Will the US arm Ukraine?; A new Air Force One; Budget Day at the Pentagon; Tearing down the Okura; And a bit more.

Phil Breedlove and other key players are now leaning toward arming Ukrainian forces. NATO’s military commander, Gen. Philip Breedlove, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey, outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and even now National Security Adviser Susan Rice are all coming around to the idea that Kiev’s “beleaguered” forces need more help, the NYT’s Michael Gordon and Eric Schmitt report on Page One this morning: “…In recent months, [Rice] has resisted proposals to provide lethal assistance, several officials said. But one official who is familiar with her views insisted that Ms. Rice was now prepared to reconsider the issue.

“…Fearing that the provision of defensive weapons might tempt President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to raise the stakes, the White House has limited American aid to ‘non-lethal’ items, including body armor, night-vision goggles, first aid kits and engineering equipment.

But the failure of economic sanctions to dissuade Russia from sending heavy weapons and military personnel to eastern Ukraine is pushing the issue of defensive weapons back into discussion.”

“…In recent weeks, Russia has shipped a large number of heavy weapons to support the separatists’ offensive in eastern Ukraine, including T-80 and T-72 tanks, multiple-launch rocket systems, artillery and armored personnel carriers, Western officials say.

Some of the weapons are too sophisticated to be used by hastily trained separatists, a Western official said. NATO officials estimate that about 1,000 Russian military and intelligence personnel are supporting the separatist offensive while Ukrainian officials insist that the number is much higher.”

“…The administration’s deliberations were described by a range of senior Pentagon, administration and Western officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were talking about internal discussions.” The rest of that, here.

There’s a new report out this morning that is fueling – and giving some political cover – for those who would do more to help Kiev. “Preserving Ukraine’s Independence, Resisting Russian Aggression: What the United States and NATO Must Do” says the allies must make life a lot more difficult for Russia and Putin. It’s signed by Michele Flournoy, Jim Stavridis, Ivo Daalder, John Herbst, Jan Lodal, Steven Pifer, Strobe Talbott and Charles Wald.

The report urges the U.S. and NATO to spend some $3 billion in assistance to Ukraine, including, according to the NYT, anti-armor missiles, reconnaissance drones, armored Humvees and radars that can determine the location of enemy rocket and artillery fire.

Read the report, published by The Atlantic Council, Brookings and the Chicago Council of Global Affairs, here.

Noting: Raising her profile for HRC? Flournoy, who reportedly turned down the job as SecDef when the White House came calling to replace Chuck Hagel, appears to be actively positioning herself to become Pentagon chief under a President Clinton in urging such urgent action on such a high-profile foreign policy matter as this.

Welcome to Monday’s edition of The D Brief, Defense One’s new, first-read national security newsletter, where we are still recovering from last night’s nail biter. Why’d he pass it??? If you’d like to subscribe to The D Brief, reply to this email and let us know, subscribe here or send us a holler at glubold@defenseone.com. Please send us your tips, your tidbits, your scoops and stories, your think tank reports and best of all your candy, but send it to us early for maximum tease. And whatever you do, we hope you’ll follow us @glubold and @natsecwatson.

Worth the clicks: Go here for the WSJ’s collection of Super Bowl ads, many of which were particularly good this year and made some grown men cry or at least gulp.

Today’s big event: The White House releases its budget today with President Obama expected to say a few words about its release shortly before noon at the Department of Homeland Security. Then roughly an hour later, the official budget presser gets under way from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building’s South Court Auditorium at 12:45 p.m. Attending: Jason Furman, who chairs the Council of Economic Advisers; Domestic Policy Council Director, Cecilia Muñoz; National Economic Council Director, Jeff Zients; along with White House PresSec Josh Earnest and the Office of Management and Budget Director Shawn Donovan.

The White House is expected to lay out plans to fund a new Air Force One in its new budget today. Manufacturing the Boeing 747-8 itself is the easy part. It’s building—and sometimes outright inventing—what’s inside where things get difficult. Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber reports on the history of past models and the wish list on a new one, here.

In this time of (somewhat) shrinking budgets, the Pentagon’s virtual battlefield simulators aren’t quite realistic enough and that lack of realism could be putting troops at risk, two-thirds of DOD leaders said in a new survey from the Government Business Council. Defense One’s Patrick Tucker lays out the responses and a way forward: “The military is going to press ahead with more virtual training but the pace of adoption is being held in check, which has costs, either in terms of money that went to more expensive live training instead of simulation or in terms of readiness… The best way to make simulations much more realistic much faster could be to go with a software framework that far more people are developing on. That means designing or commissioning more simulations on the Unity game engine as opposed to Virtual Battle Space, VBS, or other architectures of which the military is fond.” Read the rest here.

