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Jan. 8, 2015
Notes from the Pentagon

Pentagon seeks new weapons to counter China's hypersonic missiles
The Missile Defense Agency has tasked a major defense contractor to develop advanced missiles capable of knocking out maneuvering, ultrahigh-speed targets such as China"s high-tech Wu-14 hypersonic glide vehicle.

Missile defense specialists at Lockheed Martin, the main contractor for the Pentagon"s agency, told reporters Wednesday that an extended-range version of the Army"s Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system is being developed to deal with hypersonic threats.

Hypersonic missiles are maneuvering strike vehicles launched atop missiles that travel at speeds of up to Mach 10, or 10 times the speed of sound. They maneuver and glide along the edge of space, making them difficult targets for missile defenses.

Current U.S. missile defense sensors and interceptors are designed primarily to hit ballistic missile warheads that travel in predictable flight paths from launch, through space and into ground targets.

China surprised U.S. intelligence agencies last year by conducting three flight tests of the Wu-14 in January, August and December. The vehicle traveled at speeds up to Mach 10, or nearly 8,000 miles per hour.

U.S. intelligence agencies assessed the Wu-14 to be a nuclear delivery vehicle designed to break through U.S. defenses.

In addition to China, Russia and India are working on hypersonic strike vehicles. A U.S. test of a hypersonic missile blew up shortly after launch in August. U.S. officials are concerned that hypersonic technology will proliferate to the missile systems of North Korea and Iran, the main focus of current U.S. missile defenses.

"One of the things that the MDA is looking very closely at is the upgrade of the THAAD system so that we can extend the reach in dealing with a target just like that," said Mike Trotsky, a vice president at Lockheed for defense missiles and fire control.

Hypersonic warheads seek to "find a seam" between space-capable interceptors and air-breathing defenses to avoid being shot down, he told reporters on a conference call. Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense interceptors can blast missile warheads into space and into the upper atmosphere "in the region where that threat flies," Mr. Trotsky said.

The extended-range version, with a larger booster and an enhanced upper stage, is being developed to deal with hypersonic threats, he added, noting that work has been underway for the past 12 to 18 months.

"And so the MDA is very interested in [Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense] ER and that"s one of the key reasons," Mr. Trotsky said.

Doug Graham, Lockheed's vice president for strategic and missile defense systems, said hypersonic glide vehicles travel at the top of the atmosphere, the system"s optimum target zone.

"So, in a sense, you can't fly around THAAD's battle space," he said, "which is why there is intense interest in building an enhanced version of the system," currently deployed on the U.S. island of Guam.

J.D. Hammond, Lockheed's director of command and control battle management systems, said software is being developed to tie together space-based and ground-based sensor data, both infrared and radio frequency, "so that we have better sensor data on that type of threat."

"That is something that is being worked on in coordination with MDA," he said.

Lynn Fisher, a Lockheed pokeswoman, said after the teleconference that the THAAD ER is a concept the company is recommending to the Missile Defense Agency and is a "concept and not a formal program of record."

"MDA has provided us with approximately $2 million in fiscal year 2014 funding to study the potential concept of operations, but this is just a study of a potential technology, the type of study we have provided to MDA and other Defense Department agencies many times in the past," she said.

Mr. Graham said maneuvering hypersonic glide vehicle threats, along with continued ballistic missile flight tests by North Korea and Iran, indicate that adversaries are seeking for ways to defeat missile defense systems.

"So we're constantly having to stay ahead of the curve so that our systems remain robust against the full range of threats," he said.

James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, confirmed this week that the head of North Korea"s Reconnaissance General Bureau, Gen. Kim Yong-chol, was behind the Sony cyberattack in late November.

"Kim was a four-star general in charge of the Reconnaissance General Bureau," Mr. Clapper said at a security conference in New York City. "The RGB is the organization responsible with the overseeing attack against Sony."

Inside the Ring reported in this space Dec. 25 that Gen. Kim has headed the clandestine Reconnaissance General Bureau, a joint Communist Party and North Korean military espionage and special operations service, since it was formed from two agencies in 2009.

The agency is under the tight control of North Korea's supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, and has had a long history of nefarious activities, including abductions of foreign nationals, assassination bombings, a torpedo attack and commando operations.

