What to expect from a new HASC chair; DoD says no to CentCom; ISIS mop-up hits snags; China plans combat drone; And a bit more.

Democrats to take over at HASC. The Democrats retook the House of Representatives in yesterday’s elections. That’s expected to turn Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., currently the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, into its chairman. So what to expect?

First, demands for more information. Last week, Smith wrote in Defense One that the Trump administration and its Defense Department leadership were rolling back the kind of basic transparency that prevents waste and fraud, enables Congressional oversight, and promotes public trust. “On issue after issue, they have made conspicuous decisions to roll back transparency and public accountability precisely when we need it most,” Smith wrote. “Remedying this imbalance by bringing back oversight and accountability should be one of Congress’s major defense priorities.”

Opposition to larger Pentagon budgets. “Smith has long telegraphed to the Pentagon that the Democrats would cut defense spending if they took power,” Task & Purpose wrote recently. “In April, he warned Defense Secretary James Mattis that the Pentagon needed to plan ‘for a lean future.’”

A renewed push to end U.S. participation in the war in Yemen. In September, Smith spearheaded a bipartisan resolution to do just that.

  • ICYMI: The war “escalated drastically over the past week,” The New York Times reported Tuesday, “exacerbating a dire humanitarian crisis that the United Nations says could spiral into famine.” Read on about the new offensive on Hodeida, here.

No new nuclear weapons. “The biggest thing for me is I do not agree with diving into a nuclear arms race with Russia and China. The amount of money that we’re proposing to spend on nukes, I think, is both excessive and the wrong policy, without question,” he told Task & Purpose in February.

Space Force shutdown. “What is the most cost-effective way to give space the emphasis it deserves?” Smith said last month. “I know it is not a Space Force.”

More BRAC? In 2014, Smith advanced a proposal to help shed some more of the Cold War infrastructure the military is still lugging around.  


From Defense One

China’s Beating the U.S. to Market on Combat Drones, By Copying U.S. Technology // Patrick Tucker: America seems to have squandered a 10-year head start.

UK Plans a Decade of Weapons Purchases As Auditors Sound Warning Bells // Marcus Weisgerber: Defence procurement minister reiterates commitment to 10-year, £186 billion purchase plan.

The Surprising Good News About Voting Security // Natasha Bertrand, The Atlantic: With today’s midterms, America’s election infrastructure has never been more carefully monitored by government officials. But will that be enough?

China Is No Reason to Abandon the INF // Zack Brown: Putting U.S. ground-launched intermediate-range missiles in the Pacific would be tactically ineffective and strategically destabilizing.

Kentucky Is Turning to Drones to Fix Its Unsolved-Murder Crisis // Sidney Fussell, The Atlantic: Only 52 percent of the state’s homicides result in an arrest when the victim is black. Could automating police work help?

Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you find this useful, please consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. On this day in 1983, a bomb exploded in a public corridor near the Senate Republican cloakroom in Washington, shattering mirrors, chandeliers and damaging furniture. Fortunately no one was injured in the 11 p.m. attack. The culprits: a group called the “Armed Resistance Unit,” in an apparent act of protest against the American military invasion of Grenada — which was about two weeks old when the timed device detonated.


Here’s how things are going this week in the “graveyard of empires” this week: Taliban Pummel Security Forces Across Afghanistan. That comes to us from The New York Times’s Fahim Abed and Rod Nordland reporting from Kabul.  
The quick read: “59 police officers or soldiers were confirmed killed in the nine attacks on Monday and Tuesday, which took place in seven provinces.”
Some of the higher-profile damage involved “insurgents [who] captured battalion headquarters of the Afghan Border Force in Farah Province, in western Afghanistan, killing or taking prisoner nearly the entire contingent of officers, with as many as 20 dead. In Kandahar Province, in the south, three separate attacks killed a total of 17 police officers. And in Ghazni, a central province, a joint military and police outpost fell only two days after it had been set up, with all 16 security officials there killed or wounded.”
The damage continues in Abed and Norland’s report, here.

