Afghanistan drawdown reconsidered; Xi has landed; Dempsey departs; Zombies over Baltimore; and a bit more.

American soldiers could stay in Afghanistan longer. Nearly 10,000 U.S. troops could remain in Afghanistan when President Obama leaves the White House in 2017, the Wall Street Journal reports. U.S. and NATO defense officials are “are reviewing new drawdown options that include keeping thousands of American troops in the country beyond the end of 2016.”

Five different recommendations have been sent to the Pentagon and to NATO officials in Brussels by the top international commander in Afghanistan, U.S. Army Gen. John Campbell, “each with its own risk assessment, officials said.”

Some options: A) Keep current U.S. presence at or near 10,000. B) Reduce to 8,000. C) Cut in half. D) Continue with the current plan to reduce to just several hundred troops by the end of 2016. “The recommendations reflect growing concerns among military officers that current force reduction plans could raise the risk of mission failure in Afghanistan to what one senior military official said would be an ‘unacceptable level.’” More here.

Xi has landed. Vice President Joe Biden welcomed China’s President Xi Jinping to Washington last night at Joint Base Andrews for his much-anticipated visit that is expected to focus on cyber hacking and climate change. While much of the focus has been on Xi, turns out the president’s inner circle of advisors are tough eggs to crack and difficult to talk to on the sidelines of international forums. “The problem presents a huge challenge for the United States and other nations. By some standards, Mr. Xi’s administration is the most secretive in 66 years of Communist rule.” More from the NYT here. But if you missed it yesterday, Defense One has this inside the warroom report of Xi’s marching orders from China’s generals.

Obama, Putin will meet. But it’s more than Syria, now. Shortly after announcing the leaders will meet during the UN General Assembly next week, Russian jets showed up inside Iraq.

Baghdad buddies. “Russian, Syrian and Iranian military commanders have set up a coordination cell in Baghdad in recent days to try to begin working with Iranian-backed Shia militias fighting the Islamic State,” Fox News reports. The group includes “low-level Russian generals.” More here.

Why? Is Putin’s escalation in Syria simply “a last-ditch attempt to gain prestige ahead of a climb-down”? More in Defense One.

Russia scouting targets in Syria. A Russian drone and manned aircraft have been flying over western Syria as pilots familiarize themselves with the terrain below, U.S. defense officials tell The Daily Beast.

“The flights, around the western Syrian province of Idlib, suggests that Russia’s initial mission will focus on attacking areas controlled by regime opponents other than the self-proclaimed Islamic State. The flights are also near Latakia, where Russia has a base and has stationed fighter jets, roughly 500 troops, nine T-90 tanks, and enough modular housing for 2,000 troops, according to U.S. military assessments.” More here.

SecDef’s take: “A Russian effort to fight ISIL will only end up fueling the Syrian civil war and the ISIL extremism it spawned,” U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Thursday.

How Russia’s deployments could complicate U.S. policy, laid out in a Congressional Research Service brief.

Also: French and British defense ministers voiced their own concerns after a meeting.

From Defense One

More action needed on Chinese tech theft, say former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman and former U.S. Pacific Commander and Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair. “While the U.S. dithers, China is bleeding billions from our economy by stealing intellectual property. We have the solution.” Here’s what they suggest.

NSA chief: ending metadata collection hurts U.S. security. On November 29, the National Security Agency will formally end the practice of collecting records of everyone’s calls. Adm. Michael Rogers, the director of the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command, told the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday that’d hurt U.S. security. Defense One’s Patrick Tucker reports, here.

UN peacekeeping needs a major technological update, writes Quartz. “The blue-helmeted troops often find themselves with far inferior gear than local fighters and even police.” Read what they need, here.

Would Sun Tzu endorse Donald Trump’s total-war political strategy? “Forget The Art of the Deal—what does The Art of War have to say about whether the Republican frontrunner’s campaign has peaked?” The Atlantic’s David Graham investigates.