The budget battle ahead is finding Democrats on the defensive and Republicans regaining some familiar rhetorical footing. WaPo’s Greg Jaffe: “[A] cash-strapped Pentagon could still provide an opening for Republicans — whose standing on national security issues was damaged by the Iraq war… Democrats, though, are determined to prevent the re­emergence of their pre-Iraq-war reputation as being the weaker party on defense.

‘It looks like the administration is trying, but I don’t think the fundamentals are there for a compromise,’ said Kathleen Hicks, who served as a top official in the Pentagon under Obama and now is a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies…’[Republicans will] have to move to the center’ on defense spending…And I do think world events are pushing them in that direction.’” More here.

At the Pentagon, who takes the podium when today? Joint Chiefs’ Vice Chairman, Adm. Sandy Winnefeld holds a press conference with DepSecDef Bob Work today at 1:30 p.m. from the Pentagon … Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) Mike McCord and the Joint Staff’s Director of Force Structure, Resources and Assessment, Lt. Gen. Mark Ramsey brief at 2 p.m. … the Army’s Budget Director, Maj. Gen. Thomas Horlander, and his deputy, Davis Welch, are up at 3 p.m. … the Navy’s Rear Adm. William Lescher at 3:45 p.m. … the Air Force’s Maj. Gen. James Martin, Jr., takes questions at 4:30 p.m. … and Missile Defense Agency Director Vice. Adm. James Syring steps up at 5:15 p.m.

In transit: The Army’s Vice Chief of Staff, Gen. Daniel Allyn is off to Kuwait and Afghanistan this week, with an expected return date of Saturday. 

Meantime, Ash Carter is preparing for his big day on Wednesday, when the SecDef nominee will appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee for what promises to be a sure confirmation – even if we can expect some fireworks over Obama Administration policy, particularly in Iraq and Syria.

The Center for New American Security put out “Ideas for Action” from top CNAS folks making recommendations for Ash Carter. Read those commentaries, from Michele Flournoy (who reportedly turned down the SecDef job) Shawn Brimley, Philip Carter, Elbridge Colby, Patrick Cronin, Ilan Goldenberg, Jerry Hendrix, Nicholas Heras, Van Jackson, Katherine Kidder, Paul Scharre, Julianne Smith, Jacob Stokes and Alexander Sullivan. Read that here.

There is a quiet cyber war unfolding in the conflict in Syria. David Sanger and Eric Schmitt: “…The Syrian conflict has been marked by a very active, if only sporadically visible, cyberbattle that has engulfed all sides, one that is less dramatic than the barrel bombs, snipers and chemical weapons — but perhaps just as effective. The United States had deeply penetrated the web and phone systems in Syria a year before the Arab Spring uprisings spread throughout the country. And once it began, Mr. Assad’s digital warriors have been out in force, looking for any advantage that could keep him in power.” More here.

Vocativ: ISIS is giving away stolen U.N. humanitarian aid, here.

The U.S. continues to prepare Iraqi forces for the big fight later this year to retake Mosul. The LA Times’ Bill Hennigan from Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar: “…Military officers here say a barrage of airstrikes over the last two weeks helped sever two crucial routes that the extremist militants used to funnel fighters and supplies from the Syrian border to Mosul, their self-declared capital in Iraq and most significant battlefield prize. U.S. commanders who help oversee the air war say the joint offensive with Iraqi Kurdish ground forces pushed back the Sunni Islamists’ defensive line west of Mosul, recapturing territory and removing a key obstacle, at least for now, as military planners consider tactics for retaking the congested city as early as this summer.” More here.

The Kurdish victory over ISIS for the Syrian town of Kobani has gifted them a city of carnage and decay. WSJ’s Ayla Albayrak and Joe Parkinson on location: “Islamic State on Saturday conceded defeat in Kobani but said it would attack again. In a video published by pro-jihadist Aamaq News, two fighters blamed their defeat on the air campaign, diminishing the role of the Kurdish militiamen they called rats… Streets lie in ruins. Water and power systems are shattered. Decaying corpses of jihadist fighters remain, some stripped of footwear and clothing, and one still swaddled in a suicide vest. Thousands of people died, and another 200,000 remain refugees across the border in Turkey… The absence of civilians in Kobani was an advantage unlikely to be repeated in larger cities held by Islamic State, including the Iraqi city of Mosul, another target of U.S. war planners and their Iraqi partners.” More here.

A crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo. An Egyptian court just sentenced 183 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood to death for killing police officers in August 2013. Reuters this hour, here.

Tehran’s increasingly dire economic straits is precisely the sort of leverage Washington needs to close a nuclear deal with Iran, David Cohen, who’s soon bouncing from Treasury to the #2 spot in the CIA, told WSJ’s Jay Solomon and William Maudlin: “The Treasury Department calculates the Western sanctions have cut Iran’s oil exports by more than half in three years, while denying Tehran $40 billion in revenues last year alone. Recent declines in oil prices, according to Mr. Cohen, could cost Iran another $11 billion over the next six months.

“‘I think it would be accurate to say that the importance of financial tools in our national security toolbox has steadily increased over the past five to 10 years,’ Mr. Cohen said. ‘Had that not been the case…I would have never gotten on the radar screen of somebody like John Brennan…” Read the rest, here.

South Sudan’s warring Dinka and Nuer communities signed a cease-fire deal in Ethiopia today, potentially bringing an end to fighting that has destabilized the new nation for more than a year. WSJ’s Nicholas Bariyo, here.

Japanese PM Shinzo Abe promised revenge after ISIS apparently executed its second Japanese hostage this weekend. NYTs Martin Fackler: “The prime minister’s call for revenge after the killings of the journalist, Kenji Goto, and another hostage, Haruna Yukawa, raised eyebrows even in the military establishment, adding to a growing awareness here that the crisis could be a watershed for this long pacifist country… In coming weeks, Mr. Abe will seek legislative changes to expand the role of the military; for instance, by allowing it to go to the aid of a friendly nation under attack, something it cannot now legally do… ‘This is 9/11 for Japan,’ said Kunihiko Miyake, a former high-ranking Japanese diplomat who has advised Mr. Abe on foreign affairs.” More here.

In Tokyo, the most amazing hotel, The Okura, a “landmark of Japanese modernism” and which could have been the setting for almost any old James Bond movie, is being torn down. It’s also where top Pentagon officials stay when they visit Tokyo – and where reporters presented Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel with a hotel kimono (urging him to “keep it open,” figuratively, of course). The WaPo’s Anna Fifield in Tokyo: “If Don Draper were going to drink Old Fashioneds in Tokyo, he would definitely drink them in the Orchid Bar of the Hotel Okura. Wood paneled with lighting as dim as midnight, and smoked-glass ashtrays lined up along the counter, the bar looks like something straight from the set of ‘Mad Men.’”

“… U.S. presidents — including Richard Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton — have been hosted there. When President Obama visited Tokyo last year, where did he stay? At the Okura, of course.

“But the American guest list is not limited to politicians and bureaucrats. Madonna, Michael Jackson and Harrison Ford have all stayed there, too. While Don Draper may not have visited, another fictional ladykiller did: When James Bond arrived in Tokyo in the 1964 Ian Fleming novel “You Only Live Twice,” he went straight to the Okura. Come August, the Okura of lore will disappear.” More here.

Obama is looking to go on a nuclear weapons spending spree, which is “an expensive and profound mistake” that overstates their importance to U.S. security, argues Stephen Young of the Union of Concerned Scientists, writing in Defense One: “These plans will cost $348 billion over the next 10 years, according to a Congressional Budget Office estimate released last week… No current or conceivable future threat requires the United States to maintain more than a few hundred survivable warheads… as the limited value of nuclear weapons becomes clearer, smarter budgeting will involve budgets with smaller, more reasonable investments in our nuclear arsenal.” More here.

Navy Yard workers return today to the building where a dozen of their colleagues were shot to death on Sept. 16, 2013. WaPo’s DeNeen L. Brown, here.

Michelle Obama saw American Sniper and called it “complex,” and “emotional” and a realistic “depiction of a veteran and his family” at a veterans event Friday: “While I know there have been critics, I felt that, more often than not, this film touches on many of the emotions and experiences that I’ve heard firsthand from military families over these past few years,” she said. “This movie reflects . . . the complex journeys that our men and women in uniform endure,” Michelle Obama said. More in the WaPo, here.

Noting: We finally saw American Sniper and enjoyed the movie quite a bit for its portrayal of war and the battles at home, seeing war not glorified but made real. Minor point, but we have to agree with others: while Chris Kyle might have rated his own sat phone during deployments as a SEAL, it’s unlikely, in the extreme, that he would have ever used it in the middle of a firefight or on his way to a mission as the movie portrays. The notion that he’d catch up with his wife at home using the sat phone as he lay in his hide training his scope at a potential target is Hollywood at its unfortunate worst.

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