Landmark cease-fire reached in Syria. Set to begin in one week, it’s designed largely to allow humanitarian aid to besieged cities (here’s the UN’s map of them); and bombs can still fall on the Islamic State, Nusra Front, “and any defined as terrorists by the United Nations,” the Wall Street Journal reports. Still undecided: what rebel groups will be included; that will be the subject of talks in coming days.
State Secretary John Kerry: “The real test is whether all parties honor those commitments.”
Defense Secretary Ash Carter: “There is no cease-fire in the war against ISIL. Let’s be clear about that,” he said on the margins of his meeting with counter-ISIS defense ministers in Brussels.
The opposition’s reax: Their reps “weren’t officially involved in the talks but held meetings on the sidelines in Munich,” the Journal writes. “A member of the delegation said afterward the outcome represented “an incremental step forward.” The opposition would be prepared to rejoin peace talks in Geneva, the delegation member said, if aspects of the agreement are implemented in the coming days.”
What’s required to make this whole thing stick? “A real transformation by Mr. Putin and the continued application of diplomatic pressure by the United States and its partners,” the New York Times editorial board writes.
Also coming to the Syrian battlespace: UAE special operators to join Saudi SOF. Their job is to “assist in the development of local Sunni Arab fighters focused on recapturing Raqqa, the Islamic State group’s capital,” the Associated Press reports this morning. Ash Carter made the announcement from Brussels, but—in typical “SOF” fashion—declined to give too many specifics short of their mission being “part of an effort led by the United States and bolstered by Saudi special forces to train and enable local Arab fighters who are motivated to recapture Raqqa.”
A bit more about that base, from the initial announcement back in mid-December: “3,000 ground troops would be stationed at the base—Turkey’s first overseas military installation in the Middle East—as well as air and naval units, military trainers and special operations forces.”
With a new defense budget in the works back stateside, what weapons do America’s special operators want to fight ISIS? Not “U.S. weapons and ammunition,” writes Aram Roston of The Daily Beast, “but rather Russian-designed arms, including hundreds of AK-47 rifles, heavy mortars, and anti-tank rocket-propelled grenades, enough to equip a battalion.” (Here’s a graphic with all the arms in one place.)
Who gets these AKs is—naturally—not crystal clear, but Roston writes that it could include “the ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ coalition made up of the Kurdish militia known as the YPG and other groups.” The intrigue continues, here.
Get to better know the two-headed Syrian beast that is ISIS and Nusra Front, and how the U.S. can best approach the two, via this explainer from the folks at the Institute for the Study of War and the American Enterprise Institute. It’s part three of a series on the broader ISIS fight.
Speaking of AEI: They’re hosting U.S. Navy chief Adm. John Richardson talking the growing demands on his force this morning. That gets underway in about 15 minutes. Details here.
Democratic 2016 contenders—well the two left, anyway—tried to debate ISIS last night in Milwaukee, but wound up relitigating the 2003 Iraq invasion instead, writes Military Times’ Leo Shane III. “Both candidates pledged to work more closely with U.S. allies in the Middle East to defeat ISIS forces” but “as he’s done during previous debates, Sanders, an Independent U.S. senator from Vermont, called attention to Clinton’s 2002 vote in favor of the Iraq war, calling it an indicator of her poor judgement — on par with their hawkish Republican rivals.”
Clinton hit back at Sanders’ lack of international experience, arguing “she fills [the POTUS role] better than Sanders because of her past work negotiating with foreign allies and foes, calling Sanders national security credentials thin.”
Fightin’ words: When asked to pinpoint areas of government waste that he would reduce if prez, Sanders fingered the Defense Department. Read the rest, here.
From Defense One
Time to hit pause on the U.S. Army’s drawdown. The entire plan was built around the idea of an Iraq and Afghanistan “post-war calm” that never really materialized, writes AUSA head (and former Army chief of staff) Gordon Sullivan. Read his argument, here.
