Shulkin out as VA Sec; Inter-Korean summit slated for late April; Neller, in conversation; Big changes at Boeing defense, space; AQ recruiter droned in Libya; And a bit more.

Trump fires VA Secretary Shulkin, nominates WH doc. Now U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson — remember him, the official White House physician — is President Trump’s latest pick.

Shulkin’s departure had been rumored for weeks, ever since he became “the subject of a damning report from the department's inspector general that found ‘serious derelictions’ by Shulkin and senior VA officials on a Europe trip last year,” CNN reported Wednesday. That report (PDF) “concluded that Shulkin had spent a good deal of the trip sightseeing and had inappropriately accepted a gift of Wimbledon tickets.”

Why might Jackson be perceived as up to the task? Politico suggests it’s at least in part due to how Jackson handled Trump’s “glowing physical and mental health assessment in a televised briefing in January.” (Recall that scene was skewered in a Saturday Night Live sketch.)

More to this job than that: “The VA tends to get treated as though it's only a health care provider, but it runs a massive benefits operation and manages a network of 135 cemeteries, too. Even the most experienced and talented of executives would find it a huge management challenge,” says Tom Shoop, editor-in-chief of Government Executive Media Group (the parent group of Defense One within Atlantic Media.)

More: “[T]he VA is a lot bigger and more complicated than the White House physicians unit or, for that matter, a combat trauma team,” Politico reports. “It’s the second biggest federal department; only the Pentagon is larger. It runs 170 medical centers and 1,061 outpatient clinics serving more than 9 million veterans and it’s been caught up in political struggles over how much of its health system should be privatized.”

And that last issue — privatization — has so far proven to be a bit of a bridge too far, Shulkin explained in an op-ed published in The New York Times just a few short hours after his departure was announced by the president in a tweet Wednesday.

Shulkin also spoke with NPR’s Morning Edition today. In that interview, as well as the Times op-ed, “Shulkin declined to attack Trump for his firing, instead putting the blame on others within the administration,” Military Times writes in review.

“Do you know where the president stands on privatization?” Nobody is sure, says IAVA’s Paul Rieckhoff, who is on a media blitz trying to make sense of yet another VA secretary ousting.

From Defense One

Russian Military Chief Lays Out the Kremlin's High-Tech War Plans // Robotics, artificial intelligence, and a willingness to strike the enemy's non-military targets will figure in the country's future strategies, reports Technology Editor Patrick Tucker.

China Is Filling the Africa-Sized Gap in US Strategy // Marcel Plichta: While U.S. troops fight terror groups, Beijing is locking up supplies of raw materials key to the future of defense.

A Deal with North Korea Won't Happen Without China // Ankit Panda: How Kim Jong-Un's surprise visit to Beijing underscores China's influence.

Is Peace on the Horizon for Afghanistan? // Krishnadev Calamur: An offer of talks by the Ghani government was met with silence from the Taliban. That, in itself, could be a good sign.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson, Kevin Baron and Marcus Weisgerber. Email us. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. They can subscribe here for free. On this day in 2004, President George W. Bush welcomed Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia into the NATO alliance during a ceremony at the White House.

Boeing shakes up defense business, again. More organizational changes are coming to Boeing’s defense and space business: CEO Leanne Caret will stand up two new divisions and change the way the company manages the development of new weapons, writes Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber, who has the scoop is his Global Business Brief. “The changes — announced by Caret in an email to employees Thursday morning — come as the company works to right its troubled efforts to build the Air Force’s new KC-46 aerial refueling tanker.” More here.
Related: Boeing was hit by the WannaCry virus (a Windows-based exploit), but so far there has been “no impact on jet production,” the Seattle Times reported Wednesday. “The attack was limited to computers in the Commercial Airplanes division and that the military and services units were not affected," according to Linda Mills, chief spox for Boeing's Commercial Airplanes.
“We’ve done a final assessment," she said Wednesday afternoon. "The vulnerability was limited to a few machines. We deployed software patches. There was no interruption to the 777 jet program or any of our programs.”

Save the date. North and South Korea’s leaders have agreed to meet one another for just the third time ever on April 27, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. "The one-day inter-Korean summit, the first since 2007," is set to take place "at the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjom" and "comes as countries have stepped up enforcement of sanctions aimed at penalizing North Korea for its nuclear-weapons program." Tiny bit more, here.
South Korea just received its first of 40 F-35s, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Wednesday, “just two days after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made a secret trip to Beijing and reportedly told Chinese leader Xi Jinping he was interested in meeting with President Donald Trump and South Korean leaders.” That short hit, here.

Happening today: Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller speaks with Defense One Executive Editor Kevin Baron at the Atlantic Council, in Washington. The focus: USMC strategy (the event is titled "US Marine Corps: A Strategic Look with General Neller"). Things gets started a little after 1 p.m., EDT. Details and livestream link, here.
Neller’s line on tattoos: "We’re not a biker gang, we’re not a rock and roll band. We’re not Adam Levine.” More from Task & Purpose, here.

Your Thursday #LongRead: “How GOP defense hawks delivered a massive military budget,” via InsideDefense’s Tony Bertuca.
The short read: The effort “was guided by Capitol Hill's leading defense hawks [including Arizona Sen. John McCain], who relied on concerns about a ‘readiness crisis’ and the accidental deaths of dozens of U.S. servicemembers to spur action.” More political strategy, explained, here.
In a hurry? CNN has quick overview of what the $700 billion U.S. military budget — as part of the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill signed Friday by the president — pays for. Get caught up on that, here.

Even longer read: This profile of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis by NYT’s Robert Worth.
Some of what you’ll learn: Mattis has evidently been in some very wild meeting with the president and members of the WH staff. That included former WH aide Sebastian Gorka, who reportedly really had it out for the Qataris, splitting with a CIA assessment that “the Saudi-Emirati accusations against the Qataris were exaggerated” last summer. But there’s a heckuva lot more to take in, beginning here.

In neighboring Oregon, the Air National Guard just grounded a portion of its F-15C fleet at Kingsley Field, reported Wednesday.
The reason given: “significant maintenance issues affecting the aircraft's structure.” Quite a bit more, including a recent history of F-15 snafus, here.

A recent U.S drone strike in Libya killed a top al-Qaeda “recruiter and logistics specialist,”  the NYT reported Wednesday, the same day U.S. Africa Command announced the strike, which was carried out last Saturday in southwestern Libya. The Times reports the missile strike — carried out by a U.S. drone — “struck a house in Ubari, 435 miles south of Tripoli, in the country’s southwest, a notorious haven for a deadly mix of Al Qaeda and other extremist groups that also operate in the Sahel region of Niger, Chad, Mali and Algeria.”
Dead: Musa Abu Dawud, “a high ranking al-Qa’ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) official,” as well as one other alleged AQ fighter, AFRICOM said in a statement. A bit more, here.

Finally today, a brief diversion for some privacy and tech humor from the folks at The Onion.
The setup: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is facing unprecedented scrutiny in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica stories that have been in the headlines this month. Now that he’s told the U.S. Congress he would be “happy” to testify about what he knew and how to with user privacy in our connected and intensely digital age, The Onion has stepped in with a little advice for how he can get ready. We’ll save the joke for when you click (it’s in the headline) here.