Mattis: a new certainty in South Asia; Macron rebukes Trump’s foreign policy; Someone’s jamming AC-130s over Syria; How to think about man-machine teams; and just a bit more…

Mattis to lawmakers: “The paradox of war is that an adversary will move against any perceived weakness, so we cannot adopt a single, preclusive form of warfare. Rather, we must be able to fight across the entire spectrum of combat.” The goal is nothing less than restoring America’s “competitive edge in an era of reemerging long-term strategic competition.”

That’s a bit of what the Defense Secretary is telling the Senate Armed Services committee this morning as he testifies on President Trump’s nearly $700 billion military budget request for FY19. Mattis is joined on Capitol Hill by his Joint Chiefs Chairman, Gen. Joseph Dunford and DOD Comptroller David Norquist.  

Mentioned in Mattis’s opening remarks: “allies” (17 times); Russia (12); Syria (8); China (5); North Korea (4); and border security and “cloud” technology garnered three mentions each.

So how are the current wars going? “In South Asia and Afghanistan, uncertainty in the region has been replaced by the certainty of the Administration’s South Asia Strategy,” Mattis said. “In the Middle East, we have dramatically reduced ISIS’ physical caliphate, using a coordinated, whole-of-government approach that works ‘by, with, and through’ our allies and partners to crush ISIS’ claim of invincibility and deny them a geographic haven from which to plot murder.”

Watch the rest of Mattis, Dunford and Norquist’s testimony this morning via SASC’s livestream, here.

From Defense One

The Designer of Russia’s First Armed Drone Is Under Arrest // Patrick Tucker: Is it fraud? A shakedown? Punishment for program delays? The unusual case threatens to derail Russia’s drone ambitions.

Macron Mic-Drops on Trump, Offers a New Call to Western Leadership // Kevin Baron: Defending multilateralism and democracy, the French president gave the best political speech America has seen in years.

Thornberry Is Getting Rolled by the Services // Gordon Adams: The HASC chairman’s proposed reforms would roll back consolidations that have been saving money for decades.

How to Plan for the Coming Era of Human-Machine Teaming // Maj. Gen. Mick Ryan: Militaries must understand the different forms it will take, and how it will change just about everything they do.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. They can subscribe here for free. OTD2005: Syria withdraws its last troops from Lebanon, ending a 29-year occupation.

President Trump phoned into Fox & Friends this morning to talk about where his head is at regarding a possible meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
The U.S. is considering five locations and dates to meet with Kim, Trump said. Also: “It could be that I walk out quickly — with respect, but it could be. It could be that maybe the meeting doesn’t even take place. Who knows. But I can tell you right now they want to meet.”
How’s the presidency going? Trump said he had “accomplished more than any president in our history” and “I would give myself an A+.” (Time)
Russia investigation. The president said that he is innocent of allegations of collusion with Russia and that he might interfere with the investigation into them.
Changing his story: Trump confirmed that he stayed overnight in a Moscow hotel in 2013. (That’s when, according to the Steele report, Russian spies may have videotaped him with prostitutes.) Last year, he told then-FBI Director James Comey that he had not stayed the night, according to Comey’s memos. Flight records, it turns out, belie that.

For the public, eventually. The Pentagon’s investigation into what happened in Niger in October was completed this week, and now we have some new info from that report. The thing clocks in at over 6,000 pages.
The Wall Street Journal’s quick read (paywall alert): “Poor training, complacency and a culture of excessive risk contributed to the deaths” of the four U.S. soldiers in Niger.
According to NPR, “The Pentagon has sent the classified report to Congress and military officers have started to brief the families of the soldiers who were killed. The report has not been released publicly, but an official who has seen it described it to NPR.”
So what’s inside? “The report does not cast blame or call for punishment,” NPR reports. “But it does say there were failures at multiple levels, and calls for them to be addressed by the Army and the Special Operations Command.”
And that includes “at least one officer copied and pasted orders from a different mission into the so-called concept of operations to gain approval,” the WSJ reports.
Not in the report: Found “fault with the relaxed military operational authorities granted under President Donald Trump,” according to the Journal. “He approved recommendations from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and others to allow commanders at lower levels to have decision-making power, according to officials. There is no indication that the rules changes contributed to the incident, said officials who saw the report.” More here.

