State of Defense, analyzed; B-52 overflies South Korea; Beseiged Syrian towns welcome aid; Wishlist for counterterror tech; and a bit more.

Here’s Defense One’s annual State of Defense report. Terrorism and efforts to stop it will figure prominently in Obama’s final State of the Union on Tuesday — but how’s the U.S. military doing overall, and where is it headed? Defense One puts the commander in chief’s remarks in essential context with our annual service-by-service analysis. News Editor Ben Watson, a former soldier, writes about a bruised and shrinking Army; Global Business Reporter Marcus Weisgerber interviews the Air Force secretary about her final-year goals; Deputy Editor Bradley Peniston notes an abrupt course change for the Navy; and Executive Editor Kevin Baron wraps it up with a look at a Marine Corps searching for its identity and purpose in today’s conflicts, and a broader look at the military’s year ahead. Catch the full report, here.

A U.S. B-52 bomber flew over South Korea on Sunday in response to North Korea’s testing of what it is believed to have been a nuclear bomb. And today, Washington and Seoul are discussing the possibility of a further response, which could include “B-2 bombers, nuclear-powered submarines and F-22 stealth fighter jets.”

The pass on Sunday sent a B-52, based in Guam and capable of carrying nuclear weapons, flying low over Osan Air Base at high noon. It was flanked by two fighter planes, a U.S. F-16 and a South Korean F-15, before returning to Guam, the U.S. military said in a statement.

Later this week, Seoul’s chief nuclear negotiator links up with his U.S. and Japanese counterparts (on Wednesday) to discuss where to go from here one day ahead of another meeting with China’s nuclear envoy in Beijing, reports Reuters.

In other news from the region, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter and State Secretary John Kerry will meet their Philippines counterparts in Washington on Tuesday to discuss “new security concerns” stemming from China’s recent opening of civilian flights onto one of its artificial islands in the South China Sea. AP has that one, here.

A UN aid convoy is finally making its way to three besieged towns in Syria after weeks of increasingly disturbing reports of isolation and starvation in northern Idlib province. Two of the locations—the villages of Foua and Kfarya in the northwest— and the third, Madaya, near the Lebanese border, “is blockaded by government troops and the Lebanese Hezbollah militant group,” the Associated Press writes.

The whole mission, writes the New York Times, “puts the United Nations in an awkward position: helping to carry out local cease-fires that may permit aid for a time but also reward commanders’ siege tactics.”

About Madaya: It’s “controlled by rebels and encircled by pro-government forces with barbed wire, land mines and snipers. People there make soups of grass, spices and olive leaves. They eat donkeys and cats. They arrive, collapsing, at a clinic that offers little but rehydration salts. Neighbors fail to recognize neighbors in the streets because their faces are so sunken,” the Times reports.

For what it’s worth: “About 400,000 Syrians are trapped behind front lines, denied access to food and medicine. That United Nations count has risen from 240,000 since 2014.”

The U.N.’s World Food Programme is sending “one month’s worth of food for more than 40,000 people to Madaya from Damascus, and enough for 20,000 people to Foua and Kfarya from the city of Homs,” the AP writes.

Adds Reuters: “The areas included in the latest agreement were all part of a local ceasefire deal agreed in September, but implementation has been halting. The last aid delivery to Madaya, which took place in October, was synchronized with a similar delivery to the two villages.” More here.

From Defense One

The Pentagon’s wish list that reads like the prop roster for a Marvel superhero movie: The Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office has released its list of sought-after technologies for 2016; it includes x-ray vision, tunnel robots, and more. Technology Editor Patrick Tucker has the list, here.

Why Amazon’s data centers are hidden in U.S. spy country. If you only know the company as the world’s biggest shopping mall, prepare to be amazed at how much of your online life takes place on its data-servers-for-hire, many of which sit in Northern Virginia. The Atlantic’s Ingrid Burrington takes us on a remarkable road trip back to where a lot of significant moments in Internet history took place: the Cold War. That, here.

Vladimir Putin’s Syrian adventure might be unraveling — and then what happens? The Atlantic walks us through a scenario or two, here.

Terror arrests imperil Syrian refugee program. Republicans pounced on Thursday’s news that two men indicted on terrorism charges had been resettled in the U.S. after fleeing Iraq. The Atlantic has the story, here.

Welcome to Monday’s edition of the The D Brief, by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Get your friends off on the right foot in 2016 by telling them to subscribe here: Want to see something different this year? Got news? Let us know:

The Navy’s next next warship. Whet your appetite for this week’s Surface Navy Association convention in Washington with an interview of Rear Adm. Pete Fanta, director of surface warfare, who spoke with Defense News’ Chris Cavas about the Future Surface Combatant and more, here.

The Navy intends to test a railgun at sea this year, Fanta tells Cavas — but aboard which ship? That, here.

Big dam problem. While the U.S. military celebrates Iraqi security forces’ efforts to clear ISIS from Ramadi, a key piece of infrastructure near Haditha has been neglected for far too long, writes the NYT’s Michael Gordon. “At the heart of the problem is a major engineering challenge: reinforcing a massive dam built during the Saddam Hussein era on a weak foundation of gypsum, chalky limestone and clay…In the worst-case scenario, according to State Department officials, an estimated 500,000 people could be killed while more than a million could be rendered homeless if the dam, Iraq’s largest, were to collapse in the spring, when the Tigris is swollen by rain and melting snow.” But the problem has political and budgetary complications as well. Read on, here.

The White House is refining the focus of its propaganda war against ISIS, the Washington Post reported Friday. So what’s new? “Officials will create a counter­terrorism task force, which will be based at the Department of Homeland Security but aims to enlist dozens of federal and local agencies. Other moves include revamping a State Department program that was created to serve as an information war room to challenge the Islamic State online and erode its appeal. U.S. officials said the unit at the State Department will turn its focus toward helping allies craft more localized anti-terrorism messages and will stop producing any videos or other material in English — ending a campaign that had been derided by critics.”

Vladimir Putin wants in on the global war on terror, he told Germany’s Bild newspaper in an interview just published today. Reuters has a synopsis, here.

And as Putin talks of collaboration, The Daily Beast writes about the rising suspicions surrounding the death of Russia’s media chief, Mikhail Lesin, while staying at an unremarkable hotel in D.C. TDB’s Shane Harris reports Lesin was about to cut a deal with the FBI just before he died of still-very-mysterious circumstances, here.

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