Japanese F-35 crashes; Escalating in Somalia; Libya fighting nears Tripoli; New border-wall contracts; And a bit more.

Japan did indeed lose an F-35A to a crash on Tuesday, Defense News’ Mike Yeo reported Tuesday evening. The aircraft “was one of four JASDF F-35As that had taken off from nearby Misawa Air Base for a training mission at 7:00 p.m. local time.” A U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft and its operators have joined the search — along with eight ships and six other aircraft — while Japan has grounded its remaining F-35 fleet until it can get a better grasp on what happened.

The evidentiary lead: “debris [was] sighted and recovered Tuesday night by ships and helicopters searching for the aircraft” somewhere “over the Pacific Ocean about miles 85 miles east of Misawa city in Aomori prefecture, in the northern part of Japan’s main island of Honshu.”

What else we know: “The crashed aircraft, which the [Japan Air Self-Defense Force] identified as serial number 79-8705, was the first of 13 Japanese F-35As assembled so far by Mitsubishi’s final assembly and check out facility in Nagoya. In addition to the 12 JASDF F-35As affected by the temporary Japanese grounding order, the 14th aircraft assembled, which is still at Nagoya and undergoing pre-delivery flight tests, has also been grounded.” Read on, here.

Notes Reuters: This crash “could reignite concern about the F-35 having only one engine.” Quite a bit more, here.

For the record: Japan “plans to buy 147 F-35s, including 105 F-35As, costing about 10 billion yen ($90 million) each.” A bit more from AP, here.

In other global F-35 news, Turkey says it will look elsewhere for new jets if the U.S. won’t deliver F-35s to Ankara because it’s buying Russian S-400 air defense systems. Tiny bit more from AP, here.

In case there seemed to be any ambiguity on the U.S. side, the chair and ranking members of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees offer this: “A U.S. Fighter Jet or a Russian Missile System. Not Both.” That’s the headline of a Tuesday op-ed from Sens. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.; Jack Reed, D-R.I.; Jim Risch, R-Idaho; and Bob Menendez, D-N.J., in the pages of The New York Times.


From Defense One

What Will Climate Change Mean for Security in Africa? // Katie Bo Williams: The Pentagon faces different challenges in a continent where it has only one permanent base — but lots of troops.

Shanahan Touts Unity in Space-Force Pitch, But Disagreements Clearly Remain // Marcus Weisgerber: It’s a key week for proponents of the Trump administration’s space reorganization — and their detractors.

Defense One Radio Ep. 42: Escalating in Somalia // Defense One Staff: We look into why the U.S. military is escalating its air campaign against al-Shabaab, and what sort of challenges stand in the way of building up a Somali army that can fight Shabaab on its own.

China Is Closing the Innovation Gap: Report // Brandi Vincent, Nextgov: A leading tech-policy think tank says the United States needs a national strategy of its own to compete in advanced technologies.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson. Thanks for reading! And if you’re not subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1794, Matthew C. Perry was born in Newport, Rhode Island. Perry would go on to become commodore of the U.S. Navy, and is perhaps most popularly credited with opening Japan to the West via “gunboat diplomacy” beginning in 1853.


I got a name.* We now know the names of the three American service members killed from an IED blast near Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan on Monday. They were all Marines of the 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, Marine Forces Reserve, and their names are:

  • Cpl. Robert A. Hendriks, 25, of Locust Valley, New York.
  • Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines, 31, of York, Pennsylvania.
  • Staff Sgt. Christopher K.A. Slutman, 43, of Newark, Delaware. He was a “a 15-year New York City fire department member” who leaves behind a wife and three daughters, AP reports.

Are 14,000 U.S. troops enough in Afghanistan? Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan was asked that Tuesday evening by Fox’s Bret Baier. Shanahan’s answer: “We don’t talk troop movements and we don’t talk troop levels…We’re at war. What you see are the casualties of war. In parallel, there is a peace negotiation process, and probably the best possibility of peace in 40 years is at hand.” Read on at Fox, here.