U.S., Indian navies planning joint patrols in South China Sea. Officials say they’re drafting ideas one year after leaders agreed to expand naval cooperation and ensure freedom of navigation in the area. Quartz has the story, here.
Einstein’s gravitational waves, confirmed. Interstellar discovery across more than 1 billion light years heralds a new understanding of the universe. Also: (potential) time travel! Tech Editor Patrick Tucker reports, here.
And check out this great explainer video from our friends at Quartz.
Coming up: The civilian workforce that supports U.S. warfighters is aging. How will the Pentagon attract and retain the next generation? Leaders from DOD, USAF, and DLA will lay out their plans and outlook on Tues., Feb. 23, in a livestreamed discussion with Defense One Deputy Editor Bradley Peniston. Register to watch today, here.
Welcome to Friday’s edition of the The D Brief, by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Happy 123rd birthday to Omar Bradley, the G.I.’s general. Send your friends this subscription link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. Got news? Let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lockheed to pitch Korean jet to train U.S. Air Force pilots. After kicking around the idea of designing a new plane, the company has concluded it will offer the Air Force the T-50, a plane it jointly built with Korea Aerospace Industries. The Air Force plans to buy 350 new jets to replace its T-38 Talon jet trainers, which have been around since the 1960s. Northrop Grumman and Boeing-Saab have been building new planes for the contest. Lockheed says it will make a few modifications to the T-50, which looks like a small F-16. The mods include installing a cockpit similar to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and a receptacle that will allow the plan to refuel in flight. More here.
Escalation in Korea. In the wake of North Korea’s recent nuclear test and rocket launch, South Korea “shut down an inter-Korean factory park that had been the rival Koreas’ last major symbol of cooperation, but that Seoul said had been used by North Korea to fund its nuclear and missile programs,” AP reports. Pyongyang “responded by deporting South Korean citizens, seizing South Korean assets and vowing to militarize the park.” Now Seoul and U.S. officials are set to start discussions about deploying the THAAD missile-defense system to the peninsula, a move frowned upon by Russia and China. Read, here.
Air Force reassigns acquisition official who did not disclose ties to Northrop Grumman. A vague announcement that Richard Lombardi, the Air Force’s No. 2 acquisition official, was emailed to reporters last night. “This reassignment follows Lombardi’s voluntary disclosure that he had not reported a Northrop Grumman retirement account held by his spouse in his annual public financial disclosure form,” the statement reads. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James reassigned Lombardi outside of the acquisition office and forwarded the information to the Pentagon Inspector General.
Why is this such a big deal? It’s all about timing. The Government Accountability Office is due to rule any day (maybe today) whether the Air Force properly awarded an $80 billion contract to Northrop Grumman to build a new stealth bomber for the Air Force. Regardless of what the ruling finds, Lombardi’s connection to Northrop is sure to be used as ammo by the Boeing-Lockheed Martin team that is contesting the deal.
The U.S. Army is getting new body armor. “The new Soldier Protection System is being designed to provide soldiers with as much as a 14-percent weight savings than the current soldier protective equipment, according to Col. Dean Hoffman IV, the head of Army’s Project Manager Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment,” Military.com reported.
By way of comparison, the old body armor weighed in at 31 lbs., whereas the newer package comes in at 22 lbs. with front, back and side plates. More here.
Lastly today—What’s this thing you keep calling a “map?” Marine Corps Times explains for the kiddos this ancient, non-digital way of getting around the world—and now Marines will be expected to sharpen their land-nav skills in light of the newest threats to Pentagon hardware like jamming devices or the dreaded EMP detonation.
“Think of all the stuff that we do that requires space-based, satellite-based communications: GPS, munitions, precision,” USMC Chief Gen. Robert Neller said Thursday at the Atlantic Council in Washington. “If you were to lose that, what would that do to the way you thought you were going to fight?” Read more on his contingency, here.