US armor back to Europe?; Russian warships mass off Syria; DoD families leave Turkey; SecDef hits the road; and a bit more.

For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the Pentagon wants to send “250 tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Paladin self-propelled howitzers as well as more than 1,700 additional wheeled vehicles and trucks” along with a brigade of troops “full time along NATO’s eastern borders to deter Russian aggression,” The Wall Street Journal reports this morning. The plan calls for the movement to begin in February 2017.

“Combined with equipment already in Europe, “there will be a division’s worth of stuff to fight if something happens,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work said. “If push came to shove, they’d be able to come together as a cohesive unit that has trained together, with all their organic equipment, and fight. That’s a lot better than what we have right now.”

The White House has reportedly given a generic green-light to the plan “when it signed off on the $3.4 billion European Reassurance Initiative budget last month, leaving the specifics to the Pentagon. Congress still has to sign off on the request, however.” And that could be problematic considering the moves “would quadruple the amount of U.S. funding for European defense projects, including troop deployments and exercises.”

The Russian reax: “Russian officials argue the decision violates the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, a document that says the alliance won’t position substantial, permanent combat forces on Russia’s borders. While substantial hasn’t been defined, alliance officials say the size of the forces being considered is in keeping with the agreement.”

The European reax: “Under the new plan, the older gear that was going to be pre-positioned in Eastern Europe will instead be moved to a U.S. depot in Germany for refurbishing, then be spread around bases in Germany, Netherlands and Belgium. As a result, officials in Poland and the Baltic states are concerned the U.S. is providing a full brigade to Germany while there is only a small amount of equipment headed to the eastern allies, according to U.S. and European officials.” Read the rest, here.

Here’s the lowdown on Moscow’s “drawdown” in Syria: a Reuters analysis “of shipping data, official information, tips from maritime security sources and photographs from bloggers of Russian ships passing the Bosphorus strait en route from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean…shows Russia now appears to have more warships near the Syrian coast than at the time of Putin’s declaration.”

How many are there? “More than a dozen military vessels in the Mediterranean, including the Zeleniy Dol warship equipped with terrain-hugging Kalibr cruise missiles which are accurate to within three metres.”

Reuters also estimates that nearly half of Russia’s approximately three dozen fighters jets also remain. Read on for some fascinating detail from ship-watchers in the Med, here.

The U.S. military is evacuating hundreds of families from Turkey, citing concerns over regional security, U.S. European Command said Tuesday. The departures, Stars and Stripes reported, “most likely will be permanent.”

“The mandatory departure, ordered Tuesday by the State and Defense departments, affects about 670 dependents of military and civilian personnel at Incirlik and those at smaller bases in Izmir and Mugla. The families of U.S. diplomats in the same areas are also ordered to depart.”

The families’ exodus “options include returning to one’s home of record in the States or moving to a follow-on assignment if there is one, she said. Families with school-age children will also likely be able to stay at Ramstein Air Base temporarily so their kids can finish out the school year, Air Force officials at Ramstein said.”

Said Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook: “This was a decision made out of an abundance of caution, given the overall picture, the security threats that … we looked at in the region.” More here.


From Defense One

Is that all there is? Obama’s disappointing nuclear legacy. The biggest roadblock to making the world safer from nuclear weapons turned out to be the president’s own team. Ploughshares’ Joe Cirincione makes that case, here.

A nuclear-armed ISIS? It’s not that farfetched, expert says. A Harvard researcher says the terror group might be closer to wreaking some sort of radioactive havoc than we think. Defense One Tech Editor Patrick Tucker reports, here.

The FBI should tell Apple about the iphone vulnerability, if it can. White House cybersecurity guidelines suggest that national security depends on telling manufacturers about vulnerabilities in their products, but the feds may not actually know how whoever broke into the San Bernardino phone did it. The Council on Foreign Relations’ Robert Knake explains, here.

Let’s not give suicide bombers so much credit—sometimes they have no strategy. Pushing back against Chicago terrorism expert Robert Pape, Simon Cottee writes that the Brussels attackers may have been responding to territorial losses in Iraq and Syria, but that’s not the only possible scenario. Read on, here.

Welcome to Wednesday’s D Brief, by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this night in 1944, RAF Bomber Command sent 795 aircraft to attack Nuremberg, and sustained its highest losses of the war. Subscribe to the D Brief: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. Got news? Let us know: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.


Passing the flags. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is wheels-up for Tampa, where he and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford will preside over the change of commands at Central Command, or CENTCOM, and Special Operations Command, or SOCOM. Gen. Lloyd Austin will close a formidable career in which he ran the end of the Iraq War from Baghdad in 2011, and the beginning of the latest conflict, the ISIS war, from Central Command. In comes Gen. “Joey” Votel, making the historic shift from SOCOM to CENTCOM. Much has been written about how that indicates the U.S. expects its Middle East fight against terrorism now and for the foreseeable future to lean heavily on special operators like Delta, SEALs, and Night Stalkers, and other covert or incredibly discreet fighters. D Brief loved covering Austin—when he would actually meet with us. The general was always helpful when he met with the media from back in the days at Camp Victory, he just was no fan of media appearances. Now we’re all curious to see if Votel’s command will loosen lips any more — in a good way, not to reveal secrets. A slew of commanders and Pentagon officials have said they want the U.S. public to have a better understanding of how the military is fighting its wars while retaining the operational security of special operators’ secret missions. We’ll see. Press conference is expected Thursday afternoon with Carter, Dunford, Votel, and his SOCOM successor, Gen. Raymond “Tony” Thomas. Howard Altman at the Tampa Tribune has this great profile of Thomas here. Defense One is on the trip; follow @DefenseBaron for the latest.