Four months after he was picked by Trump, the Pentagon on Tuesday officially announced Army Gen. Mark Milley’s nomination to succeed Gen. Joseph Dunford as the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
Also in that alert:

  • STRATCOM’s Gen. John Hyten could slide — if approved by Congress — to vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
  • And Air Force Maj. Gen. Eric Fick could add a star and move up to Joint Strike Fighter Program director from his current deputy slot in that program. A bit more — including two other nominations — here.

Expect more troops at the U.S.-Mexico border, Acting Defense SecDef Shanahan said Tuesday. “Just strictly on the basis of the volume and how much the situation there has deteriorated, I would expect us to do more,” Defense News reported Tuesday from Washington in a short piece you can find, here. And to that end…

The Pentagon just announced two new border-wall construction contracts worth nearly a billion dollars. First up is SLSCO Ltd., a Galveston, Texas, company that netted “a $789,000,000 firm-fixed-price contract for border replacement wall construction…in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, with an estimated completion date of Oct. 1, 2020.”
The second deal goes to Barnard Construction Co., from Bozeman, Montana. BCC, Inc., “was awarded an $187,000,000 firm-fixed-price contract for design-bid-build construction project for primary pedestrian wall replacement…in Yuma, Arizona, with an estimated completion date of Sept. 30, 2020.”
For what it’s worth: Both contracts used up a combined $482,499,998 of the Army’s FY19 operations and maintenance funds to get things started. Read on at the Pentagon announcement, here.

Meanwhile at the border, “chaos forces truckers to wait hours, sometimes days,” AP reports from the Mexico city of Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas.
What chaos? “A surge of migrating Central American families” leading to “a new monthly record for apprehensions of families in March,” AP writes. That, in turn, has caused U.S. officials to reassign “541 border inspectors to other jobs, including processing migrants, providing transportation and performing hospital watch for migrants who require medical attention. It is unknown when they will return to their regular job of screening people and cargo for smuggling.”
Additionally concerning: “Border Patrol agents, who guard areas between ports, are also doing jobs they were not trained to do, such as medical screenings for children and families in the migrant holding camps.” More here.
BTW: Democrats are reportedly preparing their own package of border security proposals, AP reports this morning — even though those measures “would stand virtually no chance of winning approval by the Republican-led Senate, let alone getting Trump’s signature.”

Fighting in Libya has inched closer and closer to the city center of Tripoli, Reuters reports today from the coastal city.
Where things stand presently: “Forces of eastern commander Khalifa Haftar had taken up positions in the suburbs about 11 km (7 miles) south of the center, with steel containers and pickups with mounted machine-guns blocking their way into the city. Residents reported LNA planes buzzing Tripoli and the sound of clashes in outskirts of the city.”
Haftar’s men briefly took the Tripoli airport, but were beat back in a counteroffensive by government-aligned troops to about a mile south of the runways. Otherwise, “The United Nations said that at least 4,500 Tripoli residents had been displaced, most moving away from conflict areas to safer districts of the city. But many more were trapped, it said.” More here.
Extra reading:How Libya’s Haftar blindsided world powers with advance on Tripoli,” also from Reuters this morning.

And finally today: POTUS can accept unlimited money from foreigners if it flows through a business he/she owns, Defense One’s Bradley Peniston writes after reading this analysis from Washington University’s Kathleen Clark off new Department of Justice filings. The DOJ interpretation, Clark writes in an upcoming issue of the Indiana Law Journal, flies in the face of more than 50 DOJ legal opinions spanning 150 years that hewed to the spirit of the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which generally bars American public officials from accepting gifts from foreign states.
“That strong and consistent record changed on June 9, 2017, when the Department responded to the first of three lawsuits charging that President Donald Trump violated the foreign emoluments clause by accepting payments from foreign governments through his commercial establishments, including his Washington, D.C., hotel,” Clark writes.
This new, narrow interpretation is “giving Saudi Arabia, China and other countries leeway to curry favor with Donald Trump via deals with his hotels, condos, trademarks and golf courses,” legal and national security experts told The Guardian. Read on, here.
ICYMI: Former Defense One correspondent Caroline Houck listed many ways Trump’s global endeavors expose him to conflicts of interest and potential foreign influence, here.

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