DoD braces for second wave; NATO meets on Open Skies; Texas shooting treated as terror; Spy chief, SecNav confirmed; And a bit more.

U.S. military leaders are preparing for a second wave of the coronavirus, not that anyone knows when it might hit.

About that anticipated second wave: “We’re looking at a variety of alternative futures,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper told Savannah Guthrie of NBC’s “Today Show” this morning. “Last week I had the entire chain of command meet with [White House coronavirus task force] Drs. Fauci and Birx and we spent over an hour on a teleconference with them to talk about this. And what we may do — because we have to continually adjust our readiness, our posture, how we deal with it, and in fact we’re doing that now, if you will. We’re looking at a variety of futures. 

“The second wave is a possibility,” Esper said. “I don’t think the coronavirus going away anytime soon — at least not until we have a vaccine or a cure. And so we have to make sure we understand what that path may look like ahead, and make sure we, again, adapt ourselves so that we continue to maintain our three priorities (I think I said the last time I was on your show): number one, protect our people, that’s our servicemembers, our Department of Defense civilians and their families; number two, ensure we can maintain our mission, our national security capabilities; and then number three, provide full support to the whole-of-nation response to the coronavirus.” The full 9:55 interview can be seen here

Also talking about a second wave: Navy chief, Adm. Michael Gilday and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger. CNN reported Thursday that Gilday told reporters, “That threat is not going away any time soon,” referring to a possible second wave. “Nobody has a crystal ball,” he said. “We are just planning for the worst really.”

Added Berger: “There are too many unknowns from [Fauci and Birx’s] perspective to accurately forecast” when the second wave could come. However, he added, “Clearly, we have learned a hell of a lot from the last three, four months that we are going to apply should that happen…The military is not a work from home force. You expect us to be out there and you expect us to figure out how to do that safely…We will be prepared for it.” More from CNN, here.

Today in public health news, the antimalarial drug touted by President Trump is linked to a roughly 35% increased risk of death in coronavirus patients, according to a study published today in the medical journal the Lancet.

Almost 100,000 patients were involved in the study, which spanned 671 hospitals across six continents. 

“If there was ever hope for this drug, this is the death of it,” Eric Topol, a cardiologist and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, told the Washington Post. “It’s no longer that hydroxychloroquine has no sign of efficacy,” Topol tweeted, “it is associated with an increase in mortality. This is not a randomized trial but larger than all the preceding 10 studies and 3 randomized trials in aggregate.”

Meanwhile, Teflon Don marches on, unscathed. “A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that 41% of Americans approve of the president’s job performance, while 58% disapprove. That’s consistent with opinions of Trump before the pandemic, as well as throughout his more than three years in office.” 

And in strange tech news, “Our weird shopping habits during the coronavirus crisis are screwing with machine-learning models trained on normal human behavior, and some are breaking as a result,” according to the MIT Technology Review

In short: “What’s clear is that the pandemic has revealed how intertwined our lives are with AI, exposing a delicate codependence in which changes to our behavior change how AI works, and changes to how AI works change our behavior…Machine-learning models are designed to respond to changes. But most are also fragile; they perform badly when input data differs too much from the data they were trained on.”

Oh, and by the way: “more businesses are buying machine-learning systems but lack the in-house know-how needed to maintain them.”

This is just the sort of stuff covered in a new work of fiction called “Burn-In: A Novel of the Real Robotic Revolution.” We spoke with authors Peter W. Singer and August Cole for our latest Defense One Radio podcast. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Singer calls this is “a new form of book, a cross of a novel and nonfiction. It is a techno thriller, following a hunt for a terrorist through the streets of a future Washington, D.C. But baked into the story are over 300 factual explanations and predictions (replete with the nonfiction endnotes to show their source from the real world), which allows the reader to learn about everything from how AI works to its planned applications and likely impact on the future of politics, business, security, etc. It has drawn early praise from figures as diverse as the current or past heads of the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, NATO, NSA, CIA to the writer of Lost, Watchmen and the new Star Trek movies.”

Bonus: Catch a 75-second video trailer for the book — that’s right, a video trailer for a book — right here.


From Defense One

Pompeo Announces Open Skies Withdrawal // Katie Bo Williams: As Trump scraps a third security accord, his arms-control negotiator says the U.S. and Russia will talk about a new one.

Senate Approves Ratcliffe As Nation’s Top Spy // Katie Bo Williams: Ratcliffe received more “no” votes than any previous nominee for the position.

Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Navy suppliers returning to work; USAF’s engine reversal; Drive-through job interviews; and more…

It’s Only Going to Get Harder to Recruit and Retain Troops in a Post-Pandemic World // Emma Moore and Capt. Mike Martinez, USN: The Pentagon needs to accelerate its transition from industrial-age to information-age personnel policies.

