Russia-China launch wargames; US show of force over Korea; Trump at the UN; US forces regroup in Syria; and just a bit more…

Eight days of Russia-China wargaming has begun in the North Pacific, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Location: “between Peter the Great Bay, near Vladivostok, and the southern part of the Sea of Okhotsk, to the north of Japan,” Reuters reports. They’re also taking place “for the first time in the Sea of Okhotsk, long used by Moscow for operations with nuclear missile submarines,” notes the Journal.

“A Chinese submersible rescue vehicle will also dock with a Russian submarine underwater for the first time.”

An advantage, aside from functioning as “response to U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization influence in Europe and the American presence in Asia,” writes the Journal, is that the Russia drills give “China an increasingly expeditionary force the experience it needs to operate far beyond its own borders. China’s fleet of modern attack submarines has been expanding rapidly in recent years and patrolling with increasing frequency and over longer ranges, including far into the Indian and Pacific oceans, but it has no combat experience.”

Adds Reuters: “The drills are the second part of China-Russian naval exercises this year, the first part of which was staged in the Baltic in July.” More here.

Another show of force over the Korean peninsula happened Sunday, the U.S. military announced the day after. Fourteen aircraft in all took part: “Two Air Force B-1B bombers from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam and four Marine Corps F-35B fighters from Iwakuni, Japan, combined with four South Korean F-15K fighters and four F-2 Japanese fighters,” according to the Washington Post.

“The aircraft carried out a simulated attack on the Pilsung training range in South Korea, a few dozen miles from the demilitarized zone separating the North and South, while using live bombs,” the Post reported. “The U.S. and Japanese jets also flew in formation over waters near Kyushu, Japan, a southern portion of the country that is the closest major island to the Korean Peninsula.”

Find imagery of the show of force, released Monday by Pacific Command, here.


From Defense One

Syria is a ‘Laboratory’ for the Air War of the Future // Patrick Tucker: US airmen are rapidly developing and remixing new technologies and techniques in the fight against ISIS, but sometimes you can’t beat the tried and true.

The Hubris of Hezbollah // Andrew Exum: How the militant group will fumble into the next Middle Eastern war.

Memorandum to President Trump on the Iran Nuclear Deal // Christopher J. Bolan: Here’s what the U.S. president should know going into his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who wants to scuttle the agreement.

Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. OTD1957: The U.S. conducts the first fully underground nuclear test. 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.)


The U.S. military is regrouping in Syria — closing down a remote base in the southwest, and relocating forces to another one in Tanf, coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon confirmed to the Washington Post today.
The Post responded to a Lebanese report from Syria alleging as much had occurred, with the Al Masdar News story adding U.S. forces unsurprisingly destroyed the base before they departed.   
Why? Reuters has an idea:  “the move follows a deal between Washington and Moscow to abandon the Zakf site, located around 60-70 km (40-50 miles) northeast of Tanf,” the news agency reported after speaking to rebels from Maghawir al-Thawra, a Pentagon-backed group that patrols the region around Tanf.
Short background: “Zakf was established to stop the Syrian army and allied Iranian-backed militias advancing from territory north of Tanf toward the Iraqi border after they managed to cut off and encircle rebels backed by Washington… Western-backed rebels had also hoped at the time that it could be used to take more territory along the Iraqi border and to push toward Deir al-Zor in eastern Syria. However, advances by the Syrian army and its allies from central Syria, as well as by coalition-backed forces from northern Syria, have since approached the city, making a rebel drive there from the south redundant.” Read on, here.

Some 300 kms northwest, jihadis have launched their largest offensive since March on government-held areas near Hama, Reuters reports. The operation has triggered heavy airstrikes and artillery on rebel-held areas in northwestern Idlib governorate, including “three hospitals, a medical center and premises used by a rescue service in rebel-held Idlib,” according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Why the fighting now near Hama? The Islamist militants who hold sway in Idlib reject the [Russian-brokered ceasefires], including a tripartite deal struck last week by Moscow, Tehran and Ankara for a deployment of an observer force on the edge of an Idlib ‘de-escalation zone.’” More here.

The drone war in Turkey. Ankara’s ongoing war with the militants of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) has ignited a tit-for-tat series of drone strikes using off-the-shelf consumer products (on the PKK side) and Turkey’s Bayraktar TB2 tactical drone (on Ankara’s side), al-Monitor reported Monday.
The concern: “Today the Turkish army, the air force, the Gendarmerie Command, the National Police and the National Intelligence Agency (MIT) have armed drones in their arsenals. However, until today, there has been no initiative to achieve standardization and coordination among these agencies on drone warfare. Each agency is operating its own system with its own in-house institutional culture and standard operating procedures.” Worth the click, here.

FWIW: Here are some focused stats to remind us that, while technology is proliferating in the hands of non-state actors, it is still proliferating for good purposes, too — via RAND Corp.’s David Manheim.

Libya’s strongman, Khalifa Haftar, is in the spotlight — and not in a good way, Just Security’s Ryan Goodman and Alex Whiting report this morning. They report off new video alleging to show Haftar (who is also a U.S. citizen) ordering “summary executions” in September 2015.
Why it should concern Washington: “The videos of Haftar reinforce concerns about the American’s criminal exposure and his suitability as an interlocutor in any diplomatic negotiations over the future of Libya. What’s more, if these videos help prove Haftar is personally committing war crimes, individuals who support Haftar’s military operations in the future, U.S. officials included, could also be exposed to criminal liability under international and domestic law.” Read on, here.

NDAA passes Senate 89-8. AP: “The Senate has overwhelmingly approved a sweeping defense policy bill that would pump $700 billion into the military, putting the U.S. armed forces on track for a budget greater than at any time during the decade-plus wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” That includes a base budget of $640 billion and the balance for wartime spending overseas; Trump’s budget requested a base of $603 billion and $65 billion more for war spending. The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act bill adds $630 million to the White House request for missile defense, bringing the total to $8.5 billion. It also boosts spending on F-35 fighter jets, ships, and M1 Abrams tanks, but does not permit the closing of excess military bases stateside, AFP reports.

Air Force safety report: F-35 ejection seats remain dangerous despite leaders’ assurances. Roll Call’s John Donnelly: An internal Air Force safety report says the ejection seats “pose a ‘serious’ risk that will probably injure or kill nearly two dozen pilots” despite service officials’ May declaration that the problems had been fixed. “The F-35 Joint Program Office — which runs the $406.5 billion initiative, the most expensive weapons program in history — has declined to try to save those lives by conducting less than a year’s worth of additional testing that would cost a relatively paltry few million dollars, the report shows.” Read on, here.

Afghan Air Force gets Black Hawks. The first of a planned 159 U.S.-made UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters arrived on Tuesday to start replacing Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters. Reuters, here. (Reminder: the 2018 NDAA includes some $5 billion in assistance to Afghan security forces, including purchases like these.)

And finally: WWI U-boat wreck found off Belgium. Hard on the heels of the discovery of USS Indianapolis in the Pacific, a “well-preserved” WWI German submarine has been found off the province of West Flanders. “It was not yet clear which of the 11 known wrecks of the German submarines had been found, and authorities said they would not give the exact location of the wreck to deter looters,” Reuters reported, adding that Belgian officials said that, “Of the 11 downed U-Boats in Belgian waters, this one is the best preserved example.”

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