New push for space lasers; How shutdown hurts national security; Milley confirms Syrian handoff; US drills in South China Sea; And a bit more.

The Pentagon wants lots of new missile-defense technologies, including weapons in orbit. That’s what defense officials told reporters Wednesday ahead of today’s planned release of the first comprehensive missile-defense report in nine years. It calls for new efforts “on a scale not seen since President Ronald Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ initiative,” the Washington Post reported.

In particular: research into lasers and other weapons that could be placed aboard a new constellation of satellites, where they could be positioned to shoot down an enemy ICBM as it lifts off — its most vulnerable point.

Folly? The long-anticipated report stops short of ordering a drive to produce such weapons, “which critics say underlines the idea’s folly,” reports D1’s Patrick Tucker. (“Even a bare-bones system would be ridiculously costly, and more likely to foster war than prevent it,” wrote Tom Collina in Defense One in August.)

Trump will be making his fifth visit to the Pentagon this morning to unveil the report. Check Defense One for continuing coverage. And Barbara Starr has this review of how POTUS45 has repeatedly rattled the building each previous visit.

Notable in 2019: "a new atmosphere of unease inside the Pentagon, particularly among some of the most senior ranks, over the President's inclination to use the military to achieve certain partisan policy objectives," Starr writes, citing "some of the highest-ranking officers" in the building.

Don’t miss: Whether you think orbiting lasers is brilliant or a destabilizing waste of billions of dollars, you’ll want to read this list of papers written for Defense Intelligence Agency’s Advanced Aerospace Threat and Identification Program program. Sample: “Traversable Wormholes, Stargates, and Negative Energy.” Also: “Invisibility Cloaking.” The list was declassified at the request of the Federation of American Scientists (ht @peterwsinger).

For your eyes only: Review the four primary systems America uses to protect its citizens and allies from ballistic missiles in this multimedia explainer + video from Defense One.

Today in national security podcasts: Brexit, missiles, submarines, Russia, the Royal Navy and what lies ahead for America’s ally across the pond, the United Kingdom. Our guest on the latest Defense One Radio podcast is Will Jessett — the current Director for Strategic Planning at the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence in London.

Defense One’s Global Business Editor Marcus Weisgerber sat down with Jessett to talk though the UK’s new defense modernization review, released in December, and how the British defense world is planning for an uncertain future with Brexit, Russian aggression and economic complexity. Listen on Stitcher, Google Play, Apple Podcasts, Overcast, or wherever you listen to podcasts.


From Defense One

Pentagon to Study Putting Anti-Missile Laser Weapons in Space // Patrick Tucker: The long-anticipated missile defense review shies away from a full-scale push — which critics say underlines the idea’s folly.

Army Chief Confirms US Will Hand off ISIS Fight in Syria // Kevin Baron and Patrick Tucker: Gen. Mark Milley is the first senior military official to say the military is proceeding in Syria as Trump wishes.

It's Official: Furloughed Feds Will Receive Back Pay Once the Shutdown Ends // GovExec Staff: Bill signed into law on Wednesday also will ensure retroactive compensation for furloughed feds in future shutdowns.

Defense One Radio Ep. 36 // On this week’s podcast, we talk British defense strategy with UK MoD’s Will Jessett.

The US Needs a New Public Shipyard // Craig Hooper: Warships are waiting for repairs at America's creaky government drydocks. And no, privatization isn’t the answer.

The Shutdown Is Doing Lasting Damage to National Security // Joshua A. Geltzer and Carrie Cordero, The Atlantic: With every passing day, America’s defenses are weakening.

Poll: Nearly Three-Quarters of Federal Workers Oppose Shutdown, Majority Oppose Wall // Eric Katz, Government Executive: One-in-three feds think the shutdown will drag on for more than three additional months.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Thanks for reading! On this day in 1946, the United Nations Security Council met for the first time. The location: Church House, Westminster, in London.


