Aussie military spending jumps; How ISIS moves its money; Libyan fighting intensifies; Carter and Dunford head to the Hill; and a bit more.

Australia is boosting its defense spending by $21 billion, adding a dozen new submarines and lots more troops. The move comes as Beijing has stepped up its military equipment stores in contested islands along the South China Sea.

Canberra is also eyeing new orders of frigates, armored personnel carriers, strike fighter jets and drones, Reuters reports. But the subs tend to draw the most attention since they’re a bit safer from a variety of missiles the Chinese are known to possess. But exactly who will make the subs—either French shipbuilder DCNS, Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries or Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems—is yet to be determined. More on that front, here.

U.S. and Australia: best buds. “The United States will remain the pre-eminent global military power over the next two decades,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told a crowd of Aussie troops this morning. “It will continue to be Australia’s most important strategic partner through our longstanding alliance, and the active presence of the United States will continue to underpin the stability of our region.”

Australia will also boost its military troop count to the highest levels since 1993—with a little more than 60,000 total. More from Reuters, here.

The U.S. Navy will up the pace of its SCS freedom-of-navigation patrols, Adm. Harry Harris, head of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Command, told lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.

When asked what more could be done to deter China’s moves in the SCS, Harris suggested deploying more naval assets, including “putting another (attack) submarine out there, we could put additional destroyers forward …there are a lot of things we could do, short of putting a full carrier strike group in the Western Pacific.” That, he said, carries with it “fiscal, diplomatic and political hurdles.”

Elsewhere in the region, the U.S. and China at last agreed on a draft of sanctions for North Korea over its latest presumed nuclear test. “The draft resolution is expected to call for the blacklisting of a number of individuals and entities,” officials said. North Korea’s Ministry of Atomic Energy Industry and its National Aerospace Development Agency or NADA, the body responsible for February’s rocket launch, is expected to be a target; as is “the secretive General Reconnaissance Bureau, already sanctioned by the United States for its suspected role in the 2014 cyber attack on Sony Pictures,” South Korea’s Yonhap news said. But officials declined to elaborate much beyond those entities.

The Syrian opposition says it’s ready to test how serious Moscow and Damascus really are about the two-week ceasefire that could begin as early as Saturday. But the opposition also took the chance to ding the Russia-Syrian alliance, “saying Russia was a direct party to the conflict, and that the plan ignored the role Assad allies Russia and Iran were playing.”

President Barack Obama’s take: “We are very cautious about raising expectations on this.” Why? Syrian President Bashar al-Assad still shows no signs of stepping down from power any time soon. More here.

We’re learning how the Islamic State’s finance system works, even as the U.S.-led coalition works to clamp down on it. The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that the group operates 1,600 or so “cash exchange houses” in Iraq alone.

How its money travels: “One [route] begins in the narrow streets behind Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar and, via Iraqi Kurdish towns, reaches Mosul, the largest city under Islamic State control. Another connects Jordan’s capital of Amman with Baghdad and Islamic State-controlled parts of Iraq’s Anbar province. A third links the city of Gaziantep in southern Turkey with Syrian regions around Raqqa, the administrative capital of Islamic State.” Really too much to excerpt, so check out the Journal’s work right here.

ISIS gets bomb-making supplies from 51 companies in more than 20 countries, a new report from Conflict Armament Research shows. Who tops the list of suppliers? “13 Turkish firms were found to be involved in the supply chain, the most in any one country. That was followed by India with seven.”

Worth noting: “The Turkish government refused to cooperate with CAR’s investigation so the group was not able to determine the efficacy of Ankara’s regulations regarding the tracking of components.” More from Reuters, here. Or check out the report for yourself, here.

Fighting intensifies in Libya. The country is “caught in a slow-burn civil war between two rival governments, one in Tripoli and one in the east,” Reuters reports. “Each is backed by competing alliances of former rebel brigades whose loyalties are often more to tribe, region or local commander. Forces from the port city of Misrata — one of the most powerful military factions — have been on the front line of the battle against Islamic State since it took over Sirte a year ago and drew more foreign fighters to its ranks there. Islamic State militants are also fighting in Benghazi to the east, shelling the oil ports of Ras Lanuf and Es Sider. On Tuesday they attacked further west in Sabratha city.” More on the West’s strategy and options, given all the disparate on-the-ground dynamics, here.

And by the way: the French military is indeed in Libya. But no biggie, because they’re just advising Libyan forces around Benghazi, a senior Libyan military commander said.

And what forces are around Benghazi? Troops “under the command of General Khalifa Haftar and loyal to the North African country’s government based in the eastern city of al-Bayda. A rival armed faction took over the capital Tripoli in the far west in 2014 and set up its own self-declared government. Haftar’s forces have been advancing against Islamic State in Benghazi, taking back neighbourhoods in the country’s biggest eastern city that had been under militant control for months.” More here.

