Punishment for Kunduz hospital strike; Army, USMC unready for war?; China rewrites the rules; Fewer bombs away! And just a bit more.

Five and half months after the deadly U.S. airstrike on a hospital in northern Afghanistan, more than a dozen U.S. officers and enlisted troops have been punished—but the disciplinary process is not entirely finished, the Associated Press reported Wednesday. “The punishments, which have not been publicly announced, are largely administrative. But in some cases the actions, such as letters of reprimand, are tough enough to effectively end chances for further promotion...The disciplined include both officers and enlisted personnel, but officials said none are generals.”

The full report is expected “to be made public in a partially redacted form in coming days,” AP adds.

Back in November, the U.S. military “said the crew of the AC-130 gunship, which is armed with side-firing cannons and guns, had been dispatched to hit a Taliban command center in a different building, 450 yards away from the hospital. However, hampered by problems with their targeting sensors, the crew relied on a physical description that led them to begin firing at the hospital even though they saw no hostile activity there.” Read the rest, here.

ICYMI: In December, Defense One’s Tech Editor Patrick Tucker described how one poorly rigged antenna contributed to the mistake.

Obama: Don’t remove any U.S. troops from Afghanistan just yet, writes House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy in a letter to the President, which you can read via the good folks at War on the Rocks. McCarthy also pressed the president to green-light “authority to unilaterally strike the Taliban and the Haqqani network” in Afghanistan, an option flagged in February and then again earlier this week after the former Afghan war commander, Gen. John Campbell, rotated out of the gig in early March. Catch the letter and an accompanying summary from McCarthy, here.

The U.S. Army and Marine chiefs say their troops aren’t ready for another Great War. Gen. Robert Neller, the Marines’ top officer, “said his service is supplying trained and ready troops to regional combatant commanders but would be hard-pressed to rapidly respond to another major crisis — a significant statement as the US stares down threats from an aggressive Russia, a rising China, a belligerent North Korea and an extremist-sponsoring Iran,” Defense News reported after Neller and his fellow Army chief, Gen. Mark Milley, testified before the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday.

Said Milley: “The United States Army right now, you can take it to the bank, is ready to fight ISIS, al-Qaeda, al-Nusra and any other terrorist group. When we talk about risk, we’re talking about great-power war with one or two countries: China, Russia, Iran and North Korea.”

How would war with Russia go? Milley said the U.S. would come out the victor. However, it would be “catastrophic for a whole lot of people, but we would prevail.”

And as far as concerns for the troops back stateside, HASC Chairman, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, “said the Marine Corps rate of class A aviation mishaps, which result in the complete loss of an aircraft and the death or permanent maiming of personnel, had hovered at 2.15 per 100,000 flying hours for a decade. But the rate has shot up from 2.67 in 2014 to 3.96 mishaps so far this year,” Stars and Stripes adds.

Replied Neller: “The simple fact is that we don’t have enough airplanes to meet the training requirements for the entire force.” More here.

Beijing is re-writing the rules in the South China Sea and beyond, said Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, speaking at a conference in Australia.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that a contest is underway in the most vulnerable waters of the Indo-Asia-Pacific,” Swift said. “On one side is a potential return of might makes right after more than seventy years of stability. On the other is a continuum of the international rules-based system that has served us all so well, with limitless potential to continue to do so.”

The new look of international order: “The reality is, demonstrated from the days of sail, the great British, French and Spanish armadas, as true today as then, that the canary in the coal mine of regional and global stability and prosperity isn’t found in a cave, but on international waters,” Swift said. “We all have assumed so long these international seas are the domain of all free men. Perhaps now we too easily dismissed these freedom enablers, these guarantors of stability and prosperity, as simply ‘freedom of navigation.'” The Washington Post has more, here.

From Defense One

Special Report: the U.S. military’s new retirement system. Last year, Congress overhauled the system, moving away from the 20-year, all-or-nothing pension toward a more flexible — but complicated — arrangement. In a downloadable special report, Defense One explains what changed and how it will affect everything from wallets to service budgets. Get it (registration required), here.

How Syria’s uprising spawned a jihad. Five years ago, the opposition to Bashar al-Assad was mostly peaceful and secular. What happened? The Atlantic’s Kathy Gilsinan sits down with Syrian analyst Charles Lister to explain.

Bombs away: Lockheed expands its missile plants for ISIS fight and beyond. The Hellfire maker is boosting production capacity to build new missiles for high-end war. Global Business Reporter Marcus Weisgerber reports, here.

Is the federal government getting stingier with cyber threat tips? Virginia Tech’s network security chief thinks so. He says overclassification is making it harder to prep and respond. NextGov, here.

Welcome to the St. Patrick’s Day edition of the D Brief, by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1958, the U.S. launched the Vanguard 1, the oldest satellite still in orbit. Bounce your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. Got news? Let us know: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.

Does acknowledging genocide change anything? More than 18 months since the U.S. began striking the Islamic State group, State Secretary John Kerry says the group is committing genocide against Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria. “But,” U.S. officials tell AP, “Kerry's finding, set to be announced Thursday, will not obligate the United States to take additional action against IS militants and does not prejudge any prosecution against its members.”

The first (and only previous) time the U.S. invoked the G-word was in 2004 “when then-Secretary of State Colin Powell determined that atrocities in Sudan's Darfur region constituted genocide. Powell reached that determination amid much lobbying from human rights groups, but only after State Department lawyers advised him that it would not — contrary to legal advice offered to previous administrations — obligate the United States to act to stop it.” More on the precedent, and what’s next for the international community, here.

Russia says it’s two to three days away from wrapping up its partial exit from Syria. But President Vladimir Putin added the entire crew can come back “literally within a few hours.” Reuters reports that as of Thursday morning, “18 or half of Russia's estimated 36 fixed-wing military jets had flown out of Syria,” some headed back to their base in the Urals.

Also, for what it’s worth: Russia claims 100 percent accuracy in its airstrike campaign against “terrorists” in Syria. That, via IHS Janes, here.

President Obama will head to Saudi Arabia next month to meet with Arab leaders at a summit in Riyadh, WaPo’s Greg Jaffe reported Thursday. He digs into some of the flashpoints in the U.S.-Saudi relationship, and you can find those here. Or read our February op-ed “Start Preparing for the Collapse of the Saudi Kingdom,”

#ThrowbackThursday: Today we have a sobering reminder of how long the West has tried to “tame” the Middle East. Via Old Iraqi Pictures’ Twitter feed, the photo purports to show southern Iraqi tribesmen “on their way to participate in 1920 revolution against the British occupation.”

Budget banter comes to The Hill. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford and DoD Comptroller Mike McCord are testifying on the U.S. military’s budget before the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning. Catch that livestream here.

And while that plays out, read up on how “you could buy an Australian island for what the Pentagon says it would cost to take inventory…of just one item.” The item is called a “HotPlug,” and it would take 15 million hours (that’s right) and $660 million to figure out how many it had in stock.

“While this sum is essentially chump change at the Pentagon — a bit more than one-tenth of one percent of its annual budget — in the world outside the five-sided building it’s enough to buy the Washington Nationals baseball team, a 600-acre island off the coast of Australia, twelve of the most expensive Ferrari racecars, or about as much as the Pentagon is currently spending to train Iraqi soldiers in combat,” writes the Center for Public Integrity. More on all that, here.

And finally: Fewer bombs away! The U.S. and its allies dropped 2,054 bombs and missiles on ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq last month, the lowest monthly total since last June, Bloomberg reports. U.S. officials, who have said the anti-ISIS fight is accelerating, said the reduction isn’t due to any shortage of smart bombs. Read, here.