‘Five immediate major challenges’; Turkey urges ‘safe zone’ in Syria; How deception can help AIs learn; Iranian boat swarms, by the numbers.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter dropped by Oxford University this morning to lay out the broad strokes of the Pentagon’s approach to alliances and global conflict ahead of this evening’s first-ever UN Peacekeeping Defense Ministerial in London. Carter addressed a crowd at his old stomping grounds at the Blavatnik School of Government to describe how the U.S. military is facing down “five immediate, major, evolving challenges.” Those challenges: Russian aggression; a rising and aggressive China; deterring North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocations; checking Iranian aggression and malign influence; and defeating ISIS and “its parent tumor in Iraq and Syria, and everywhere it metastasizes.”

On Russia: “Russia appears driven by misguided ambitions and misplaced fears. Russia wants to be considered, very understandably, as the important world power it is, of historic importance… undercutting the work and contributions of others rather than creating or making any positive contributions on its own. It sows instability rather than cultivating stability. It lashes out, alleging that it fears for its own viability and future, even though no nation – not the United States, not the United Kingdom – seeks to defeat it or constrain its potential.”

On the U.S. reax to Russia: “Let me be clear, the United States does not seek a cold, let alone a hot war with Russia. We don’t seek an enemy in Russia. But make no mistake—we will defend our allies, the principled international order, and the positive future it affords all of us. We will counter attempts to undermine our collective security. And we will not ignore attempts to interfere with our democratic processes.”

On Syria: “Russia entered the Syrian tragedy saying it wanted to counter terrorism and end the civil war – the source of so much suffering – through a political transition. But what it has done is very different from what it said… [contributing] to what President Obama this weekend called the ‘gaps of trust’ that exist between our two countries. Nevertheless, our diplomatic team continues to test whether Russia will agree to take, and then carry out, the specific steps to attain a true ceasefire, and whether it is in fact willing and able to influence the Syrian regime toward a political transition that ends the civil war. Today’s news out of Syria is not encouraging. The choice is Russia’s to make…and the consequences will be its responsibility.”

On Turkey’s Euphrates Shield operation in northern Syria: “The United States is supporting this effort through air strikes, surveillance, and—as of last week—with High- Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS. To be clear, the United States is willing to do more to help Turkey—including on the ground in Syria—to cut off ISIL lines to and from Europe. At the same time, we will continue to work with and support the Syrian Democratic Forces to capitalize on their considerable successes on the battlefield, especially as they begin to converge on Raqqa – our next objective in Syria.”

On Afghanistan: “Working alongside our Afghan partners, U.S. forces have conducted two large operations against ISIL in Afghanistan, dealing the organization severe blows, including killing its top leader there, and degrading its infrastructure, logistics base, and recruiting.”

On Libya, “which a few months ago many predicted would become the next ISIL headquarters,” Carter said U.S.“airstrikes in support of local forces aligned with the Government of National Accord have shrunk ISIL’s presence in Sirte to a single neighborhood.”

But one of the biggest challenges in the counter-ISIS fight remains ensuring “that when that time comes, the Iraqi and Syrian people have what they need to hold, stabilize, and govern their own territory.”

Exactly one day after that first-ever UN Peacekeeping Defense Ministerial, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will drop by Turkey to visit “President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Defense Minister Fikri Isik and other high-level officials” for the first time since the attempted coup in mid-July, AP reported Tuesday.

And speaking of Turkey, it just booted another 73 members of its air force from its military. AP: “The announcements came after last week’s dismissal of 820 military personnel, of whom 648 were jailed. It’s estimated that more than 5,000 military personnel have so far been discharged since the coup, including 151 generals and admirals.” More here.

And before we leave Turkey, plans to invest $73 million “for a new runway and a portable command center” at Incirlik Air Base because “the German Bundeswehr…with its some 240 personnel, has had to park its Tornado surveillance jets at US sites at Incirlik, sleep in provisional quarters—called the “Patriot Village” located near noisy runways—and depend on allies for technical support.” More details here.

Turkey is itching to take the fight to ISIS. President Tayyip Erdogan said his military is ready to help any U.S.-backed offensive to capture the Islamic State’s HQs in Raqqa, Syria. For a little scene-setting, Reuters reports from Istanbul that “Turkey and its rebel allies now control a 90-km stretch of land on the Syrian side of the border and are pushing south. Ankara wants international support to take control of a rectangle of territory stretching about 40 km into Syria, creating a buffer between two Kurdish-held cantons to the east and west and against Islamic State to the south.”

But, as before, none of Turkey’s allies have jumped at the idea of a safe zone just yet “because of the military demands of policing such a zone.”

A bit south in the Syrian province of Hama, more than 100,000 citizens have been displaced from fighting between rebels and the Assad regime’s allied troops in just 8 days, the UN announced Tuesday.

And to make matters worse (again), there’s been another suspected chlorine has attack in Aleppo, rescue workers and monitors said Tuesday. There was also a report of a separate gas attack near the same Damascus suburb (Ghouta) that drew the world’s attention more than three years ago. Here’s a look at some of the alleged gas cylinders used in these recent attacks.

