Big budget breakthrough; US, Russian military chiefs talk; Washington proffers Patriot to Turkey; Israel admits to hitting Syrian reactor; and just a bit more…

Congressional leaders unveiled their $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill Wednesday. With a $78 billion increase in military spending over 2017 levels, and a $52 billion increase in domestic spending, the appropriations bill is expected to gain the approval of both houses before the Friday shutdown deadline, the Washington Post reported.

Here’s a quick look at what the deal holds for defense, via Defense News:

  • $654.6 billion overall, including “$589.5 billion in the base budget and $65.2 billion in the overseas contingency operations (OCO) budget — an increase of $61.1 billion over the 2017 enacted level;”
  • $137.7 billion for personnel and pay, including a 2.4 percent pay raise;
  • $89.2 billion for research and development, up $16 billion over 2017;
  • $144.3 billion for procurement, up $25.4 billion over 2017;
  • And $238 billion for operations and maintenance, which adds $0.9 billion to the Trump adminstration’s 2018 request.

Missile defense would get a huge bump over the Trump budget. Lawmakers would add $3.3 billion to the Missile Defense Agency’s original request of $9.5 billion. More, here.

Aircraft, too: The proposed omnibus would add 143 aircraft of various types to the presidential request. More, here.

14 ships: The proposed budget would give the Navy an additional $3 billion for ships in 2018.

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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. Back in the Prohibition Era 89 years ago today, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Dexter sank the Canadian-flagged rum runner I’m Alone — capable of carrying 6,000 cases of liquor — in the Gulf of Mexico, triggering an international incident because it all happened outside U.S. waters.

Happening now: U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is speaking with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman at the Pentagon. CBS News’ Mark Knoller shared photos from the building’s River Entrance, here.
What they might be talking about: Iranian influence in the Middle East via proxy forces (like Hezbollah and the Houthis); the Saudi-led war in Yemen; any of the arms deals flagged by POTUS in his Tuesday visit with MBS; Riyadh’s ongoing row with Qatar, to list only a few.   

For the second time in less than two weeks, the U.S. and Russia’s top military officers spoke by phone, CNN reported Wednesday. Conversations between the two men aren’t common; prior to these chats, nearly two months had passed with neither U.S. Gen. Joseph Dunford or Russia’s Gen. Valery Gerasimov speaking to one another.
Why now? That’s private, said Dunford’s spox, U.S. Air Force Col. Patrick Ryder. But the two generals did discuss “Syria and other issues of mutual concern,” in case you were wondering.
One of the more sensitive flashpoints between the two nations’ militaries is in eastern Syria, the scene of an ill-fated attack by pro-Syrian fighters on U.S. and its Syrian partnered forces’ location at a Conoco oil field southeast of Deir ez-Zor. That prompted a deadly U.S. counterattack on Feb. 7, which killed hundreds from the assaulting forces.
Why this matters still: CNN reports that Wednesday’s “high-level calls come as the US-led coalition fighting ISIS has observed pro-Syrian regime forces, including Russian private military contractors, once again conducting a slow build-up east of the Euphrates River near where US troops are presently advising local allies.”
FWIW: Dunford’s counterpart also phoned up NATO’s top officer, U.S. Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, on Wednesday, according to Moscow’s Defense Ministry. But very little useful came out of that, even from CNN’s reporting. Find that, here.
By the way: Dunford was in Afghanistan during these chats. The Associated Press reports, traveling with the Joint Chiefs Chairman, that Dunford is making stops in the Balkh provincial capital of “Mazar-e Sharif in the north and at Tactical Base Gamberi in the east,” as part of a trip to review security conditions ahead of Afghanistan’s upcoming parliamentary elections, sometime later this year.
In the capital on Wednesday, a suicide bomber struck “on the road to a Shiite shrine in Kabul killed at least 33 people as Afghans celebrated the Persian new year,” AP reports, adding ISIS claimed responsibility for the bombing. A bit more, here.
On the plus side for Kabul, the defiant governor of one of the country’s “richest and most stable provinces,” Balkh, agreed to step down after being asked by President Ashraf Ghani last year to do so, Reuters reports. The agreement removes Atta Mohammad Noor and installs “Ishaq Rahgozar, a member of parliament, to move to the governor’s palace in the provincial capital, Mazar-i Sharif.” Implications and more, here.

The U.S. wants to sell Turkey a Patriot missile system to out-negotiate the Russians’ S-400, Turkey’s Daily Sabah reports this morning, writing, “the visit will be on March 31 as part of the ongoing Turkish-American Defense Industry Dialogue.”
U.S. interests in pursuing this deal hinge reportedly on a belief that “the system will hinder NATO activities in Turkey because, they say, it could gather data on NATO installations and transfer it to the Kremlin. Another concern is that the S-400s would perceive Turkish and NATO planes as an enemy and create unexpected difficulties in the future.”
Complicating matters further is “the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which mandates U.S. President Donald Trump to sanction people and companies who have defense transactions with Russia.” Read on, here.
Related: The U.S. military appears to have visited Manbij, Syria, today — one destination for Turkey and its rebels as they continue to push further into Kurdish-held turf on its border with Syria.  

There are only a few remaining pockets of rebel resistance in the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, Reuters reports this morning, now 32 days since the Russian-backed Syrian military offensive on Ghouta began.
Scenes of retreat: “A Reuters witness said 15 buses had driven into the town of Harasta to transport fighters and their families to opposition areas in northwestern Syria in a deal brokered by the government’s ally Russia.” Elsewhere, “more than 4,000 people had fled the larger rebel-held town of Douma since Wednesday, crossing over into government-held territory.”
What remains: “Douma and another rebel pocket in eastern Ghouta that includes the towns of Jobar, Ein Terma, Arbin and Zamalka.”

ICYMI: Israel’s Defense Forces said this week, “Yes, we did indeed bomb Syria’s nuclear reactor in 2007.” And it explained how in a fairly detailed multimedia presentation over here.
No time to read? No problem. The IDF released video of the strike, here.  

Preliminary talks between the U.S. and the Koreas are a wrap in Finland, the Associated Press reported Wednesday from Estonia. “Eighteen delegates, six from each country, plus observers from the United Nations and Europe attended the secretive two-day talks at a 19th-century manor house just outside Helsinki.”
There were few details from the meeting, since “Media were largely kept in the dark about the identities of the delegates and issues on the table,” AP writes.
One thing we have been told: “denuclearization wasn’t on the agenda,” Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini said Tuesday. A bit more here.

China should prepare for military action in Taiwan, Reuters reports this morning from Beijing, citing the widely-read state-run newspaper, Global Times.
The advice: “The mainland must also prepare itself for a direct military clash in the Taiwan Straits. It needs to make clear that escalation of U.S.-Taiwan official exchanges will bring serious consequences to Taiwan… Sticks matter more than flowers on the path to peaceful reunification,” said the paper, which is published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily.
Backdrop: “Beijing was infuriated after U.S. President Donald Trump signed legislation last week that encourages the United States to send senior officials to Taiwan to meet Taiwanese counterparts and vice versa.” More, here.

And finally today: There’s been an overheating problem with a test engine for America’s new nuclear submarine program, the Columbia Class, U.S. Naval Institute News reported Wednesday. But don’t worry, “the risk is manageable and well in hand,” U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Michael Jabaley, program executive officer for submarines, told the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee on Tuesday.
For the record, “Delivery for the first Columbia boomer is expected in 2031,” USNI reports.  
Review why the Columbia Class program is so vital in this 6-minute explainer we put together last September.

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