Lockheed quietly pitching a new fighter jet; From Raqqa to your radio; Boat load of weapons off Yemen; Careful spooks on LinkedIn; ‘Top Gun’ delay; And a bit more.

Is this America’s next fighter jet? With the F-35 still in tryouts and the super-elite F-22 Raptors frozen, defense giant Lockheed has been working on something new — a combination of both, Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber reported Thursday, in an exclusive.

The gist: “Lockheed Martin is quietly pitching the U.S. Air Force a new variant of the F-22 Raptor, equipped with the F-35’s more modern mission avionics and some structural changes,” Weisgerber writes.

The thinking: Lockheed is exploring how it might upgrade its combat jets to counter Russian and Chinese threats anticipated by military officials in the coming decade. And it happens to emerge as President Trump and the GOP-led Congress are delivering on their promised defense spending boom.

The proposal has echoes of the late-1990s evolution of the F/A-18 Hornet into the Super Hornet, Weisgerber writes. “Pitched as a low-risk project, the F/A-18E/F turned out to require a redesign of almost every exterior part. The new wing proved initially troublesome, but the design eventually proved successful.” Read all about the options, alternatives, and a lot more to this new plan, over here.

Sidebar trivia: 24 years ago yesterday, the Lockheed Corporation and the Martin Marietta Corporation merged into the single defense contractor we know today. The stated goal at the time: "the aggressive elimination of duplicate costs." The New York Times has that story from that day, here.

From Raqqa to your radio: Defense One contributor Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, of the Council on Foreign Relations, returns from her latest reporting trip into Syria’s former ISIS battlegrounds like Manbij, Kobane, and Raqqa — the very place ISIS called its headquarters until October of last year. Her focus: the women, Arab and Kurd alike, who have emerged from the ISIS shadows into security leaders.

On this week’s Defense One Radio podcast, Gayle elaborates on her reporting, the U.S. military’s mission, what it will take to reconcile Syrians, and her caution and optimism about certain aspects of Syria’s future.

Also, she shares a bit of her perspective and her reporting from America’s longest war, the conflict in Afghanistan.

Finally, how is the U.S. Army changing how it acquires the weapons of tomorrow? We’ll find out during a visit to Austin, Texas, for the opening of the new Army Futures Command. Defense One Technology Editor Patrick Tucker traveled there with Army Under Secretary Ryan McCarthy and Vice Chief of Staff. Gen. Jim McConville.

Listen to those discussions over on iTunes, Overcast, Google Play — or wherever you listen to podcasts!

From Defense One

Lockheed Pitching F-22/F-35 Hybrid to U.S. Air Force // Marcus Weisgerber: With a Raptor’s body and the JSF’s brain, the new jet would aim to answer the next decade’s Russian and Chinese threats.

Russia, US Are In a Military Exoskeleton Race // Patrick Tucker: A look at the Iron Man 2-like dreams and power-starved realities of dueling technology programs.

Global Business Brief // In this week’s newsletter, Business Editor Marcus Weisgerber discusses who will carry on John McCain’s watchdog legacy; Some niche players; Lockheed bets on underwater tech; and more.

Russia Is Co-opting Angry Young Men // Michael Carpenter, The Atlantic: Fight clubs, neo-Nazi soccer hooligans, and motorcycle gangs serve as conduits for the Kremlin’s influence operations in Western countries.

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief  by Ben Watson, Paulina Glass, and Kevin Baron. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. On this day in 1920, the first radio news program was broadcast from Detroit, Mich.

CENTCOM sailors literally seized a boat load of weapons in the Gulf of Aden, off Yemen’s coast on Tuesday.
The rundown: Sailors of the USS Dunham "located a dhow transferring covered packages to a skiff on Aug. 27,” according to CENTCOM’s announcement. The following day, crew of the Dunham “conducted a flag verification boarding and determined the skiff to be a stateless vessel. Subsequently, the boarding team discovered a cache of over 1,000 AK-47 automatic rifles. The skiff’s engines were inoperable, and the distressed mariners were brought aboard Dunham as part of a safety-of-life-at-sea (SOLAS) operation.”
So whose 1,000 AKs were those? Unknown just yet, according to the command's release on the episode. And the mariners involved in the seizure have been transferred to the Yemeni Coast Guard. Pictures and a bit more, here.

Updated tally for U.S. strikes in Yemen. Bringing the total to 34 for 2018, U.S. Central Command added six additional “counterterrorism air strikes targeting al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula terrorist network in Yemen” going back to mid-May of this year. “These include air strikes May 25, two airstrikes June 23 and 30, two airstrikes July 22 and 24, and one Aug. 14,” and in the provinces of Shabwah, Hadramawt and Al-Bayda.
Keep track of all other known U.S. strikes not just in Yemen, but also Somalia, Pakistan and Libya, via The Long War Journal’s trackers, all of them in one place, here.

The U.S. Navy carrier-based aerial refueling tanker drone has a contractor: Boeing’s MQ-25A, at some $805 million, U.S. Naval Institute News and many others reported Thursday.
Fast facts: “The contract covers the engineering and manufacturing development of Boeing’s Stingray design and the production of four airframes to be used for these early testing efforts. The Navy eventually plans to buy 72 more vehicles, with a total program cost of about $13 billion.”
Readiness date? Initial operating date is targeted for 2024, they’re saying. “The first airframes should be flying by 2021.” More here.

