Details from 2019 budget request; Army testing unmanned gun on firing range; China talks AI on subs; and just a bit more…

Budget 2019: Despite the sharp defense spending increases proposed on Monday for the 2019 Defense Department, the massive military buildup of warships and combat aircraft promised by President Trump on the campaign trail still hasn’t materialized, reports Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber and Caroline Houck. “Instead, David Norquist, the Pentagon’s CFO and comptroller, said the budget proposal starts digging the military out a $406 billion hole — ‘in lost readiness, maintenance and modernization’ — created by federal budget caps in recent years. If the Pentagon’s budget had grown at the rate of inflation since fiscal 2011, it would be on par to what the administration is requesting in 2019, he said. “It is a sign of how deep the hole is that we are in that it takes this big of an increase just to get the department’s budget back to where inflation alone would have put us,” Norquist said during a briefing on Monday.

The Navy would buy 10 ships in 2019, one more than planned in last year’s edition of the 30-year shipbuilding plan. (The new edition foresees a 299-ship fleet by October 2020, and 326 ships by October 2023.) But Navy and Marine Corps aviation got a 28% bump to $19 billion, which would buy a total of 120 aircraft. More details from USNI News, here.

And getting all the way to the much-touted 355-ship fleet? That could take three decades, Defense News reported.

The Air Force would get about a 10% bump over fiscal 2018, an increase that would go more toward flying hours and munition stocks than extra aircraft, Air Force Times reports. For example, it would buy 48 F-35s, two more than last year but the same as in 2017 — but boost purchases of bombs and missiles from under 40,000 to nearly 49,000, which is current “industry capacity,” one Air Force official said. More, here.

The Army would get $182 billion in a request that “adds troops and seeks to field upgraded tanks, armored fighting vehicles and artillery systems more quickly than planned. It’s a reversal from recent budget requests that deferred modernization programs to focus on rebuilding units’ combat readiness,” Stripes reports.

Missile defense: One of the smaller line items in the Missile Defense Agency’s $9.9 billion budget request for 2019 is also one of the most interesting: $66 million to keep developing a laser that can be mounted on a drone and used to destroy enemy missiles on the launch pad — or shortly after takeoff.” Read on, here.

But: State Department would lose 23%, making it the biggest agency loser in Budget 2019 except for EPA and the Small Business Administration, both down 25%. (The Washington Post has a good overall look, here.) That includes

A thought: “The risk with such a large increase in the defense budget is that policy makers will be reluctant to make hard choices,” Todd Harrison, a defense analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Bloomberg. “DoD is still in desperate need of reform in many areas. It has 19 percent excess capacity in U.S. bases, a personnel system stuck in the 1950s, and scores of legacy weapons that need to be retired. If reforms aren’t made in these areas, the military will just get fatter, not stronger.”

From Defense One

Trump Proposes 10% Bump for the Pentagon — Then Four Flat Years // Marcus Weisgerber and Caroline Houck: The coming military buildup is looking smaller than promised.

Pentagon Requesting $66 Million For Laser Drones to Shoot Down North Korean Missiles // Patrick Tucker: The Missile Defense Agency is rushing to put more solutions in the field and trying to put past failures behind them.

Wouldn’t It Be Great If We Could Shoot Someone in the Face at 200 Kilometers?’ // Patrick Tucker: What the U.S. Air Force wants out of artificial intelligence — and an exclusive look into its next project to fuse everything.

Chinese Sub Commanders May Get AI Help for Decision-Making // Elsa B. Kania: But can a recent news report be taken at face value? A CNAS fellow unpacks the intersection of Chinese tech, messaging, and naval power.

State Department Lost 12% of its Foreign Affairs Specialists in Trump’s First 8 Months // Jack Corrigan: The department also lost 6 percent of its overall workforce in the first year of the new administration.

Microsoft Vet to Lead DHS Cyber and Infrastructure Division // Joseph Marks: Christopher Krebs has been acting chief of the cyber and infrastructure protection division since August.

Heroes Can Keep Secrets, Too // Charles E. Allen: Popular culture often celebrates leaking as the heroic choice. The intelligence community and the cleared workforce need to craft another narrative.

When the Islamic State Came to Libya // Frederic Wehrey: Since the fall of Qaddafi, the war-torn country’s militias have sought to contain extremism. But at what cost?

Welcome to this Tuesday 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.

Happening now: The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is holding an open hearing on worldwide threats facing the U.S. and its allies.
In attendance: Basically every boss in American intelligence — including the heads of CIA, NSA, FBI, DNI, DIA, and NGIA. Catch it all live, here.

Also happening now: The Senate Armed Services committee is holding a closed hearing on U.S. Special Operations Command with SOCOM’s Gen. Raymond Thomas and Assistant Secretary Of Defense for Special Operations And Low-Intensity Conflict, Owen West.
And this afternoon: SASC wants to know what role the U.S. military plays in “protecting democratic elections.” That hearing gets started at 2:30 p.m. EDT. Line-up and details, here.

