Deal would give DoD $700B this year; US airstrikes turn back attack in Syria, killing about 100; Mattis pitches NATO mission to Iraq; Russians phish more defense firms; and just a bit more…

Budget deal would grant Pentagon’s wishes for two years…and then what? The agreement-in-principle by Republican and Democratic Senate leaders is much larger than just defense spending, of course, so what’s in it for the military?

Here’s Andrew Clevenger of CQ with the math: “The total DOD budget under deal for FY18/19 ($700B + $716B) = $1416B What’s allowed under BCA caps ($549B + $562B) =$1111B. The difference is $305B. If DOD base budget gets $80 and $85 increases ($165B total), that leaves $140B for OCO in 18/19.”

Wait, what? Let’s have Defense One’s Caroline Houck and Marcus Weisgerber unpack that: Under the deal, which still must pass the House, base funding for the current fiscal year would be about $80 billion higher than the $549 billion limit set by the 2011 Budget Control Act — that is, about $629 billion. Next year, the base would top the caps by $85 billion. And the deal reportedly includes $140 billion in war funding, which is not subject to BCA caps, split between the two years.

Bottom line: Defense Secretary James Mattis on Wednesday pronounced himself “very happy with $700 [billion] for this year, and $716 [billion] for next.” Read the rest of D1’s report, here.

But not even DoD expects real growth after that, says AEI’s Mackenzie Eaglen: “The defense topline is set to grow significantly in ‘18 above the President’s own requested levels — thanks to Chairmen @SenJohnMcCain & @MacTXPress — and again in ’19, but most of it is OCO growth. Not base budget where it matters and helps most…But that is where the gifts from OMB end. The Pentagon will be submitting a flat FYDP [five-year defense plan] to Congress next week (aka, no growth above inflation). Given the “debt bomb” of spending in Washington the past several months, the next and final BCA mini-deal (for ’20 and 2021) will not be as kind to the Defense Department. Pentagon leaders should enjoy this budget apex while it lasts…”

Read the whole thing. The entire 652-page Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, released by the Senate Appropriations Committee late on Wednesday is posted here.


From Defense One

Two-Year Budget Deal Would Raise Caps, Give Pentagon $700B in 2018 // Caroline Houck and Marcus Weisgerber: The deal comes with a new continuing resolution to give House and Senate lawmakers time to work out details.

The Chance of Accidental Nuclear War Is Growing // Michael Krepon: Recapitalizing the U.S. nuclear deterrent won’t help. What’s missing is a strategy and resources to reduce risks of cataclysmic accidents, miscalculation, and human error.

State Dept. Reverses Course, Plans to Launch Cyber and Digital Economy Bureau // Joseph Marks: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson earlier shuttered a cyber coordinator’s office with similar duties.

Let’s Call Trump’s Parade What it Is: Another Dangerous Attempt to Divide Us // Derek Chollet, former assistant defense secretary for international security affairs. I know a thing or two about good military ceremonies, and Trump’s parade is a bad idea.

DOD Issued a $7 Million Cloud Support Contract To a Company With One Employee // Frank Konkel: The Defense Department awarded a sole-source contract to Eagle Harbor Solutions, an Alaska-based small business with a single employee, to consult in its major cloud acquisition.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Email us. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. They can subscribe here for free.


U.S. military aircraft hit an attacking force Wednesday in eastern Syria. The force of “about 500 people supported by rocket and mortar systems and Soviet-era tanks” were moving toward and firing at U.S. and partnered Syrian Kurdish troops on their remote base about five miles east of Deir ez-Zour. That’s according to the Washington Post, which cites announcements by the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS shortly after the attack and response.
Syria remains so crowded that it’s almost impossible to tell who the 500 fighters were officially with. As well, “not all the attacking forces were wearing uniforms, making it more difficult to identify them,” a U.S. military official said. “Neither was it clear whether Russia, which is conducting its own air campaign in support of the Syrian government, may have had any role in the incident,” the Post notes.
The scene of the attacks: “eight miles east of the Euphrates River,” a boundary, or “deconfliction line” intended to separate Syrian government fighters from the U.S. military presence of some 2,000 troops and their Kurdish partners in the Syrian Democratic Forces.
Damage assessment: About “100 pro-government forces were killed in the counterattack,” a U.S. official told the Post, “declin[ing] to say whether the airstrikes were conducted with manned or unmanned aircraft. Officials said no U.S. troops were injured or killed. One SDF member was injured.”
Possible motive(s): “trying to reassert government control of areas that the SDF troops had seized from the Islamic State last year and possibly to capture oil fields in the area,” is one U.S. military official’s best guess.