Stay tuned to hear about the likely horrors that would play out across Afghanistan if the U.S. were to pull all of its troops out before any peace deal is reached with the Taliban. Seth Jones of the Center for Strategic and International Studies explains that and more for us in this week’s Defense One Radio podcast.
BTW: Only a quarter of insurgencies end with a settlement like the U.S. is seeking in Afghanistan. How does that alter the likely future of America’s military future in the region? Subscribe to Defense One Radio to find out when the episode posts in about a day or so…

America is having a tough time flushing ISIS out of its last redoubts in Syria, The New York Times’s Eric Schmitt reported Tuesday from Amman, Jordan.
Complicating matters: “Booby traps, land mines and a militant counterstrike during a fierce sandstorm” and a death toll for America’s Syrian partners that tops 320 since September.
New in this story: “A classified American military program in Jordan, called Operation Gallant Phoenix, is scooping up data collected in commando raids in Syria and Iraq and funneling it to law enforcement agencies in Europe and Southeast Asia,” Schmitt reports. Read on, here.

Pentagon says no to CentCom. Over the past decade-plus, the Navy has complained increasingly loudly about the strain of keeping so many aircraft carriers and associated ships and aircraft in and around the Persian Gulf. When, observers wondered, would the Navy finally say “no” and make it stick? We might just have found out.
“The Pentagon has rejected a request from the US Central Command for additional military resources in the Persian Gulf to beef up US deterrence against Tehran, according to two defense officials,” CNN reported Monday. “The request comes at a time when there are concerns the Iranian regime could potentially lash out militarily in response to the US reimposing sanctions on the country. It also comes as Defense Secretary James Mattis and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, are engaged in high-level classified discussions with senior commanders around the world about how to allocate military resources for the next two years, officials say.
It’s unknown publicly what exactly Gen. Joseph Votel, the four-star head of Central Command, asked for, but it’s known that CENTCOM would like to see an aircraft carrier return to the Gulf in the coming months, as one has not been there since winter.”
ICYMI: Read an argument for the reallocation of forces away from the Gulf, and how to do it, from CSIS’ Melissa Dalton and SAIS’ Mara Karlin, here.

French President Macron says Europe needs its very own army, The Wall Street Journal reported (paywall alert) Tuesday — less than a week before Presidents Trump and Putin will arrive in Paris to celebrate 100 years since the World War One Armistice.
Said Macron in an interview with a French radio station Europe 1: “We have to protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States of America… Who is the main victim? Europe and its security. I want to build a real security dialogue with Russia, which is a country I respect, a European country — but we must have a Europe that can defend itself on its own without relying only on the United States.”
About the wider continent: “Europe, without a doubt, has become too ultra-liberal,” Macron said. “We need a stronger Europe that protects.”
The BBC raises its hand to remind us the UK is against the idea of, as Macron put it, a “true European army,” because it would risk “creating a parallel structure to Nato.”
Where this push from Macron is coming from, according to the BBC’s Jonathan Marcus: “[T]wo sets of factors: his support for the greater European project on the one hand, but also horror at much that the Trump Administration is doing on the other, with its overturning of treaties and so on.” More from Politico Europe, here.

And finally today: China unveils a familiar-looking drone mockup. Making its debut as a non-flying model at the Zhuhai Airshow, the CH-7 combat drone struck observers as part RQ-170, part X-47B, and even part B-2 (its landing gear). And it hasn’t even flown yet; tests are planned for next year, officials with China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics, the country’s largest military drone exporter, told state media. But if the stealthy-looking drone hits that mark and subsequent ones, China intends to be fielding — and exporting — it by 2022.
That would almost certainly beat any similar U.S. effort. Defense One’s Patrick Tucker tells the story about how the Pentagon lost a 10-year lead in the race to field a high-altitude, high-subsonic combat drone, here.
Speaking of drones, here’s a view from an infantry 1LT. Your squad is on patrol and hears the buzz of small UAS overhead. You don’t know if it’s hostile, so you go to ground. As long as you’re under cover, you’re out of the fight. That’s why drone proliferation is a big tactical problem.” Read on, from a 1st Lt. Walker Mills, writing at West Point’s Modern War Institute, here.

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