THAAD, up and running; Trump praises Kim Jong-un; Marine robots are practicing to storm the beach; Counter-drone training in Kuwait; and just a bit more…

The THAAD anti-missile system is up and running in South Korea, a U.S. official told Reuters Monday. “A second official said South Korea established a ‘restricted operating zone control measure’ over the THAAD site on April 30, to control air space. The official added the battery was now prepared to conduct initial operational missions,” with full operational still an unspecified number of months away.

There’s a fairly significant caveat for that system, Reuters writes. “Given its specifications are secret and that it has never been used in wartime, THAAD’s ability to deal with a barrage of missiles time is uncertain.”

THAAD joins South Korea’s Patriot PAC-3 missile defense system and Japan’s PAC-3 system, which is currently being upgraded. More on all that from Reuters, here.

Also on Monday: the U.S. military flew two B-1B bombers over the Korean peninsula during a training exercise with the South Korean military, prompting the standard rhetorical fury from North Korea: “The reckless military provocation is pushing the situation on the Korean peninsula closer to the brink of nuclear war,” the North’s official KCNA news agency said this morning. More here.

Has China changed its tune on THAAD? No.

The first of five U.S. Global Hawk surveillance drones landed at Yokota Air Base in Japan last night, beginning a five-month deployment, Stars and Stripes reported. “The Northrop Grumman-built drones are thought capable of operating at an altitude of 60,000 feet, high above civilian air traffic, which normally does not surpass 40,000 feet. They can stay aloft for 34 hours and have a range of 14,000 miles.” More here.   

North Korea says it has a “carrier-killer” missile, but 38North’s John Schilling says the missile, likely a SCUD derivative called the KN-17, is more plausibly intended for ground targets. Read his explanation why, here.

On the diplomatic side of Korean tensions, U.S. President Donald Trump raised eyebrows Monday when he told Bloomberg he would be “honored” to meet in person with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un “under the right circumstances.”

Sen. John McCain, responding on “Morning Joe”: “I don’t understand it, and I don’t think the president appreciates that when he says things like that, it helps the credibility and the prestige of this really outrageous strongman.”

Chinese officials supported the idea, as it falls in line with their approach to North Korea, CNN reported in a broader look at the reaction to Trump’s proposal. Adds CNN: “Mixed messages from the Trump administration regarding its policy on North Korea have also further obscured what the next phase of the standoff on the Korean Peninsula could be.” More here.  


From Defense One

When Robots Storm the Beach // Patrick Tucker: The future of amphibious warfare looks like a constellation of bots large and small. The main challenge now is getting them to talk to each other.

The US, Japan, and South Korea Need to Get on the Same Page // Brian Moore: As tensions with North Korea heat up, mutual mistrust and diverging priorities make it harder to choose a path forward.

Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. #OTD2011: Special operators kill Osama bin Laden outside Abottabad, Pakistan. Got tips? Email us at the-d-brief@defenseone.com. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)


Trump and strongmen: North Korea’s Kim joins a growing list of global strongmen praised by U.S. President Donald Trump. Also on the list: Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Thailand’s Prayut Chan-o-cha, Turkey’s Recep Erdoğan, and the Philippines Rody Duterte, the Washington Post’s Anna Fifield noted Monday.

It’s more than words, the Post’s Philip Rucker concludes: “In an undeniable shift in American foreign policy, Trump is cultivating authoritarian leaders, one after another, in an effort to reset relations following an era of ostracism and public shaming by Obama and his predecessors.”

Case in point: Manila says President Trump has praised Rody’s “great job” as leader of the Philippines, where more than 7,000 have died in Duterte’s counter-drug war in less than year.

Happening today: Trump will speak to Putin by phone, according to the Kremlin.

And before we leave strongman news, Erdogan says he’ll speak with Putin on Wednesday to get a better sense of how operations in Syria will proceed in the coming weeks. And later in the month, he’ll speak again with Trump.

Maybe it’s the 100-days thing, but the past few days have seen a flurry of warnings about Trump and what comes next in U.S. security policy. Here’s Hal Brands, professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies: “For decades, the United States has cultivated a reputation as a country that generally knows what it is doing and where it is going in international affairs, periodic mistakes and deviations notwithstanding. Trump is now putting that reputation at risk, as much through ineptness as through ideology.”

In new military tech news: the U.S. Army National Guard’s 29th Infantry Division in Kuwait is learning how to counter drones. Photos, here.