U.S. Army Chief Milley confirms U.S. will hand off ISIS fight in Syria. “For the first time, a senior U.S. military official has commented on President Trump’s late-December decision to quit Syria, confirming publicly that American troops are planning to leave once ISIS is defeated on the ground,” report Kevin Baron and Patrick Tucker. That’s Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, who said on Wednesday, “We are determined to finish that off and then hand the battle off to our indigenous partners” — that is, the 74-nation counter-ISIS coalition, which includes Turkey.
Normally, of course, it doesn’t take a month for the military to confirm that they will follow an order. “Of late, the Trump administration’s Syria strategy has been marked by reversals and confusion, with the Pentagon, White House, and State Department seemingly unable to get on the same page. Milley said that appearance of confusion and lack of coordination between executive-branch agencies — and allies — was in fact normal.” Read on, here.

Shutdown, Day 26: Nearly one month since Trump decided to reject a Senate bill that would have funded the government but lacked money to extend border barriers, “Some of the damage is already plainly apparent—but in four crucial ways, its harms will persist long after the government reopens.” Read that, here.
And CNN has its own list of 91 shutdown effects, and counting, here.

The U.S. and British navies just completed six days of drills in the contentious South China Sea, CNN reported Wednesday.
The gist: “The guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell, and the Royal Navy frigate HMS Argyll conducted operations in the South China Sea between January 11 and 16,” according to a statement from the U.S. Navy.
Why the Brits? In part, they’re considering a new naval base somewhere in the vicinity, perhaps Singapore and Brunei. That’s a component of what The Telegraph called the UK’s “post-Brexit military” in its late December interview with Defence Minister Gavin Williamson.
Recall that less than a week ago, Beijing reacted to the U.S. Navy’s USS McCampbell sailing within 12 nautical miles of Chinese-claimed territory in the Paracel Islands” by accusing the U.S. of trespassing. Then Chinese state media CCTV announced the military deployed DF-26 ballistic missiles to China's far northwest region, CNN reports. Those missiles, CCTV said, are “capable of targeting medium and large ships.”

Philippines’ military chief: We need to review our treaty with the U.S. in case things get hairy around the South China Sea. The South China Morning Post reports Defence Minister Delfin Lorenzana told an audience at the Foreign Correspondents Association in Manila “We believe it is time to sit down with our US counterparts and revisit the terms of our alliance. We are partners. We have deep historical ties. We must clearly define our roles and responsibilities when the need arises to be joined in arms.”
Why bring this up now? Because of what he called “a rapidly evolving regional environment where US-China geopolitical rivalry is deepening and a potential Taiwan Strait conflict is brewing.” Regarding any moves from the mainland on Taiwan, Lorenzana admitted, “In the unlikely event China will attack, we just watch.”
He also pitched a hypothetical conflict with the U.S. and China that could break out “somewhere there in Mischief Reef,” a region with competing claims from the Philippines, China, Taiwan and Vietnam. Whose side would Manila be on, he asked. According to Lorenzana, the current U.S.-Philippine defense treaty applies only if “the metropolitan Philippines is attacked.”

BTW: Complicate the South China Sea all by yourself in this great interactive maritime claims map from the Center for Strategic and International Studies.  
Why it matters: A Philippine Supreme Court Justice spoke after Lorenzana, and relayed his perspective on why China is an enormous concern for Filipinos: “The intent of China is very clear. They want to control the West Philippine Sea. We should always bear that in mind. Their intention from the very start is to grab 80 percent of our EEZ . They may slow down for a while but they will continue to march toward that objective.” More from SCMP, here.

We want to hear from you: What are your questions about the South China Sea, or for U.S.-China relations? We’ll be exploring those issues with a series of experts in an upcoming episode of Defense One Radio. Tell us what you’d like to learn more about by emailing us at production@defenseone.com.

And finally today: an online disinformation update. “Facebook removed hundreds of pages it says posed as independent news sites in eastern Europe and elsewhere but were actually run by employees at Russian state-owned news agency Sputnik,” CNN reports off new information from Facebook.
Common themes among these fake pages: anti-NATO sentiment and civil unrest. And "Separately, Facebook said it had removed another 107 pages, groups and accounts that were designed to look like they were run from Ukraine, but were in fact part of a network that originated in Russia." Read on, here.

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