Defense & National Security — US responds to North Korean missile launch
The United States and South Korean held joint missile drills a day after North Korea launched a missile over Japan, while Washington also sent an aircraft carrier and strike group into the waters east of North Korea.
We’ll explain why the two allies are making such military moves, plus new climate action plans from the Air Force, Space Force and the Army and how the United States might respond to a Russian nuclear attack in Ukraine.
This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.
Pentagon holds drills after missile launch
The U.S. military and South Korean forces held joint missile drills a day after North Korea launched a missile over Japan, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command announced late Tuesday.
The bilateral exercise over the West Sea was meant to “showcase combined deterrent and dynamic strike capabilities” and included the dropping of Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) precision bombs on the uninhabited island of Jikdo off the western coast of South Korea, according to the release.
What was involved: In their own statement, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs said four U.S. Air Force F-16s and four South Korean F-15K fighter jets took part in the exercise, with an F-15K dropping two JDAMs.
A malfunction: During the live fire drills, however, a South Korean ballistic missile malfunctioned as it landed, according to multiple reports.
- The explosion caused a fire that panicked those in Gangneung on South Korea’s eastern coast, as Seoul did not give an explanation as to the reason of the accident.
- South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff later said no injuries were reported and no civilian facilities were affected from the explosion, which happened when a Hyumoo-2 missile crashed inside an air force base on the edges of the city, The Associated Press reported.
An earlier provocation: North Korea on Monday tested an intermediate-range ballistic missile by firing it over Japan, raising alarms over the hermit nation’s growing nuclear capabilities and fears it may soon conduct its first nuclear test since 2017.
The missile eventually landed in the Pacific Ocean and did not cause any casualties, though Japanese authorities issued evacuation warnings to residents of Hokkaido and Aomori prefectures in the island’s north.
The weapons test — Pyongyang’s fifth in roughly a week — is seen as the isolated nation’s most provocative in five years, as the last time it fired a missile over Japan was in September 2017.
Additional response: In another response to the North Korean missile, the Pentagon has repositioned the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier and strike group east of North Korea, Reuters reported.
South Korea’s military said it was a “highly unusual” move meant to show U.S. commitment to respond to any threats from North Korea, according to Reuters.
A spokesperson from U.S. 7th Fleet later confirmed to The Hill that the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group is currently operating in the Sea of Japan.
Air Force, Army unveil climate action plans
The Air Force and Space Force, as well as the Army, released climate action plans on Wednesday, with the former seeking to operate bases at net-zero emissions by 2046, an ambitious goal that would beat by four years the Biden administration’s own targets.
The Air Force plan is the first to be released from the military services after the Pentagon last year began its biggest effort ever to prepare for the effects of climate change. The document is meant to be a road map to help the branch better consider and prepare for what effects climate change will have on its operations, training, installations, planning and business processes when making decisions.
Preperation: “Our mission remains unchanged, but we recognize that the world is facing ongoing and accelerating climate change and we must be prepared to respond, fight, and win in this constantly changing world,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said in a statement alongside the plan’s release.
In the plan, Kendall allowed that extreme weather and environmental conditions “are already imposing high costs” on Air Force installations and missions, “while simultaneously posing new risks to our ability to train and operate effectively.”
A major contributor: He also acknowledged that of all the military services, the Air Force is the largest producer of greenhouse gases, the main cause of global warming and subsequent extreme weather conditions.
Also released: Later on Wednesday, the Army separately released its own climate action plan that includes upping the number of microgrids at bases over the next five years.
Microgrids are local electrical systems which can reduce energy costs and if needed, can disconnect from the larger power grid and operate independently during outages.
“As extreme weather becomes commonplace, the Army must adapt its installations, acquisition programs, and training so that the Army can operate in this changing environment and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions,” Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said in a statement alongside the plan. “This climate implementation plan will improve our resiliency and readiness in the face of these changes.”
Dire costs: The Pentagon has offered stark examples of how climate change is already affecting its forces and the threats expected in the near future, including flooding in the Midwest, wildfires that have forced evacuations at bases in the western United States and hurricanes that have prompted the same on the East Coast.
How US could react to a nuclear attack in Ukraine
As concerns grow over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s nuclear saber-rattling amid continued losses in Ukraine, what a U.S. response would look like has become an increasingly urgent question.
U.S. officials since the start of Russia’s attack on Ukraine have stressed there are plans being developed to counter a range of moves by Moscow but have kept specifics under wraps.
While the administration says there are no signs that the Kremlin has made moves toward a nuclear strike — and that Washington has not changed its own nuclear position — experts say the potential U.S. options could turn into a very real scenario given Russia’s floundering military campaign and an increasingly frustrated Putin.
Twofold: A Mark Cancian, a former Pentagon official-turned-defense expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said a U.S. response to a major Russian attack would be twofold — one military and one diplomatic.
- “If the Ukrainians kept fighting, we would continue our flow of aid and we’d probably take the gloves off” in terms of weapons provided to Kyiv, he told The Hill.
- On the diplomatic side of things, meanwhile, Russian use of nuclear weapons could very well prompt countries such as India, China and Turkey — the latter a NATO ally — to put pressure on Putin economically, according to Cancian.
No backing down: National security adviser Jake Sullivan last week said there would be “catastrophic consequences” should Moscow deploy nuclear weapons and said a more specific ultimatum had been delivered to Moscow privately.
Allies consulted: Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, said Tuesday that U.S. officials “have continually consulted with allies about the Russia threat, and the nuclear threat that Russia poses is just one aspect of that, and certainly the NATO forum is our premier forum for consultation on these issues.”
One Austrian official told The Hill that it’s offered the country as a neutral ground for difficult negotiations and is ready to host de-escalation talks and maintain channels with Russia.
ON TAP TOMORROW
- The Center for Strategic and International Studies will host a discussion on “The Implementation Plan for the Army Climate Strategy,” at 9 a.m.
- The International Institute for Strategic Studies will hold a talk on “Ukraine: Back to the Future (of Warfare)?” with former Defense Undersecretary for Policy Michele Flournoy, and Ukrainian Maj. Gen. Borys Kremenetskyi, defense attache at the Embassy of Ukraine, at 11 a.m.
- The Atlantic Council will host a virtual forum on “How Can We Deter China in the 2020s?” with former Defense Undersecretary for Policy Michele Flournoy, at 1 p.m.
WHAT WE’RE READING
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- US officials say Ukraine was behind car bomb that killed daughter of Russian nationalist: NYT
- Esper: Putin nuclear use in Ukraine ‘unlikely but possible’
- Petraeus: Putin is ‘literally out of moves’
- Putin signs law absorbing regions in Ukraine
- ‘Privileged’ Mar-a-Lago tranche include Trump legal docs, discussion on pardons
- Malicious cyber activity unlikely to disrupt voting, FBI says
- The Hill: Opinion: The Ukraine war has taught us this: A combined-arms team is essential