From Defense One

A New AI Learns Through Observation Alone: What That Means for Drone Surveillance // Tech Editor Patrick Tucker reports: The military spends hundreds of man hours on intelligence collection and image analysis. Drones that could learn about human behavior with less human guidance could cut that time considerably.

The Dangerous Myth of an ‘Icebreaker Gap’ // Andreas Kuersten: The U.S. fleet of icebreaking ships is already too small to handle its Arctic duties. Don’t stretch it further with a made-up military mission.

One of America’s Spy Agencies Will Test Sentiment Analysis to Help Sniff Out Insider Threats // NextGov’s Mohana Ravindranath: If the one-year pilot program is successful, a ‘full and open competition’ could follow to broaden the software’s use inside the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1940, 300 German bombers kicked off 57 straight days of aerial attacks on London. (Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.)

Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps boats are swarming U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf, including an episode on Sunday that brought the USS Firebolt to within 100 yards of one of the vessels, CNN reported Tuesday. But the more telling data to come out of the incident revealed a dramatic rise in these harassing encounters at sea: “There have been 31 unsafe America encounters with Iranian vessels in the Persian Gulf so far this year, up from 23 in all of 2015,” a U.S. defense official told CNN.

While we’re on the high seas, “Increasingly assertive action by China’s coast guard ships in the South China Sea risks destabilizing the region,” Reuters writes off a new report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “CSIS researchers have detailed some 45 clashes and standoffs in the South China Sea since 2010 in a survey published on its ChinaPower website on Wednesday.”

The chief takeaway: “While the research includes clashes between a variety of regional states and types of vessels, the actions of China’s coast guard dominates the picture. China’s coast guard has been involved in 30 of the cases logged, two-thirds of the total. Four other incidents involved a Chinese naval vessel operating in a law enforcement capacity.”

CSIS’ Bonnie Glaser: “The evidence is clear that there is a pattern of behavior from China that is contrary to what law enforcement usually involves…We’re seeing bullying, harassment and ramming of vessels from countries whose coast guard and fishing vessels are much smaller, often to assert sovereignty throughout the South China Sea.”

For the record: “The survey cites research showing the unifying of China’s civilian maritime fleets in 2013, coupled with on-going budget increases, has given it the world’s largest coast guard. It now deploys some 205 vessels, including 95 ships over 1,000 tonnes, according to the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence — a far larger fleet than other regional countries, including Japan.” Read their superb, data-packed report in full, here.

And in an episode that “shattered” the “appearance of cordiality at an Asian summit in Laos,” the Philippines’ defense ministry spokesman said his country was “‘gravely concerned’ that Chinese boats were preparing to build structures at a disputed shoal in the South China Sea,” Reuters reports from the sidelines of the ASEAN summit. “Hours before the meeting, the Philippines’ defense ministry released photographs and a map showing what it said was an increased number of Chinese vessels near Scarborough Shoal, which China seized after a standoff in 2012. The ministry’s spokesman told reporters in Manila the pictures were made public because China’s ambassador to the Philippines had denied there was any new activity there.”

China denied the allegation, but the story of course hasn’t ended there. Read on, here.  

Trump and Clinton will try to pass “the U.S. commander-in-chief test” today with a forum this evening on NBC. But before that gets going, “Trump is to lay out a major military rebuilding proposal at an 11 a.m. EDT address in Philadelphia,” Reuters reports.

The Trump plan will include calls “for new ships, planes, submarines, combat troops and missile defense systems. It would be paid for by lifting congressionally mandated spending caps and launching a new round of budget reforms to save money. The Trump campaign did not immediately provide an estimate of how much the buildup might cost.”

Clinton spent much of Tuesday lampooning Trump for his foreign policy outreach to Mexico along with her recent talking point that Trump’s temperament makes him “unfit” for the presidency.

One reason why national security issues have suddenly taken a higher-profile in the presidential race: “Many voting deadlines for overseas active duty military are in September,” CNN’s Dan Merica tweeted Tuesday.

CNN also has a tiny bit more on Trump’s call to end the sequester “by proposing a ‘major investment’ in US military spending.” But as with Reuters’ report, details remain sketchy.

Speaking of sketchy, Politico got its hands on a Pentagon memo from May laying out the Defense Department’s strategy for playing “hardball” with Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan by “possibly enlisting top military brass to help make the case that the Republican speaker’s budget ‘gimmick’ would weaken the nation’s defenses.”

GOP reax: fury. More on that predictable angle from The Hill, here.

Lastly today: Among the “Six ways to fix the Army’s culture” offered by David Barno and Nora Bensahel are “Accept More Risk,” “Reinstitute ‘Power Down,’” and “Decrease Tolerance of Bureaucracy.” The redoutable duo calls out the TRiPS questionnaire, which soldiers must fill out when traveling, as evidence that “the Army has lost its moorings on the appropriate balance between risk tolerance and safety.” (Commenter 1: “The Travel Risk Planning System (TRIPS) is not an onerous requirement and is only necessary if the Soldier is traveling outside the local area.” Commenter 2: “Except there are Commanders who make Soldiers fill out a TRiPS for the walk to the barracks–true story.”). Read it all at War On The Rocks, here.

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