Nuke posture preview; Drone swarm hits Russians in Syria; The NSA’s (likely) next chief wants to enlist AI; Navy’s plans and problems, on display; and just a bit more…

Nuclear Posture Review preview: The Trump administration “plans to loosen constraints on the use of nuclear weapons and develop a new low-yield nuclear warhead for US Trident missiles,” the Guardian reported Tuesday citing “a former official who has seen the most recent draft of a policy review.”  

The review, a voluntary measure taken by most recent new administrations as a device to signal the strength of the U.S., follows through on one of President Trump’s flurry of executive orders from last January. The latest version isn’t expected until around the end of the month, the Guardian writes.

What’s new? “[A] modified version of the Trident D5 submarine-launched missiles with only part of its normal warhead, with the intention of deterring Russia from using tactical warheads in a conflict in Eastern Europe.”

As well, “[T]he US will start work on reintroducing a sea-launched nuclear cruise missile, as a counter to a new ground-launched cruise missile the US has accused Russia of developing in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.”

What’s (reportedly) out: “[P]roposals to develop a nuclear hyper-glide weapon, and to remove assurances to non nuclear weapons states that the US will not use its nuclear arsenal against them.”

Nuclear specialists are skeptical of these plans. Said Federation of American Scientists Director Hans Kristensen: “It assumes that the intelligence community has determined that one or several adversaries out there are gambling that the US would be self-deterred from using a ballistic missile warhead because they have larger yield. That’s just not the case. We have never, ever heard anyone say that is so… I think this is about having some warhead work at the laboratories and exploring options. I don’t see this as a real mission.” Continue reading, here.

BTW: The Federation of American Scientists’ latest “nuclear notebook” on North Korea was just released. “It surveys the information and debate about their rapidly evolving nuclear arsenal,” said Director Kristensen on Twitter. “Uncertainty about operational status exists but is no cause for complacency or crazy ideas about preventive war.” Dive in, here.


From Defense One

US Navy: More Ships, Tech, Training, Could Help Prevent Collisions at Sea // Marcus Weisgerber: The comments come as the Pentagon prepares to submit a budget plan expected to call for increases in the size of the military.

How the (Likely) Next NSA/CyberCom Chief Wants to Enlist AI // Patrick Tucker: A look at Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone’s public statements about artificial intelligence, offense, and defense.

The US Military Needs a Teacher Corps to Train Its Partners // Elisabeth Braw: Much of the $70 billion spent to train Afghan armed forces has been wasted. Here’s how to do better.

The World According to H.R. McMaster // Uri Friedman: Why is he so worried about North Korea?

Federal Workers Don’t Trust Their Bosses as Much as Private-Sector Employees Do // Howard Risher: That’s one big takeaway from the latest annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.

Border Agents Are Searching Through More Travelers’ Devices Than Ever // Jack Corrigan: Customs and Border Protection released updated rules for how officials can search phones, laptops and tablets in the age of encryption.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Email us. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. They can subscribe here for free.


The White House has just approved $130 million in new missile defense gear for Japan, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.
Involved: “four missiles for the SM-3 Block IIA interceptor… The missiles can be used at sea with Japan’s current Aegis-equipped destroyers and with the land-based Aegis system its Cabinet approved for purchase last month.
Adds AP: The sale is “intended to bolster Japan’s current missile defense and perhaps curry favor with President Donald Trump who is eager for U.S. allies to buy more American military hardware,” according to State Department officials.
From the Peninsula: South Korea’s President Moon said this morning President Trump deserves “big” credit for progress on Korean talks with the North. “I want to show my gratitude,” Moon said. “It could be a resulting work of the U.S.-led sanctions and pressure.” Reuters has more, here.

Elsewhere in the region: “Philippines to protest to China over apparent airbase on manmade island” on Fiery Cross Reef, in the Spratly Islands, Reuters reports. After surveying recent satellite imagery, Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters, “The Chinese government said some time ago that they were not going to militarize those reclaimed islands. If it is true and we can prove that they have been putting soldiers and even weapons systems, that will be a violation of what they said.”
China’s reax: “Of course, China also needs to construct necessary defense equipment for its territory,” Foreign Ministry spokesman, Lu Kang, told reporters on Tuesday. “The relevant equipment is not directed at any particular country.” Story, here.
Also from the region: An Iranian oil tanker is on fire in the East China Sea, and it could burn for as long as a month, South Korean officials said Tuesday. Reuters: “The tanker Sanchi (IMO:9356608), run by Iran’s top oil shipping operator, National Iranian Tanker Co, collided on Saturday with the CF Crystal (IMO:9497050), carrying grain from the United States, about 160 nautical miles (300 km) off China’s coast near Shanghai. The Sanchi was carrying 136,000 tonnes of condensate, an ultra-light crude that is highly flammable and to South Korea, equivalent to about 1 million barrels and worth about $60 million.” Read on, here.

