Author: Incident Response Team

North Korea Continues ICBM Refinement, Recent Test Suggests

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or “North Korea”) conducted a major test at the Sohae Satellite Launching Pad (SSLP), on December 7, 2019. Pyongyang has not revealed the…

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or “North Korea”) conducted a major test at the Sohae Satellite Launching Pad (SSLP), on December 7, 2019. Pyongyang has not revealed the nature of the test and only referred to it as “having an important impact on changing the strategic position of the DPRK.” The mysterious test took place ahead of the December 31st deadline set by DPRK President Kim Jong-Un, for a new denuclearization proposal from Washington.



MISSILE ENGINE TEST

Satellite imagery released by Planet Labs show nefarious activity at the SSLP, including vehicles and a big container. Before-and-after analysis shows the terrain near the launching pad severely scorched, on December 8, 2019. It is virtually certain the the exhaust of a big engine “burned” the ground. 


The engine tested likely belonged to either a space launch vehicle (SLV) or an intermediate/ intercontinental ballistic missile (IR/ICBM). North Korean President Kim Jong Un promised to stop ICBM tests if his American counterpart will reduce and ultimately cancel the annual US-South Korean exercises. The last ICBM test occurred in November 29, 2017, when the two-stage, liquid-fuel Hwasong-15/ KN-22 was successfully launched. Since then, the DPRK has only test-fired short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) and multiple-rocket launchers – none of them being able to reach the continental U.S.

Hwasong-15/ KN-22 test-fired on November 29, 2017



The resumption of missile engine tests in Sohae would also break a “gentlemen’s agreement” reached between Trump and Kim Jong-Un during the Singapore summit. The DPRK dismantled the critical test site in mid-2018 as promised, however the SSLP was re-activated in March 2019. 

PYONGYANG IS ON STAND-BY

This latest test in Sohae suggests that the DPRK is furthering its ICBM strike technology covertly or within the limits of the denuclearization talks. Alternatively, Pyongyang could also be preparing to break loose of the agreement and conduct its first ICBM live-test in over two years. By restarting missile tests in Sohae, Pyongyang hopes to pressure President Trump into giving up further concessions, as the denuclearization talks are seemingly “dying”. If negotiations fail, the DPRK will be able to immediately resume its ICBM program by improving the operational functions of the Hwasong-15/ KN-22 (e.g. accuracy, terminal maneuvering, re-entry vehicle) or by exploring other ICBM-types.

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China’s Newest Aircraft Carrier Docks in Hainan Following Taiwan Strait Pass

The People’s Liberation Army-Navy’ (PLAN) “Type-002” aircraft carrier (formerly known as “Type-001A”) has docked at Yu-lin Naval Base (southernmost tip of Hainan island) after it passed through the disputed Taiwan Strait,…

The People’s Liberation Army-Navy’ (PLAN) “Type-002” aircraft carrier (formerly known as “Type-001A”) has docked at Yu-lin Naval Base (southernmost tip of Hainan island) after it passed through the disputed Taiwan Strait, satellite imagery released by Maxar Technologies show. Seven J-15 carrier multirole fighters (NATO reporting name “Flanker X-2”), three Changhe Z-18 anti-submarine helicopters and one Harbin Z-9 “Haitun” utility helicopter are seen taxied on the deck. The deployment from its “birthplace” in Dalian Shipyard to the South China Sea marks a major milestone in the Type 002’s sea trails. The Type 002 was trailed by U.S. Navy and Japanese surface groups throughout its entire transit of the Taiwan strait. 

TYPE 001 & 002: INDIGENOUS PRODUCTION/ RESTRICTIVE DESIGN

The Type 002 is China’s first domestically-produced aircraft carrier despite being heavily inspired by the “Liaoning” (Type 001), the only flattop currently in service with the PLAN. The “Liaoning” started as a Soviet aircraft-carrier cruiser but was scrapped halfway through development. Following the dissolution of the USSR, the half-built vessel (named “Varyag”) fell under Ukraine’s administration which put it up for sale. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) bought the “Varyag” in 1998 and completed it in the Dalian shipyard. Ever since “Liaoning” was commissioned in 2012, the PRC was drafting plans to build more and better aircraft carriers.  

Both the Type-002 and the Liaoning feature a upward-curved ramp to launch fixed-wing aircraft off the bow (i.e. ski-jump). The lack of a catapult launch system limits the the PLAN’s J-15 fighters to a 4,000 pound payload (e.g. fuel, ordnance). In comparison, a U.S. Navy F/A-18E/F SuperHornet can take-off with 12,000 pounds from the USS Truman thanks to the carrier’s steam catapults. This translates into extended range and larger weapons loadout for the aircraft. The Type-001/Type-002’s ski-jumps also limits the amount and type of aircraft it can launch and recover. 

