Wednesday, May 3, 2017

THAAD and the United States war-drive in Asia-Pacific


Military planning is now well under-way by the United States to implement a region-wide Electronic Warfare system across the Asia-Pacific.

The Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) being installed in South Korea (ROK) at present forms only one component part of a much larger system aimed at containing and encircling China to reassert traditional US hegemonic positions.

The centre of the US war-drive in the region is its 'powerful X-band radar, which forms the heart of the system'. (1) The system rests upon various component parts placed in strategic locations, each with a range of thousands of kilometres. (2) Later disclosures acknowledged early component facilities included an installation on Aomori Prefecture, Northern Japan, as early as 2006. (3)

In 2012 the US military were using the military-industrial complex and companies such as Raytheon, converging upon the Pentagon, to build six similar systems. They were described by a US government official, as, 'laying the foundations for a region-wide' system, linked to similar facilities in 'Japan, South Korea and Australia'. (4)

Disclosures in Australia have already revealed military planning for the system began in 2004 when the then right-wing Howard Coalition government 'gave the green light' for cooperation with the US  to already existing facilities which now include 'similarly equipped Aegis ships in the US and Japanese fleets to form an embryonic region-wide missile defence shield'. (5)

The present THAAD system being installed in the ROK is a further component part of the already existing system. Likewise, recent publicity given to 'a stronger relationship with the US  and having an Australian mainland-based missile defence system' which was 'similar to the THAAD the US has deployed to South Korea' form a further component part. (6)

The THAAD system in the ROK has also been hastily built following mass protests in the country and presidential elections scheduled for 9 May and is expected to be 'fully operational by the end of April' before presidential frontrunner Moon Jae-in who has opposed the THAAD system is expected to take office. (7)

The US system is based upon radar being used to detect incoming missiles, which detect and identify where it was launched and the target. An interceptor is then fired which uses kinetic energy to destroy the missile. (8) The system, in military jargon, is an Electronic Warfare system defined as 'a specialised tool that enhances many air and space functions at multiple levels of conflict'. (9)

EW systems are based upon the achievement of technological superiority. Problems, however, arise.

Critics of the system, for example, argue the system has little to do with the interception of incoming missiles and more about widespread surveillance across the region for intelligence purposes. Such criticism has carried considerable weight following further embarrassing disclosures about US defence and security facilities.

A recent acknowledgement about the existence of the highly secret US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) outside Washington using the X-band system and THAAD facilities does cast serious doubts over US military planning. (10) Despite high-level war-mongering rhetoric directed toward the northern DPRK, the Trump administration have been reluctantly forced to openly acknowledge the THAAD system in the ROK 'works against China' due to its 'radar fans go all the way through Manchuria'. (11)

Revelations about the NGA and its Australian counterpart facilities, raise serious questions about the nature of US military planning. Official media statements released in Australia have noted 'plans to deploy the THAAD system have angered not only North Korea, but also China and Russia which see the system's powerful radars as a security threat'. (12)

The US NGA facilities were completed in 2011 using an ARGUS-15, 1.8 billion pixel system hovering 4 miles high over the earth. Beforehand the intelligence work was conducted by the CIA. Its 'persistent stare technology' now, however, produces huge downloads of visual intelligence information and 'its principal function is to analyse the billions of images and miles of video captured' by the strategically-placed facilities. (13)  

The Australian counterpart facilities, the Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation (AGIO) appear to have become operational in 2003 and were closely linked to the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD). (14) Its existence was secret until between 15,000 and 20,000 documents from Australian agencies were accessed by Edward Snowden then employed as a contractor with the US National Security Agency (NSA) and revealed in November 2013. A major part of US intelligence operations coordinated through Australia appear to have been surveillance of the Asia-Pacific region with a particular interest in Indonesian affairs, which included the activities of the inner circle of President Yudhoyono. (15)

The Australian involvement also included 'the interception of Indonesian naval and military communications' through secret monitoring facilities on the Cocos Islands which were linked to similar signals intelligence at Shoal Bay Receiving Station near Darwin. (16) The highly sensitive Cocos Islands system in the India Ocean was noted as forming part 'of a wider defence communications network' and hidden within coconut palm groves to avoid detection. It is significant to note the facilities rest well within the same arc as those based on Diego Garcia which are central to US global intelligence operations.

The US also appear to use Australian involvement through other diplomatic channels with sensitive surveillance equipment ostensibly used for countering terrorist threats and people-smuggling in the wider region although the main focus 'is political, diplomatic and economic intelligence' with specific reference to neighbourhood links with Chinese interests. (17) It was in this particular context the acknowledgement Australian Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) 'regularly taped the conversations of ordinary Australians' was officially linked to the collection of 'foreign intelligence' at the highest level in Canberra. (18)   

A major concern for US-led western intelligence agencies face, however, is the problem of technological advances with signals intelligence (SIGINT) require greater involvement of human intelligence (HUMINT) to provide localised information. Technological advances are also labour intensive. Local agents, usually referred to as Ground Human and organised into networks through intelligence agencies, are required to identify areas and persons of interest.  

The large-scale recruitment of Ground Human agents would appear well under-way in the Asia-Pacific. The US have been extending their influence in the region through numerous educational scholarships to prestigious institutions, the establishment of localised training agencies based on entities such as the Hudson Institute and exchanging of personnel in the corporate sector together with other seemingly generous behaviour and lavish displays of generosity.

A library, in a quiet Adelaide suburb in South Australia with a high density of higher socio-economic residents, for example, was recently found to have been used for recruitment by US consular staff with a particular interest in students from a local private high school who were about to graduate. The interviews took place in as formal setting across a table on which a full-size US flag was draped. Similar ones, no doubt, have also taken place across the Asia-Pacific region.

The softer diplomacy, displayed by the US in South Australia, would appear to rest upon far harder military planning in a part of the country with widespread defence industries, many of which are in the forefront of research and development of electronic equipment used for intelligence purposes.

1.     Kim keeps going ballistic,
        The Australian, 14 March 2017.

2.     Ibid.
3.     U.S. Seeks New Asia Defences,
        The Wall Street Journal, Friday-Sunday, 24-6 August 2012.

4.     Ibid.
5.     Kim keeps going ballistic, op.cit., 14 March 2017, see also,
        RAAF targets F-35 missile deal,
        The Australian, 7 April 2017.

6.     Protect cities from North Korean nukes,
        The Australian, 14 March 2017.

7.     Kim keeps going ballistic, op.cit., 14 March 2017, see also,
        US missile equipment reaches South Korea,
        The Australian, 27 April 2017.

8.     Kim keeps going ballistic, ibid, 14 March 2017.

9.     Definition – Air Force Doctrine 251, 5 November 2002,
        Pentagon, Operational Doctrine, US.

10.   The Multibillion-Dollar U.S. Spy Agency You Haven't Heard Of,
        James Bamford, Information Clearing House, 22 March 2017.

11.   Shield aimed at hurting China,
        The Australian, 7 April, 2017.

12.   Take that Kim: 'son of star wars' arrives in the South,
        The Australian, 8 March 2017.

13.   Shield aimed at hurting China, op.cit., 7 April 2017.
14.   Spy chief in defence of SBY mission,
        The Australian, 27 January 2014.

15.   Ibid.
16.   Listening post revealed on Cocos Islands,
        The Age (Melbourne), 1 November 2013.

17.   Revealed: How Australia spies on its neighbours,
        The Age (Melbourne), 31 October 2013.

18.   Spies are listening,
        The Australian, 6 June 2002.

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