Showdown over Manbij. Turkey wants U.S. troops out of the northern Syrian town of Manbij, where Kurdish SDF fighters have been based since removing ISIS from there almost a year and a half ago. But the U.S. general in charge of the ongoing war against ISIS visited Manbij on Wednesday to, at least in part, tell Turkey to stuff it, the Associated Press reported on location.  
“We’re here to ensure the lasting defeat of ISIS is maintained in this area,” Lt. Gen. Paul E. Funk told reporters from AP, CNN and others on Wednesday. “In terms of a military mission, maintaining your focus on the enemy is the most critical piece… This force is stopping terrorists from going back (into) Turkey, into Europe. This force is in position to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Recent background, via AP: “On Jan. 20, Turkey launched a cross-border offensive into the northwestern enclave of Afrin to drive out the Syrian Kurdish militia from there and subsequently threatened to extend its operation to Manbij, over 100 kilometers (62 miles) to the east.”
And the bigger picture: “Last month, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. would maintain a military presence in Syria after the conclusion of the fight against IS there, pledging that the Trump administration would not to repeat former President Barack Obama’s ‘mistake’ when he withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011.”
Said one 18-year-old fighter with the Manbij Military Council: “Every 10 or 15 days, there are some shots fired. But the clashes are very small, it doesn’t scare us. It’s not because of the American presence…it’s because we have God with us.” CNN has some useful color from the streets of Manbij — including scenes of growing markets and relative calm interrupted by occasional gunfire on the city’s outskirts — here.  

Few people have a more complicated job than SecDef Jim Mattis. And seemingly fewer people have negative things to say about how he’s done so far, the Washington Post reports in a profile published Wednesday evening.
The short read: “By staying out of the media’s glare and in Trump’s good graces, Jim Mattis has become the most influential Pentagon chief in years.”
An example of Mattis’s apparent diplomacy and patience: “In one chaotic Situation Room meeting on Afghanistan policy, McMaster shouted at Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist at the time, accusing him of deliberately misrepresenting McMaster’s position. ‘You’re a liar!’ McMaster yelled, according to two officials at the meeting. Mattis ended the confrontation by grabbing McMaster’s knee and advising him to be quiet, the officials said.”
Despite the near-unanimous praise, the Post writes, “The big question is how long Mattis can continue to act as a force for continuity and caution and still retain influence with a president impatient to hit back at America’s enemies and swiftly win wars.” More here.

Mattis just pitched NATO on a new direction in Iraq. His idea: create “a formal NATO mission to Iraq with a semi-permanent or permanent command to train Iraqi forces,” five alliance officials told Reuters.
Known knowns: “In his letter, Mattis left many details open but suggested developing military academies and a military doctrine for the Iraqi defense ministry, diplomats said. Other ideas cited by diplomats include bomb disposal training, maintenance of Soviet-era vehicles and medical training.”
Unknowns: “The size of any potential NATO mission has not been debated, but the diplomats said they would need to be substantially more than the current team to mollify Trump. They could involve regional training centers outside Baghdad.”
Said one alliance official: “This looks suspiciously like another Afghanistan. Few allies want that.” Read on, here.

ICYMI: The U.S. has some catching up to do in Libya where Russia is making advances with their recent friendship with “rogue” former Gen. Khalifa Haftar, The New York Times reported Wednesday.
The gist: “the Trump administration has yet to arrive at a coherent policy for the country. On one hand, the president has said he sees no role for the United States in Libya; on the other, he has said the United States must fight the Islamic State there. The resulting policy vacuum, according to Libyan officials, American military commanders and intelligence analysts, has helped Russia spread its growing influence in one of the most dangerous parts of the world.” Story, here.

Will we ever learn? Russian cyberspies tricked U.S. defense contractors with another email scam, AP reported Wednesday. “The hackers known as Fancy Bear, who also intruded in the U.S. election, went after at least 87 people working on militarized drones, missiles, rockets, stealth fighter jets, cloud-computing platforms or other sensitive activities,” according to an investigation by AP.
Involved: “small companies and defense giants like Lockheed Martin Corp., Raytheon Co., Boeing Co., Airbus Group and General Atomics… [as well as] A handful of people in Fancy Bear’s sights also worked for trade groups, contractors in U.S.-allied countries or on corporate boards.”
How this was uncovered: “The AP identified the defense and security targets from about 19,000 lines of email phishing data created by hackers and collected by the U.S.-based cybersecurity company Secureworks, which calls the hackers Iron Twilight. The data is partial and extends only from March 2015 to May 2016. Of 87 scientists, engineers, managers and others, 31 agreed to be interviewed by the AP.” Read on, here.

USAF Space Command has a new item on its satellite catalog. And if the term “Heavy Falcon” means anything to you, you’ll know what it is before clicking here to find out.

Today in visualizations: Only five nations can hit any place on Earth with a missile, The New York Times illustrates here.

Here’s one parade idea, via the editorial board at Military Times: “How about a grand parade that honors combat veterans who have served in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria since Sept. 11, 2001? That would put the focus of such a parade exactly where it belongs: On the men and women who have rushed to the defense of our country. It could also include the so-called Dreamers — the undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children — who have served on the battlefield for their adopted nation.” More here.

And finally today: a big oops affects almost 5,000 U.S. sailors, thanks to computers (and a human). Navy Times reported Tuesday, “A software error caused nearly 5,000 sailors to mistakenly receive notices this week informing them that their orders had been cancelled…The error caused messages to be sent to 4,850 sailors, notifying them that their Letters of Intent, or LOI, had been canceled.”
How it happened: “Human error was the culprit Saturday during data entry of a regularly scheduled manpower management system update, causing a corrupt file to be uploaded to the system,” a Navy spokeswoman told NTs in an email. A tiny bit more, here.

Close [ x ] More from DefenseOne