U.S. Army Chief Gen. Mark Milley sailed through his confirmation hearing to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. The tough-talking four-star sat before the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday morning and spoke on everything from Iran to cyber warfare, America’s civilian-military relationship to “great power” competition with nations like Russia and China, as well as Milley’s views on his capacity for independent thinking and military leadership.
All in all, “Both Republicans and Democrats praised Milley from the dais,” Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams reports.
“I’ll give my best military advice,” Milley promised the committee. “It’ll be candid. It’ll be honest. It’ll be rigorous and it’ll be thorough. And that’s what I’ll do every single time.”
One reason why this hearing took on greater importance than previous CJCS confirmations: “There are currently 18 senior political positions inside the Pentagon with unconfirmed officials serving in an acting capacity,” Williams writes. And that includes the defense secretary, deputy defense secretary, chief management officer and Army and Air Force secretaries.
Worth noting: Milley wasn’t entirely bull-ish on the prospects of a U.S.-Iran war — telling the committee, “I don’t think anyone is seriously considering anything approaching” sending 150,000 troops to Iran.
What’s more, operations like the one ordered and then canceled by Trump in response to the shooting down of an American drone last month—“would not have significant impact on the main effort of China or Russia or wherever,” Milley said.
For Milley’s cyber concerns, C4ISRnet combed through his written testimony to deliver this broad overview, which lawmakers didn’t waste much time questioning.
One more thing from Milley’s hearing: He told lawmakers the Pentagon is considering escorting U.S. ships in the Gulf region, U.S. News’ Paul Shinkman writes.
“The freedom of navigation is a fundamental principle and a norm for the international order,” Milley said. “That’s been in place for now seven decades. We have a crucial role to enforce that norm. I think that’s what we’re trying to do with the coalition to put that together in terms of providing military and naval escort, commercial shipping.”
Asked about recent and potential attacks on shipping in and around the Strait of Hormuz, Milley pointed to the Pentagon’s effort to gather other nations’ support for escort operations. Those naval escorts “may be an important factor,” he told the committee. “And that will be developing over the next couple weeks.”
Recall that on Tuesday, current Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joe Dunford declared that the U.S. Navy would only be escorting U.S.-flagged vessels.
And yet: In 1987-88, the United States agreed to escort Kuwaiti tankers temporarily reflagged as American ships through the maelstrom of the Iran-Iraq War. (Operation Earnest Will began violently when the first escorted ship hit a mine; it escalated into outright hostilities in April 1988, when the USS Samuel B. Roberts was nearly sunk by an Iranian mine. The U.S. responded by sinking two Iranian warships and several smaller craft.)
ICYMI: In 2015, U.S. warships briefly escorted U.S. government and government-contracted support ships through the Strait of Hormuz after Iranian forces seized a cargo ship sailing under the flag of the Marshall Islands.
From Defense One
Milley: War with Iran Would Draw Forces from Great-Power Focus // Katie Bo Williams: The four-star Army general received questions but few challenges at his Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing.
How We Tamed the F-35’s Spiraling Costs — and Created a Model for Controlling Waste // Ash Carter: The former defense secretary says defending America means defending taxpayers’ dollars.
Russian Warship Enters Ukrainian Gunfire Exercise Area, Creating ‘Dangerous Situation’ // Patrick Tucker: The area was being used during a U.S.-Ukraine-led exercise in the Black Sea.
Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Lockheed bows to Trump request; Qatar’s big anti-missile radar; Handguns pass Army tests and more.
Organizational Resilience Can Help Prevent the Next Ransomware Attack // Willy Fabritius, Route Fifty: City and state governments should start with an informed, clear-eyed look at their vulnerabilities.
Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not a D Brief subscriber, sign up here. On this day in 1561, Russia’s iconic St. Basil’s Cathedral opened in Moscow. The structure, with its brightly patterned onion domes, “has been the symbol of Moscow and all of Russia ever since,” National Geographic writes.
Happening Tuesday…maybe: Acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper is scheduled to go before the Senate Armed Services Committee for his confirmation hearing…well, sorta. It’s not official yet, since the date depends on “the White House deliver[ing] the formal nomination by the day before,” Defense News reported Thursday.
Background and procedural review: “Trump announced June 21 his intent to nominate Esper for the job, following the surprise resignation of Patrick Shanahan, who had been serving as acting defense secretary since Jan, 1,” Defense News writes. “Esper, the current Army secretary, will have to step down as acting defense secretary once the nomination process officially begins, to be temporarily replaced by Navy Secretary Richard Spencer.”
For more on the process, Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams broke it down atop Wednesday’s D Brief, here.
Turkey: we’re starting to take delivery of Russia’s S-400. Last month, Pentagon leaders gave the Turkish government an ultimatum and a deadline: cancel plans to buy one of the world’s best air-defense systems from Moscow by July 31, or lose the right to buy the F-35 joint strike fighter. We now have Turkey’s answer, two weeks ahead of schedule, and it’s not the one that the Trump administration — or, basically, anyone outside Russia — wants.
Crates containing S-400 components began arriving Friday at a military air base outside Ankara, Turkish defense officials announced.
Now what? The purchase would allow President Trump, under the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA, to levy sanctions, “ranging from banning visas and denying access to the U.S.-based Export-Import Bank, to the harsher options of blocking transactions with the U.S. financial system and denying export licenses,” Reuters reports.
But will he? Foreign Policy’s Lara Seligman notes that Trump “struck a conciliatory note” with Erdogan at the G-20 summit in Japan last month. And Turkey’s authoritarian leader emerged from a recent White House meeting to proclaim that his country would not face sanctions, Reuters notes.