Gen. Kim was placed on the U.S. Treasury Department's terrorist list for his role in the 2010 torpedo attack on the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan.

Gen. Kim also has been linked to several other provocative North Korean moves, including the artillery shelling of a South Korean border island in 2010, cyberattacks against Seoul in 2009, electronic jamming of South Korean GPS signals used in flight navigation in 2012 and an assassination attempt on a North Korean defector.

Mr. Clapper also said that during his visit to Pyongyang in November, when he secured the release of two imprisoned Americans, he engaged in a heated, finger-pointing argument with Gen. Kim.

The Sony hack caused "hundreds of millions of dollars in damage," Mr. Clapper said, adding that the regime in Pyongyang could launch similar cyberattacks to gain international attention and recognition.

The remarks were first reported by The Daily Beast and Bloomberg News and confirmed to Inside the Ring by a DNI spokesman.

Mr. Clapper said the Sony cyberattacks were carried out by the North Koreans based on "an entirely different philosophy."

"They really do believe they are under siege from all directions, and painting us as an enemy that"s about to invade their country every day is one of the chief propaganda elements that"s held North Korea together for the past 60 years," Mr. Clapper said. He added that the North Koreans react harshly "to affronts to the supreme leader, whom they consider to be a deity."

The Sony hack appeared aimed at derailing release of the movie "The Interview," a comedy about an assassination attempt against Kim Jong-un.

The intelligence chief said he saw the movie. "It's obvious to me the North Koreans don"t have a sense of humor," Mr. Clapper said.

President Obama's initiative to ease U.S. sanctions against Cuba prompted a State Department-affiliated security group this week to warn travelers to the communist island of "significant" privacy and intelligence recruitment threats.

"The re-normalization of ties between the United States and Cuba does not imply an immediate windfall of U.S. travel, trade, or investment in Cuba," says the report for security professionals by the Overseas Security Advisory Council, a State Department security group that includes U.S. companies.

U.S. agencies are "expeditiously amending regulations" to ease restrictions on commerce, travel and financial transactions, but the changes will not be put into effect immediately.

"Security professionals should familiarize themselves with the new policy's implications for the private sector, the Cuban security environment as a whole, and the significant privacy and counterintelligence concerns for conducting business and travel in Cuba," the report said.

Describing Cuba as a "police state," the report notes that a large political police presence is deployed throughout the country.

"Americans visiting Cuba should be aware that any on-island activities could be subject to surveillance and contact with Cuban citizens monitored closely," the report said. "The government maintains strict control over communications networks and Internet access, so there should be no expectation of privacy."

Cuba also detains U.S. citizens suspected of undermining state security, without any due process, such as the arrest of U.S. government contractor Alan Gross in 2011. Mr. Gross was released as part of a prisoner swap when President Obama announced the Cuba policy Dec. 17.

"Conversely, Cuban intelligence services may seek to exploit the services of U.S. citizens to advance their intelligence and operational needs," the report said.

A 2011 FBI counterintelligence report stated that "U.S. campuses of higher education have, and continue to be, targeted by foreign intelligence services that wish to recruit university-level students and teachers for espionage against the U.S."

"The report highlights two cases of espionage against the U.S. committed by educators recruited by Cuban intelligence services," the report said.

New regulations allow U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba with no special permission under a "general license" that does not require approval from the Treasury's office of foreign assets control. However, "pleasure tourism" to Cuba remains prohibited until Congress changes sanctions laws.

The report said U.S. businesses can expect opportunities in Cuba after the Treasury and Commerce departments loosen sanctions, but it warned that American businesses should "assess Cuban willingness and preparedness" for interaction with the U.S. market.

The lack of infrastructure, notably the fact that only 5 percent of Cubans can access the Internet, also will pose obstacles to trade, investment and travel in a "poorly-connected market."

The report also cautions that the president's major shift in U.S. policy could be blocked by Congress if it declines to change sanctions laws.

"According to U.S. legislation, the embargo may not be lifted until Cuba — among other requirements — holds free and fair elections and abandons communism in favor of democratic governance," the report said. "Although Cuban President Raul Castro intends to depart office in 2018, he reaffirmed Cuba's commitment to single-party Communist rule only days after restoring relations with the U.S."

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.

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