CinC Trump takes command; The state of defense in 2017; ships eye North Korea; Army picks a new gun; And a bit more.
Inauguration Day: President Donald J. Trump. The Obama and Trump families are having tea at the moment we hit send for today’s D Brief. And Trump will place his hand on the Lincoln Bible, and his own childhood Bible, in a little more than an hour, if everything is on track.
He'll be taking the oath with only two out of 15 cabinet officials approved by a panel of lawmakers—retired 4-star generals James Mattis for defense secretary, and John Kelly to lead the Department of Homeland Security—and just 29 of 660 executive department appointees named, The New York Times reported Thursday. As a result, his administration announced “last-minute plans to retain 50 essential State Department and national security officials currently working in the Obama administration to ensure ‘continuity of government,’ according to Sean Spicer, the incoming White House press secretary.”
The Senate is set to vote today on Mattis and Kelly, and will begin debating Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., to lead the CIA—but Democrats aren’t guaranteeing a vote on Pompeo today, Reuters reports.
Trump goes to Langley on Saturday, his first trip as president to a government agency in order to “attend the swearing in of Rep. Mike Pompeo as director, assuming Pompeo is confirmed by the Senate Friday,” NBC News reports.
With friends like these: “Trump will take the oath of office on Friday with his associates [Paul Manafort, Carter Page and Roger Stone] under investigation and after the intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian government had worked to help elect him,” the NYTs reported Thursday. And, “as president, Mr. Trump will oversee those agencies and have the authority to redirect or stop at least some of these efforts.”
Adds the Times, citing officials: “The investigators have accelerated their efforts in recent weeks but have found no conclusive evidence of wrongdoing.”
Trump takes command of a million-plus military already committed to a flurry of conflicts around the world. From North Africa to Eastern Europe, Syria to Afghanistan, the South China Sea to the Korean Peninsula—what will Commander in Chief Trump choose to do with his military in 2017? Start here.
ISIS is still trying to erase ancient history from Syria. Islamic State fighters again have wrecked ancient ruins in Palmyra, the same ruins a Russian orchestra played at after liberating the city from the group back in the summer, Reuters reports. The city’s “Tetrapylon, marking a slight bend along Palmyra's grand colonnade, comprises a square stone platform with matching structures of four columns positioned at each of its corners. Satellite imagery… showed it largely destroyed, with only four of 16 columns still standing and the stone platform apparently covered in rubble. The imagery also showed extensive damage at the Roman Theatre, with several towering stone structures destroyed on the stage.”
To the west, a big airstrike on Jabhat Fateh al-Sham fighters overnight killed at least 40 members of the al-Qaeda-linked group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said this morning. Reuters: “The Observatory said the air strike had targeted a Fateh al-Sham base in a rebel-held area west of Aleppo, and it was not clear if it had been carried out by Russian or U.S. planes.”
About that ceasefire in Syria: it’s not facilitating the flow of aid to besieged residents, the UN said Thursday. “The way it is now, it cannot continue,” Jan Egeland, the United Nations adviser on humanitarian affairs, said from Geneva. “The government has to change the way it is blocking our humanitarian access to civilians, but also the armed opposition groups.” More here.
One big immediate question facing the Trump administration: Who will Trump send to the Astana peace talks on Syria Monday? Russia’s foreign minister says he doesn’t know, but he’d like DJT to send an expert on the Middle East.
From Defense One
Global Business Brief: January 19 // Marcus Weisgerber: The Obama team that will remain in Trump's Pentagon; Saab moves defense biz to Syracuse; Defense sector growth expected; and more.
Don't Shut Down Foreign Investment in the Name of Security // Daniel E. Karson and Daniel Rosenthal: The next administration could impose significant constraints on business deals it sees as national security risks by reshaping an interagency watchdog group.
Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Kevin Baron. On this day in 2003, the U.S. Army announced it would send 37,000 soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division to the Persian Gulf for the invasion of Iraq. Those soldiers would join the roughly 60,000 American troops already in the region, while the Pentagon worked its way toward a goal of 250,000 members of its military “for war and postwar stabilization,” the AP reported 13 years ago today. (Enjoy the D Brief? Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: email@example.com.)
Ships off the Korean peninsula. South Korea, the United States, and Japan began a three-day naval exercise this morning, with an eye firmly on North Korea's missile threats, the South China Morning Post reports. “Aegis-equipped destroyers from the three countries took part in the maritime exercise, the third of its kind after the missile warning exercise was held in June and November last year, [a South Korean military] official said.”
