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Periscope Depth 5/4/2023

Author: Aja Melville, Tom Freebairn, Julian Lark

May 04 2023

Military Periscope's weekly look at top stories from around the world.

U.S. Navy Struggles To Devise Game Plan for Decommissioning Nuclear Carriers
Aja Melville

The U.S. Navy announced it would be working with Huntington Ingalls Incorporated (HII) Newport News Shipbuilding to determine the requirements to defuel and dispose of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Nimitz (CVN-68). This will be the second nuclear-powered carrier to be disposed of after the decommissioning of the Enterprise (CV-65) in 2017. The size of these ships has posed a problem for the Navy, leaving disposal plans in limbo for several years. However, the collaboration between the Navy and HII will likely establish precedents for dismantling all future nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.

Six years after being decommissioned, the USS Enterprise is still awaiting dismantlement. Being the first nuclear-powered carrier to undergo the tedious task, the Navy has run into issues, including cost, environmental impact, and general know-how.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates the cost of decommissioning to be over $1 billion, compared to the cost of past nuclear submarines decommissioned at $26 million. Although the Navy has experience deactivating more than 130 nuclear-powered ships, dismantling a 100,000-ton aircraft carrier has proven to be a different kind of challenge.

In addition to its cost-prohibitive nature, disposal of both the USS Nimitz and USS Enterprise is subject to regulation by the National Environmental Policy Act. The Navy released a draft environmental impact statement in August 2022, detailing three options for disposal. The most likely option involved contracting a commercial disposal site for all aspects of the decommission, including disposal of the reactors. The Navy said it prefers this option to the use of Puget Sound Naval Shipyard so as to allow Puget workers to remain focused on current fleet maintenance.

Alternatively, if for whatever reason a private company cannot be contracted to dismantle the carrier, the Navy proposed a “no action alternative” in which the service would keep the USS Enterprise in port indefinitely while monitoring and maintaining its nuclear components.

The decision on a course of action will be subject to a final environmental impact statement expected to be published at the end of 2023. Although the decision will inform the disposal process for the USS Nimitz, the two carriers display notable design differences, which will prevent a seamless disposal transition, namely that the Enterprise is powered by eight nuclear reactors as opposed to the Nimitiz’s two.

The decommissioning of the USS Nimitz is a significant event for the Navy, as the course of action taken over the next few months could determine the fates of the Navy’s remaining 10 Nimitz-class vessels. This step demonstrates the Navy’s commitment to maintaining a modern fleet capable of tackling 21st century challenges as well as the service’s commitment to sustainability.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Leaves a Large Industrial Footprint
Tom Freebairn

In a recent speech, Hossein Salami, leader of Iran’s influential Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), discussed the importance of investment into local businesses and self-sufficient domestic industry. In particular, he lauded the contributions of the Khatam al-Anbiya, a major IRGC-owned construction and engineering conglomerate, as a testament to the capabilities of a strong and independent Iran. Despite being conceived as guardians of the Islamic revolution, in essence the armed wing of the revolutionary clergy, the IRGC has greatly expanded its portfolio in recent decades. The outsized role of the Guards is dramatically visible in the economic and industrial spheres of the country, with some reports claiming they have taken over the economy entirely.

Following the devastation of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War, the IRGC was tasked with leading the rebuilding of infrastructure and industry, leading to the creation of Khatam al-Anbiya. Since then, IRGC-affiliated companies have flourished, capitalizing on Iranian economic growth to gain footholds across myriad industries.

A CSIS report from 2020 estimated that Khatam al-Anbiya controlled 812 subsidiary companies worth billions of dollars. The political influence of the IRGC translates heavily to its business interests, which frequently receive no-bid contracts and kickbacks from the government. IRGC companies permeate construction, mining, banking, shipping, and oil ventures across the nation, with both tacit and direct support from Tehran.

Associated business ventures allow the IRGC to reap significant profits, but also work as a propaganda tool. Public works projects, predominantly in rural regions, promote an egalitarian image and win support from many of the rural poor. By expanding so heavily into the economic sphere, the IRGC also co-opts some members of the business class, who are obligated to pay fealty to the group to succeed.

