Houthis’ surprisingly advanced drones; China’s growing sub fleet; Iraq-Syria border fence; Battery-ingredients shortage; And a bit more.

By Ben Watson

May 3, 2019

Yemen’s skies are buzzing with drones, and that’s deeply concerning for commercial and U.S. military ships trying to avoid the cheap, destructive objects launched by Houthi rebels, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday in a long-ish feature from Dion Nissenbaum and Warren P. Strobel.

In short: “The Houthis, who have been derided by enemies as backward and tribal, have now launched what Saudi officials estimate to be more than 140 attempted drone flights that they have shot down. Their technology has quickly evolved from small, propeller-powered surveillance drones to a larger plane-shaped model, dubbed UAV-X by United Nations investigators, that can travel more than 900 miles at a speed of 150 miles-per-hour, according to the U.N.—putting much of the Gulf, including the Saudi and Emirati capitals, within range.”

Where this all gets quite interesting: “The Saudis and Emiratis are investing heavily in counterdrone technology,” a U.S. official told the Journal. “But the relative ease of building drones using commercial parts is challenging efforts to contain the threat,” which is increasingly stressing “commercial shipping and American military ships in the region.” Read on behind the paywall, here.

ICYMI: Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps got a new commander on April 21. His name and rank: Gen. Hossein Salami, and you can read more about him at the Atlantic Council, here. (Did you hear a joke in that name? WaPo’s Ishaan Tharoor hears one almost every time.)

Get to better know at least one element of pro-Saudi lobby efforts to continue the war in Yemen via this report from The Intercept’s Lee Fang on Thursday.

Lee’s Twitter tease: Back in November 2017, “A senior GOP lawmaker gave an impassioned (and conspiratorial) speech in Congress defending U.S. support for the war in Yemen — documents show he was actually reading a script handed to him by a Saudi lobbyist.”

The lawmaker: Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif.

Why this lobbying story was in the news: “On Thursday, the Senate [was] scheduled to attempt to override President Donald Trump’s veto of the War Powers Act resolution calling for an end to U.S. support for the war in Yemen.” That Thursday vote in the Senate failed to override President Trump’s veto.

And the Saudi-led coalition has at last begun to repay the U.S. for refueling aircraft coming to and from airstrikes in Yemen, CNN’s Ryan Browne reported Thursday.

What now for Yemen? Just Security’s Ryan Goodman has outlined a few options for lawmakers: "There are a number of provisions – some already in existing bills – that could swiftly become part of a must-pass vehicle, like the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) or an appropriations bill, that a bipartisan majority of Congress can get behind. Having worked in the Obama White House, I can attest how difficult it is for a President to veto the entire NDAA despite provisions he finds loathsome." Read on, here.


From Defense One

Pentagon Warns Of China’s Rise in the Arctic, Missile Subs, Influence Operations // Patrick Tucker: Annual "China Military Power" report notes that Beijing’s deterrence fleet is up to six ballistic missile subs.

A US-Russia-China Arms Treaty? Extend New START First // Jon Wolfsthal: Trump’s proposed pact is likely a pipe dream — or a smoke screen for scuttling yet another arms-control agreement.

Global Business Brief // // Marcus Weisgerber: How the USS Enterprise will live on; USCG embraces small drones; Earnings, round 2; and more.

Instagram and Facebook Ban Far-Right Extremists // Taylor Lorenz, The Atlantic: Alex Jones, Infowars, Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson, Laura Loomer, Paul Nehlen, and Louis Farrakhan have all been removed from the platforms.

Why Baghdadi Risked a Video Appearance // Joshua A. Geltzer, The Atlantic: ISIS faces dangers as an organization that are more significant than the ones Baghdadi does as an individual.

Welcome to this Friday 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 1942, the first air-naval battle in history took place in the Battle of the Coral Sea.


Trump’s pick to lead the Army faced a largely friendly crowd of Senators on Thursday. The Senate “Armed Services Committee expressed almost unanimous acclaim for Army Gen. James McConville,” US News’ Paul Shinkman reports off the high-profile appearance on the Hill.
An example of the chumminess: “Who can vote against a guy, a distinguished general, who has two sons, a daughter – all three captains in the U.S. Army? I say, no one,” said Committee Chairman, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.
Budget warning: McConville said more continuing resolutions or a return of sequestration would be “devastating.” Defense News, here. And Breaking Defense has a bit more on how the Army’s “Big 6” programs would be slowed or otherwise affected by budget-tightening, here.

