DoD wants more 2017 funds; US ups support for Syrian Kurds; Escalation in Ukraine; How lifting sanctions could help Russia’s military; and just a bit more…

Breaking: The Defense Department is preparing to request changes to the 2017 budget “to address immediate and serious readiness challenges,” SecDef James Mattis wrote in a memo dated Jan. 31 and released this morning by DoD. This budget amendment would also accommodate “new requirements driven by acceleration of the campaign against ISIS.” Some planned spending may be cut, but overall, the request to Congress asks to increase the 2017 budget topline. The detailed request will be delivered by March 1, the memo said.

As well, DOD will “conduct a comprehensive but accelerated FY 2018 budget review” to shape a 2018 budget request that will “focus on balancing the program, addressing pressing programmatic shortfalls, while continuing to rebuild readiness. Examples include, but are not limited to, buying more critical munitions, funding facility sustainment at a higher rate, building programs for promising advanced capabilities limitations, investing in critical enablers, and growing for structure at the maximum responsible right,” the memo said. The review will be led by Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work, and the 2018 request will be submitted by May 1, the memo said.

Finally, the memo looks to the 2019–23 five-year defense plan, which it says “will also contain an ambitious reform agenda, which will include horizontal integration across DOD components to improve efficiency and take advantage of economies of scale.”

The U.S. military has stepped up its support for Kurdish forces in Syria via the Syrian Arab Coalition, delivering an unspecified number of armored vehicles to one of the many fronts in Syria, Reuters reported Tuesday. The addition of the armored vehicles comes as the SAC and U.S. forces advance closer to Raqqa in the hopes of cutting off “all remaining roads to the city, including the route to Deir al-Zor province, another IS stronghold.”

Said SDF spox Talal Silo: “Previously, we didn’t get support in this form, we would get light weapons and ammunition. There are signs of full support from the new American leadership—more than before—for our forces.”

For what it’s worth, the Syrian Democratic Forces shared a video six days ago showing a fighting discussing the Raqqa operation beside a very similar-looking armored vehicle.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, insists this is really no change to Obama administration policy: “The Department of Defense only provides training and materiel support to the Syrian Arab Coalition,” Major Adrian J.T. Rankine-Galloway told Reuters. More here.

ICYMI: Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem warned Monday that the U.S. intention to set up safe zones in Syria is an unwise move that “will pose a violation of the Syrian sovereignty.” That, here.

Speaking of unsafe, the BBC has a remembrance of 20-year-old Briton, Rya Lock, who volunteered to fight ISIS with the SDF—but who had no interest in getting captured during a firefight with the group near Raqqa, in the village of Ja’barin, on December 21. Lock appears to have killed himself, Kurdish sources told the BBC. Said his father, Jon Plater: “Since we heard the devastating news of Ryan, it’s been pretty tough, especially the difficulties surrounding the repatriation. We are grateful to the YPG for bringing him home.” More here.

Iraq’s prime minister has decided not to retaliate against the U.S. travel ban, Iraq’s BasNews reported Tuesday.

In photos: With the battle for Mosul closing in on the western half of the city, take a look at what’s been accomplished so far in this spread from The Atlantic, featuring some great work by photographers from Reuters, Getty, AFP and more, here.

Iraq has a new defense minister, and he’s a reportedly two-star general from the special forces.

The incredible bureaucracy of ISIS drone operations. Coalition forces in Mosul have unearthed a trove of documents laying out the Islamic State group’s drone missions “in chillingly impassive detail: Mission type (spy, bombing, training). Location (city, province). Drone components (motor, bomb ignition). Operation (successful or not),” the New York Times’ Eric Schmitt reports. “The documents were discovered by Vera Mironova, an international security fellow at the Belfer Center at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. Ms. Mironova obtained the documents while she was conducting research in Iraq on the individual behavior of Islamic State fighters. She said in an interview via Skype that she had come across the materials in a drone workshop formerly under the control of the Islamic State in the Muhandeseen neighborhood of Mosul, near Mosul University.”

Among the eyebrow-raising pullouts from the story: “Iraqi officials said bombs dropped by the drones, which were primarily quadcopters, had killed about a dozen government soldiers and injured more than 50.” Previously the number of confirmed deaths from ISIS drones was largely confined to two Peshmerga troops back in October.

