Moscow to send troops to Syria; Russian jets over Turkey; U.S. arms losing their edge; Afghans blamed for hospital strike; and a bit more…

Russia says it will send ‘volunteer’ ground forces to Syria, ratcheting up its involvement in the war there, the New York Times reports. “Although President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said he would not put troops in Syria, the plan for so-called volunteers was disclosed Monday by his top military liaison to the Parliament, Adm. Vladimir Komoyedov. It seemed similar to Russia’s stealth tactic in using soldiers to seize Crimea from Ukraine in March of 2014 and to aid pro-Moscow rebels in eastern Ukraine,” the Times wrote.

U.S. officials believe that more than 600 Russian personnel — not counting air crews — are already in Syria, and “that tents for nearly 2,000 people had been seen at Russia’s air base near Latakia, in northwest Syria near the Turkish border.”

Meanwhile, Russian jets flew over Turkey. But was it intentional? Two Turkish F-16 jets intercepted a Russian fighter jet that crossed its border and then headed into Syria, the second airspace incursion in three days. A Russian defense ministry spokesman called the event “a mistake” caused when bad weather required a northern approach to a base, according to Reuters.

Hmm, says the NATO secretary general. “‘This doesn’t look like an accident,’ @jensstoltenberg says citing two violations of Turkish airspace by Russia. Says lasted long time,” tweets Wall Street Journal’s Julian Barnes, at NATO headquarters in Brussels. More from the Associated Press here.

Here’s a handy map at NYT.com showing Russian targets are quite far from ISIS-held territory and smack in the middle of rebel-held territory in the west between Aleppo and Homs. U.S. targets in Syria largely stay to the east, where ISIS lives. Most striking is how little the map of territorial control has changed over the year.

Triumph no more. Now ISIS has destroyed the 1,800-year old Arch of Triumph at Palmyra, another monument.

Pentagon’s Kendall blames U.S. defense industry for China and Russia’s technological gains. Well, sort of. Like Cougar in “Top Gun,” the Pentagon has lost the edge…when it comes to buying new arms. “For the past six years, a newly cost-conscious Pentagon has aimed to buy arms that are less complex and use more existing or commercial technology. And it’s worked. The cost of major projects is dropping, says Frank Kendall, the defense undersecretary for acquisition. And he has the data to prove it.”

Sounds like good news right? Not exactly, Kendall says in his latest annual report that analyzes the Pentagon’s acquisition reforms, known as Better Buying Power. “Pentagon arms buyers have become so risk-adverse that America’s cutting-edge weapons aren’t quite so cutting-edge. And that’s allowing China and Russia to catch up,” Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber reports.

Some of the report’s highlights: The cost of the Pentagon’s major acquisition projects is coming down; subcontractors to major firms are making a higher percentage of profit than the company’s they are supplying; and the Pentagon is negotiating better deals with defense firms.

Happening Now: Kendall is rolling out the report himself at Defense One LIVE’s “The State of Defense Acquisition” in Crystal City, Va., from 8 to 10 a.m. Washington time. Watch the livestream here to see Weisgerber interview Kendall, following by a panel with Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Acquisition) William LaPlante, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology Heidi Shyu; and Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development & Acquisition Sean Stackley.

Afghans called in the strike. That’s the long and short of it, according to Gen. John Campbell, top U.S. commander of the Afghanistan war…  “The Afghans asked for air support from a Special Forces team that we have on the ground providing train, advise and assist in Kunduz,” he said, while visiting the Pentagon Monday. (Video here.) Campbell said U.S. forces were not fired upon and not simply returning fire. Instead, just one AC-130 gunship pounded the hospital over and over.

Three investigations already are planned: the Pentagon, NATO, and a joint U.S.-Afghan one, said White House press secretary Josh Earnest, on Monday. So really, just two. Well, one, split three different ways. None of them independent. That’s ok, Earnest says, President Barack Obama does not expect any of them to be “whitewashed.”

White House push back on “war crime.” “I wouldn’t use a label like that because this is something that continues to be under investigation.  The thing I do think warrants mentioning is that there is no country in the world and no military in the world that goes to greater lengths and places a higher premium on avoiding civilian casualties than the United States Department of Defense.  And these are professionals who take that responsibility quite seriously.”

The Battle of Kunduz entered its ninth day on Tuesday with more fighting by Taliban, who seem to now be taking potshots from motorcycles. The death toll has reached at least 55, with hundreds wounded, Reuters says.

