Trump and Pentagon brass talk future weapons; UN to prep cases on Syrian war crimes; Blackout in Ukraine (again); How the DNC hackers bugged Ukraine’s military; And a bit more.

President-elect Trump and the Pentagon’s top F-35 general hug it out: Just two days after the F-35 boss publicly rebuked his future commander in chief, for calling the overpriced, overdue fighter jet program “out of control,” the three-star general was summoned to Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, where Trump is spending Christmas. Trump, future National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, and other generals agreed on one thing: costs of weapon systems must come down in the future—in particular, the price tag for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Politico reported Wednesday.

Trump “heard directly for the first time from Air Force Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, who runs the F-35 project, which the president-elect has repeatedly slammed for its ‘out of control’ cost and repeated schedule delays. The Pentagon also brought along some props: models of the three versions of the F-35 under development for the Air Force, Navy and Marines.”

After the F-35 summit, Trump said: "It's a dance, you know, it's a little bit of a dance. But we're going to get the costs down and we're going to get it done beautifully."

Present for the discussions: “Vice Adm. James Syring, head of the Missile Defense Agency; Lt. Gen. Jack Weinstein, deputy Air Force chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear Integration; Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen Wilson; Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. William Moran; Air Force Gen. Carlton Everhart, commander of the Air Mobility Command; and Vice Adm. Thomas Moore, head of the the Naval Sea Systems Command.”

In addition to the generals and admirals, Trump also spoke with the F-35’s Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson and Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, whose firm “is the contractor for the new fleet of Air Force One, a project Trump has threatened to cancel due to its price tag.”

Said Muilenburg afterward of the Air Force One deal: “We’re going to get it done for less than [$4 billion], and we’re committed to working together to make sure that happens," Reuters reports, adding he told reporters he’d made Trump a “personal commitment” to keep costs from spiraling out of control. More here.

While we’re on transition talks, former Army chief of staff and Iraq War commander, retired Gen. Ray Odierno, broke his relative post-election silence with some sharp criticism of President Barack Obama’s Middle East policies. Via a telephone interview, Odierno said on Fox News it’s time for America to “lead from the front.”

Some highlights: The U.S. should not "take the military off the table as an option, which we have done for several years now...it's time to take action."

In the Middle East, “frankly we've given up our leadership in the region to Russia" and now need to "reassert ourselves.”

Writes Defense One’s Kevin Baron: “Just remember: Odierno was a general. Now he's a civilian. But [he] just called out Obama for not using more military intervention in the Middle East. The rhetorical question remains: What's the right amount of U.S. military intervention in the Middle East? That will now be one man's call: Commander-in-Chief Trump. Watch the full interview with Odierno, here.

Also in transition topics: The Kremlin says it’s time for Trump to lead, since relations with the current White House leadership is “frozen,” Reuters reports. (Shortly after that, the Pentagon released details of a Wednesday video teleconference between Russian and U.S. defense officials, checking in about safety in Syrian airspace.)

Is Trump’s dealmaking good enough to free American hostages? U.S. grandparents of the children born as Taliban hostages hope that is what may bring their family home, ABC News reported Wednesday after a new video of the captive husband, wife and two children was released by the Taliban.

And rounding out the transition topics, we have three more essays from the Center for Strategic and International Studies as part of their ongoing “Transition 45” series.

The newest essays concern (1) how special operators can thrive during a Trump administration; (2) what many may not know or appreciate about the invisible Electromagnetic Spectrum and its relation to almost every single warfighter; and (3) why it’s time to “go big” on missile defense.

Evacuations reportedly near an end in Aleppo, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has already began celebrating the city’s fall to government-backed forces, Reuters reports this morning.

“In comments after meeting a senior Iranian delegation, Assad also said the battlefield successes were a ‘basic step on the road to ending terrorism in the whole of Syrian territory and creating the right circumstances for a solution to end the war.’”

The BBC reports “the last remaining civilians and fighters from [Aleppo’s] rebel-held districts... should be completed by Thursday night or Friday,” according to a Red Cross statement this morning. Heavy snows and bitter temps have slowed things more than many had hoped, the BBC writes.

A bit more on the process: “The final phase is expected to take place over multiple stages and involve dozens of buses and hundreds of cars. Thousands of people are still waiting to be evacuated. The Red Cross says 34,000 have left the city since the evacuations began eight days ago as part of a ceasefire deal. The evacuees are being taken to rebel-held territory in the countryside west of Aleppo and the neighbouring province of Idlib, where camps are being set up.”

The UN took a monumental step toward dealing with the war in Syria when the General Assembly on Wednesday “voted to establish an investigative body to ‘collect, consolidate, preserve and analyze evidence’ as well as to prepare cases on war crimes and human rights abuses committed during the conflict in Syria,” The Telegraph reported. “The 193-member world body adopted a Liechtenstein-drafted resolution (PDF) on Wednesday by a vote of 105 to 15 with 52 abstentions over strenuous objections from Syria and close ally Russia who accused the assembly of interfering in the work of the Security Council.”

Syria, for one, was none too happy with the measure. Read more, here.

Other action from the UN on Wednesday revealed the limits of prosecuting what appeared to be a blatant war crime when an airstrike hit a UN aid convoy back in September outside of Aleppo, killing at least 10 and wounding nearly two-dozen others. A UN inquiry board “found that, while the incident was caused by an air attack, it was not possible to identify the perpetrator or perpetrators."

Adds The New York Times: “The panel stopped short of identifying which countries did it, but said pointedly that American-led forces were ‘highly unlikely’ to have been responsible for the deadly attack, which left only Syrian and Russian forces capable of carrying it out.”