White House officials are now open to talking about the possibility of talking with North Korea, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday, calling it a “shift in their tactical approach.”
Overall, however, not a lot has changed. “The U.S. is still pushing to strengthen international sanctions while keeping its military options open until Pyongyang engages in serious negotiations to denuclearize,” the Journal writes. “Nor is there any indication that Pyongyang is prepared to open either informal or formal talks with the U.S.” More on that subtle evolution inside the White House, (paywall alert) here.

The U.S. military has nearly doubled its presence at the annual war games in Thailand known as Cobra Gold, Reuters reports from Bangkok. “This year’s Cobra Gold will be attended by some 11,075 personnel from 29 countries,” 6,800 of whom will be U.S. personnel. A tiny bit more, here.

That U.S. counterattack in eastern Syria last week — the one CENTCOM said killed around 100 attackers wearing nondescript uniforms — killed “more than 200 mercenaries, mostly Russians fighting on behalf of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad,” Bloomberg reports, citing “two Russians familiar with the matter.” One U.S. official, however, put “the death toll at about 100, with 200 to 300 injured.”
The best guess (so far) as to what happened: “The Russian assault may have been a rogue operation, underscoring the complexity of a conflict that started as a domestic crackdown only to morph into a proxy war involving Islamic extremists, stateless Kurds and regional powers Iran, Turkey and now Israel.” A bit more, here.
Related: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said this morning the U.S. is undermining Syria’s integrity by acting unilaterally in a “dangerous way,” Reuters reports.
Also possibly undermining Syria’s integrity: Turkey, whose troops and rebels appear to have set up a new observation base in Syria’s Aleppo province, an open-source watcher noticed this morning via Twitter.

Here’s a brief overview of where things stand in Syria’s war, via the Washington Post, almost exactly eight years after the war began:

  • “The Syrian government controls the biggest chunk of territory, with over half the country at least under nominal control of Assad loyalists, backed by Russia and Iran.
  • The United States holds sway over the second-largest area, the 27 percent of Syria that was captured mostly from the Islamic State by Kurdish-led forces in the northeast, with the help of U.S. weapons, air power and Special Operations advisers. The United States says it will remain until there is a peace settlement, leaving open the question of how long that will be.
  • Turkey holds a pocket of territory in the north alongside Syrian rebels and last month launched an incursion into the adjoining Kurdish enclave of Afrin.” And there is still much more to the overall complexity of Syria — including Israel’s rising profile and Iran’s role in the conflict through Hezbollah — here.

One more thing: The Islamic State group’s quest for armor in Syria is getting desperate. Evidence: These wood-armored suicide car bombs.

Almost a week after its new, large operation against ISIS, Egypt has secured U.S. backing from State Secretary Rex Tillerson, the Associated Press reports from Cairo — the first stop in his week-long tour of the Middle East.   
What’s new here? Hard to say short of an “attaboy” from RexT to President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and his troops.
What has Egypt accomplished so far? “In its latest update, Egypt’s military said Monday it had killed a dozen militants in firefights and arrested 92 people, bringing the total militant body count to 28, based on earlier statements. It says it has destroyed dozens of targets, including vehicles, weapons caches, hideouts, communications centers and illegal opium fields in the sweep.”
Worth noting: “North Sinai is closed off for non-residents and journalists, and the army’s casualty figures could not be independently confirmed. Telephone connections to the area, both mobile and landlines, are often shut down as well. The army has not mentioned any killed or wounded on its own side.”
After Cairo, RexT is headed to “Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, where he will meet local officials as well as Saudi, Emirati, Iraqi and Syrian delegations.” Read the rest, here.

The U.S. military’s report on what went wrong in the deadly Niger attack last October is “thousands of pages long,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Sunday while traveling to Europe. While there, Mattis will meet with the head of AFRICOM, Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, later this week ahead of the reports’ release, reports. The full version is expected to make it to Mattis for review in about two weeks’ time. More here.

In the world of new military toys, the U.S. Army now has a self-targeting humvee drone called the Wingman. Known officially by the boring name of the Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (or JCTD) program, the three-year, $20 million effort began last year. And just last week, the U.S. Army reported, “engineers have already been able to autonomously pilot a specially-configured Humvee and hit targets with its on-board 7.62 mm weapon system.” Read more from the Army, here; or from SOFREP, over here.
Speaking of U.S. Army vehicles, the service wants to spend another $150 million on its Blue Force Tracking navigation systems, known formally as the Joint Battle Command-Platform, reported Monday. “According to the accompanying budget documents, the Army requested a total of $431 million for the program in fiscal 2019. That’s up from a total of $283 million during the fiscal 2018 budget. Moreover, the Army plans to procure 26,355 systems as opposed to 16,552 from the fiscal year 2018 budget.” More here.

Finally today: Wanna be a military officer, but just can’t stomach the thought of almost every single requirement that goes along with it? Don’t fake it — it carries a penalty of three years in prison. That could be the outcome for a 57-year-old North Carolina man, Christian Desgroux, who is charged with pretending to be a three-star general to impress a woman last November in Cary, N.C.
What happened that November morning is actually quite brazen, and we’ll leave it to the AP — using court testimony and Desgroux’s fairly long rap sheet — to fill in the rest here.

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