Still, “The events in the coming weeks could determine how U.S.-Turkish relations unfold, and raise questions about Turkey’s long-term role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as Russia attempts to build on its own growing influence in the country,” as the Wall Street Journal put it. “The White House, State Department and Pentagon didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Friday morning.”
Lockheed Martin has bowed to President Trump’s request to keep open a soon-to-be-idle aircraft factory, Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber reported Thursday. Just six helicopters are under construction in Sikorsky’s plant in Coatesville, Pennsylvania — a potential swing state in the 2020 presidential election. Lockheed had planned to close the plant after work wrapped up later this year. Read on, here.
Today, Trump is fundraising in Wisconsin. His swing through the Midwestern state includes a stop at Milwaukee’s Derco Aerospace, a Lockheed Martin subsidiary that employs about 250 people working on parts for “the C-130 Hercules transport plane, the F-16 Fighting Falcon combat jet and the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s preview.
FWIW, “Derco remains involved in a 2014 lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice, which alleges that Derco, Sikorsky and another Sikorsky subsidiary defrauded the government by illegally overbilling on a Navy contract. The companies deny the accusations. The case is pending in federal court in Milwaukee before U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman.” A bit more, here.
North Korea nuclear watch: a deal in the works? The U.S. is reportedly considering a possible 12- to 18-month sanctions relief package for Pyongyang “in exchange for the dismantlement of its [Yongbyon] nuclear facility and a freeze of the entire nuclear program,” a White House source told South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency Thursday.
Involved: “the suspension of U.N. Security Council sanctions restricting North Korea’s exports of coal and textiles — a major source of income for the regime.”
A template for future talks? “If it works,” Yonhap writes, “the model could also be applied to facilities other than the main nuclear complex in Yongbyon and move in a step-by-step manner until the entire weapons of mass destruction program is fully closed and all sanctions are lifted.” Read on, here.
Also on Thursday, U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo spoke with his South Korean counterpart, and “reaffirmed their commitment to the final, fully verified denuclearization of the DPRK,” Pompeo’s spox Morgan Ortagus tweeted just before noon.
The only problem with that, according to Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, “For the unpteenth time, this misrepresents what [North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un] has said. Kim has never agreed to the denuclearization ‘of the DPRK’ — it’s the ‘Korean Peninsula.’ The last time Pompeo misrepresented what Kim agreed to, [North Korea’s state-run media] suggested he take a geography lesson.”
Related reading: Take a look at a “Pretty good resource here from [U.S. Forces Korea],” Reuters Josh Smith shared on Twitter Wednesday, “with their take on the past couple years and useful stats and graphs on everything from North Korea missile launches and Trump-Kim talks, to Yongsan base closing and South Korean defense spending.”
The U.S. Army has its own ships, and it’s selling a few of them, The Drive reported Thursday. Involved: U.S. Army Support Vessel SSGT Robert T. Kuroda, “one of the eight General Frank S. Besson-class Logistics Support Vessels, or LSVs, which V.T. Halter Marine built for the U.S. Army between the 1980s and the early 2000s.”
But that’s not all. “The General Services Administration says it expects to sell off another LSV, along with dozens of other landing craft, tugs, and other Army maritime assets by the end of 2020.”
Why? The Army decided in January “to divest a significant portion of its watercraft fleets… in order to free up funding for other priorities.”
Worth considering: “The decision to sell off Kuroda, one of the two youngest and most capable LSVs, only further calls into question what kind of watercraft capabilities, if any, the service is truly interested in retaining,” TD’s Joseph Trevithick writes. Continue reading, here.
Change of plans for shallow sea warfare. The U.S. Navy’s new drone helicopter — the MC-8C Fire Scout — was supposed to be armed so it could, for example, better “repel swarm attacks of small attack craft,” U.S. Naval Institute News reported Tuesday. But that’s changed now, New America’s Peter Singer tweeted Thursday, “since the Littoral Combat Ship it flies off of can’t fit the ammunition.”
For the record, the Navy’s “Current plans call for purchasing 38 Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scouts,” and “will start deploying during Fiscal Year 2021.”
What it still offers the Navy: a flight time of “up to 12 hours” and “an upgraded radar allowing for a larger field of view before deploying,” as well as “a range of digital modes including weather detection, air-to-air targeting and a ground moving target indicator.” But again: no weapons, which were supposed to include BAE’s “advanced precision kill weapon system (APKWS), which are modified 70mm Hydra rockets fitted with a guidance system.”
Joked Peter, wryly: “I’m sure Iran and its swarm boats will understand.” Read on, here.
In case you missed this intense video that made the rounds Thursday, the U.S. Coast Guard has its own special forces and they are pretty damn good at their job. Case in point, here.
And finally this week: Big ups to the police in Guthrie, Oklahoma, for their handling of a man caught driving a stolen vehicle 11 a.m. in the morning that just so happened to be “filled with uranium, a rattlesnake,” and an open bottle of Kentucky Deluxe whiskey, according to Oklahoma’s KFOR news.
The police kind of hit the jackpot with these apparent crackpots, KFOR writes. The driver, Stephen Jennings, was “charged with possession of a stolen vehicle, transporting an open container of liquor, operating a vehicle with a suspended license, and failure to carry security verification form.” And his passenger, Rachael Rivera, was “charged with possession of a firearm after a former felony conviction.”
You may be wondering: How does one acquire “a canister of radioactive powdered uranium”? Unclear, KFOR writes, and “The uranium hasn’t resulted in charges. Guthrie police are still trying to figure out exactly what the suspects were going to use it for.”
And also a surprise to us: “There are no charges from the rattlesnake either.” Not that you should try in any way to duplicate Stephen and Rachael’s antics. Read on, here.
Have a safe, rattlesnake- and uranium-free weekend, everyone. And we’ll catch you again on Monday!