From Defense One

Boeing shakes up defense leadership after losing bomber deal. Just a week after the company’s protest was denied, Leanne Caret, a 28-year Boeing veteran, has been elected the new CEO of the company’s defense business. She will replace Chris Chadwick, who will quickly retire. Global Business Reporter Marcus Weisgerber reports, here.

FAA successfully tests drone-detecting tech at airport. The new system is geared toward protecting areas from rogue drones, writes Tech Editor Patrick Tucker, here.

Inside the Air Force’s fast-growing cyber research budget. The service wants to quadruple its money for defending networked aircraft, launch systems, satellites and a whole lot more. Find out what, via NextGov, here.

How Guantanamo is used in jihadist propaganda. Hint: It’s less of a tentpole issue than Obama suggests. That, from The Atlantic, here.

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of the The D Brief, by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. And this day in 1933 saw the launch of the USS Ranger, the first American vessel purpose-built as an aircraft carrier. Here’s a subscription link to send your colleagues: Got news? Let us know:

Speaking of Gitmo: Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., said he would hold a hearing on President Obama’s proposal to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, but made know secret he didn’t like the plan, or lack thereof, the administration announced earlier this week. McCain called the plan “just a Chinese menu” Thursday morning at a Defense Writers Group Breakfast. The former Republican presidential candidate said he feared Obama would take executive action to close the controversial detention center. Such unilateral action “would be a serious mistake in my view,” McCain said.

Carter and Dunford’s day on the Hill. The U.S. Defense Secretary and his Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford are dropping by the House Appropriations Committee this morning to talk the Pentagon’s FY17 budget request this morning at 10 a.m. EDT. Expect fightin’ words about how sequestration hinders the military’s ability to plan, as well as big-picture considerations like a revanchist Russia and China—not to mention, of course, ISIS and Afghanistan. Watch that testimony live, here.

And speaking of Afghanistan, get the latest read on the fraught situation there with the help of the folks at the Institute for the Study of War, which just released a new assessment, complete with a detailed map, here. And for what it’s worth, the Afghan war gets its new commander, Lt. Gen. John “Mick” Nicholson, next Wednesday.

The F-35’s ejection seat won’t kill you anymore…or will it? “The director of Pentagon weapons testing is questioning claims by the general in charge of the F-35 fighter jet program that potentially deadly flaws in the plane’s ejection seats have been largely fixed,” reports Roll Call, here.

When Republican 2016 candidates step up to their podiums this evening for their 10th debate, be wary of “simplistic” charges that Obama has weakened the military by reducing troop levels and the overall size of the Navy’s fleet, McClatchy News says. “Experts say such numerical comparisons are of limited value, given the technological advance of American ships and planes over the last quarter-century and the change their missions have undergone.

Here’s Todd Harrison, a retired Air Force Reserve captain and budget analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies: “If you do just a simple ship count, you’d be counting an aircraft carrier the same as a littoral combat ship, while the capabilities of those two ships are very different and their costs are very different.”

Adds Bryan Clark, a retired Navy commander, “With communications advances and long-range surveillance and precision weapons, ground units today have a lot more firepower and can be a lot more effective than their predecessors 50 years ago.” More, here.

In the Navy today: Secretary Ray Mabus will meet with several veteran and military service organizations to discuss Navy and Marine Corps diversity and inclusion accomplishments and highlight an outreach effort to contact veterans separated under DADT to upgrade adverse discharges. About 1,300 Navy and Marine Corps veterans received less-than-honorable discharges based solely on sexual orientation. The Board for Correction of Naval Records is currently reviewing these separations. Mabus also plans to release a new Commitment to Diversity & Inclusion Statement, updating a 2010 version released before DADT and the Combat Exclusion Policy for Women were repealed.

Acronyms kill, ma’am. Appearing before the Senate this week, PACOM chief Adm. Harris was asked “whether he saw the Air Force’s planned Long Range Strike Bomber, or LRS-B, as something that could be deployed from the United States to carry out strikes if aircraft carriers are forced away,” the Washington Post reports.

Replied Harris: “Senator, I’m sorry. I don’t know the acronym.”

Writes the Post: “After [Sen. Mike] Rounds clarified that he was asking about the future bomber…Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., then followed by saying she was ‘so glad to hear someone in your position who doesn’t know one of the acronyms that’s being used…. Makes me feel so much better.’”

Harris responded: “Acronyms kill, ma’am.” Later, speaking of concerns about Chinese investment dollars stateside, Harris added: “We have a process called CFIUS…Another acronym that I couldn’t begin to tell you what it stands for.”

In case you’re curious, CFIUS is the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. And you can read up on it through its website, here.

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