US strategy focus turns from terror to great powers; Turks shell Kurdish canton in Syria; Chinese ships aid N. Korea; Why no cyber arms agreements? And just a bit more...

The Pentagon goes big with its long-awaited National Defense Strategy, targeting China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran, Defense One Executive Editor Kevin Baron writes this morning as Defense Secretary Jim Mattis unveils the document at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington.

Top line read: The Trump administration’s NDS “declares a decisive shift in America’s security priorities, away from the age of ISIS-level terrorism and toward a return to great-power competition with regional giants China and Russia. This shift, Pentagon planners say, will require a ‘more lethal, resilient, and rapidly innovating’ military that can regain the overwhelming advantage the United States once held over those rivals and lesser adversaries such as Iran and North Korea,” Baron writes.

Compared to previous administrations’ strategy documents, the new one focuses far more on reacting to those threats, and far less on what American defense leaders want the world to look like afterwards.  

Here are the threats and challenges to the U.S., as the military sees it: China’s rapidly modernized its force to beat U.S. weapons and challenge the U.S. economically. Russia wants “to shatter” NATO. The entire international order is “resilient, but weakening,” it warns. North Korea and other rogue states are causing mischief to destabilize their regions. There is a technology race the U.S. is not winning, or not leading as it used to, in many areas. And there is a strategic game the U.S. has not been playing as all this change occurred. Read more, here.

One particularly important point: The reemergence of long-term Strategic Competition against China and Russia, Defense One's Tech Editor Patrick Tucker writes. "Read that to mean a new international order characterized by mutual mistrust," he says.

Two big factors are pushing that competition, says Tucker. "The first: Russian and Chinese behavior, which the Defense Department sees as, not hostile exactly, referred to in the document as "The Re-emergence of Long-Term Strategic Competition."

The second is "Rapid Technological Advancements and the Changing Nature of War." Which strongly suggests Russia and China are eroding U.S. influence around the world through dirty tricks. And technology trends (e.g., democratization of information technology) are not in America's favor.

Parting thought: “So now we have a strategy,” Baron writes. “Next, Washington — and its global military partners and the defense industry — will wait to see how this strategy translates into the one document that matters most: the president’s fiscal 2018 budget request.”

Read over the unclassified version of the NDS for yourself, here.

From Defense One

House Speaker: Budget Fights Have 'Pushed Our Military Past the Breaking Point' // Caroline Houck: Paul Ryan highlighted defense hawks' concerns about readiness and funding as Congress tries to avert a shutdown.

Don't Hold Missile-Defense Hostage to the Illusion of a Perfect Grade // Rebeccah Heinrichs: How is North Korea improving its ICBMs so quickly? It's not afraid of a test failure — or six.

Embattled Intelligence Whistleblower Ombudsman Defends Himself // Charles S. Clark: Dan Meyer, on forced leave, challenges accusations under review by unusual disciplinary panel.

The Global Business Brief: January 18 // Marcus Weisgerber: Lessons from the last shutdown; One-on-one with Bill LaPlante; Gen. Milley talks AI and more.

What if H.R. McMaster Is Right About North Korea? // James Jeffrey: It's reassuring to think the country wants only a defensive capability. It could very easily be wrong.

The Misleading Math in the Trump Administration's 'Foreign Terrorists' Report // Ana Campoy and Heather Timmons: The Jan. 16 report counts people extradited to the U.S. and doesn't count American white supremacists.

Why Are There No Cyber Arms Control Agreements? // Erica D. Borghard and Shawn W. Lonergan: With the emergence of a militarized cyber domain that creates the conditions for misperceptions that could lead to inadvertent conflict, why are there no cyber arms control regimes?

Welcome to this National Defense Strategy Day edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Email us. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. They can subscribe here for free.

Shutdown Watch: it’s still in the offing, despite a House vote that would forestall it. The Senate at this writing, has yet to schedule a vote.
Ominous sign: The Pentagon posted on Friday morning a 14-page “Guidance for Continuence of Operations” for a shutdown on
Reminder: the last time the government actually shut down, in 2013, Congress initially failed to allow the military to pay death benefits to families whose servicemembers had perished in the service. That got fixed after Defense One’s Gayle Tzemach Lemmon wrote this.  

POTUS goes to the Pentagon. President Trump dropped by the five-sided building Thursday morning to discuss the new defense strategy unveiled by Mattis this morning.
Said Trump of his visit: "We're just here to support the General and all of the generals. We're here to support our country's military... We're rebuilding our military, we're making us — we're bringing it to a level that it's never been at."
On fears of a government shutdown: "If the country shuts down, which could very well be, the budget should be handled a lot differently than it's been handled over the last long period of time — many years. But if for any reason it shuts down, the worst thing is what happens to our military... our tax cuts and our tax reform has turned out to be far greater than anybody ever anticipated, and I'm sure the Democrats would like to blunt that by shutting down government."
More on the greatness and coming greater-ness of the U.S. military: "Our military has to be the best in the world, by far.  And as you know, it's been depleted over the last long period of time. And when we finish, there won't be anything like it... We're going to have a military like we've never had before because we just about — just about never needed our military more than now."

The Pentagon doesn’t like the name it gave to its new partnered force in Syria, Task & Purpose’s Jeff Schogol reported Thursday. “The Department of Defense issued a statement on Wednesday clarifying that the local security forces being trained in Syria are not a border force at all. Rather, they are meant to stop ISIS from launching a guerrilla war.”
This follows almost a week of reporting on the new force, which has drawn the ire of both Syrian officials and Turkey’s President Erdogan. Erdogan hates the U.S. partnered force of Kurdish fighters, and Syria is anxious about what will happen in Kurdish-held territory not yet secured by Syrian government forces. And so amid all this, Schogol does us all a service by asking the Pentagon, in his words, “What in the living hell is going on?”
Replied Pentagon Spox Eric Pahon: “As we look to encircle ISIS in the middle Euphrates River Valley, you’re going to see more and more of their fighters trying to flee to other areas of the country. In the Idlib area, there’s already been ISIS claims that they have retaken some territory. We do not want to see that happen in the eastern part of the country.” Read on, here.