The ships involved include “The Yokosuka, Japan-based guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem, Japan’s JDS Kirishima and South Korea’s Sejong the Great,” Stars and Stripes reports.
The underlying dynamics: “South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported that an ICBM may be launched from the Panghyon airfield in the northwestern city of Kusong, from where North Korea test-fired a Musudan ballistic missile in October last year, which was assessed as a failed launch. Yonhap also said South Korean and US intelligence authorities recently detected signs that North Korea has built two new ICBMs at the Jamjin missile facility in the city of Nampo near the capital Pyongyang, and mounted them onto mobile launchers for test-firing in the near future. The two missiles are estimated to be no longer than 15 meters in length, making them shorter than North Korea’s existing ICBMs – the 19-20 metre-long KN-08 and the 17-18 metre-long KN-14.”
Japan’s prime minister wants to see Trump “as soon as possible to further fortify the bond of alliance,” he told parliament in Tokyo this morning.
Elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific, American and Indian navies are sharing information on Chinese subs, PACOM’s Adm. Harry Harris said Wednesday, The Indian Express reported. “Responding to a question from The Indian Express, the Commander said, ‘India should be concerned about the increasing Chinese influence in the region. If you believe that there is only finite influence, then whatever influence China has means that influence India does not have.’”
Harris also reportedly said “he expected that the two pending foundational agreements, the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) — formerly known as the Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) — and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) will also be signed but 'at a pace India is comfortable with.' COMCASA allows for secure exchange of communication between the militaries, while BECA is meant to facilitate the sharing of geospatial data. Emphasising their importance, he said that signing the COMCASA will allow the two navies to monitor Chinese submarines even better.” More on the planned P-8 sub-hunting coop plans, here.
Iran’s global navy projection takes a hit as its “44th Flotilla, which consists of the frigate Alvand and the supply ship Bushehr,” remains stuck in South Africa, IHS Janes reports: The two vessels “reportedly reached the Atlantic in November 2016 [and] subsequently had to put into the South African port of Durban to carry out emergency repairs, Airbus Defence and Space satellite imagery shows…The use of a floating dock suggests Bushehr had sustained significant damage to its rudder, propellers, drive shafts, or hull, and the frigate's presence indicated that it could not make it back to Iran on its own.” More here.
Back stateside, a Norwegian missile maker will help provide 130 jobs over the next five years at Maryland’s Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head, the Baltimore Sun reported Thursday. “The Nammo Group's Nammo Energetics Indian Head is partnering with the Navy installation's Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division on the project, which will include disposing of obsolete and surplus munitions. Nammo, based just north of Oslo, the capital of Norway, plans to invest $23 million to renovate existing facilities on the base and $7 million in new equipment, according to a Maryland Department of Commerce announcement about the deal.”
The Norwegian company “is developing the facility under a 30-year public-private partnership agreement with the Navy,” the Sun writes. “In addition to rockets and missiles, Nammo produces a broad range of ammunition. The Indian Head facility will be its eighth in the United Sates, which it said is becoming one of its most important markets. The company expects to employ four people at Indian Head this year and potentially as many as 221 — including some personnel currently stationed at Indian Head — by 2020.” Story here.
Finally: Bye-bye M9. The U.S. Army has selected a new handgun for soldiers, Army Times reported Thursday. The choice: Sig Sauer's version of the Modular Handgun System. “Sig Sauer beat out Smith & Wesson, Beretta and Glock for the contract worth up to $580 million, which includes firearms, accessories and ammunition.” No word yet on whether timid officers will be less afraid of the gun’s kick than they were with the M9 at the pistol range. (Once upon a time, your D Brief-er’s unit had to wait hours—yes, hours—while his officer struggled to put rounds further downrange than 3 meters. It was a long day.)
And in case you’re keeping tabs at home, “While the Beretta M9 has been the Army's pistol since 1985, the military uses other handguns, including Sig Sauers, particularly in special operations. Green Berets regularly use Glock 9mm pistols, and last year Marine Special Operations allowed use of the 9mm Glock 19. Navy SEALs generally use the Sig Sauer P226 and, on occasion, Heckler & Koch's .45-caliber HK45C.” Story here. Have a great weekend, everyone.