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Aug. 7, 2014
Notes from the Pentagon

Chinese missile tests
China’s military last week conducted flight tests of two intercontinental ballistic missiles, including one of its newest road-mobile DF-31As that can reach the United States with a nuclear warhead, according to U.S. officials.

The test firings of both a DF-31A and a silo-based CSS-4 ICBM were monitored by U.S. intelligence satellites and other intelligence sensors in Asia, said officials familiar with reports of the tests.

The Chinese ICBM flight tests, as in earlier tests, were carried out in secret and took place days after what the Chinese government said was the July 23 flight test of a missile defense interceptor.

Recent military activities by the Chinese military have resulted in massive commercial flight delays in several parts of the country. Other Chinese military exercises are ongoing.

The DF-31A is the front-line strategic missile of the People’s Liberation Army Second Artillery Corps, as China’s nuclear and conventional missile forces are called.

“China has the most active and diverse ballistic missile development program in the world,” said a report published recently by the Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC).

“It is developing and testing offensive missiles, forming additional missile units, qualitatively upgrading missile systems and developing methods to counter ballistic missile defenses,” the report said, noting that Chinese missile forces are “expanding in both size and types of missiles.”

On the DF-31A, the report said the missile is being deployed and “future ICBMs could utilize multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs).”

The number of China’s nuclear-armed missiles capable of hitting the United States is expected to expand to well over 100 within the next 15 years, the report said.

According to NASIC, the DF-31A has a range of more than 6,800 miles. The CSS-4 has a range of more than 7,500 miles. Both carry a single nuclear warhead.

The DF-31A test was the fourth known flight test of the missile and came about a year after the last DF-31A flight test on July 24, 2013. Earlier DF-31A flight tests took place on Nov. 30, 2012 and Aug. 30, 2012.

Analysts said the latest flight tests indicate the Chinese are continuing a major strategic nuclear forces buildup.

The location of the flight test could not be learned. In the past, China’s DF-31A tests occurred at the Wuzhai missile test center and flew to a remote impact range in western China.

China also is conducting naval exercises this week near the port of Dalian, where JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles have been tested in the past.

Pentagon spokeswoman Army Lt. Col. Valerie Henderson said of the test: “The Department of Defense continues to monitor China’s military modernization, including its missile launches.”

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson recently spoke about the differences between his current job and previous post as the Pentagon’s top lawyer.

Asked whether the al Qaeda offshoot in Iraq, the Islamic State, has links to the more mainline al Qaeda group known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Mr. Johnson said at a security conference last month:

“I used to, in my old job, focus a lot on the affiliations and connections between these groups for purposes of assessing whether we had the legal authority to go after an al Qaeda affiliate as an ‘associated force’ under the [Authorization for Use of Military Force], and [under] our legal interpretations of the AUMF, we determined that if the group is an associated force of core al Qaeda, they too are a lawful military objective.”

Under legal opinions, AQAP and al Qaeda elements in the Somali terrorist group al-Shabab were categorized as legitimate military targets for drone strikes and special operations direct action to kill leaders and members of the group, he said.

“I’m focused more in my current job as secretary of homeland security [on] what each of these groups represents in terms of their capability and their aspirations,” Mr. Johnson said. “Do these groups talk to each other? Do they share resources? Do they share information? Do they share people? Very likely, yes.”

The core al Qaeda group has denounced the Islamic State, but Mr. Johnson said, “I suspect it’s a more complicated picture than that.”

The secretary said that, in assessing terrorism threats to the homeland, he is focused on each group’s capabilities based on “very fact-intense, intelligence-intense analysis” and not whether to launch attacks.

The Pentagon counterterrorism view and the DHS counterterrorism view are different, but “they definitely inform each other,” he said.

Mr. Johnson said his most important responsibility as Pentagon general counsel was to sign off on the legality of military strike operations, known as “requests for action,” that were approved by the president and secretary of defense and “which included, most often, targeted lethal force.”

“I took that responsibility very seriously. It was at the top of my list. If a request came in, I had to drop whatever I was doing. Sometimes I’d have a couple of days. Sometimes I’d have 30 minutes,” he said.

“That inquiry involved an assessment of the individual, what he was up to, what his affiliations were and the group that he was part of,” he said.

Since taking over DHS, “now when I look at the intel about each of these groups — each of these terrorist organizations — from the Homeland Security perspective every morning at 8:30, I look at it from the lens of what are the efforts to attack the homeland, how active are they, how far along are they,” he said.

The terrorist threat picture has changed significantly from 2009, with al Qaeda becoming more decentralized and the spreading of new groups and terrorists.

“So it’s become a more complicated picture, and I think we saw a taste of that with the Benghazi attack,” Mr. Johnson said.

Officials from China and North Korea in the past used to describe relations between the two communist-ruled states “as close as lips and teeth.”

But U.S. intelligence analysts who monitor Asia say two recent indicators reveal Beijing-Pyongyang ties are souring.

The first sign was the very unusual failure of both countries’ state media to publish reports marking the July 11 anniversary of the 1961 Sino-North Korea Mutual Aid and Cooperation Friendship Treaty. The failure is considered a clear sign that ties are strained, something likely exacerbated by Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to rival South Korea a week earlier.

U.S. officials believe the souring relations are due to China’s pressure on Pyongyang not to conduct further military provocations, such as another underground nuclear test or a long-range missile test.

North Korea is said to be angered by China’s lack of backing and may be seeking to reduce its ties to and reliance on China.

There have been signs in recent months that North Koreans are seeking to reduce their reliance on China in favor of closer ties with Russia.

In the past, both countries celebrated the treaty by hosting receptions by organizations such as the Korea-China Friendship Association.

China is North Korea’s main trading partner and major source of energy, specifically oil. China, however, has rarely used its ability to cut off oil exports to North Korea as leverage against the country.

In June, a North Korean state-run newspaper indirectly criticized China by stating that neither “imperialists” nor “big-power chauvinists” — code for China — could force North Koreans to their knees.

The second indicator was the failure of North Korean military officers based at the Embassy in Beijing to attend the Aug. 1 anniversary celebrations in the Chinese capital marking the founding of the People’s Liberation Army.

Diplomatic sources told South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency that the snub by the North Koreans was a sign of “frayed” relations between the two countries.

“It was notable that senior North Korean military officers did not attend the Aug. 1 event marking the 87th anniversary of the founding of China’s People’s Liberation Army,” said a diplomatic source who attended the event. “Only one or two low-level North Korean military attaches were spotted.”

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.

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