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Sept. 19, 2019
Notes from the Pentagon

China reveals new supersonic drone
China’s military is rapidly developing unmanned aircraft and recently disclosed one of its newest systems: a supersonic reconnaissance drone designed to defeat air and missile defenses.

The DR-8 drone, covered in a camouflage tarp on a flatbed truck, was seen for the first time in photographs published on Chinese social media. The drone was included in a rehearsal in Beijing for a major military parade set for Oct. 1, the anniversary of the founding of China’s Communist Party regime.

Satellite photographs of the rehearsal also showed two other drones with the DR-8, including the new Sharp Sword stealth attack drone, which is capable of firing air-to-ground missiles.

Military analysts say the DR-8, which already may be deployed with People’s Liberation Army forces, is a key element needed for targeting and guiding China’s large missile force, especially its DF-21 anti-ship ballistic missile. The drone would function as a critical sensor platform to identify the locations of U.S. aircraft carriers and then provide signals used by precision guided missiles.

China has been developing such arms as part of what the Pentagon calls “anti-access/area denial” weapons.

China has raised regional tensions by attempting to take control of both the South China Sea and the East China Sea.

Any conflict with China would likely involve the dispatch of multiple aircraft carrier strike groups to those regions, and China is working on perfecting missile systems that will be able to attack ships far from its shores.

The DR-8 bears a close resemblance to the U.S. D-21 supersonic drone fielded in 1969 and retired in 1971, highlighting China’s ability to obtain U.S. military know-how and apply it to the large-scale buildup of military forces that has been underway for the past three decades.

The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported that the DR-8 can travel at speeds of up to 2,500 miles per hour — enough to outrun air defense missiles.

Social media posts and reports from Asia on the Beijing military parade rehearsal also disclosed images of the DF-17 missile, a hypersonic missile that can travel more than 7,000 miles per hour and deliver either a nuclear or conventional warhead through enemy air defenses.

The Pentagon is scrambling to catch up to hypersonic missile development by China and Russia by building its own hypersonic weapons and missile defenses. Current U.S. missile defenses are unable to counter such weapons.

Beijing also is expected to show off its newest heavy intercontinental ballistic missile, the DF-41, which can carry multiple warheads.

China’s multi-warhead capability was gained in part through cooperation with the U.S. space program in the late 1990s. American space companies at the time supplied China with a multiple-satellite launcher that included the “exploding-bolt” technology, which is now part of Beijing’s multiple-warhead missiles.

Rick Fisher, a China affairs military expert, said the new drone is believed to already be in service.

“This supersonic UAV adds a new layer to the People’s Liberation Army’s intelligence/surveillance/reconnaissance capabilities, providing a smaller, more survivable aerial platform to complement satellites and fixed land-based radar and electronic intelligence systems,” said Mr. Fisher, a senior fellow with the International Assessment and Strategy Center. “The U.S. military does not employ supersonic UAVs.”

President Trump said this week that the U.S. military was facing a shortage of ammunition.

After assuming the presidency in 2017, Mr. Trump said he was told by then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis that the military was “very low on ammunition.”

“I said that’s a horrible thing to say,” the president told reporters at an Oval Office meeting with visiting Crown Prince Salman of Bahrain.

Mr. Trump said the concern was discussed as the United States prepared for a conflict with what he described only as a “certain country.”

The defense secretary, a retired Marine Corps general, asked Mr. Trump to delay the possible military action because of ammunition shortages.

“And I said, ‘You know what, general, I never want to hear that again from another general.’ No president should ever, ever hear of that statement [that] we are low on ammunition.

“We now have more ammunition, more missiles, more rockets, more tanks, we have more of everything than we have ever had before. More jet fighters,” Mr. Trump said.

After initially withholding blame for the shortages, Mr. Trump blamed the Obama administration, along with earlier administrations.

“That is what I got stuck with, and we fixed it and we fixed it good,” Mr. Trump said.

The Hong Kong government, headed by embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam, wants to counter the damage to the city’s image after months of pro-democracy protests and clashes with police. Ms. Lam disclosed last week that the government sought to hire foreign public relations firms to burnish the former British colony’s image.

But almost all the companies turned down the government’s formal request for contracts.

Ms. Lam said in remarks to a group of supporters that she had approached eight global PR firms that she hoped would conduct a “relaunching of Hong Kong,” according to a transcript of the Sept. 12 meeting published by Reuters.

“But unfortunately, four immediately declined because that would be a detriment to their reputation to support the Hong Kong [Special Administrative Region] government now, and two subsequently also turned away a request for meetings,” she said.

“So we’re left with two. I’m happy to meet with these two remaining personally to see what advice they have, but their advice will only be more relevant after we have gone through this period.”

A leaked Hong Kong government document requested bids from public relations firms for “strategic advice on external communications.” The document states that months of protests have produced an image of instability for the global business and financial hub.

“A more acute concern is the effect the protests may have on perceptions about personal safety for business travelers, trade shows/exhibitions and tourists,” the document says. “Protesters have signaled an ongoing campaign, with plans changing often in response to new developments.”

The objectives of the PR campaign are to counter negative perceptions in world markets and underscore the success of the Communist China’s “one country/two systems” rule in Hong Kong.

That “one country, two systems” blueprint was China’s promise to permit Hong Kong to continue its democratic legal system apart from China’s Communist Party system of rule.

The protests in Hong Kong were triggered after China sought to introduce legislation that would permit the extradition of Hong Kongers to the mainland, where courts are under the control of the Communist Party.

In her closed-door remarks, Ms. Lam noted that “the political room for the chief executive who, unfortunately, has to serve two masters by constitution, that is, the central people’s government and the people of Hong Kong” is “very, very, very limited.”

The international target of the PR campaign include foreign business people, investors, entrepreneurs, professionals, opinion leaders, think tanks, government officials, politicians and high-income leisure and business travelers. The PR companies will assess Hong Kong’s image after the introduction of the extradition bill and the subsequent protests. Then they will seek to conducting message campaigns.

Key U.S. target markets include the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, Boston and Washington.

The contract request was first published by Buzzfeed News.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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