Carter’s trip will then bend toward tech as he continues on to Austin, Texas, to visit students and “the university’s innovation and technology center, and a tech incubator in Austin to meet with local tech startups,” according to his office. Expect a house call on the school’s chancellor, a guy you might remember named McRaven. On Friday, Carter heads back to his Boston stomping grounds for a visit to Harvard and MIT and a “major announcement regarding a new technology partnership.” Stay tuned…

The U.S. military wants to overhaul its approach to war, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Tuesday. The reason, in short, could be summed up in the fearsome catchphrase popularized by Russian activity in recent years: hybrid war. The point to this reconsideration, Dunford said, is take into account “dynamic and complex” fights that could include land and sea combat as well as space and cyber operations. Dunford cited threats from Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, in particular, as examples of where a new approach would apply.

The Pentagon cut its teeth on counterinsurgency for 15 years, Dunford said, but the “complex” fights of tomorrow are a new matter entirely.

“Current planning, organizational construct, and … command and control is actually not suited for that (full-spectrum) character of war,” he said.

So what next? Submit the plan up the chain. “Some adjustment proposals,” writes Stripes, “would be presented to Congress within the coming weeks while others will be included in an upcoming classified report. Without providing specifics, Dunford listed ballistic missile defense; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and operational planning as areas that need improvement to retain significant military advantages over potential adversaries.” That, here.

Afghan security forces lost 15 troops last night in a gun battle with the Taliban over a key highway in south-central Uruzgan province, the Associated Press reports. “The fighting took place late Tuesday during an operation to reopen an important highway in the province, said Mohammad Nabi Niazo, the Dihrawud district police chief. Taliban gunmen had blocked the highway between Dihrawud and the provincial capital, Tarin Kot, for almost four days, he said. Following the deadly firefight, Afghan forces have retaken control of the road, Niazo said.” The AP couldn’t confirm that since the Taliban disputed the claim, as they often do.

Fighting is also spreading from one province to another in the north as “around 100 Taliban insurgents, including foreign fighters, attacked police check points” in Balkh province before the fighting shifted to neighboring Jawzjan province once ANSF reinforcements arrived. More here.

Dropping in on China’s war on terror. ABC News’ Bob Woodruff takes us to China’s far-western Xinjiang province, which shares a border with Afghanistan, where almost two years ago nearly “a hundred lives were lost after a single night of violence. Chinese police said that by sunrise, they had gunned down 59 ‘suspected terrorists’ after they broke into a police station and rioted through the night, killing 35 Han Chinese… Over a year and half later, the tense security atmosphere and questions of about what really happened still looms prominently over the city.”

One source of tension: “Beijing has increasingly become worried as ISIS has trained a crosshair on China and Xinjiang. In November 2015, ISIS executed a Chinese hostage and earlier that year the terrorist group released a number of propaganda videos calling Uyghurs in Xinjiang to arms… Uyghurs in exile and human rights organizations insist the violence is triggered by purely domestic anger and repression against the religious and ethnic minority.”

So what’s China’s response? “keep a tight grip on information, access and surveillance.” More here.

A couple thousand miles to the east, on board the USS Chancellorsville, the U.S. Navy is cruising the disputed waters off the Spratley Islands in the South China Sea where “the United States and China are jockeying for dominance in the Pacific,” The New York Times’ Helene Cooper reports. Cooper tagged along last week to overhear the spotty comms Beijing’s vessels keep with the U.S. Navy—which has increasingly been trying to uphold international norms in a region with multiple competing turf claims. Check out a map of those, here.

For what it’s worth: “Some 700 American patrols have gone through in the past year.” Read the rest, here.

The Philippines may buy its first submarines to help ward off China in and around the SCS, President Benigno Aquino said this morning. And “in a separate development a defence department official confirmed that the Philippines had sealed an agreement to acquire two anti-submarine helicopters. The Anglo-Italian AW159 helicopters will be delivered in a little over a year, said defence undersecretary Fernando Manalo, adding they would be the nation’s first.” More from Agence France-Presse, here.

Cobra Gold, the annual U.S.-Thailand military exercise, might get more interesting: “Thailand’s junta chief has given the military broad new police-like powers to arrest and detain criminal suspects, in an unannounced move that rights groups criticized Wednesday as a recipe for human rights violations,” AP reports from Bangkok. “The order, published in Thailand’s Royal Gazette under the title ‘Suppression of wrongdoings that could threaten Thai economy and society,’ gives soldiers in the army, navy and air force who are ranked sub-lieutenant and higher the power to summon, arrest and detain suspects in a wide range of crimes for up to seven days.”

And finally—If you’re not familiar with the phrase “climate security,” it’s time to fix that. “The term climate security implies that climate change ought to be seen as a threat to core US national security interests, both at home and abroad,” write Peter Engelke and Daniel Y. Chiu in a new Atlantic Council report. The question is “whether climate security will remain restricted to discussions within academia, civil society, and a few dedicated places within the US government, or if it will acquire a more pivotal role in the formulation of US national security strategy.”

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