A Russian airbase in Syria has come under attack from a rudimentary swarm of drones, the Washington Post reports days after rumors of the attack first began to surface. “In the most recent and unusual of the attacks, more than a dozen armed drones descended from an unknown location onto Russia’s vast Hmeimim air base in northwestern Latakia province, the headquarters of Russia’s military operations in Syria, and on the nearby Russian naval base at Tartus.”
One Syria watcher on Twitter has kept a thread with alleged supporting evidence of some of these attacks. Review about a half-dozen or so of his photos, here.
“Russia said that it shot down seven of the 13 drones and used electronic countermeasures to safely bring down the other six,” the Post reports. “The drone attack, however, came less than a week after two Russian servicemen were killed in a sustained mortar assault on the same base, which appears to have caused some damage to Russian military assets.”
Perhaps the most useful takeaway is “that whoever conducted these attacks can still penetrate regime areas and impose costs on the Russians,” said Jennifer Cafarella of the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War. “The gains the regime has made are not secure and are at high risk of being temporary.” Read on, here.
What would an attack on a Russian base be without an accusation tossed at the U.S.? Moscow’s Defense Ministry seemed to level that claim at the U.S. military, calling it a “strange coincidence” that a U.S. military intelligence plane was “flying over the Mediterranean near the two bases at the moment of the attack,” ABC News reported Tuesday. A Pentagon spox replied: “[A]ny suggestion that U.S. or coalition forces played a role in an attack on a Russian base is without any basis in fact and is utterly irresponsible.” Tiny bit more, here.

Misinformation alert on alleged Russian private military contractors in Syria: If you hear about a group called Turan PMC, it appears to be part of an elaborate hoax, the open source intel-gatherers at Conflict Intelligence Team reported in a recent deepdive into the matter.

A good Middle East / Horn of Africa explainer tackles the questions of why Sudan just gave Turkey an island in the Red Sea, why the Egyptians and the Saudis are mad about it, and why Sudan recently deployed thousands of troops to its border with Eritrea. Worth the click, via al-Jazeera, here.

Many of the Navy’s hopes, plans, and challenges were on display yesterday at the Surface Navy Association’s annual conference in Crystal City, Va. The community’s leader, Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, ticked off several promising developments in the past year: nearly 200 officers have graduated from the newly expanded “Top Gun” school for surface warriors; a new version of the Aegis defense system; upgrades to the Tomahawk land-attack missile and SM-6 anti-air — now also anti-ship — missile; progress on the new Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile; and an imminent conclusion to a competition for a new over-the-horizon, anti-surface missile. All of these will feed the two-year-old Distributed Lethality concept and the soon-to-be finalized Distributed Maritime Operations concept, Breaking Defense reports, here.
Costly new warship: More sobering was the announcement that the Navy expects its next frigate to cost up to $950 million per hull, about half as much as an Arleigh Burke destroyer and approaching twice that of a littoral combat ship, USNI News reported. “That seems a little high to me, in the sense that’s about $100 million more than I was expecting,” CNAS’ Jerry Hendrix told Defense News.

Navy begs for more ships, less work: Over it all was the cloud of last year’s deadly accidents in the Pacific. CNO Adm. John Richardson said a mix of “both training and technology and then the interface of the two” would help prevent incidents like the ones involving the destroyers USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain. But other key ingredients, Rowden said, are more ships and fewer operational demands: “It is hard to see things any other way,” the surface-forces commander said, according to Defense News, which continued, “It was a remarkable statement from a senior Navy leader coming from a culture that prides itself on rogering up to tasks.”
Please clap. And then there was this uncomfortable moment in the CNO’s speech, as reported by Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber: “Richardson says he would rather be a sailor on a U.S. Navy destroyer than on a ship in any other country’s Navy. He pauses. Crickets. ‘That’s my applause line,’ he says. Most folks in the room clap and chuckle.”

How to pay for an expensive border wall: cut funding for border surveillance, radar, patrol boats and personnel. That’s one plan being floated by the Trump administration as it tries to deliver on the controversial campaign promise of walling off Mexico from the United States, according to The New York Times.  

Paperless voting machines may be out, according to a new bill that “reads like a computer security expert’s wish list,” Ars Technica reported Tuesday.

Lastly today: New face at the Senate Armed Services committee. South Carolina Republican Senator Tim Scott. SASC Chairman John McCain welcomed his new colleague in tweet Tuesday. “Our committee will benefit from his principled leadership, integrity & hard work on behalf of our nation’s men & women in uniform,” said McCain.
From Sen. Scott’s office: “South Carolina is home to thousands of the brave men and women who have signed up to defend our nation, as well as some of our nation’s critical military infrastructure.”
Your D Brief-er had a lovely stay in Scott’s state for the duration of the U.S. Army’s Basic Training at Fort Jackson just over a decade ago. Even the “suck” of bleeding through your boots “Relaxin’ Jackson” couldn’t take out the beauty of the state — at least around Columbia, S.C.
But anyway, back to Sen. Scott: “Having two brothers who served, I know well the sacrifices made by members of our Armed Forces, and I will continue working to ensure our military is the best trained and equipped fighting force in the world.” More from his office, here.

Close [ x ] More from DefenseOne