TYPE-003 

Aware of the Type-001/Type-002’s obsolete design, the PLAN will reportedly introduce electromagnetic launch and recovery systems (EMALS) into the Type-003, a technology pioneered by the U.S. Navy’s new class of supercarriers (Ford-class). China’s third (and second indigenously produced) aircraft carrier is currently under construction at Jiangnan shipyard outside Shanghai, satellite imagery shows. The Type-003 is expected to commence with sea trails in 2020 and will be able to accomodate a larger and more diverse carrier air wing. 

Given the high-intensity rate of Chinese naval production, the PLAN is on course to close the capability gap on the U.S. Navy. Command of the South China Sea is paramount to China’s transition from a regional force to a world power. Beijing expects to field four or five combat-ready aircraft carriers by 2030. 


FOR THE RECORD: The Chinese Shipbuilding Industry has started re-designating the Type-001A as Type-002 in mid-2019. According to this logic, the aircraft carrier currently in works near Shanghai becomes the Type-003.

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Israel Bombed IRGC’s Syria-HQ, Retaliation Expected

The Israeli Air Force (IAF) conducted an night-time raid against IRGC-Quds and Syrian military targets in southern Syria on November 20. The IAF raid was retaliation for the ineffective rocket…

The Israeli Air Force (IAF) conducted an night-time raid against IRGC-Quds and Syrian military targets in southern Syria on November 20. The IAF raid was retaliation for the ineffective rocket salvo fired in the previous day from Syria into northern Israel. The IAF likely used its “trademark” attack corridor through Lebanese airspace to fire cruise missiles from stand-off range.

IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Hidai Zilberman revealed the tens of targets were struck in Damascus, west of Damascus and the Syrian Golan Heights overnight, belonging both to the regime of Bashar Assad and the IRGC’s external branch, the Quds Force. According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 23 people, including 16 non-Syrians, most likely Iranians, were killed in the Israeli airstrikes. Given the high-number of IRGC casualties and magnitude of the attack, Iran is expected to retaliate militarily against Israel. 

PRELIMINARY-BATTLE DAMAGE ASSESSMENT

The P-BDA sourced by the Israeli geospatial company ImageSatIntel shows that the IAF targeted key position in Damascus International Airport and Mezzeh airfield. This was the first time since the IAF’s covert air campaign commence seven years ago, that the IRGC’s Command & Control (C2) center in Syria was attacked. While the “Glasshouse” is still standing, its northeastern corner was leveled by a precision airstrike.

The five floor monolith building was used since the early years of the Syrian Civil War by IRGC officers – namely from Quds Force – to command and control assets, coordinate intelligence collection activities and direct military operations. However, we assess that Tehran re-deployed most of its departments and senior commanders to other, more secure locations in Syria as the “Glasshouse” became increasingly known to international press, foreign intelligence and OSINT collectors. 

Judging by the large explosions followed by secondaries seen in the videos shared online, the IAF most likely also hit ammunition depots, vehicle shelters and logistics nodes.


As seen countless times before, the Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) was unable to prevent or impede the Israeli missiles from reaching their targets. 

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NATO Codenames Russia’s Su-57

With Russia’s newest aircraft close to operationalization, the Five Eyes Air Force Interoperability Council (AFIC) decided to give Sukhoi’s Su-57 the codename “FELON.” The AFIC, which is staffed by the…

With Russia’s newest aircraft close to operationalization, the Five Eyes Air Force Interoperability Council (AFIC) decided to give Sukhoi’s Su-57 the codename “FELON.” The AFIC, which is staffed by the “Five Eyes” nations (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States of America, and the United Kingdom), decides on reporting names for aircraft of NATO’s adversaries. The Su-57 has previously been referred to as “FRAZOR.” This designation did, however, only serve as a reporting name for the fighter aircraft’s development program (i.e. T-50). 

NATO reporting names are used to simplify the myriad of GRAU designations, which are used by the Russian armed forces for its equipment. Reporting names are not randomly allocated, but follow a precise methodology. Fixed-wing aircraft receive reporting names beginning with code letters that indicate the aircraft’s mission. For example,  reporting names for fighter jets always start with “F”/“FOXTROT” (e.g. Flanker, Foxbat, Foxhound etc.), while bomber names start with “B”/“BRAVO.” Propeller-driven planes are designated by monosyllabic words (e.g. “BEAR”) and jets by multisyllabic words (e.g. “BACKFIRE”). Helicopters and guided missiles are designated similarly, but the length of the codename is not defined.