The final assessment: “In the short term, we should expect the Islamic State to refine its drone bomb-drop capability. It is likely that the Islamic State’s use of this tactic will not only become more frequent, but more lethal as well.” Worth the click, here.

And check out multiple photos of drones recovered by ISF in the battle for Mosul, gathered in mid-January by Defense One, here.

Apropos of nothing: Take a look at this remarkable improvised hand grenade purportedly discovered recently near Benghazi, Libya.

Escalation in Ukraine meets quietude from Washington. Two days after violence spiked in eastern Ukraine, the Acting Deputy Chief of Mission to the U.S. Mission to the ceasefire monitors of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Michele Siders, declared, “Russia and the separatists initiated the violence in Avdiivka.” The situation there is “dire,” she wrote, as “a combined Russian-separatist assault has resulted in large numbers of casualties and a humanitarian emergency that affects 17,000 people.  We call on combined Russian-separatist forces to recommit to the ceasefire to allow for repairs to critical infrastructure.”

That’s hardly the message from the State Department, issued later Tuesday, with no mention of Russia.


From Defense One

By Lifting Sanctions, Trump Could Hand Russia’s Military a Lethal Technological Advantage // Patrick Tucker: If Trump walks back sanctions, some fear key arms and military technologies could be next.

Truth, Trump, and Security: We Need This Independent Commission Into Russian Meddling // Rep. Eric Swalwell: It’s not over, yet. We must restore Americans’ trust in us and their government. Here’s my plan.

Making America’s ICBMs Great Again // Adam B. Lowther: SecDef Mattis had some questions about the value of the land-based part of the triad. Here are some answers.

IARPA Wants Autonomous Fingerprint Tech // Heather Kuldell: The intelligence research arm is offering up cash for cutting-edge ideas on capturing complete scans.

Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1942, U.S. forces launched a series of raids on the Marshall and Gilbert islands, their first offensive actions against Imperial Japan. (Enjoy the D Brief? Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.)


Diplomats’ dissent gains momentum. Roughly 1,000 U.S. diplomats around the world have signed onto a letter that criticizes the Trump administration’s executive order to temporarily bar citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, making it “one of the broadest protests by American officials against their president’s policies,” the New York Times reports. Those thousand signatures represent a large chunk of the State Department’s 7,600 Foreign Service officers and 11,000 civil servants. Read more, here.

ICYMI: read one draft version of the letter, here. One subhead is “The Ban Does Not Achieve Its Aims and Will Likely Be Counterproductive.”

One more thing: A South American official on his way out has joined the EU in calling President Trump a threat. “Let’s be honest, the first announcements and executive orders of the new U.S. administration have to make us think, without hysteria, that we are facing a complex strategic threat,” Ernesto Samper, the head of Unasur regional bloc and a former centrist Colombian president, said in a farewell speech at Unasur headquarters in Ecuador. Adds Reuters: “His term at the helm of Unasur formally end[ed] on Tuesday.” That, here.

In Afghanistan, government forces control less than 60 percent of the country, according to the latest report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. “As of November, the government could only claim to control or influence 57 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts, according to U.S. military estimates released by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), in a quarterly report to the U.S. Congress,” Reuters reports.

Compared to the year prior, “that represents a 15 percent decrease in territory held,” Reuters reports. “According to U.S. military estimates, the number of Afghans living under insurgent control or influence decreased slightly in recent months to about 2.5 million people. But nearly a third of the country, or 9.2 million people, live in areas that are contested, according to SIGAR, leading to some of the highest civilian casualty rates the United Nations has ever recorded in Afghanistan.” More from Reuters, here.

Lastly today: Is it time to create a “megacities” combat unit for the U.S. military? Former Army major and Ranger instructor John Spencer of the Modern War Institute at West Point thinks so, even if protecting cities of 10 million or more is something the Army has been looking into for years.

Scare yourself a little more with this October 2016 report from The Intercept purporting to show “a five-minute video that has been used at the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations University” called “Megacities: Urban Future, the Emerging Complexity.” Warns the narrator of the video: “We are facing environments that the masters of war never foresaw… We are facing a threat that requires us to redefine doctrine and the force in radically new and different ways.”

See also this take on the potential perils of combat in megacities from RAND Corp’s Chad C. Serena and Colin P. Clarke from back in April.

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