Debating plans for N. Korea; China: we need more nukes; SDF holding ‘hundreds’ of ISIS fighters; CNO’s 6 axes of naval power; and just a bit more...

The Pentagon appears to be reluctant in giving President Trump military options to strike North Korea, according to the White House’s way of thinking, the New York Times reports.

The gist: “The national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, believes that for Mr. Trump’s warnings to North Korea to be credible, the United States must have well-developed military plans, according to those officials. But the Pentagon, they say, is worried that the White House is moving too hastily toward military action on the Korean Peninsula that could escalate catastrophically. Giving the president too many options, the officials said, could increase the odds that he will act.”

What’s more, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson complained to Defense Secretary Mattis over “a series of meetings that the National Security Council had set up to consider options for North Korea” that Tillerson reportedly said “was becoming overly aggressive.” The problem there? Mattis and Tillerson were speaking on an open conference call, “not realizing that other participants were still on the line.”

However, none of this means “the military has not begun preparing” for a military confrontation with Pyongyang. “At multiple Army bases across the country this month, more than 1000 reserve officers are practicing how to set up so-called mobilization centers, which move reservists overseas in a hurry.”

WH frustration with the Pentagon hasn’t reached President Trump, and for the record, “Representatives of Mr. Mattis and General Dunford denied that they have slow-walked options to the White House.” More here.

SecDef Mattis’s reax to the story, this morning from the Pentagon press bullpen: “We have no problems between [the Pentagon] and the national security staff. I’ve been over there [to H.R. McMaster and the National Security Council] twice this week on other issues. And both times I stopped with him and we discussed how the meeting’s going to go that day. I could not find any relation to the reality that I deal with [in that NYTs report]. But again, it is what it is.”

ICYMI: Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, the Army helicopter pilot-turned-lawmaker, recently returned from a visit to South Korea with this message: the U.S. military seems to be operating with the attitude that a conflict “will probably happen, and we better be ready to go.” Read that, here.

China’s military wants more nuclear weapons to prevent “bullying” by other nuclear powers, the South China Morning Post reported Tuesday, citing a commentary in the state-run PLA Daily. “To enhance China’s strategic counterbalance in the region and maintain China’s status as a great power, and protect national security, China has to beef up and develop a reliable nuclear deterrence capability,” read the PLA commentary.

SCMP writes the PLA also "said China would still stick to the 'no first use' doctrine, meaning there were no circumstances in which it would be the first to use nuclear weapons."

For what it’s worth, “China has never declared the scale of its nuclear stockpile but the Washington-based Arms Control Association puts the country’s total at 270 warheads, the fourth-biggest of the five main nuclear states. Russia has 7,000, the US 6,800, France 300 and Britain 215, the association estimates.” Read on, here.

From Defense One

US-Backed Syrian Force Holding 'Hundreds' of ISIS Foreign Fighters // Kevin Baron: A day after CENTCOM'S leader says they should face prosecution at home, Trump hints at Gitmo option.

How Fake Data Can Help the Pentagon Track Rogue Weapons // Jack Corrigan: The Air Force Research Laboratory bought software that trains machine-learning tools to spot groups amassing biological, nuclear and chemical weapons.

Trump's National-Security Strategy Is Focused on Great Powers. He Isn't. // Thomas Wright: On Tuesday, the president rushed past Russia and China to talk about immigrants, terrorism, and North Korea.

If We're Going to Export More US Arms, Let's Do It Smarter // Daniel R. Mahanty and Rachel Stohl: Here are some ways to help ensure that rising sales don't undermine American security.

Global Business Brief, Feb. 1 // Marcus Weisgerber: Some 2019 budget numbers; Q with Qatar’s defense minister; Boeing loses trade dispute, and a lot more.

Welcome to this Friday 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.

CNO: the Navy needs more money, and a steady flow of it, to get whole. Congress’ inability to pass an annual budget on time is like shorting a Super Bowl contender 15 minutes of play, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told an audience at the Heritage Foundation Thursday:  “You can’t expect a team to win if they only play three quarters out of four.”
Richardson argued that this kind of stopgap funding forces “false choices” that undermine a force whose strength flows from progress along six essential and interconnected axes: “a bigger navy, a better navy, a networked navy, a more talented navy, a more agile navy and a more ready navy,” reported USNI News. Read on, here.
Reminder: Even with all the high-tech methods that enemies can use to obtain U.S. secrets and money, the old ways still work, too: “Officers from the Blue Ridge consumed or pocketed $1 million in gourmet meals, liquor, cash, vacations, airline tickets, tailored suits, Cuban cigars, luxury watches, cases of beef, designer handbags and antique furniture — and reveled in the attention of an armada of prostitutes” — all delivered to buy information and help for Leonard Glenn Francis, a Singapore-based tycoon who held lucrative contracts to service Navy ships and submarines in Asian ports. If you haven’t been tuning in as the “Fat Leonard” scandal has been rolling out over the past few years, the Washington Post does its best to wrap it up, here.