The Russian Defense Ministry has placed an order for 76 FELONs, which are scheduled for delivery by 2028. Rosoboronexport hopes that the export version of the fighter aircraft  (Su-57E) will draw interest from customers such as India, the People’s Republic of China, and Turkey. The revenue from export sales will be key for the Russian government to procure more Su-57s, which the Russian Aerospace Forces need to phase out older airframes such as the Su-27 and MiG-29 in the following decades.

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Kobani Residents Protest Russian-Turkish Patrols, Coalition Secures Syrian Energy Infrastructure

Locals from Kobani (Aleppo province, Syria) threw stones and eggs at the joint Turkish-Russian patrols, videos show. The motorcade involved Russian military police “Tigr” armored infantry vehicles and armored personnel…

Locals from Kobani (Aleppo province, Syria) threw stones and eggs at the joint Turkish-Russian patrols, videos show. The motorcade involved Russian military police “Tigr” armored infantry vehicles and armored personnel carriers as well as Turkish army “Kipri” mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles, which patrolled along the frontier at the outskirts of Kobani. The crowd gathered in Alishar village to express their displeasure towards the Russian and Turkish presence in northern Syria and the agreement between the two countries. 

TURKISH-RUSSIAN JOINT PATROLS

The agreement brokered between Ankara and Moscow on October 23, 2019, recognizes Turkey’s 32-km deep “safe zone” between Tel Abyad and Serekanyie/Ras al Ayn and calls for joint military patrols along the Turkish-Syrian border 10 km outside the safe zone, with the exception of Qamishli city.

The Russian-Turkish agreement fills the security vacuum created by the departure of U.S. forces from northern Syria. Following the withdrawal of the nearly 1,000 U.S. forces from their bases in the area, Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and Russian armored and mechanized columns moved towards the frontline positions in northern Syria to block the advance of Turkish-backed rebels.

ENHANCED FORCE PROTECTION FOR COALITION FORCES
Despite President Trump’s hasty pullout order, the U.S. will enhance the remaining forces to secure Syria’s petrochemical energy infrastructure along the Mid-Euphrates River Valley (MERV) and the Iraqi border. Amid concerns that the U.S. military forces in the area are inadequate to fend off major enemy assaults, the White House approved the deployment of a U.S. Army armoured brigade combat team (ABCT) battalion to eastern Syria.

The ABCT was supplied by assets from the U.S. Army’s Operation “Spartan Shield,” which are deployed in Camp Arifjan (Kuwait) for contingency operations. On November 1, 2019, the 30th ABCT, nicknamed “Old Hickory,” re-deployed with M2A2 “Bradley” fighting vehicles into eastern Syria to provide much needed force protection for the small U.S. contingent based in the remote “Green Village” housing complex and the Conoco oil field, Deir ez-Zor province.

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Pentagon Plans Tank Deployment to Eastern Syrian Oil Fields

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has prepared plans to enhance the U.S. military presence in eastern #Syria. The White House aims to secure Syria’s largest oil and gas fields…

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has prepared plans to enhance the U.S. military presence in eastern #Syria. The White House aims to secure Syria’s largest oil and gas fields (al-Omar and Conoco) against resurgent ISIS cells and the pro-governmental forces, by sending half of an U.S. Army armoured brigade combat team (ABCT) battalion.

OPERATION “SPARTAN SHIELD”

The ABCT will be supplied by assets from the Army’s Operation “Spartan Shield,” which are deployed in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait for contingency operations. The armoured “package’ will likely consist of 20-30 tanks (e.g. M1 Abrams) or infantry fighting vehicles (e.g. Bradley, Stryker) that will provide much needed force protection for the small U.S. contingent in eastern Syria. Being engineered as among the most survivable and heavily armored vehicles in existence, the Abrams tank is built to withstand a high degree of enemy fire (tank rounds, RPGs, rockets and anti-tank missiles). Abrams tanks can also carry reactive armor, material used to explode incoming enemy fire in a matter that protects the chassis and crew of the vehicle itself.

Despite the hasty withdrawal from northern Syria, President Donald J. Trump plans to maintain the few existing U.S. combat outposts in Deir ez-Zor and in the 55-km exclusion zone (al-Tanf garrison). However, the DoD is concerned that the small military presence in the area is inadequate to repeal major enemy assaults.



EXTERNAL SECURITY

Besides force protection, external security is also precarious, as it is largely outsourced to the poorly trained Bakhara tribesmen of the Deir ez-Zor Military Council (the SDF’s local affiliate). The battle-hardened YPG militia has a residual presence in the province.