More U.S. bomber messaging in Asia — this time over the South China Sea. The U.S. Air Force has conducted four B-52 “Continuous Bomber Presence” flights over the contested South and East China Seas this month, Business Insider reports this morning. An Air Force Major described the exercises as an effort to show American “readiness to serve as a credible deterrent force.”
Recent background: “News of the recent bomber flights in the East and South China Sea comes just after the Department of Defense released its annual report on Chinese military power. The report specifically noted that Chinese bombers were operating with increased frequency in flashpoint zones in the region.”
China seems determined to not back down, with a state-affiliated tabloid paper writing Thursday that Beijing will defend what it believes is its sovereign territorial rights. More here.

By the way, North Korea continues to produce and stockpile cluster bombs. South Korea’s Yonhap News agency has the story, here.

3D-printed barracks are here. The world’s largest concrete 3D printer was put to work this week, printing a 500-square-foot barracks hut at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center in Champaign, Illinois, Marine Corps Times reported Thursday from the Additive Manufacturing Team at Marine Corps Systems Command. The project was described as “the first-in-the-world, onsite continuous concrete print.”
The hut was constructed in 40 hours, but a project officer predicts the project could easily be completed in less than a day in the future.” Read on, here. Hey, at least it’s not a CHU.

Russia Collusion: 90s edition. So a comprehensive archive of White House documents covering nearly all of Bill Clinton’s meetings and phone calls with Boris Yeltsin from 1993-1999 has been declassified and is now online, Carnegie Endowment’s Andrew Weiss tweeted Thursday — with a link to that archive.  
Notes @armscontrolwonk Jeffrey Lewis: “There is a ton of material in there relating to strategic nuclear arms control.”
Oh, and what the U.S. needed to know then about Putin? Yeltsin had that covered.
There are also a lot of very strange interactions between the two leaders, like this one, also flagged by Weiss, which happened “during the Kosovo crisis [where] an inebriated Yeltsin proposed a secret 1-on-1 meeting with Clinton on a submarine.” It is wise to study the ways of one’s adversary. Don't you think?

Logistics and war-gaming, Moscow edition. It appears Russia’s military can still move a lot of equipment over a lot of distance in a fairly short period of time. That’s one takeaway from what’s being called an open-source investigative “scoop of the year.”
The quick rundown: A trainload of Russian T-62 tanks was dug out from reserve depots and loaded up for an exercise in the Central and Eastern Military Districts last week. Now, those tanks are railed near Volgograd —about 20 kms from Ukraine.
One takeaway for observers: “It took just couple days to get heavy metal delivered to other side of Russia, near to area where there is ongoing war… from now on have to make assumption Russians can pump a lot of it out in relatively short time-frame as replenishments. Not necessarily very modern, but in volumes.” More here.

There’s national security angle on Judge Brett Kavanaugh — who could be the next Supreme Court justice. Lawfare has you covered on the topics of international law, war powers, detention, military commissions, and more. You know, beach reading.

Another sign-on protest letter: this time demanding to know how that former CIA officer’s SF-86 made it to the hands of an opposition political action committee. “More than 200 national security veterans on Thursday demanded answers” from Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Jeff Pon, director of the Office of Personnel Management after the U.S. Postal Service said it released the form accidentally, Politico reported Thursday. Politico’s is a follow-up to the initial New York Times report this week on some of the SF-86’s details — which have already been used as dirt in the campaign against April Spanberger, a Democrat running in a U.S. House race in Virginia.

Careful on LinkedIn, intel pros — China is trying to recruit you. That’s one message from William Evanina, the U.S. counter-intelligence chief, who spoke to Reuters on Thursday about the matter.
Writes Reuters: “It is highly unusual for a senior U.S. intelligence official to single out an American-owned company by name and publicly recommend it take action. LinkedIn boasts 562 million users in more than 200 countries and territories, including 149 million U.S. members.”
No secret: Defense One long ago chronicled how LinkedIn is an easy phone book for spotting intelligence professionals (special operators, spies, codebreakers, you name it…). In 2013, we pieced together the super-secretive National Security Agency’s org chart (much of it, anyway) using, in part, LinkedIn profiles. It’s a “It’s a marvelous intelligence goldmine,” tweets Marc Ambinder, former Defense One contributor who broke that scoop, Friday morning.

One final thing: During a week in which we said goodbye to Navy aviator Sen. John “Maverick” McCain, we’ll now wait at least another year before Tom Cruise's anticipated aircraft sequel film, "Top Gun: Maverick." USA Today reported the film has had its release date delayed by about a year to late June 2020.
Who are these guys? “News of the postponement came just one week after Jon Hamm and Ed Harris were added to the cast in unspecified roles.”
Known-knowns otherwise: “Cruise is due to reprise his role as hot shot pilot Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell., now a flight instructor overseeing a diverse cast of pilots, including the first woman pilot (played by Monica Barbaro).” Read on, here. Or watch the classic “Top Gun” Honest Trailer over on YouTube, here.

Have a safe Labor Day weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Tuesday!