Defense One Summit day!; Bleak assessment of war with China and Russia; The uncertain future of C-wire at the border; GOP dodges debate on Yemen war; And a bit more.

The U.S. military would very likely lose a war against Russia or China, according to a 116-page report (PDF) from the National Defense Strategy Commission.

The blunt assessment: “If the United States had to fight Russia in a Baltic contingency or China in a war over Taiwan, Americans could face a decisive military defeat.”

Why, in short: “These two nations possess precision-strike capabilities, integrated air defenses, cruise and ballistic missiles, advanced cyberwarfare and anti-satellite capabilities, significant air and naval forces, and nuclear weapons—a suite of advanced capabilities heretofore possessed only by the United States.”

On war with Beijing: “America could probably defeat China in a long war, if the full might of the nation was mobilized. Yet it would lose huge numbers of ships and aircraft, as well as thousands of lives, in the effort, in addition to suffering severe economic disruptions—all with no guarantee of having decisive impact before Taiwan was overrun.”

And losing access to the South China Sea, where “14 percent of America’s maritime trade” passes would almost immediately raise U.S. “consumer prices, and manufacturing and agricultural communities.”

On defending against an ICBM attack from North Korea: “U.S. missile defenses offer only uncertain protection.” Yehp. Hear also our podcast interview with @armscontrol wonk Jeffrey Lewis saying pretty much the same terrifying thing. (BTW: Read his book on the subject, if you haven’t already.)

Predicting a war with Russia? That, too, is almost unspeakably terrifying. Among some of the scenarios that could follow: “Russian submarines attack trans-Atlantic fiber optic cables. Russian hackers shut down power grids and compromise the security of U.S. banks. The Russian military uses advanced anti-satellite capabilities to damage or destroy U.S. military and commercial satellites. The domestic consequences are severe. Major cities are paralyzed; use of the internet and smart phones is disrupted. Financial markets plummet as commerce seizes up and online financial transactions slow to a crawl. The banking system is thrown into chaos.”

Perhaps the most fundamental concern is this: “The United States is particularly at risk of being overwhelmed should its military be forced to fight on two or more fronts simultaneously.”

Reminder: The U.S. military has already deployed personnel and equipment in conflict fronts spanning Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Niger, and Ukraine. There are still more throughout Africa, Korea (lots there) and the Philippines, along with classified operations in other conflicts zones like Yemen. And oh yeah, there’s also those nearly 6,000 active duty troops laying down wire along the U.S.-Mexico border...

So what to do from here?

  • For the Army: “More armor, long-range fires, engineering and air-defensive units, as well as additional airdefense and logistical forces.”
  • The Navy: “expand its submarine fleet and dramatically recapitalize and expand its military sealift forces.”
  • The Air Force “will need more stealthy long-range fighters and bombers, tankers, lift capacity, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms.”
  • And the Marine Corps cannot afford to reduce its end strength of 202,000. Lots of more recommendations to sift through in the report. Pick up the conversation about remedies on PDF page 50, here.

Join us today for the 2018 Defense One Summit in Washington, D.C. The show gets started with 45 minutes of networking starting at noon.

Venue: The Newseum’s Annenberg Theater.

The lineup includes—

  • Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, 1 p.m. EDT;
  • Ambassador James Jeffrey, 1:30 p.m.;
  • Sue Mi Terry of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Evan Medeiros of Georgetown University, 2 p.m.;
  • As well as Rep.-Elect Elissa Slotkin, D-Michigan;
  • Dr. Michael Griffin, Under Secretary of Defense for Research & Engineering;
  • And more.

If the DC snow has you homebound today, you can catch the livestream over at this link (alert: registration required). Agenda, details and more here.


From Defense One

Pentagon Began Clampdown on Senior Leaders’ Public Speaking Months Ago, Memos Reveal // Kevin Baron: DOD says it’s to save money and time. Critics say it’s to avoid conflict with the president.

Incoming HASC Chair: Scale Back Plans for New Nukes // Marcus Weisgerber: Rep. Adam Smith laid out new terms for a debate over the Pentagon’s plans to expand the military’s nuclear arsenal.

Pentagon Researchers Test 'Worst-Case Scenario' Attack on U.S. Power Grid // Joseph Marks, Nextgov: Over 100 people gathered off the tip of Long Island this month to roleplay a cyberattack that takes out the U.S. electric grid for weeks on end.