Close air support readiness and availability has also decreased as Army “Apache” attack helicopters were recently removed from northern Syria. Air assets, now based in Iraq or the U.S. Central Command area, will take significantly longer to respond in the future.

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NE Syria: YPG and SNA Comply with Turkish-American Ceasefire

Vice President Mike Pence announced that the US and Turkey reached a deal to suspend the Turkish military offensive in Northeastern (NE) Syria. After tense negotiations in Ankara, Turkish President…

Vice President Mike Pence announced that the US and Turkey reached a deal to suspend the Turkish military offensive in Northeastern (NE) Syria. After tense negotiations in Ankara, Turkish President Erdogan agreed to a 120 hour long ceasefire on Thursday. The ceasefire grants the Kurdish “Peoples’ Protection Units” (or YPG) 120 hours to withdraw 32 km from the Turkish border. 

The YPG and the “Syrian National Army” (SNA), which is spearheading Turkey’s ground offensive in NE Syria, both stated that they will respect the agreement. James Jeffrey, the US Special Envoy for Syria, said that the agreement will be focused on “those areas where the Turks had penetrated into northeast Syria.” This suggests that the buffer zone will encompass the territory between Tel Abyad and the outskirts of (or the city of) Serekaniye on an east-west axis and reach 32 km south up to the M4 highway. President Erdogan has committed to stop the Turkish-Rebel incursion in NE Syria, after SNA forces will occupy this area.  



While the agreement brings a welcome pause to the violent clashes along the Turkish-Syrian border, it essentially validates most of Erdogan’s military objectives in the area. The aim of Turkey’s Operation “Peace Spring” is to remove the YPG from the border area and to secure a buffer zone, where 3 million Syrian refugees will be relocated. Since the operation commenced a week ago, the SNA has struggled to break through YPG defenses. The agreed withdrawal of the Kurdish militia from the area will allow the SNA to make major advances without encountering heavy resistance. On the upside, YPG has a chance to safely evacuate Serekaniye, a border town besieged by Turkish artillery and SNA infantry. In the meanwhile, the Turkish Armed Forces will likely seek to further entrench themselves in the area by building combat outposts and defensive fortifications. 

The international community fears that the Turkish-backed SNA will commit war crimes and displace the Kurdish population in the area, as seen during Operation “Olive Branch” in northwestern Aleppo province. The SNA is coalition of Arab and Turkmen Sunni armed opposition groups that were in the past loosely known as the “Free Syrian Army.” Despite the re-branding, the SNA essentially remains a hotchpotch of hardline Islamist groups. 

The YPG is the military wing of the Syria-based Democratic Union Party (or PYD) and provided for the vast majority of fighters and the entire senior command of the U.S-trained and equipped Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The PYD has undeniable links to the PKK, a Kuridish separatist and social-revolutionary militia engaged in a violent insurgency against the Turkish state. During the Coalition’s fight against ISIS, the YPG received sophisticated weapons and training from the US military. Ankara fears that these new capabilities could be used to attack Turkey. Due to this concern, it is unlikely that Turkey will put a stop to military action against the YPG after the agreement is implemented. 

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US Out, Assad In: Syrian Army to Enter Northern Syria

As part of an agreement between the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Assad regime, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) will secure the cities along the Manbij-Malikyah line. According…

As part of an agreement between the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Assad regime, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) will secure the cities along the Manbij-Malikyah line. According to multiple local reports, SAA soldiers have already moved from their positions in Al-Arimah into Manbij, after US troops vacated Aleppo province. If confirmed, the initial SAA presence in Manbij is likely residual and symbolic and therefore exposed to attacks from the Turkish-backed Syrian Armed Opposition (TSAO), which has gathered in Jarabulus north of the city. Online footage confirms that Syrian troops have taken defensive positions in Hasakah and Qamishli. 

Syrian Civil War map by T-Intelligence

The SDF finalised the deal with the Assad regime after US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced that the remaining US troops in Northern Syria will leave the area, following intelligence reports that Turkey will extend its incursion south and west of the agreed “security mechanism” safe area. 

All US forces in northern Syria are expected to retreat down the Mid-Euphrates River Valley (MERV) to eastern Syria (Deir ez-Zor and southern Hasakah province). Yesterday the TSAO seized central parts of the M4 highway, disrupting the critical road infrastructure between Manbij and the Iraqi border. The US forces were therefore increasingly isolated and exposed to attacks from the rebel groups. The US troops that were caught in “danger close” fire from Turksih artillery on Saturday have reportedly already withdrawn. 


