More $ diverted to border wall; Patriots sent back to Mideast; New ‘knife missile’; F-35 updates; And a bit more.

By Ben Watson

May 13, 2019

Trump’s military shifted another $1.5 billion in other programs to fund the president’s border wall, the Pentagon announced late Friday afternoon. This new-acquired money now enables another 80 miles of fencing around Tucson, Arizona, and El Centro, Texas, Pentagon spokesman, Tom Crosson told the Associated Press.

Overall, “The shift brings to $2.5 billion the amount of defense money diverted to date for the border wall project” and into the Pentagon’s counter-drug account to complete that work, CQ Roll Call reported after the announcement. “The Pentagon had previously moved $1 billion from the Army personnel budget into the counter-drug account… with up to $3.6 billion more to come from military construction projects under President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration issued in January.”

For the record, “There are currently about 4,500 U.S. service members [and 19 military aircraft] on the border, and they are authorized to be there until through September,” Reuters reminds us.

We’re not going to leave until the border is secure,” Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan said Saturday during a visit to McAllen, Texas.

BTW: Shanahan has visited the border “more than any other place in the world” as Acting SecDef and “amid increasing global flashpoints from Iran to N.Korea,” Reuters’ Idrees Ali tweeted Saturday.

Not a fan of the funding shifts: 10 Democratic senators, including Sen. Richard Durbin, who — along with members of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee and the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs — sent a letter to Shanahan on Friday expressing their “opposition” and concern that the shifted $1.5 billion will hurt the U.S. military’s readiness, as well as slowing hurricane and flood relief work needed at weather-damaged places like Tyndall and Offutt Air Force Bases.

As a result of Shanahan’s fiscal reprogramming, “Lawmakers have hinted they may respond by putting new restrictions on the Pentagon’s authority to move money around,” Reuters reported Saturday.

Shanahan’s reax to that threat: “I don’t have a good answer for how we’re going to balance it. It is a predicament.”

Meantime, more on the way. “In all, the Pentagon is expected to shift about $6.1 billion to help build a border wall, including about $3.6 billion from military construction projects, some of which will be delayed,” AP writes.

We have very smart people here in the department, and we found ways to do this without having any impact on readiness,” Shanahan first assured reporters on the steps of the Pentagon Friday.

However, Shanahan hedged that message a bit in his department’s formal announcement, writing, “The funds were drawn from a variety of sources, including cost savings, programmatic changes and revised requirements, and therefore will have minimal impact on force readiness.”

The biggest chunk, $604 million, is from the Afghan Security Forces Fund, which keeps the Afghan army and other security forces afloat,” AP reported. The diverted money now drops that fund “from the $4.9 billion approved by Congress to about $4.3 billion.”

Also deducted by the shifted funds: a DARPA “space-test experiment,” as well as upgrades to the Minuteman III missile program and “a plane that provides surveillance and communications to fighter jets while airborne,” the Washington Post reported Sunday.

Other sources of funding in Friday’s announcement, according to AP:

Related: The unspeakable war. “The conflict in Afghanistan is going badly, and the Trump administration doesn’t want to talk about it,” the New York Times Editorial Board argued in a commentary published on Saturday.

And from the region: Five people were killed in an assault by a separatist group at a luxury hotel in Pakistan, the New York Times reported Sunday from Islamabad. “The attack was claimed by the Baluchistan Liberation Army, a separatist group that has attacked security forces and Chinese installations in the past, including the Chinese Consulate in Karachi last year.” More here.


From Defense One

Some Cautionary Notes on the New ‘Knife Missile’ // Arthur Holland Michel: Will the blade-wielding Hellfire variant actually reduce civilian casualties? Maybe.

Pentagon ‘Matchmakers’ Aim to Keep US Tech Firms from Taking Chinese Money // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense officials hope to protect cutting-edge technologies by getting innovative firms funded by U.S.-friendly investors.

The Brain of the Pentagon // Eliot A. Cohen, The Atlantic: Andrew Marshall leaves behind an American tradition of strategic thinking that will live well beyond him.

Engineers Pitch Clean-Energy Plants Along Border // Amal Ahmed, The Atlantic: A proposal imagines how building solar panels and wind turbines along the U.S.-Mexico border could unite calls for a Green New Deal and a border wall.

Trump’s Bet on Kim Might Not Pay Off // Uri Friedman, The Atlantic: All that’s preventing the collapse of talks is that North Korea’s missiles haven’t flown far enough yet.

The Push to ‘Predict’ Police Shootings // Sidney Fussell, The Atlantic: Tracking officers’ stress exposure and body-camera practices could help keep them from pulling the trigger.

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson. Thanks for reading! Subscribe here. On this day in 1915, President Woodrow Wilson sent the country’s first note about the sinking of the Lusitania (which happened six days prior) to Germany’s ambassador. The final line in Wilson’s message that day: “The Imperial German Government will not expect the Government of the United States to omit any word or any act necessary to the performance of its sacred duty of maintaining the rights of the United States and its citizens and of safeguarding their free exercise and enjoyment.”