Campbell faces the SASC. The general was already in town to prepare for Tuesday testimony before Sen. John McCain’s Senate Armed SErvices Committee. Now, instead of what would have been an empty hearing room to brief the panel about the mostly forgotten conflict, the four-star may get the same heated grilling McCain & Co. gave his boss, Gen. Lloyd Austin of U.S. Central Command.

Rethinking U.S. troops for the Afghanistan war, again. The latest reporting says the White House is considering leaving 5,000 American troops across Afghanistan after 2016, when they’re all supposed to be gone. The war officially ended in 2014, remember? Never mind the Battle of Kunduz that just took place between Taliban, Afghan, U.S., and NATO forces. Or the C-130 that crashed at J-bad on Friday, killing 6 U.S. airmen and 5 contractors, including Carlos Carrasco, a drone mechanic from Sierra Vista, Arizona, serving in the warzone.


From Defense One

CYBERCOM’s first request on its half-billion dollar mission support contract: cyber bullets. The first task order on the contract from U.S. Cyber Command is a whopping 84 pages long and asks industry to give them “cyber weapons” to conduct joint “cyber fires.” Sounds…geeky. NextGov’s Aliya Sternstein writes it all up with her usual flair. But if anyone out there wants to explain in plain English what this actually means to D Brief, please email us.

3-D printing hype haters, stand down. You may think the 3-D printing wave is baloney, but the Army’s scientists love all of it: spy cams, hidden bugs, plastic cameras, biometric comms…wait, what? Yes, the Army Research Laboratory thinks 3-D printing will help advance brain-to-brain communications, reports Defense One Technology Editor Patrick Tucker, of course.

The beatings will continue until… Morale at DHS is falling faster than anywhere in the entire federal government. That’s the bad news. The good news? Overall federal workforce morale improved last year—by one percent. Read why, from Government Executive’s Eric Katz.

Coming to AUSA next week? Wanna escape the convention center? Then slide over to Defense One LIVE’s Cocktails and Conversation with U.S. Army Europe commanding general, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges; CNAS’ Paul Scharre; and our Executive Editor Kevin Baron to chat about the new era of land warfare, from Russia to ISIS. It’s Tues., Oct. 13, 5 p.m. at Busboys & Poets, 1025 5th St., NW, of all places.

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Welcome to the Tuesday edition of The D Brief, from Kevin Baron and Defense One. Like what you see? Tell your friends to subscribe here: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. Want to see something different? Let us know: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.


What would war with Russia look like? Military Times walks us through the realities—and myths—of what’s might happen in this stylish take. “Indeed, the Pentagon’s senior leaders are asking questions that have been set aside for more than 20 years: How much are the Russians truly capable of? Where precisely might a conflict with Russia occur? What would a war with Russia look like today?” The Russkies are rusty, but still formidable at “aircraft, air defenses, submarines, and electronic warfare.” Check it out; it’s pretty cool.

Blasts hit the Yemen hotel where the exiled government lives. Three explosions were reported from the Al Qasr Hotel in the port city of Aden on Tuesday, by AP. “Members of the Gulf coalition have been providing security at the luxury hotel, and the Yemeni government officials’ presence there makes it a highly symbolic target for the rebels.”

Green Book. AUSA releases the 2015 Green Book, its all-things-Army handbook, a week before its giant annual conference in downtown Washington, D.C.

SOCOM’s Gen. Votel says… U.S. Special Operations Command is ready for anything the country asks of it, says Gen. Joseph Votel in this video with CNN’s Barbara Starr. “We don’t take that lightly and I don’t say that with any amount of bravado,” Votel said. “We’re going to go where the nation needs us to go.” Votel and SOCOM doesn’t run ops; rather they provide the training and equip the forces for those commands that do, like Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC.

Special operators work in “the grey zone,” he says, where things live between peace and war. “I’ll give you a good example, it’s the Ukraine,” he said, where “surrogate organizations” for Russian forces, ethnic lines and even cyber operations all converge in one place.

Most poignant, listen to him describe his most memorable day, when 37 were killed in a helicopter shot down in Afghanistan in 2011. “It was devastating for me.”

And finally, we love ol’ Tom Ricks, but… we wonder how we, too, can get paid to hand in four-line blogs like this listicle on the four things national security journalists aren’t covering but should be (in his humble opinion): court martials (just generally), satellites, an alleged “free pass” given to generals for the military’s failures since 9/11, and Saudi Arabia. We’re with ya on the Saudis. For the record, number of Defense One stories in two years mentioning ‘satellite’: 462.

Make that 463.

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