Four days into the offensive, TSAO groups have posted photos proving the seizure of the border town of Tel Abyad from the Kurdish-led SDF. Sporadic air strikes and cross-border artillery attacks continue to indiscriminately pound the entire border region, targeting both rural and urban areas. 

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Turkish “Danger Close” Fire on US troops in Syria

US troops in the vicinity of Kobani (Ayn al Arab) came under artillery fire from Turkish positions around 9 AM (local time) on October 11, 2019.  Turkey used T-155 Firitna…

US troops in the vicinity of Kobani (Ayn al Arab) came under artillery fire from Turkish positions around 9 AM (local time) on October 11, 2019. 

Turkey used T-155 Firitna 155mm self-propelled howitzers and/or 120mm mortars to attack SDF/YPG positions on Mashtenour hill (SE Kobani), our assessment finds. The Turkish artillery fire fell several meters from a Forward Operating Base (FOB) that hosts US special forces. The incident was confirmed by the Department of Defense spokesperson, who said that Turkey has the exact grid coordinates (MLRS) of all US position in NE Syria. 

Ankara confirmed the shelling of the area, but firmly rejected any accusation of “danger close” fire on US positions. Turkish artillerymen have shelled Mashtenour hill in response to an YPG mortar attack on its military base in Mursitpinar (south of Suruc) on the Syrian border. 

As stated before, US forces have not withdrawn from NE Syria. Around 50 US troops retreated from four borderline observation posts between Tel Abyad and Seri Kane to larger bases further south. US forces remain in the immediate vicinity and (sometimes) in the line of fire of the Turkish-rebel operation #PeaceSpring. The sustained US presence ensures that the Turkish ground offensive will NOT EXTEND beyond the “security mechanism” area to encompass major locations such as Kobani, Manbij, Qamishli and Ain Issa. 

Tactical overview on the Kobani-Mursitpinar border area by T-Intelligence



It is highly unlikely that Turkey will be satisfied with the limited “security mechanism” area. Turkish forces will likely try to intimidate/harass US troops in NE to withdraw further south, clearing additional territory. President Erdogan envisions a buffer zone that stretches along the entire Turkish border.

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Turkey Begins Northern Syria Offensive

In preparation for a ground assault, Turkish F-16s and artillery units have attacked more than ten positions controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northern Syria on October 9,…

In preparation for a ground assault, Turkish F-16s and artillery units have attacked more than ten positions controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northern Syria on October 9, 2019. The SDF returned fire with rocket attacks on Turkish border towns. 

Despite international pressure, Turkish President Erdogan has announced that the Turkish military and the “Syrian National Army” (SNA)” will cross the Syrian border in the next hours. The SNA is a coalition of Turkish-backed Sunni-Arab and Turkmen rebel groups that already spearheaded Turkey’s previous military operations in Syria. 

The Turkish-SNA operation “Peace Spring” aims to establish a 30 km deep “safe zone” at the Turkish-Syrian border, where millions of Syrian refugees could be repatriated. The initial stage of the advance will, however, only encompass the stretch of Syrian land between Tel Abyad and Ras al Ayn, up until the M4 highway, as US forces still remain outside this area. The US military has only vacated four observation posts on the borderline and withdrawn to bases south of the M4 highway. 

Approximate tactical situation in northern Raqqa and Hasakah provinces, Syria via T-intelligence



In the past 72 hours, Turkey has amassed hundreds of SNA militiamen from Northern Aleppo and deployed artillery units to the Turkish border towns of Akçakale and Ceylanpınar but also reinforced their positions in Jarabulus, Azzaz and northern Manbij (Syria). The Tel-Abyad-Ras-al-Ayn line will likely prove to be an easy capture, since the Kurdish YPG has demilitarized the area under the US-Turkish “security mechanism” (SM) that was recently negotiated. The SM calls for the establishment of a limited 15 km deep buffer zone policed by combined American-Turkish military patrols. 

Commander-in-chief and President Donald Trump has ordered the 2,500 US troops in Syria not to intervene on behalf of any side.  While the US military will not defend the SDF, the Department of Defense has disconnected the Turkish military from their ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) feed and Air Tasking Order to make sure that the TSNA will not profit from US intelligence. 



Due to the rapidly deteriorating security environment in northeastern Syria, the Department of Defense will likely recommend to withdraw US troops further down the Middle Euphrates River Valley. In this case, the YPG/SDF will likely make a stance along the M4 highway, leading to a heads-on confrontation with TSNA forces. 

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