NATO edges toward Syrian crisis; Anguish on the Turkish border; Meet the guerrilla fighters of Kurdistan: video; F-35 has 419 bugs; and a bit more.

NATO steps into Europe’s migrant crisis. The 28-member alliance is sending three warships to the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey. The ships—from NATO Standing Maritime Group 2, which involves a German navy flagship, the Bonn, as well as the Turkey’s Barbaros and the Fredericton from Canada—are not yet tasked with intercepting any of the boats that have ferried some 800,000-plus refugees to Europe’s doorstep since 2015. And NATO defense ministers are working up additional counter-migration measures on the sidelines of their meeting in Brussels.

A bit more about the deal: “U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Thursday that Greece, Turkey and Germany came together on an agreement for an expansion of the naval mission at a defense ministers meeting in Brussels on Thursday,” the Wall Street Journal reported. “As part of the deal Turkish and Greek ships will not enter each other’s territorial waters.”

NATO also plans to step up intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance efforts along the Turkish-Syrian border, Secretary Jens Stoltenberg said. That could include a fleet of E-3A AWACS—the alliance has 16 of the aircraft in stock, with a dozen of them already flying, Defense News reports. “According to an alliance factsheet, they are based primarily out of NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen, but can also operate out of Component Forward Operating Bases in Aktion, Greece; Trapani, Italy; Konya, Turkey; and Oerland, Norway. Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) Gen. Philip Breedlove said the AWACS plan has been agreed to in principle, with military leaders looking at implementation plans.” More here.

Dispatch from the Turkish border: “People are waiting for the international community to stop this war,” Defense One special contributor Gayle Tzemach Lemmon reports from Gazi Antep, Turkey, some 75 miles north of Aleppo, Syria. There she finds a harrowing scene of broken families desperately viewing photos of what was once their homes—many now “just a huge hole,” as one Syrian described.

“The international community’s dueling priorities have prevented a durable ceasefire and those on the ground say Russian air strikes are making aid even harder to secure,” she writes. “Tens of thousands of Syrians are now massed on the Turkish border, trying to escape airstrikes and fighting all around them. If the world is not able to end the war, or even to open its borders to Syrian refugees unconditionally, the very least the world can to do now is fight to create a safe zone for mothers and fathers to flee to with their children.” More from Antep, here.

Russia’s roadmap for peace in Syria calls for a cease-fire on March 1. The U.S. says it should begin now. State Secretary John Kerry and his Russian counterpart have agreed to the need for a cease-fire, but the two sides have not agreed to much beyond that yet, the WSJ reports.

U.S. officials see the call from Moscow as their way of asking for three more weeks to crush more elements of the Syrian rebellion. The U.S. counteroffer, on the other hand, sounds a lot like what the rebels have requested—an immediate ceasefire accompanied by full humanitarian access to Syria’s besieged cities—which puts the chief negotiating parties at odds yet again.

Moscow and Damascus seem to have gained a new upper hand in Syria’s northwest in recent weeks, especially around the city of Aleppo, where Assad’s army has managed to split terrain held by opposition rebels north of Syria’s second-largest city. (What’s the Pentagon’s read on what’s happening in Aleppo? Check this map shared on Wednesday.)

For what it’s worth: 70 percent of Russia’s strikes have been against the Syrian opposition, not the Islamic State, the White House’s envoy for the counter-ISIS fight, Brett McGurk, told lawmakers Wednesday.

Back in Brussels again, Ash Carter will chair “the first gathering of defense ministers from the countries participating in the American-led coalition like a seminar, hoping to solicit new ideas,” the Journal writes. “He wants to run it as a back and forth so there is a real intellectual exchange, particularly on the campaign plan,” said the senior U.S. official.


From Defense One

Meet the guerrilla fighters of Kurdistan. Brooklyn-based photographer Joey L. was tired of mainstream coverage of the Islamic State, so he traveled to Iraq and Syria to see the war against the jihadi group for himself. His on-the-ground video chronicle explores the culture and lifestyle of the Kurdish resistance groups on the front lines against ISIS. Watch it, courtesy of The Atlantic, here.

Hacker may have punched through FBI cyber security with one phone call. The departments of Justice and Homeland Security are investigating a data theft hack allegedly perpetrated by fooling the IT help desk. Once again, it doesn’t matter how technically secure your data is if it’s protected by gullible humans. NextGov has the story, here.

Coming up: The civilian workforce that supports U.S. warfighters is aging. How will the Pentagon attract and retain the next generation? Leaders from DOD, USAF, and DLA will lay out their plans and outlook on Tues., Feb. 23, in a livestreamed discussion with Defense One Deputy Editor Bradley Peniston. Register to watch today, here.

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of the The D Brief, by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1939, a Lockheed P-38 Lightning flew from California to New York in 7 hours, 2 minutes. Send your friends this subscription link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. Got news? Let us know: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.


F-35’s computer crashes about once every four flight hours. Following last month’s scathing report by the Pentagon’s testing office, F-35 program manager Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan offered a status report, telling reporters that the program has 419 bugs that he needs to clear up. The top two issues: the automated computer system that manages the project’s logistics, and software and hardware on the plane itself. “419 is not that many,” Bogdan said. “About four years ago, that number was about three times that.”

What’s wrong? The plane’s software cannot handle the vast amount of information it’s receiving from jet’s radar and built-in cameras. For about every four hours in flight, the computer will crash once, requiring a reboot. “That’s not a good metric,” Bogdan said. Improving that crash rate to once every eight to 10 hours is the goal and on par with fighter jets in the field today, he said.

Bogdan also played down the Air Force’s decision to slow its F-35 purchases over the next five years, saying it would boost the plane’s cost of the expensive plane by less than 1 percent. More, here.

And what does an F-35 currently cost to build? “Just under $100 million,” Bogdan said, citing figured from the order that the Pentagon will soon ink with aircraft-maker Lockheed Martin and engine-builder Pratt & Whitney. Bogdan said the price comes down with each new batch of jets purchased, nd by 2019 should be between $80 and $85 million.

How many days until the F-35 is battle-ready? 172 for the U.S. Air Force, 902 for the U.S. Navy, 1,052 for the U.K., 1,755 for Australia, 1,328 for Norway, and 305 for Israel, according to figures on Bogdan’s conference-room wall. (And recall that the U.S. Marine Corps declared some of its F-35s ready last year.)

The Navy is axing (again) its effort to develop a stealthy carrier-based bomber drone. The Daily Beast reports that the 2017 budget request zeroes out the UCLASS program after spending $818 million the past two years. Navy sources tell the Beast that tech from the program will inform future efforts, including a new drone aerial tanker, budgeted at $89 million this year. Read, here.

The move is not terribly surprising; in February 2015, Defense One’s Patrick Tucker wrote that the UCLASS program “was basically sent back to the drawing board for a year,” a sign that “the military increasingly understands that some of the most innovative thinking in technology is happening outside of the Pentagon.”

DARPA plans to sail a 130-foot robot ship this year, according to its $3 billion budget request, which includes money to christen and begin testing the Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel in Portland, Oregon. National Defense has that, here.

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