The industrial presence and privilege of the Guards has, however, bred some dissent among those individuals involved in private business who see their opportunities taken by IRGC-backed groups and companies. Its business model is highly reliant on government favoritism and antithetical to free market commerce. The IRGC profits from Iranian isolation, which allows it to dominate the uncompetitive economic environment.

As the IRGC role in the Iranian economy continues to entrench, corruption will become a drag on growth and equity. Dissatisfaction within the capitalist class and small business owners could become both economic burden and political threat to the regime.

Tehran may very well see the problem, but is unlikely to rein in its revolutionary praetorians. The IRGC plays a major role in state politics and is critical to the ambitions of any would-be presidential candidate or ranking figure. It will also likely factor in hugely to the eventual selection of a successor to current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who turned 84 last month. As most high-ranking leaders require, and thus solicit, the support of the IRGC, the group’s favorable position in economic matters is likely to persist, continuing the trend of enriching the group at the expense of private industry and the broader public.

ISIS' Bloody April
Julian Lark

Saturday, April 29, 2023, marked the 150th and final day of Abu al-Hussein al-Husseini al-Qurayshi’s reign as the fourth caliph of the Islamic State (ISIS), reports Reuters.

According to a senior Turkish security official, special forces from the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MIT) blasted their way through the perimeter fence, back door, and walls of his two-story home in Jindires, Syria. While refusing to surrender, Qurayshi detonated the suicide vest he was wearing.

Turkish officials reported that MIT’s forces were protected by a perimeter of Turkish-backed Syrian militants. Northwest Syria has become ISIS’ last haven after it was territorially defeated in Iraq in 2017 and Syria in 2019, but Turkey backs several militant groups in the area.

According to various sources, Turkish operatives were supported by Iraqi and U.S. intelligence – including human penetration of ISIS and advanced signals intelligence.

Qurayshi’s death marks the end of a bloody April for ISIS.

April 17, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) claimed to have killed senior Syrian ISIS leader Abd-al-Hadi Mahmud al-Haji Ali in a unilateral helicopter raid in northern Syria. The raid was launched after intelligence revealed an ISIS plot to kidnap foreign officials.

This killing followed five days after CENTCOM announced its capture of ISIS attack facilitator Hudayfah al Yemeni and two of his associates on April 8. Yemeni’s capture was also conducted via helicopter raid.

April 4, CENTCOM announced the killing of senior ISIS leader Khalid ‘Aydd Ahmad al-Jabouri in a drone strike in Syria. CENTCOM said Jabouri was responsible for ISIS attacks in Europe and for developing ISIS leadership structure.

March 2023 was also a difficult month for the group. In its “Month in Review,” CENTCOM reported 37 operations against ISIS conducted, “along with coalition and other partners.” Twenty-eight of the operations took place in Iraq and nine in Syria.

If Qurayshi’s successor to ISIS leadership has been chosen, he remains unannounced by the group and possibly unknown to hostile intelligence organizations. Analysts assess that ISIS’ high levels of senior-level attrition have made replacing Qurayshi difficult.

Qurayshi left his successor a challenging strategic landscape. ISIS operations have shrunk globally, and the group has failed to find haven anywhere.

In Afghanistan, the ruling Taliban killed a local ISIS leader in early April. The leader was alleged by the U.S. intelligence community to have plotted an August 2021 suicide bombing that killed 183 people in Kabul during the U.S. evacuation there.

The unnamed ISIS leader’s killing is part of a broader, escalating conflict between fellow militant Islamists, the Taliban, and ISIS’ Afghan franchise, ISIS-K.

ISIS has struggled to recover since its major defeats in 2019. Still, the group has survived a multinational offensive against it and now resembles many of its predecessor organizations. Rooting out militant Islamism in Iraq and Syria, as well as across the world, will require more than a few good rounds of whack-a-mole.

Sources:

“For only the second time in its history, the US Navy is beginning the slow, tricky process of taking apart a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier” Michael Peck, Business Insider, May 1, 2023.

“Iran seeks to bolster IRGC supranational role in production” Seth J. Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, May 2, 2023.

“Exclusive: Turkish raid prompted ISIS leader to detonate suicide vest” Orhan Coskun, Ahmed Rasheed and Timour Azhari, Reuters, May 2, 2023.

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