Welcome to Friday’s edition of The D Brief, from Marcus Weisgerber and Defense One. Want to share The D Brief with a friend? Here’s our subscribe link. And please tell us what you like, don’t like, or want to drop on our radar right here at

Zombies hovering over Baltimore. The two giant aerostats envisioned to protect the Washington capital region from cruise missiles and other threatening low-flying aircraft don’t work, according to the damning findings of an investigation by the Baltimore Sun.

After 17 years of research and $2.7 billion, “the system known as JLENS doesn’t work as envisioned. The 240-foot-long, milk-white blimps, visible for miles around, have been hobbled by defective software, vulnerability to bad weather and poor reliability.”

JLENS has become a “zombie” program: “costly, ineffectual and seemingly impossible to kill,” the Sun reports. More here.

Pope’s message to the military-industrial complex: You have blood on your hands. Before he flew to New York, Pope Francis had a message for lawmakers and the arms makers who sell their weapons overseas...

“Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society?” Pope Francis said in an address to Congress. “Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money, money that is drenched in blood — often innocent blood. In the face of the shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.” More here.

iPhone hackers wanted. Security firm Zerodium, a contractor that has worked for the NSA and other NATO members, curiously has offered up a $1 million prize “for a technique that can break into an iPhone or iPad running Apple’s freshly released iOS 9,” Apple’s latest mobile software update.

“Zerodium announced that it will pay that seven-figure sum to anyone who gives the company a hacking technique that can take over an iOS device remotely, via a web page the victim visits, a vulnerable app on the victim’s device, or by text message. The company says it’s willing to pay the bounty multiple times, though it may cap the payouts at $3 million.” More here.

CJCS, departing. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey quietly retires as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff today passing the baton to Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford. Dempsey did not hold a press conference, but did talked to Voice of America about the military’s budget crunch, Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine and the rise of ISIS. More here.

Welcome to 8th Street. Gen. Robert Neller became the 37th commandant of the Marine Corps Thursday at Washington’s Marine Barracks “with an with an emphatic ‘Let's go do this!’” More from Marine Corps Times here.

Egypt (with Saudi cash) to buy French ships built for Russia. Saudi Arabia will give Egypt “significant” financing to buy those two helicopter-carrying warships for $1 billion, AFP reports. “The deal is the second big military contract this year between France and Egypt, which [French President Francois] Hollande said he increasingly views as a strategic partner.” More here.

NATO chief: Russia-Ukraine ceasefire is holding. But the Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told AFP that there is still a “‘strong’” Russian presence in eastern Ukraine in support of pro-Moscow rebels.”

Stoltenberg: “All the parties of the [Minsk peace] agreement have still a long way to go before we can say that the agreement is fully implemented, but at least it is an encouraging sign that for the first time since this agreement was first signed last fall, the ceasefire seems to be holding,” he said. More here.

Carter touts military aid. After a meeting with Ukrainian Defense Minister Colonel-General Stepan Poltorak at the Pentagon Thursday, Carter touted the “more than $244 million in equipment and training, including Humvees, counter-mortar radar, night vision, body armor [and] medical equipment,” given to Kiev.

The U.S. Army is teaching Ukrainian forces how to counter drones, tanks and artillery. More from Army Times here.

Lockheed’s big Sikorsky purchase gets U.S. approval. The U.S. Security and Exchange Commission has approved Lockheed Martin’s $9 billion purchase of Black Hawk helicopter maker Sikorsky, according to Reuters and Defense News. The deal was announced in July.

Reuters: “Multiple sources familiar with the matter said Lockheed was now likely to close the acquisition well before the end of the year, as initially expected.”

Defense News: “That’s reasonably quick for a transaction of this size and scope,” said Jeff Bialos, a partner at Sutherland Asbill & Brennan and former deputy undersecretary of defense for industrial policy. Regulators could have asked for more information, delaying the purchase.

Pentagon to D Brief: “We worked closely with the [Justice Department’s] Antitrust Division in reviewing this matter and today they informed us of their decision to not request additional information. We understand the legal basis for this decision. We will have more to say with regard to these type of transactions in the near future.”

Have a good weekend, D Briefers.