$6.6 billion for new anti-missile missiles. Via Defense News: “Boeing has won a sole-source $6.6 billion deal to build a new silo and 20 more Ground-Based Interceptors (GBIs) and to sustain the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) System from the Missile Defense Agency, according to a Jan. 31 Pentagon contract announcement.”

Germans and Norwegians are drilling with the U.S. Navy off Virginia’s coast today, Navy Times reports. Joining the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier: “the German frigate FGS Hessen and the Norwegian frigate HNoMS Roald Amundsen, for one of the exercises in the strike group’s training cycle.” Afterward, the “Hessen will remain and deploy with the strike group when Truman heads for 5th and 6th Fleet waters by early April.” A bit more, here.

New Littoral Combat Ship coming tomorrow: “At noon Saturday, the United States Navy will commission the USS Omaha, a littoral combat ship, or LCS, in San Diego,” Omaha’s KMTV News reported Thursday.
FWIW: “This is the fourth ship named after Omaha, the first was a propeller-driven sloop-of-war, the second was a light cruiser and the third was an attack submarine.” A tiny bit more, here.

Russia says (1) the U.S. Navy’s maps are wrong and (2) it won’t stop flying close to U.S. aircraft. These reactions follow this weekend’s close call over the Black Sea when an armed Russian fighter jet flew within five feet of a Navy surveillance plane.
The message Thursday from Russia’s defense ministry: “When commanders sent foreign pilots for reconnaissance missions to this part of the Black Sea, they should take into account that they will meet with the Russian fighter jets, not Ukrainian partners. Or pilots should be provided with updated boundary maps containing accurate data about the Russian air boarders.” More on that from The Hill, here; or Stars and Stripes, over here.

Kabul is pointing a few fingers at Pakistan over recent bombings in Kabul, the Washington Post reports from the Afghan capital. “The interior minister and intelligence chief spoke at a hastily arranged news conference after returning from a brief visit to Islamabad, where they said they gave senior officials the names and locations of supporters of and facilities used by attackers, including mosques and seminaries.”
But few expect these protests to make any difference, the Post writes. “For the Afghan government, blaming Pakistan once again may not be enough to dispel the growing perception here that the situation is spiraling out of control — that the insurgents are running roughshod over the Western-backed security forces, and the authorities, distracted and weakened by political fights, are not capable of governing.” More here.

China wants to build a military base in Afghanistan — up in that sliver of turf sandwiched between Tajikistan and Pakistan known as the Wakhan Corridor, Agence France-Presse reports. There, “witnesses have reported seeing Chinese and Afghan troops on joint patrols.”
Background: “The Chinese are pouring billions of dollars into infrastructure in South Asia. With Afghanistan's potential to destabilise the region, analysts said any moves there would be viewed through the prism of security. Beijing fears that exiled Uighur members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) are passing through the Wakhan into Xinjiang to carry out attacks. It also worries that Islamic State group militants fleeing Iraq and Syria could cross Central Asia and Xinjiang to reach Afghanistan, or use the Wakhan to enter China.”
Said an Afghan defence ministry deputy spox: "We are going to build it (the base) but the Chinese government has committed to help the division financially, provide equipment and train the Afghan soldiers." A senior Chinese embassy official in Kabul told AFP only that Beijing is involved in "capacity-building" in Afghanistan. More here.

The U.S. just banned military support to South Sudan, Reuters reports in a move designed to “step up pressure against President Salva Kiir to end the country’s four-year civil war.”
Worth noting: “While the United States does not conduct arms sales with South Sudan, the move prevents any U.S. company or citizen from providing military equipment or defense services to the country’s warring factions.”
In case you’re playing catch-up, “Oil-rich South Sudan has been wrecked by civil war since 2013, when troops loyal to Kiir clashed with troops loyal to then-Vice President Riek Machar. The conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives since then, slashed oil production and driven about a third of the population of 12 million from their homes.” More here.

In Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are losing their grip on what control they have left, Reuters reports in a good roll-up of what’s happened this week.  
And if you missed it, set aside 36 minutes this weekend for a podcast explainer on how Yemen descended into a chaos state, here.

Finally this week: Take a listen to the second podcast from Public Radio International's new "Things That Go Boom" series — a production they say “explores national security and foreign policy in a way that doesn’t make you want to gouge out your eyes.”
Episode Two asks “What is this thing we call national security? And who does it protect?” Discussed in under 30 minutes: "white nationalism, the Haitian revolution, and the impacts of nuclear weapons production on the Navajo Nation." Worth a listen. Begin, here.