The U.S. is sending a Patriot anti-missile battery to the Middle East as its pressure and rhetoric against Iran continues. The Patriot deployment comes “just a few months after four batteries were withdrawn from the region,” the New York Times reported Friday.
In addition, the USS Arlington, “an amphibious ship designed to carry Marines and combat helicopters,” is also headed to the region — on top of the carrier strike group and four B-52s the White House awkwardly dispatched in early May.
If that’s not enough saber-rattling for you, the Times reports “Military planners were ordered this week to begin preparing for the possibility of a much larger deployment to the region in the event of a military conflict with Iran… Those plans, which are in the very early stages, could ultimately call for tens of thousands of additional forces to be sent to the Middle East." However, two nameless U.S."officials cautioned that the planning effort underway was extremely preliminary and did not envision a large-scale land operation against Iran."
Cautioned Ilan Goldenberg of CNAS: “This [Patriot] deployment is far from a massive game changer… Media needs to responsibly report on US military deployments to the Mideast. [S]top overhyping possible war with Iran, which is what the hawks want.”
In the name of provocation. U.S. intelligence analysts believe Iran is attempting to provoke Trump into “a miscalculation or overreaction,” the Times writes. However, “even if Tehran’s strategy fails to either provoke the United States or rally international sympathy, merely sowing regional uncertainty could help Iran in other ways.” Read on, here.

Speaking of possible provocations: “The UAE said on Sunday that four commercial vessels were sabotaged near Fujairah emirate, one of the world’s largest bunkering hubs lying just outside the Strait of Hormuz,” Reuters reports from Dubai.
Caveat: The Emiratis “did not describe the nature of the attack or say who was behind it,” Reuters notes.
Two of the attacked vessels were reportedly owned by Saudi Arabia, raising regional tensions higher still and causing global oil prices to spike today, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Iran, for its part, wants more information on the alleged “sabotage,” which Tehran’s foreign ministry said could be the product of "adventurism" by foreign players to disrupt regional maritime security, AP and AFP report today from the UAE and Saudi Arabia, respectively.
Location for these alleged attacks: Fujairah port, “the only terminal in the UAE located on the Arabian Sea coast, bypassing the Strait of Hormuz, through which most Gulf oil exports pass.”
Get to better know dynamics in and around the Hormuz Strait, “the world's most important oil artery,” according to this explainer from Reuters.
Outside of the region, British officials want everyone to chill ahead of EU leaders’ visit with U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo today in Brussels, Reuters reports separately this morning.    
The next stop for Pompeo, after Brussels: Sochi, Russia, to visit Vladimir Putin — after Pompeo’s planned trip to Moscow was scrapped because of the Iran tensions, AFP reports.
Also related to Iran tensions: Iran-backed “Houthi rebels in Yemen said they had started to withdraw from three strategic Red Sea ports on Saturday, offering a tentative boost to faltering United Nations-led efforts to start talks on ending the four-year war in the country,” NYTs reported Saturday from Cairo, noting “The extent of the withdrawal was unclear.” Story, here.

Happening today stateside: Air Force and Army Secretaries Heather Wilson and Mark Esper are slated to speak at an "Insights@ Meridian" event this afternoon at the Meridian International Center in Washington, D.C. at 1:30 p.m. EDT.

A defective fuel supply tube caused the first F-35 crash in South Carolina last September, Bloomberg reported Saturday off a recent GAO report (PDF).
BTW: The U.S. stopped looking for the downed F-35 off Japan’s coast, The Drive reminded us this weekend, repeating prior reporting from Ankit Panda at The Diplomat.   

Two French special forces died while freeing two French hostages, as well as an American and a South Korean in northern Burkina Faso late last week, AFP reported Friday. “French forces, helped by intelligence provided by the United States, had been tracking the kidnappers for several days as they travelled across the semi-desert terrain of eastern Burkina Faso from Benin to Mali.” A bit more, here.

ISIS fighters are still hunting and killing Iraqis who help the Baghdad government, AP reports from Badoush, just northwest of Mosul.

Just Security wants your opinion about what questions the Pentagon may be avoiding. Their short pitch: “No on-camera briefings at the Pentagon mean officials are getting away with not answering questions about policy decisions and ongoing combat operations.” So what do you think U.S. military officials should better explain? Click here to read more, or help out.  

And finally today: American hospitals are pressuring medical-device makers to improve cyber defenses of internet-connected infusion pumps, biopsy imaging tables and other IoT items as reports of attacks rise, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.
The quick read: “hospitals have gone beyond building firewalls and taking other actions to shield their own networks—they have moved into demanding information like the software running devices that manufacturers have long considered proprietary,” the Journal writes. Indeed, already some “hospitals have canceled orders and rejected bids for devices that lacked safety features.” More behind the paywall, here.


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 13, 2019

https://www.defenseone.com/news/2019/05/the-d-brief-may-13-2019/156948/