POTU$’ budget U-turn; Milley tapped for CJCS; Russia’s recent cyber attacks; C-130 conga line; And a bit more.

President Trump abruptly changed his mind last week and OK’d a $750-billion defense budget, Politico’s Wesley Morgan reported on Sunday. The decision comes amid growing and unprecedented legal pressures for the president. And it apparently happened five days ago over lunch at the White House between Trump, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the Republican chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services committees, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, and Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma.

Why this figure is notable: “In October, Trump said the defense figure for 2020 would be $700 billion, a roughly 5 percent cut in line with decreases planned for other agencies.”

What’s more, exactly one week ago Trump tweeted, “The U.S. spent 716 Billion Dollars this year. Crazy!” That was Monday. The decisive lunch was the following day.

This new figure — $750 billion — ”would dwarf the $733 billion budget proposal Mattis and other top military leaders have been fighting to preserve,” Morgan writes.

One possibility why the figure is so much higher: as a “negotiating tactic” to keep Democratic opposition from compromising on a figure below the $733 billion that Mattis, Inhofe and Thornberry want.

For what it’s worth, CNN notes “The larger number tracks with what some experts, including a congressionally appointed panel, have said should be a yearly 3 to 5% increase to the defense budget, which includes money for the military as well as the nuclear weapons elements of the Department of Energy.” In other significant Pentagon news this weekend…

The president nominated a new chairman of the Joint Staff: U.S. Army Chief, Gen. Mark Milley. And Trump formally nominated Milley (via Twitter) on the 63rd birthday of the present CSCS, U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford. The news also came the same day of this year’s Army-Navy football game. (Sorry, Sailors and Marines of the Midshipmen; hats off to the victors of the Army’s Black Knights.)

Out front with this story: The New York Times’ Helene Cooper on Friday. And there were at least three things notable in her initial report—

  1. “It is unusual for a successor to the top military job to be chosen so early…”
  2. “[T]he president has long been known to have a preference for General Milley, an ebullient officer who is well known in the halls of the Pentagon and at Army bases around the world.” And—
  3. “That preference for General Milley was at odds with Mr. Trump’s defense secretary, Jim Mattis, who is believed to have wanted [U.S. Air Force Chief Gen. David] Goldfein for the job.” On this note: Retired Lt. Gen Keith Kellogg “strongly pushed Trump to pick Milley over Goldfein,” NBC News reported this weekend. Read the rest of Cooper’s report on Milley’s nomination, here.

Or read Tom Bowman’s who-is-this-guy report from Friday, here.

BTW: Trump’s Chief of Staff — retired Marine Gen. John Kelly — is leaving the admin by the end of the year, the president told reporters (Vox) on Saturday.

The botched U.S. special forces raid in Niger back in October 2017? Mattis was not pleased with the disciplinary reactions and took charge of the process, the NYTs reported separately on Friday.

The quick read: “a senior officer who had largely escaped punishment was told he would be reprimanded. Another senior officer’s actions before and around the time of the mission were also under new scrutiny… [and] a more junior officer who had received much of the public blame for the mission received word from the Army: His reprimand was rescinded.”

Big picture concern: “More than a year after the ambush… top military leaders continue to battle over how to apportion blame and who should be held accountable.” Read on, here.


From Defense One

Russia Launched Cyber Attacks Against Ukraine Before Ship Seizures, Firm Says // Patrick Tucker: Researchers claim to have uncovered Russian cyber attacks aimed at the Ukrainian military and government before and during the Sea of Azov captures.

What Trump Could Do If He Declares a State of Emergency // Elizabeth Goitein: A president’s emergency powers are extensive, and largely unchecked.

Trump Taps Loyalist Fox News Veteran as UN Ambassador // Uri Friedman, The Atlantic: Heather Nauert, currently the State Department’s chief spokesperson, is not known for challenging her superiors.

Nikki Haley Touts Values-Based Foreign Policy, Showing Daylight with Trump // Uri Friedman, The Atlantic: In an interview with The Atlantic, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to the UN made the case for a values-driven foreign policy, and acknowledged daylight between her and the president.

Defense One Radio, Ep. 31: The true origins of ISIS and the future of counterterrorism with Hassan Hassan // Defense One Staff: Welcome to our podcast about the news, strategy, tech, and business trends defining the future of national security.

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Thanks for reading! And if you find this stuff useful, consider sharing it with somebody you think might find it useful, too. On this day 70 years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the U.N. in Paris.


See a nighttime conga line of airlifters headed for training ranges in the southwest United States. Tipped off by #avgeeks who spotted distinctive lines of icons on the Web’s various air-traffic trackers, The Drive has the story: “The goal is to simulate prying open the enemy’s back door and setting up combat shop on their lawn as part of an annual drill called Joint Forcible Entry Exercise (JFEX).”
These kinda wargames “have become far more relevant in recent years as the U.S. has started to come to terms with the reality that winning an expeditionary fight against a peer state competitor is an increasingly dubious challenge.” Read on, here.

The USAF was supposed to warn the FBI about the Suthlerland Springs killer. WaPo’s Alex Horton: “The Air Force had four opportunities to submit records to the FBI that would have barred Devin Kelley from purchasing guns, as required. They didn’t. He did. He killed 26 people on Nov. 5, 2017.” Read the Air Force IG’s report, published on Thursday, here.

Weird, if true: Something that looks a lot like a fake Chinese J-20 stealth jet was purportedly photographed at an airport in Georgia. The image was sent to The Aviationist, which has this report.

And finally today: Decoding China’s lunar-mission logos. Reading the secret and not-so-secret messages and iconography in the U.S. military’s unit and mission patches has long been a niche hobby that reached an apogee in Trevor Paglin’s 2010 book I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed By Me.
But now Sinologists can get in on the fun, thanks to the emergence of logos for China’s recent and ongoing missions to the far side of the moon. (Not ringing a bell? Go read “China’s Moon Missions Could Threaten US Satellites: Pentagon” by Defense One’s Patrick Tucker, then come back.) China-watcher Andrew Jones takes a crack at decoding the logos on the nose and fairings of the Chang’e-4, which launched on Saturday and will attempt to land in the moon’s South Pole-Aitken basin in early January. Read on at Quartz, here.

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