Worth noting: The inquiry board “was constrained in its investigation. The government of Syria only recently allowed board members into the country, and only for five days. It did not allow them to visit the site of the attack, citing security, the board members reported. So the conclusions in a seven-page summary of the report were vague about attribution.”

Turkey’s operations in northern Syria have taken a bloody turn as Ankara’s troops and allied rebels try to push ISIS out of the city of al-Bab: “14 Turkish soldiers were killed and at least 33 wounded” the Times writes, making it “the worst single-day toll for Turkey’s military since it intervened in the Syrian war four months ago.”

Turkey’s defense minister upped that casualty count to 16 dead just this morning, adding the operation had killed more than 1,000 ISIS fighters so far. More from Hürriyet Daily News, here.  


From Defense One

Ukrainian Power Company ‘99% Certain’ Blackout Result of Cyber Attack // Patrick Tucker: "Russia is escalating cyber and ground attacks against Ukraine, observers say."

DNC Hackers Linked to Russian Activity Against Ukraine Two Years Ago // Patrick Tucker: "The same malware a Russian group used to attacked the DNC was targeting Ukrainian soldiers, says cybersecurity group."

The Unraveling of Turkey: A View from Ankara // Diego Cupolo: "The country continues to descend into uncertainty following the assassination of the Russian ambassador."

Welcome to the Dec. 22 edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson, Marcus Weisgerber and Kevin Baron. On this day in 1964, the SR-71 Blackbird made its first flight. Twenty-seven years later on the same day, the Soviet Union collapsed. (Enjoy the D Brief? Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.)


U.S.-supplied drones just aren’t cutting it in the war for Ukraine, Reuters reported Wednesday. Seventy-two hand-launched Raven RQ-11B Analog mini-drones "were one of the recent highlights of U.S. security assistance to Ukraine, aiming to give Kiev's military portable, light-weight, unarmed surveillance drones that were small enough to be used widely in the field... But they appear to have fallen short in a battle against the separatists, who benefit from far more sophisticated military technology than insurgencies the West has contended with in Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria."

The cause, according to Ukraine's Air Force command: "Russia and the separatist forces it supports can intercept and jam their video feeds and data."

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is expected to visit PEOTUS Trump sometime in 2017, and Reuters writes that he’ll be bringing with him a wish list of military gadgets, with Javelin missiles in the number one spot—backing up EUCOM Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti’s testimony earlier in the year that an anti-tank weapon was needed in Ukraine. More here.  

Said one U.S. military official, who recently returned from Ukraine, to The D Brief: “One of the highest demands [the Ukraine armed forces] have is a man-portable, highly mobile, [air defense artillery] capability that will take out cheap UAVs and allow them to avoid being triangulated by artillery counter-battery fire. It may be as simple as a fancy shotgun round that explodes like an old flak gun.”

Let’s stay in Europe where Slate looks at whether the French military’s increased participation in operations in the Middle East and Africa whether they are making a difference. The piece also explores France’s increased homeland security mission in the wake of 2015 Paris attacks. More here.

Also in Europe, Germany said it would upgrade its air defense frigates with longer range radars so they can play a larger role in NATO’s missile defense shield. More here.

Japan raises its defense spending for the fifth year in a row, “including funds for missile defense upgrades and new advanced submarines—to meet accelerating threats from North Korea and China,” The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

"Japan’s defense budget for the fiscal year beginning in April is up 1.4% to a record high ¥5.1 trillion ($44 billion) and is all but certain to gain parliamentary approval." That budget "includes about ¥65 billion for missile defense measures, including funds to complete the co-development with the U.S. of a ship-based missile interception system."

Also in there: "¥73 billion for a new type of submarine with improved sonar... [and] other missile defense upgrades, including the possible introduction of an advanced U.S. missile shield known as Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense. South Korea plans to deploy a Thaad battery next year, a move strongly opposed by China because its powerful radar system extends into Chinese territory."

In case you were curious, “Japan currently has 17 diesel-electric submarines and plans to increase the fleet to 22 by around 2021. China’s submarine fleet consists of around 60 vessels, including nuclear-powered craft that can travel very long distances at high speeds. Japan also plans to add eight new coast guard ships to a 14-ship fleet to defend the East China Sea islands.” Read the rest, here.

While we’re talking Japan, Thailand wants an air defense radar system, and Tokyo’s Mitsubishi is lining up for talks, Reuters reports.

China has been cozying up to Thailand recent, including “In July, [when] Thailand agreed to buy three Chinese-built submarines worth around $1 billion in a deal that illustrated Beijing's willingness to fill the vacuum left by Washington. And last month, Thai and Chinese military planes performed acrobatic demonstrations together at the Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, around 260 km (161 miles) northeast of Bangkok, as a prelude to the first joint military drill between the nations' air forces.”

For what it’s worth, “Washington has a statutory obligation to withhold aid to militaries involved in coups against democratically elected governments. That includes restricting its arms makers from selling military kit to the country. Japan does not face such restrictions in engaging with the Thai government.” More here.

Rounding out our day, we take a comical turn to those crazy days when the U.S. Navy altered various enlisted ranks to, at least in part, exclude “man/men” from the titles. Via Navy Times: “Within seconds of the news leaking Tuesday evening that Navy leaders were set to restore sailors' job titles, the positive reviews of the decisions began rolling in on social media, with some suggesting the move was a Christmas miracle… And of course, with any big news story in 2016, memes flooded Facebook, Twitter and Reddit.” We’d describe some of their favorites, but that’d kind of kill the joke. So check ‘em out for yourself, here.

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