Even a Bolder Biden Will Only Go So Far // Peter Beinart, The Atlantic: The pandemic has expanded his ambitions—just not enough to challenge the Pentagon.

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1991, the F-104 Starfighter made its final operational flight for Germany, which bought more than 900 of the Mach-2 interceptors, and lost nearly one-quarter of them to crashes.


NATO ambassadors met this morning to talk about President Trump’s decision to leave the Open Skies treaty. The U.S. allies had “pressed Washington not to leave the Open Skies pact, whose unarmed overflights are aimed at bolstering confidence and providing members forewarning of surprise military attacks,” NYT reports.
Pompeo announced the impending withdrawal on Thursday, marking the Trump administration’s withdrawal from a third major international security accord. D1’s Williams has more, here.
“This is insane,” former CIA director Michael Hayden tweeted of the move.
Meanwhile, the United States and Russia have agreed to begin New START talks, Trump’s lead arms-control negotiator announced on Thursday afternoon at a Hudson Institute event. “The expectation is that the Chinese will be at the table,” said Marshall Billingslea, special envoy for arms control.
Few in the arms control community share that expectation. Trump simply isn’t offering anything that Beijing wants. Earlier this month, the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Greg Kulacki suggested a few things that might actually entice China to negotiations. Read that, here.

In a historic vote Thursday, senators OK’d a man who has never before worked in the intelligence community to be the country’s new intelligence chief. The second time proved the charm for Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, a fierce Trump defender whose first nomination to be Director of National Intelligence was scuttled by his near-total lack of relevant experience, and the discovery that he had exaggerated even that. On Thursday, the GOP-led Senate approved the renominated Ratcliffe, who received more “no” votes than any previous nominee for the 15-year-old position. Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams has more, here.
Also: Kenneth Braithwaite confirmed as Navy Secretary. Braithwaite, who ended his 27-year active and reserve Navy career as the one-star deputy chief of public affairs, has worked as a lobbyist for oil giant Atlantic Richfield and a spokesman for health-care companies. He served on Trump’s Defense Department transition team and most recently as U.S. ambassador to Norway.
At his May 7 confirmation hearing, Braithwaite lamented the Navy’s “tarnished” culture and vowed to fix it, Politico reported Thursday.

The FBI says Thursday’s shooting at a Texas naval base appears to be terrorism-related. A gunman’s Thursday-morning attack at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas, injured one sailor. Navy Times has more. 

SecDef Esper VTC’d in to conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt today, (in addition to the “Today Show”) too. One of the things he said is that he expects to be briefed on the Navy’s plan to get to 355 ships sometime around “July or August.” 
Hugh’s tease: “In the face of state-owned CCP-run media, SecDef reaffirms our commitments to Taiwan and warns Iran about approaching U.S. Navy ships.” Find the full video from Hewitt’s show over on YouTube, here.

Several Soviet-era MiG jets reportedly arrived to Russia-backed General Haftar in Libya, Bloomberg reported Thursday. For context, Bloomberg’s trio of reporters Samer Al-Atrush, Selcan Hacaoglu, and Firat Kozok write, “Haftar has been stung by defeats over the past week at the hands of the Tripoli government, effectively foiling his yearlong offensive to capture the capital. The strongman’s self-styled Libyan National Army, that’s backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russian mercenaries, was dislodged from a key airbase on Monday and is encircled in one of its few remaining bastions in the country’s west.”
Turkish troops in and around Libya are unafraid, a spox for Turkey’s president said upon hearing of the jets reportedly headed to Haftar. That’s in large part thanks to “a Turkish armed drone campaign that targeted Russian-made Pantsir air-defense systems. One of the batteries was captured intact and paraded in Tripoli on Wednesday.” Continue reading, here.

Some wonky weekend reading: 

  • U.S. arms sales under Trump in 2019 (PDF), via the folks at the Center for International Policy’s Security Assistance Monitor program. Some things we learned include “arms sales employ roughly one-tenth of one percent of the U.S. labor force,” and “10% of U.S. arms offers for 2019 involved licenses for the production of U.S. weapons overseas, further undercutting job creation in the United States.”
  • And this chart from the Lowy Institute, illustrating “The U.S.-China Trade War.” Tweeted former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morrell: “We cannot contain China the way we did the Soviet Union. This amazing chart is just one of the reasons why. Dealing successfully with China requires a much more sophisticated approach.”

And finally this week, we end with a bit of entertainment news. First and more immediately, the History channel kicks off a three-night miniseries on Ulysses S. Grant on Monday (Memorial Day) at 9 p.m. ET
And Orlando Bloom will be fighting off a Taliban invasion in the upcoming film “The Outpost,” which is set for a July 3 release — in theaters and on-demand. The movie is all about the 2009 Battle of Kamdesh, in Nuristan province. Entertainment Weekly has an exclusive trailer and a bit more about production, here

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

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