Someone is jamming America’s AC-130 gunships in Syria, The Drive reports. The list of culprits isn’t a long one; it’s “almost certainly Russian or Russian-support forces,” The Drive writes.
Where this info comes from: U.S. Special Operations Command’s Gen. Raymond Thomas, who “revealed the new details in a keynote speech at the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation’s 2018 GEOINT Symposium.”
In his own words: “Right now in Syria, we’re in the most aggressive EW [electronic warfare] environment on the planet from our adversaries,” Thomas said. “They’re testing us every day, knocking our communications down, disabling our AC-130s, etcetera.”
The risks: “Jamming GPS receivers could also more directly impair a gunships ability to accurately attack targets,” The Drive reports. “The AC-130W Stinger II, one of the types we know has been flying over Syria and Iraq, relies heavily on precision-guided munitions, including GPS-guided types such as the GBU-39/B Small Diameter Bomb (SDB). Many of the same factors could apply to any EC-130H or even regular C-130 operations in Syria.” Read on, here.  

Before we leave Syria today, here’s an interesting project, flagged on Twitter Wednesday by the Washington Post’s Louisa Loveluck, which is “archiving all the publicly available evidence of chemical weapons usage in Syria since 2012.” The unceremonious name: The Syrian Archive.
What you’ll find: “documentation from over 190 sources that can be viewed, analysed and downloaded. This process not only identified an additional 50 attack sites in Syria but brought together 861 verified videos to corroborate these attacks.”
About the group behind all this: “The Syrian Archive is a civil society group that has been documenting the Syrian conflict since 2014. To date over 1.4 million videos have been located and preserved. Like many monitoring organisations, the Syrian Archive is unable to go into Syria to investigate these attacks. Relying on a network of journalists and video makers it is essential to monitor, document and report on the crimes in Syria and preserve these pieces of evidence for accountability and justice initiatives.” More here.

“Climate change could make thousands of tropical islands ‘uninhabitable’ in coming decades,” the Washington Post reports off a new study partially funded by the U.S. military.

In the Asia-Pacific, er Indo-Pacific: G7 foreign ministers — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, U.K., U.S.— just issued a “communique” featuring “one of the most strongly-worded statements on the South China Sea you’ll see,” RAND’s Lyle Morris pointed out Wednesday, adding, “Really impressive.”
Some of that strong language: “We remain concerned about the situation in the East and South China seas. We reiterate our strong opposition to any unilateral actions that escalate tensions and undermine regional stability and the international rules-based order, such as the threat or use of force, large-scale land reclamation and building of outposts, as well as their use for military purposes. We urge all parties to comply with their obligations under international law, and call for the full and effective implementation of the commitments in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in their entirety.”
Read the statement in full — which features another defense of the “rules-based international order,” something we’ve heard a lot more about since Russia’s invasion of Crimea and China’s incursions in the SCS, not to mention how Trump has challenged norms and expectations of how a U.S. president ought to comport his or herself publicly as the world’s most powerful and influential leader — here.

Today in national security podcasts: you know this guy, Arms Control Wonk — aka Jeffrey Lewis, Director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. With a title like that, you see why we all prefer just to call him the “Arms Control Wonk.”  
But this week he passes the mic to Middlebury’s Andrea Berger, who specializes in “North Korea’s WMD programs, sanctions and export controls, countering proliferation finance, and nonproliferation and disarmament diplomacy.” Berger breaks down North Korean diplomacy in the weeks ahead with Ramon Pacheco-Pardo of King’s College London. The hour-plus chat begins here.

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