Saving success at Camp David summit; Carter eyes China’s islands; North Korean calamity; Navy sea changes, And a bit more.

Ash Carter just jumped into the South China Sea. Defense Secretary Carter is considering a number of options to China’s artificial islands, including dispatching surveillance aircraft and sending Navy vessels to within a dozen nautical miles of the new islands between Vietnam and the Philippines, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Beijing’s claims new airspace too. Operations near what they call the Nansha Islands have tacitly turned what was once international airspace into what China views as sovereign territory. U.S. aircraft so far have not tested Beijing’s declared 12-nautical-mile zone, and the nearby USS Fort Worth, has been near the island chain in recent days. At sea, Carter has a fine line to walk between escalating a conflict and communicating American resolve in honoring international maritime protocol. State Secretary John Kerry visits China this weekend, where officials unsurprisingly have not taken kindly to Carter’s planning process.

It’s now 15 hours into the ceasefire in Yemen, and Saudi-led airstrikes have paused, although reports of ground fighting continue to come out of the south and eastern parts of the country, including early morning shelling in the city of Taiz, Reuters reports. Well before the ceasefire started, Tehran sent a cargo vessel to Yemen escorted by Iranian warships against the wishes of U.S. officials, who requested all aid be routed through a UN distribution hub in Djibouti.

The way the U.S. Navy promotes its sailors could undergo an incredible sea change in the coming months, according Navy Secretary Ray Mabus. Defense One has an exclusive look at the secretary’s speech this morning at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md..

North Korea executed its defense minister in late April, the deputy director of South Korea’s National Intelligence Agency said Tuesday. Hyon Yong-Chol was reportedly executed using anti-aircraft machine guns (hardly a first for Kim Jong Un) for falling asleep at a military rally and for disrespect toward Pyongyang’s 32-year-old leader. AFP has more on the killing, which Seoul said makes now 15 senior officials Kim has executed in 2015.
And North Korea didn’t actually launch a missile from its submarine last Saturday, two U.S. officials told Bloomberg’s Tony Cappacio and Sam Kim. It was more likely a “compress-gas ejection system” pictured in Pyongyang’s images of Kim looking through his binos and pointing. A bit more on the launch below.

From Defense One

About that “ejection test,” North Korea’s “missile” traveled only about 150 meters, which means you’d have to be awfully close to your target to hit anything, writes Ploughshare Fund’s Joe Cirincione in this handy explainer that tells us all to “relax—North Korea has a very long way to go.”

At Camp David, forget Iran and the Saudi King, the Obama administration and Persian Gulf defense leaders get down to business with a number of options for enhancing Arab security. The Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Melissa Dalton lays out the better choices in the areas of surveillance, weapons acquisition, special operations and more.

And exactly one week from today, Navy Secretary Mabus joins our Executive Editor Kevin Baron for a Defense One LIVE Leadership Briefing Breakfast discussion on the future of the Navy. The event kicks off at 8 a.m. (EDT), Wednesday, May 20, at the CEB Waterview Conference Center in Rosslyn, Va. We invite you to sign up for that here.

Welcome to Wednesday's edition of The D Brief, from Ben Watson and Defense One. If you'd like to subscribe to The D Brief, click here or drop us a line at If you want to view it in your browser, you can do that, here.

Is the next CNO to be Adm. John Richardson? Sources tell Navy Times’ David Larter the answer is a yes, barring any last-minute changes of opinion from the White House. If nominated (and confirmed by the Senate), Richardson would be the first head of Naval Reactors to lead the service as chief of naval operations.

The price of peace with Iran? U.S. and Gulf leaders want to rush U.S. arms sales to America’s allies in the Middle East. That’s one of the higher-profile items on the agenda for today’s Camp David summit, Reuters’ Andrea Shalal and Warren Strobel report. Saudi Arabia threw their enthusiastic support behind the idea of an integrated missile defense shield across the region to deter weapons systems the largely-Shiite Iran might point at its Sunni neighbors.

In Syria, UN inspectors have found traces of sarin and ricin in at least three locations as Assad’s troops stand accused of dropping chlorine bombs on rebel held positions, The New York Times reports this morning in a follow-up of Reuters’ reporting late Friday.

And in Russia, meanwhile, Secretary Kerry’s first meeting in two years with Vladimir Putin yielded little on Syria, Ukraine or Iran, The Washington Post’s Michael Birnbaum and Carol Morello write from Moscow. Tuesday’s meeting is being viewed more as Russia attempting to pull itself out of isolation after its annexation of Crimea, an investment of Russian rubles and matériel that may have compromised Putin’s ambitious military modernization plans.
ICYMI—Kremlin officials maintain their denials of meddling in eastern Ukraine after a report by slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was released yesterday alleging to show proof of direct Russian military involvement in the conflict. NYT’s Andrew Kramer has more.

In Karachi, Pakistan, this morning gunmen on motorcycles opened fire with 9mm pistols killing more than 40 Shiites on a bus. Pakistan officials passed AFP reporters a pamphlet found at the scene attributing responsibility for the attack to the Islamic State group.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took an unusually hard line against the Afghan Taliban during a visit to Kabul yesterday, WSJ reports. The rhetorical jab continues a recent trend of the two nations growing closer as the U.S. works out the best way to draw down its thousands of forces staged in Afghanistan.
And in southern Helmand province, attackers killed three police and four civilians in Lashkar Gah during fighting that continues to rage this morning, AP reports.

A Marine helicopter may have just been spotted after having gone missing during humanitarian operations in Nepal, Military Times’ Andrew Tilghman reports. Pacific Command officials said yesterday the UH-1 Huey had 6 Marines on board and 2 Nepalese soldiers when it disappeared in a mountainous region of the country; though officials are hopeful the disappearance is a communications issue rather than the result of a crash.

The Air Force’s drone pilots are overworked, the service is having trouble improving their mental health and “the true sources of burnout don’t entirely align with the public’s perception,” US News’ Paul Shinkman reports ahead of the release of the upcoming film “Good Kill.” Defense One’s Kevin Baron also saw the Tuesday screening in Washington, calling it a nicely shot film about homefront stresses but something missed the mark. He tweeted, “Nice try but gripping drone pilot tensions couldn't make up for formulaic plot, predictable speechifying, home life scenes.”

Are veterans’ expectations for post-military employment too unrealistic? That’s just one of the findings in a recent report from the Volunteers of America and the University of Southern California's School of Social Work, as Military Times’ Leo Shane rolls up the not-entirely-optimistic findings here.

And lastly this Hump Day, Swedish activists have one particularly cheeky anti-submarine idea for the Russian Navy. It’s a neon pink sonar device that broadcasts the message, “This way if you are gay” in Morse code. More from People’s Alex Heigl.