President Trump taps Kelly Knight Craft as America’s ambassador to the UN. Currently serving as ambassador to Canada, Craft is a Kentucky native and the wife of coal magnate Joseph W. Craft III. Politico’s quick forecast: She’s “likely to face a bruising Senate confirmation process, despite staunch backing from a fellow Kentuckian, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.”
To her credit, “She managed to maintain a good relationship with Ottawa while Trump imposed punishing steel and aluminum tariffs, threatened to withdraw from the NAFTA trade deal and criticized Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland,” Politico writes. But Senate Democrats “plan to press Craft on thorny geopolitical issues, from Iran to North Korea to Venezuela.” CNN has a tiny bit more on Craft, here.

WIRED visited the Iraq-Syria border, where a flimsy year-old fence now separates the two countries in quite disruptive ways. “Soldiers disagree over who patrols what part of the border and where…Villagers living along the border here used to travel freely between Iraq and Syria, but that’s no longer the case. Collaboration between the two countries on the wall itself has cooled—now, anything on either side is the respective country’s problem.” Read the full story of life along this 43-mile border wall, via WIRED’s Kenneth Rosen, here.
Another great read this week from WIRED: How the study of online extremism can be terribly, terribly depressing business. Find that here.

America is ending a training program for Afghan pilots because too many just up and left, disappearing into life in the United States. Task & Purpose has the story, here.

And now for something completely different. What does a British defence secretary do the day after he’s sacked by the prime minister? Chill with his dogs, and then tweet about it. Find the image of Gavin Williamson enjoying life, here.

Electric-vehicle battery-makers face a very uncertain future, according to Tesla’s global supply manager for battery metals, Sarah Maryssael. She told a crowd in Washington on Thursday “Tesla Inc expects global shortages of nickel, copper and other electric-vehicle battery minerals” unless more money is pumped into mining copper, nickel, lithium and other critical electric battery components, Reuters reported Thursday.
What’s going on here: “Electric cars use twice as much copper as internal combustion engines,” Reuters writes. “The copper industry has suffered from years of underinvestment, and it is now working feverishly to develop new mines and bring fresh supply online as the electrification trend envelops the global economy.”
Also in the works for Tesla: Using less “cobalt in battery cathodes,” and more nickel, possibly from mines in American-friendly places like Australia. Read on, here.
Another idea: jumpstart efforts to recycle materials from used batteries.
ICYMI: China owns the bottleneck on rare-earth materials.

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee just launched a new task force to assist on women veterans, Military Times reported Thursday.
Some trivia on the topic: “Women make up about 10 percent of the nation’s veterans population, 17 percent of current military personnel and 30 percent of military service academy students,” MT’s Leo Shane III writes.
And perhaps most tellingly, “The number of women using VA health services has more than tripled over the last two decades.”
The goal of the new task force: “advancing equity in access to resources, benefits and healthcare,” according to Rep. Julia Brownley, D.-Calif. “Committee staff they expect to see a similar effort in the Senate in coming weeks, and to begin advocating for specific legislative fixes to some of the inequities by this summer,” Shane writes. More here.

Other activity on the Hill Thursday: The House voted 231-190 to keep the U.S. in the Paris climate accord. The Washington Post has details, here.

For your eyes only: A “stunning” photoset of U.S.-trained Somali Danab forces, via Voice of America’s Harun Maruf.
What you’ll see: “a female soldier with Danab special forces takes down Al-Shabaab flag near Barire in Lower Shabelle [in Somalia]. Barire is where US Navy SEAL was killed exactly 2 years ago” by al-Shabaab, Maruf writes.  
Catching up on what the U.S. military is doing in Somalia? Grab your headphones and listen to our 50-minute exploration of the escalating military action against al-Shabaab, here.

A question for you, dear readers: What do you want 2020 presidential candidates to be talking about as they compete for votes? Your input could help guide our coverage in the months ahead. Email us your thoughts to production@defenseone.com to help us better cover the news and issues that are useful to you.

And finally this week: The U.S. Navy is hunting Chinese submarines “in a Cold War-like joust,” Reuters reported in a fabulous multimedia interactive on Thursday. There’s zooming satellite imagery; and scanning the coast of Chinese shipyard facilities; charts of submarine inventories for the U.S., UK, Russia, France and China; cross-section images of subs; closer looks at the P-8 Poseidon; maps of the Pacific Ocean’s depths, as well as the South China Sea’s — and why those depths matter for naval activity like sub-hunting. The whole project is truly worth the click, here.

Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!


By Ben Watson // Ben Watson is news editor for Defense One. He previously worked for NPR's “All Things Considered” and “Here and Now” in Washington, D.C. Watson served for five years in the U.S. Army, where he was an award-winning combat cameraman and media advisor for southern Afghanistan's special operations command during the 2010-11 surge.

May 3, 2019

https://www.defenseone.com/news/2019/05/the-d-brief-may-03-2019/156731/