent major cyber crises, safeguard cyberspace security and maintain national security and social stability.”

The Chinese military has created a branch of the armed services called the Strategic Support Force that will include cyberwarfare capabilities.

On U.N. controls, the strategy calls for cyberspace to be “governed by rules and norms of behavior.”

“China supports formulating universally accepted international rules and norms of state behavior in cyberspace within the framework of the United Nations, which will establish basic principles for states and other actors to regulate their behavior and intensify cooperation in order to uphold security, stability and prosperity in cyberspace,” the strategy states.

The strategy makes no mention of Chinese cyberwarfare activities and cyberespionage operations and repeats the false statement that Beijing opposes “all forms of hacking and regards them illegal criminal activities.”

China also has used technology to censor and control internet activities in China and frequently arrests and imprisons those who run afoul of Beijing’s dictates.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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