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Aug. 18, 2016
Notes from the Pentagon

Senate chairman hits Obama on test ban treaty
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has warned President Obama not to circumvent the Senate’s constitutional authority by seeking United Nations approval of a nuclear test ban treaty voted down 17 years ago.

“I write to express my strong opposition to efforts by your administration to circumvent the U.S. Congress and the Senate’s constitutional role by promoting ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) at the United Nations,” Sen. Bob Corker, the committee chairman, stated in an Aug. 12 letter to President Obama.

The treaty was signed by the United States but rejected by the Senate in 1999 over concerns its provisions could not be verified, and that nuclear testing might be needed in the future.

Mr. Corker stated the Constitution gives the Senate — not the United Nations — the right of advise and consent to ratify treaties, “including the ability to identify when a treaty or the application of the provisions contained in a treaty is not in the U.S. interest.”

According to the senator, the State Department recently declared in a letter that the Obama administration would seek ratification of the CTBT through a U.N. Security Council Resolution.

The resolution will contain a political statement asserting that any U.S. nuclear test would defeat the object and purpose of the treaty.

“A political statement invoking the ‘object and purpose’ language could trigger a limitation on the ability of future administrations to conduct nuclear weapons tests,” Mr. Corker stated, adding that the language also would bind the United States to the unratified treaty.

“By signing on to language declaring avoidance of nuclear weapons testing to be essential to the ‘object and purpose’ of the CTBT, the State Department is in effect submitting the United States to the restrictions of a treaty that has not entered into force,” he said.

Mr. Corker said it would be inappropriate for the lame-duck administration to restrict the United States under customary international law with four months remaining in the president’s term.

The letter is a legal warning shot to the White House not to go ahead with the questionable use of the United Nations to promote the administration’s arms control agenda.

Liberal arms control advocates, including those within the administration, have been seeking ways to undo the 1999 Senate vote against the treaty for the past eight years.

Mr. Corker noted that, in 2007, the George W. Bush administration aligned with Senate opposition to the treaty by issuing a policy statement supporting Senate rejection of the pact and asserting approval would “tie the hands of a future administration that may have to conduct a test” of a nuclear weapon.

Mr. Obama is said to be seeking to codify the ban on nuclear testing in September, when the 20th anniversary of the rejected treaty will be observed.

White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price confirmed the administration is engaging Security Council members on “supporting existing national moratoria on nuclear tests.” But he denied the administration is proposing a U.N. resolution that would impose a legally binding ban on nuclear testing.

U.S. nuclear weapons are aging and in need of modernization. No new weapons have been produced in decades, and nuclear modernization advocates say any new weapons would require underground testing and would be safer and more effective.

P-8 sub-hunting aircraft gets upgrade
The Pentagon announced earlier this month it will upgrade the software on one of its most advanced aircraft — the Navy’s P-8 Poseidon anti-submarine warfare jet.

A $60.8 million contract for the Boeing Co., which makes the P-8, was announced Aug. 5. The upgrade will greatly boost the aircraft’s electronics and communications used in tracking submarines and surface vessels. The P-8 is a militarized Boeing 737 that can conduct both intelligence and submarine hunting operations.

The upgrade will take four years to complete and will include the Minotaur Track Management and Mission Management system, a high-technology electronic system.

Minotaur fuses information from different sensors and sends the data to aircraft. The system coordinates surface radar tracking, sensor bias correction, data correlation, mission replay, sensor control and sensor display and track management.

Other software upgrades include improvements to wide-band satellite communications, new computing and security architecture, an automated digital network system, common data link upgrades, anti-surface warfare signal intelligence, combat system architecture improvements and greater communications capabilities.

The jet is a key element of the Pentagon’s pivot to Asia and is being used in the Pacific to track China’s growing naval arsenal — both submarines and surface ships.

Under the pivot, the Navy has boosted patrol and reconnaissance aircraft in the western Pacific from four P-3s in 2008 to over 20 P-8s and P-3s today.

However, the number of intelligence personnel assigned to process, review and report on the data provided by the aircraft remains unchanged from eight years ago and is in need of an increase.

“If we are going to be effective against the PRC in a war-at-sea fight, we must have more personnel to interpret and integrate the increased data for the various fleet commanders,” a former Navy officer said of the People’s Republic of China.

Russia-Iran military cooperation watched closely
Four Russian Tu-22 Backfire bombers flew bombing missions against terrorists in Syria this week, for the first time operating from a base in Iran.

In the past, Russian warplanes had used the Iranian air base near the city of Hamedan, about 175 miles southwest of Tehran, for refueling or if there was a need to divert after a mission.

But Tuesday’s airstrikes launched from the base represent a significant shift for the Russians in that the strike mission originated from the base.

A Pentagon official said the Russians gained little tactical advantage from the Iran flight operation. The mission, however, appeared intended to send a political message to the United States.

“The Russians are saying ‘You’re expeditionary, so are we,’” the official said.

The airstrikes are a sign of increased military cooperation between Russia and Iran, both of which are backing the Bashar Assad regime in Syria. The Russians and Iranians are vying with the United States for influence in the region.

China’s quantum communications
China’s government this week is boasting of achieving a major breakthrough in secure communications following the launch of what Beijing describes as an unhackable “quantum” satellite.

The launch of the Micius satellite — named after the ancient Chinese philosopher and scientist — is being billed by China as a major step in ultimate communications security.

The new technology is expected to be used for China’s strategic nuclear command and control, a major target of U.S. military cyberwarfare forces, which are seeking ways to disrupt the ability of China’s leaders to command nuclear forces through cyberattacks.

The state-run news agency Xinhua reported that the experimental satellite will be used to test secure communications using photons to send encryption keys that can decode scrambled electronic communications. The system is said to use bursts of subatomic particles that are impossible to intercept and, if intercepted, the particles self-destruct, making eavesdropping nearly impossible and alerting the sender that the communication was compromised.

China announced Wednesday it will conduct the first experiment by transmitting quantum-coded data from a ground station in Tibet to the satellite “without having to move a physical particle.”

Xinhua said eventually quantum communication could produce physical teleportation, as shown in the 1960s science fiction program “Star Trek.”

The new technology will pose new challenges for the National Security Agency that, according to documents leaked by renegade contractor Edward Snowden, over the past decade scored impressive successes in capturing and decoding secret Chinese electronic communications.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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