On China, the Trump Administration Needs to Weave Its Threads into a Narrative // Elizabeth C. Economy, Council on Foreign Relations: The White House does not know how to tell its story, much less sell it.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you find this stuff useful, consider sharing The D Brief with somebody you think might find it useful, too. And thanks for reading! On this day in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln traveled to the Washington Navy Yard to see a test of a new Hyde rocket. Before a crowd of onlookers, the rocket exploded in its casing, sending shrapnel all around, but not injuring POTUS16.  


Update: There are roughly 5,800 U.S. active duty troops at the southern border with Mexico — and that number may not rise by more than 100 or so, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, commander of U.S. Army North 5th Army, told Reuters late last night. (Reminder: Iraq has roughly 5,200 active duty troops deployed there presently.)
Deployed CONUS distribution: 1,500 in California, 1,500 in Arizona, and 2,800 in Texas.
And the end date? So far it’s looking like Dec. 15. “It is a hard date. And we have no indications that CBP is going to need us to do our work for longer than that,” Buchanan said.
Q. Are those U.S. troops at the border gonna hafta take up all that C-wire they’ve been putting down? “Good question,” their boss, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told them Wednesday — thanks to Politico’s Wesley Morgan, who shared the exchange on Twitter. “We’ll see what the secretary [of Homeland Security] says. Right now the mission is, put them in,” Mattis said.
A bit more from Mattis: "I do not anticipate military personnel coming into direct contact with migrants," he told reporters, reading from a statement.
He also tried to reach back into history for a parallel to the moment U.S. troops are experiencing now at the U.S.-Mexico border. His pull, via CNN’s Ryan Browne: 100 years ago when President Woodrow Wilson “deployed the US Army to the southwest border...The threat then was Pancho Villa's troops, a revolutionary raiding across the border into the United States: New Mexico in 1916.” Never mind that the threat today is unarmed, impoverished, and desperate refugees.
Noted New America’s Peter Singer: “As a student of history, Mattis knows this is bunk. Pancho Villa led an actual, armed fighting force, which raided US town, killing 23 Americans and battled with US Army cav[alry] unit.”
BTW: An E-4 engineer tells Politico’s Morgan that morale is not anywhere close to what the senior leaders said for the cameras Wednesday. More details from that no-surprise update, here.

For the record: “Mattis has taken 24 multicountry trips—almost double the travel of his predecessors,” Bloomberg’s Roxana Tiron tweeted Wednesday as the SecDef was traveling inside his own country.

ICYMI: A retired four-star general could be America’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia. John Abizaid, former commander of U.S. Central Command from 2003 to 2007, was tapped on Tuesday by President Trump for the vacant Riyadh post. Writes NPR, the selection of Abizaid “highlights the importance he has placed on the military partnership between the U.S. and the Saudi royal court, which signed an arms deal with the U.S. worth billions of dollars last year. Abizaid would fill the role at a time when U.S. ties with Saudi Arabia are strained following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.” A bit more, here.

Close call for efforts to stop U.S. support for the war in Yemen. House Republicans last night blocked a resolution from even being debated in the House by “attaching a one-line rule change to a resolution about wolves,” The Guardian reports.
What happened: "The Republican-dominated House rules committee introduced an extraordinary clause tacked on to a procedural ruling on a bill about management of the grey wolf population. The clause stated, without explanation, that War Power Resolution privileges would not apply to the Yemen measure.” Which means “Republicans can prevent a debate and vote on the Yemen war taking place in the House until January, when the newly elected Democratic majority take their seats.”
Said Just Security’s Ryan Goodman: “The arms industry may also help explain Republican resistance. US arms manufacturers must know that if congressional efforts to terminate direct US military support for the Yemen war gain traction, shutting down US arms sales would likely be next.”
Worth noting: “there is a parallel effort in the Senate to curtail US involvement, which may to come to a vote later this month.” A bit more from The Guardian, here.

Someone now knows the hard way that you do not cross the First Lady. After a day or so of rumors, White House national security official Mira Ricardel — often referred to as the National Security Council’s #2 official behind John Bolton — is officially leaving her post, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders announced Wednesday evening.  
The gist, according to the Washington Post: A seating arrangement disagreement from last month’s FLOTUS visit to Africa has now cost Ricardel her job. Much more drama and tense, internal White House diplomacy to this story, here.

And finally today: In a new first, a female soldier will now progress from U.S. special forces 24-day selection and assessment to the grueling qualification course, U.S. Army Special Operations Command announced Wednesday—citing privacy policy for not releasing the individual’s name. Tiny bit more from Army Times, here; or you can read a bit more context from Fort Bragg’s local Fayetteville Observer over here.

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