And in old tech news—well, less “news” than a review of one of the cheapest and deadliest weapons of the 21st century—read up on the U.S. military’s long, ill-fated struggle to counter the IED. This mid-length read comes from EOD Lt. Cdr. Jason Shell, writing in War on the Rocks. A pull-out: “60 percent of all American fatalities in Iraq and half of all American fatalities in Afghanistan, more than 3,500 in total, were caused by IEDs. The same proportion holds for Americans who were wounded, totaling more than 30,000 service members.” Shell reviews “what worked,” and how to adapt to the threat, here.

Afghanistan turf war update: More than a third of the country is still beyond government control, according to the latest report from SIGAR. “The government of Afghanistan only controls about 60% of administrative districts, with 29% under dispute and 11% in the hands of the Taliban,” Quartz reported Monday.

Other bullet points from the watchdog agency’s report: “Civilian casualties connected to the conflict tallied at 11,418 in 2016, the highest since 2009, while Afghan government forces face brutal casualty rates, with 807 members of the Afghan security forces killed in the first six weeks of 2017. More than 660,000 people fled their homes due to the fighting, the highest number recorded since the US invasion,” Quartz writes. Read on, here.  

Will being an outspoken creationist hurt Trump’s chosen Army secretary? That’s one of the questions looming over former Army doctor Mark Green. “Green’s views and past statements are facing scrutiny ahead of his confirmation hearing, which has yet to be scheduled,” CNN reported Monday. “In his 2015 speech to a church to Cincinnati titled ‘Isn’t Evolution A Solution?, Green dedicated nearly an hour to explaining why his work as a medical doctor taught him to reject the theory. Green claims that the theory of evolution violates physical law, using the example of a lawn mower left out in a backyard.” More on that, here.

The U.S. Army’s Ukrainian separatist public relations problem. “A prominent militant who fought with Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine and participated in far-right European politics recently completed U.S. Army training and is serving in an American infantry division in Hawaii,” the Washington Post’s Thomas Gibbons-Neff reported Monday. “Guillaume Cuvelier, 29, shipped for basic training in January and graduated as an infantryman at Fort Benning, Ga.”

The bigger picture: “With his well-documented history of espousing extreme right-wing views and his role in an armed group backed by a U.S. adversary, Cuvelier’s ability to join the Army raises questions about the recruitment process and whether applicants are thoroughly screened before they are able to enlist,” TGN writes of a fella that has a quite unusual background. “Born and raised in France as a dual French and American citizen, Cuvelier spent his formative years alongside French ultranationalists before picking up a Kalashnikov in eastern Ukraine in 2014, according to social media posts, a documentary in which he was featured, and accounts from people who knew him. A year later he fought with the Kurdish peshmerga in northern Iraq before coming back to the United States.”

The U.S. Army told the Post it is looking into Cuvelier’s recruiting process to make sure the proper standards and procedures were followed. Meantime, read the rest—including a bit of detail on his work with the Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic—here.

President Trump’s re-election campaign pulled a “legally suspect” ad on Monday that featured National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, in uniform, The Daily Beast reported. “The 30-second video, which promoted the Trump administration’s accomplishments during its first 100 days, featured b-roll of the president shaking hands with his National Security Advisor, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, just after he accepted the job at Mar-a-Lago. McMaster was wearing his Army uniform in the clip, and that may have violated the spirit if not the letter of Defense Department rules barring active-duty members of the military from participating in political advocacy in uniform. By Monday afternoon, the Trump campaign had removed the ad and replaced it with a new version that did not include the McMaster clip.”

ICYMI, on the wisdom of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis: “Mattis’s strong standing in Trump’s Cabinet makes the top Pentagon position more powerful than it has been in recent years, helping to steer the administration toward more traditional foreign policy positions while allocating greater authority and resources to the military at a time of complex and myriad global threats.” WaPo, here.

Lastly today: U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Goldfein, made it a point to  attend the launch of a top-secret rocket from Cape Canaveral on Monday. The launch featured Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which sent the NROL-76 spacecraft into orbit. It was SpaceX’s second attempt to launch the rocket, marking the company’s “first big contract for the U.S. military via the National Reconnaissance Organization (the NRO),” TechCrunch reported Monday. “After the first stage of the rocket separated from the NROL-76 payload and Falcon 9 second stage, it returned to Earth as planned and was recovered by SpaceX via a controlled landing at their LZ-1 landing location at Cape Canaveral in Florida.” Video and more, here

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