As for the Kurdish-held canton in Afrin, western Syria — Erdogan’s military began shelling there this morning, Reuters reports from across the border in Turkey. “Reuters TV filmed Turkish artillery at the border village of Sugedigi firing on Friday morning into Afrin region, and the YPG militia said Turkish forces had fired 70 shells at Kurdish villages in Afrin starting at midnight.” So far there have been no casualties, only property damage, Kurdish officials say.
Additional background: “The cross-border bombardment took place after days of threats from Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to crush the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia in Afrin in response to what Turkey sees as growing Kurdish strength across a wide stretch of north Syria,” Reuters writes.
Reported troop movements: “Turkish newspapers said 20 buses carrying Free Syrian Army rebels crossed on Friday from Turkey into a Turkish-controlled part of northern Syria, on Afrin’s eastern flank. They said the FSA rebels would deploy near the town of Azaz, where Kurdish shelling overnight struck a psychiatric hospital.”
Said Turkish Defence Minister Nurettin Canikli: “The operation in central Afrin may last a long time, but the terrorist organization will swiftly come undone there... All terror networks and elements in northern Syria will be eliminated. There is no other way.” More to this developing story, here.

Somewhere north of the Caribbean is Russia’s spy ship, the Victor Leonov, Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson wrote on Twitter Thursday. He also reminded readers “Last year, President Trump threatened to 'shoot that ship that's 30 miles offshore.'”

India just tested a long-range ballistic missile, ratcheting up the tensions with China, The New York Times reports. “The ballistic missile, called Agni 5, was launched from Abdul Kalam Island, off Odisha State in eastern India on Thursday morning, traveling for around 19 minutes and 3,000 miles.”
About those tensions — and not just with China: “The firing of the Agni-5 comes months after the official end of a standoff between China and India over a remote sliver of land in the Himalayas, a squabble that lasted for more than two months and that was one of the worst border disputes between the countries in 30 years. The launch also comes during a tense period in India’s troubled relationship with Pakistan, its nuclear-armed neighbor.”
Known-knowns about this missile: “The Agni 5 — Agni means fire in Hindi — is about 55 feet long and was developed in India. It is the most advanced missile in the Agni series, with a strike range of more than 3,000 miles and a payload of 1.5 tons, which is enough to transport a fusion-boosted fission weapon, a type of nuclear device.”
The big picture: “Thursday’s firing of the Agni 5 took India closer to incorporating the missile into its Strategic Forces Command, which oversees the country’s nuclear weapons stockpile. Once that induction process is complete, India will join an elite group of countries with access to intercontinental ballistic missiles, a list that includes China, Russia and the United States, experts say.” More here.

Food for thought: “Is Big Tech doing enough to fight terrorism on social media?” asks Clint Watts, former Bureau man and now Robert A. Fox Fellow in the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Program on the Middle East. His inquiry, posted Thursday on FPRI’s site, includes excerpts of his recommendations to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, where he testified Wednesday. Worth the click to familiarize yourself with things the U.S. national security apparatus could be doing better, here.  

Anyone surprised? “Six Chinese Ships Covertly Aided North Korea. The U.S. Was Watching,” The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, citing “satellite photographs and other intelligence gathered by U.S. officials.”
The short story: The Trump administration “identified the ships by name and tracked their movements. The ships either entered ports in North Korea and transported what U.S. officials concluded was illicit cargo to Russia and Vietnam or made ship-to-ship transfers at sea… According to the U.S., which presented the information to a U.N. sanctions committee, the ships also made extensive maneuvers designed to disguise their violations of the U.N. sanctions."
Why we’re hearing about this now: “In December, the U.S. asked the sanctions committee to formally designate the six ships as sanctions violators. China resisted that request but allowed four other vessels with no apparent links to Chinese companies to be blacklisted. The names of the four blacklisted ships were announced by the U.N., but the other six weren’t.” More (paywall alert), here.

Japan’s military just developed “its first domestically designed supersonic anti-ship missile,” The Diplomat reported Thursday. "The new missile [called the XASM-3] will replace the older domestically produced Type 80 and Type 93 air-to-ship missiles capable of reaching near supersonic speed.” Powered by a ramjet engine, the missile can reportedly reach top speeds of up to Mach 3 and has an operational range of 80 nautical miles (150 kilometers... The XASM-3 has been specifically designed to be carried by the Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s (JASDF) F-2 multirole fighter jets,” of which Japan has about 90. More here.

And finally this week: Ukraine’s military is working with AK-M16 Frankenrifle, The Drive reported Thursday. What these things are, officially: “US-made WAC-47 rifles, a derivative of the American-designed M16 rifle that chambers the Soviet-era 7.62x39mm cartridge.” It’s part of Ukraine’s military modernization efforts, freeing them up to work with more NATO members, The Drive writes. But it’s also being read as “a clear political message to Russia.”
Said the manufacturer, UkrOboronProm, or UOP: “For our country and the Ukrainian army, M16 production in Ukraine is a real step towards Euro-Atlantic structures,” UOP said in the October 2017 statement. “Every country that has teared [sic] itself away from Russia’s orbit, went or is going through this difficult stage, [is] taking many years and demanding great effort.” Lots more to this story, here. Thanks for reading us, gang. Have a safe weekend, and we’ll catch you again on Monday!