Welcome, USS Ford; Afghan war sets deadly record; Syrian forces make rare advance; Ocean-crossing consumer drones; and a bit more…

The first of America’s new class of carriers entered service this weekend. USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) “is roughly the same size as the Nimitz-class carriers welcomed into the fleet in 1975,” writes New York Times, “but it packs more punch. The superstructure is smaller and farther back on the ship, which will allow it to launch 33 percent more flight missions a day using a new catapult and landing system. With nearly three times as much electricity, digital navigation and touch-screen technology, the ship will have a smaller crew and should save $4 billion over 50 years, according to the Navy.”

But: “The ship cost $2 billion more than the initial $11 billion estimate and took two years longer than expected to finish because of problems with the new catapults. Even now, it will require an additional four years of trials before deployment, costing $780 million more, according to a Government Accountability Office report.” More here.

On hand in for the Norfolk, Va., commissioning was President Trump, who urged the crowd of about 6,500 to lobby Congress to “pass the budget that provides for higher, stable and predictable funding levels for our military needs that our fighting men and women deserve. But I don’t mind getting a little hand, so call that congressman, and call that senator, and make sure you get it.” That from the Washington Times, here.

He added, “And by the way, you can also call those senators to make sure you get health care.”

Andrew Exum believes this crossed a line, writing in The Atlantic that “former U.S. military officers were particularly appalled when the current president of the United States…encouraged his uniformed audience to call their representatives to lobby for the president’s policies—including his budget increasing defense spending at the expense of other domestic priorities.”   

Doctrine Man was more sanguine: “We ask you guys to contact Congress all the time, even active duty followers…So Trump asking for this doesn’t seem like a big deal,” adding that the commander-in-chief ought to be prepared to hear that not everyone who calls supports his agenda.

Extra listening: With President Trump seeking a larger U.S. Navy, the Center for Investigative Journalism explores “how lax safety has been allowed to persist at shipyards that thrive on military contracts” in an hour-long podcast that aired this weekend. A central focus: “a tugboat explosion at VT Halter Marine, a shipbuilding company in Mississippi.”


From Defense One

Trump’s Special Ops Pick Says Terror Drones Might Soon Reach the US from Africa. How Worried Should We Be? // Caroline Houck: Technological advancement could produce ocean-spanning consumer UAVs. But extremists won’t necessarily bother with them.

Let the US Air Force Mature into the Space Force // Mike Rogers: Well-intentioned Congressional efforts to address problems risk trampling on existing solutions.

If Trump Undermines the Iran Deal // Andrew Exum: A report suggests the president is looking for ways to get out of the accord. It says a lot about how he views the world.

Trump Orders Extensive Study of Defense Industrial Base // Joseph Marks: The review will examine manufacturing capacity, workforce and other priorities.

The Myth of ISIS’s Strategic Brilliance // Aymenn al-Tamim: The group has adapted to battlefield setbacks. But that doesn’t mean it factored territorial losses into its master plan.

The End of American Support for Syrian Rebels Was Inevitable // Faysal Itani: Where the insurgency is concerned, Trump and Obama have plenty in common.

Welcome to Monday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. OTD1950: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station opens operations with the launch of a V-2-based rocket. Have something you want to share? Email us at the-d-brief@defenseone.com. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)


A Taliban-claimed car bomb (Toyota Corolla) detonated in Kabul this morning, killing 29 and injuring at least 40 others, CNN reports from Afghanistan.
Not to be missed: “More than 1,600 civilians were killed in Afghanistan in the first half of the year, UN figures show, a record high in the 16-year war,” CNN writes. More from Kabul, here.  
The Taliban have also retaken two more districts in the north and the west on Sunday, NYTs reports from the capital. “Kohistan District, in northern Faryab Province, was first to fall, just after midnight on Saturday, after more than a week of fighting… In the west of the country, the Taliban overran the important district of Taiwara, killing dozens of Afghan police officers and government militiamen.”
And panning out more broadly, “Even before the fall of the two recent districts, the insurgents controlled 11 districts from the country’s roughly 400 districts, and influenced another 34, according to United States military data released by the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction. In comparison, the Afghan government controlled 97 districts and influenced 146. More than 100 districts were contested by both sides.” It gets worse. Read the rest, here.
And in Afghanistan’s eastern region around Achin, in Nangarhar province, “Afghan and U.S. special forces listen in on enemy chatter, intercepting dozens of their radio channels. American AC-130 gunships and F-16 fighter jets whir in circles overhead, at low altitude, waiting for strike orders,” the Washington Post reported this weekend from a persistent hotbed of ISIS affiliate activity in the war-torn country. “The battle is lopsided, but each day the front line here in Achin district moves back only slightly. Both local intelligence officials and the U.S. military believe that ISIS-K is replenishing its stock of fighters almost as quickly as it loses them. A sense that this may be an indefinite mission has set in.” More here.  

