News Briefs – January 20, 2020

Taiwan holds latest military drills following elections

Taiwanese marines staged drills Jan. 16 as part of a series of military exercises following the reelection of pro-independence President Tsai Ing-wen.
The exercises focused on of neutralizing the threat from small groups of assailants through small arms fire and hand-to-hand fighting.
As in all such drills, the assumed enemy is the military of China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory to be brought under its control by force if need be.
Other exercises earlier in the week featured Taiwan’s air force, which is undergoing a major upgrade with the acquisition of the latest version of U.S. F-16 fighters and other advanced technology.
China has an overwhelming advantage in numbers of aircraft, ships and missiles with which it threatens Taiwan, prompting the island to upgrade its defenses with high-technology solutions.
Any attack would also likely draw in the U.S., which is legally obligated to consider threats to the island’s security as a matter of “grave concern.”
China’s strategies toward wresting control over Taiwan are believed to include using special forces to seize key military, political and economic infrastructure sites, while degrading the island’s defenses with aerial bombing and missile attacks.
Even on non-election years, Taiwan’s military generally holds exercises in mid-winter to show its preparedness to defend the island over the Lunar New Year festival, which this year begins on Jan. 25. AP

U.S., Russia hold new strategic talks on arms control

The United States and Russia on Jan. 16 held a new round of talks focused on arms control and reducing misunderstandings on critical security issues.
Senior U.S. and Russian diplomats met in Vienna, Austria, for the latest session of their strategic security dialogue that aims to limit risk of misperceptions leading to conflict, the State Department said.
“The U.S. and Russian delegations discussed nuclear stockpiles and strategy, crisis and arms race stability, and the role and potential future of arms control, including the importance of moving beyond a solely bilateral format,” the department said in a statement. The Trump administration is pressing to expand arms control deals to include China, something in which Beijing has shown little interest.
The Trump administration has already pulled out of one major arms control deal with Russia — the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces, or INF Treaty — and is considering exiting a second one that provides for each country to conduct overflights of the other’s sensitive sites. Another treaty, new START, is due to expire next year and the Trump administration has signaled it may let it lapse.
The statement said the two sides would soon begin more detailed expert-level discussions on the topics.
The Jan. 16 meeting was the second in the format that was set up last year with former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov as the heads. Sullivan is now the U.S. ambassador to Russia and the American delegation was lead by Christopher Ford, the assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation.
Ford planned to travel to Brussels, Belgium, Jan. 17 to brief NATO allies on the talks, the department said. AP

Boeing working on a new software issue on 737 Max

Boeing is working to fix a newly discovered problem with software powering up on the 737 Max, adding to the list of tasks the aircraft maker faces to get the grounded plane back in the air.
Boeing said Jan. 17 it has told the Federal Aviation Administration about the issue.
“We are making necessary updates and working with the FAA on submission of this change, and keeping our customers and suppliers informed,” Boeing said in a statement. “Our highest priority is ensuring the 737 MAX is safe and meets all regulatory requirements before it returns to service.”
A person with knowledge of the situation said the issue concerns software that verifies whether monitors tracking key systems on the plane are working properly.
The monitor check is supposed to happen automatically when the plane or system is powered up, but during a recent review, one of the monitors didn’t start up correctly, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a detail that was not announced publicly.
The issue was discovered during a technical review that normally happens near the end of the software-development process, a sign that Boeing could be close to finishing changes designed to get the plane back in the air.
Boeing is rewriting software that played a role in crashes five months apart in Indonesia and Ethiopia that killed 346 people and led regulators to ground the plane worldwide in March 2019.
Boeing still must finish the software package, conduct one or more demonstration flights with FAA experts on board, and bring in airline pilots to test the changes it is making.
Separately on Jan. 17, Fitch Ratings downgraded Boeing’s debt rating. It cited uncertainty about when the Max will fly again, the challenge of catching up on deliveries that were halted last April, rising debt, and risks posed by fines, lawsuits and a damaged reputation. AP