In the war against ISIS in Iraq, the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain is sending its 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team to replace the 82nd Airborne’s 2nd BCT. About 2,100 soldiers from the 10th Mountain will be making the trip in the fall, the U.S. Army said in a statement late last week.
ISIS is “not that smart,” an Iraqi health official told the Washington Post this weekend after “two caches of cobalt-60, a metallic substance with lethally high levels of radiation” were discovered in Mosul University after retaking the site from the terrorist group earlier this year. Writes the Post: “When contained within the heavy shielding of a radiotherapy machine, cobalt-60 is used to kill cancer cells. In terrorists’ hands, it is the core ingredient of a ‘dirty bomb,’ a weapon that could be used to spread radiation and panic.”
Said Andrew Bieniawski, a vice president for the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative: “Nearly every country in the world either has [this sort of radio therapy machine], or is a transit country… This is a global problem.’” Full story, here.
Expect more cooperation between Iraq and Iran after the two countries “signed an agreement on Sunday to step up military cooperation and the fight against ‘terrorism and extremism, border security, and educational, logistical, technical and military support,’” Reuters reported Sunday from Dubai.
And the fate of all those Shi’a militias enlisted for the battle for Mosul? “Some [inside Iraq] are demanding the mostly Iranian-backed forces be disbanded but the militias say their sacrifices on the battlefield and the fact they were sanctioned by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi have earned them a permanent place in the hierarchy of Iraq’s security forces,” AP reports this morning from Najaf. Good review of those dynamics, here.

The Syrian army and its Hezbollah partners seized a bit of territory at “the provincial boundary between Raqqa and Deir al-Zor” this weekend. Reuters report, “It was a rare advance for Damascus’s forces in that area, which is close to territory controlled by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-dominated alliance separately fighting Islamic State. It also brings government forces closer to Deir al-Zor province, another Islamic State stronghold.” That, here.
And Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate — Hayat Tahrir al-Sham — seized control of a major city in the country’s northwestern governorate of Idlib, Agence France-Presse reported this weekend. “The fall of the city and provincial capital is symbolic. It comes after the jihadists captured in a bloodless takeover “more than 31 towns and villages” across Idlib province over the past two days,” AFP writes. More here.

In case you were wondering, “there appears to be no viable path to peace in Yemen,” according to Stephen Seche, former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen (2007-2010); and Eric Pelofsky, who served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for North Africa and Yemen at the National Security Council (2014-2017) — both of whom recently visited Riyadh to discuss options with Saudi officials. The two have written a prescription for where to go from here, published this weekend in Just Security. Their three focal points: Re-energize the UN mediation process; Increase Pressure on the Houthis; and Clarify the Parameters of a Peace Deal. They elaborate on each, here.

Congress reaches a deal on Russia sanctions, but will Trump buck it? The bill seeks to punish Moscow for meddling in last year’s U.S. election and for invading Ukraine. Details here, via NYT.
Reaction: “We support where the legislation is now,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on ABC’s “This Week.” But communications director Anthony Scaramucci, whose surprise appointment on Friday prompted Sean Spicer to resign, struck a more cautious tone. On CNN’s “State of the Union,” he said Mr. Trump “hasn’t made the decision yet to sign that bill” but suggested he wasn’t sure what would happen because it his “second or third day on the job.”

Also: There is a “hot war” going on in Ukraine, and Russia is to blame for it, said President Trump’s new Special Envoy, Kurt Volker, during a visit to the country on Sunday. Reuters: On a visit to the Ukrainian-held town of Kramatorsk, 690 km (430 miles) southeast of Kiev, Volker said he would prepare a set of recommendations on how Washington can better engage with the peace process.”
Said Volker: “This is not a frozen conflict, this is a hot war, and it’s an immediate crisis that we all need to address as quickly as possible.” More here.

Speaking of contested regions, Beijing has warned New Delhi to remove its troops from a sensitive border region with China “high in the Himalayas,” the Associated Press reports this morning. The region is “the Doklam Plateau, an area also claimed by Indian ally Bhutan where Chinese teams had been building a road toward India’s border… The nuclear-armed neighbors share a 3,500-kilometer (2,174-mile) border, much of it contested, and China acts as a key ally and arms supplier for India’s archrival, Pakistan.”
Adds AP, the standoff “began last month after Chinese troops began working to extend southward the road from Yadong in Tibet.” More here.

Trump-Russia wrap: Attorney General Jeff Sessions discussed Trump campaign-related matters with Russian ambassador, U.S. intelligence intercepts show. That’s from the WaPo, here.
This morning: Trump advisor/son-in-law Jared Kushner “is scheduled to testify in closed-door sessions, first before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Monday and then before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, as part of the congressional probes into Russian interference in the 2016 election and contacts between Russia and Trump campaign officials and associates.” WaPo, here.

Industry trends: Unmanned cargo ships are coming to the world’s high seas, and Norway is leading the charge, The Wall Street Journal reported this weekend.

Lastly today: “Are America’s Overseas Security Commitments Worth It?” asked the researchers over at Rand Corp., in an essay published July 7.  They combed through “decades of economic data and new numbers on U.S. troops and treaties to test that question” to discover “strong evidence that the economic value of those overseas commitments likely exceeds their costs by billions of dollars every year.”
The numbers: “The retrenchment school has estimated that its proposed 80 percent cut to U.S. commitments would yield economic savings that could amount to around $126 billion a year. The RAND researchers found that even a smaller 50 percent cut would cost the U.S. economy as much as $490 billion in lost wages and profits.”
One perhaps surprising takeaway: “Even just a statement to another nation that we agree to be friendly and peaceful—even that can have an impact” on trade, said Jennifer Kavanagh, a political scientist at RAND who worked on the project. Read on, here.

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