WH officials pushed Saudi nuke sale; Trump signs Space Force order; A beefier F-16?; How China’s leaders view the world; And a bit more.

Trump administration officials tried to sell nuclear power plants to Saudi Arabia “despite objections from members of the National Security Council and other senior White House officials, according to a new report from congressional Democrats,” the Washington Post and multiple other major news outlets reported Tuesday.

Read the 24-page report from the House Oversight and Reform Committee, based on “internal White House documents and the accounts of unnamed whistleblowers.”

GOP reax included the counter-allegation that the nuclear plan is a “ridiculous conspiracy theory floated by media partisans,” Jack Langer, comms director for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told Fox News on Tuesday.

Dem lawmakers’ objection: The proposed sale would have “violated laws designed to prevent the transfer of nuclear technology that could be used to support a weapons program.”

Among the planners: Bud McFarlane of Iran-Contra infamy (he urged Ronald Reagan to sell arms to Iran to fund Nicaraguan guerrillas, then pled guilty of lying to Congress about it). ProPublica described his involvement in the Saudi nuclear affair in this 2017 article (h/t Mieke Eoyang).

Idea’s not dead yet: “The possible sale of nuclear power plants to Saudi Arabia was discussed in the Oval Office just last week. The meeting included Energy Secretary Rick Perry, representatives from the NSC and State Department, and a dozen nuclear industry chief executives, one of the people present told the Washington Post.”

“It’s bonker-balls.” That’s the word from Arms Control Wonk Jeffrey Lewis, speaking to NPR: “It's one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. It's a half-baked, grandiose plan with all kinds of things that could go wrong in it and people screaming at them to stop. And they don't stop.”

An argument pro: Last year, energy policy analyst Sagatom Saha argued in Defense One that since someone is going to sell the Saudis nuclear technology, it ought to be the United States — carefully and lawfully. Read, here.

From Defense One

Trump Officially Directs Pentagon to Create Space Force, Within Air Force // Marcus Weisgerber: If Congress approves, Space Force would exist like the Marine Corps within the Navy Department.

Lockheed Unveils F-21 Fighter, a Beefy F-16 It’s Pitching to India // Marcus Weisgerber: It’s the company’s latest attempt to secure a $15 billion deal for 114 new fighter jets.

Congress May Make It Impossible to End a War // Charles G. Kels: A proposal by the Senate majority leader would enmesh American troops in a Gordian knot.

The Moment the Transatlantic Charade Ended // Thomas Wright, The Atlantic: At the Munich Security Conference, Europe and the Trump administration stopped pretending to respect each other.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Thanks for reading! And if you’re not subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1962, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. NASA remembers the day for your kids or grandkids in grades K-4, here; or 5-8, here.

Hello… F-21? Lockheed Martin surprised the aviation world on Wednesday by unveiling a proposal to sell a beefed-up F-16 variant to the Indian Air Force. D1’s Marcus Weisgerber notes a few differences: The proposed fighter jet has a refueling probe so it can top off with India’s hose-and-drogue system, unlike the boom system used on F-16s; conformal fuel tanks behind the cockpit; and a giant glass screen cockpit, à la the F-35. More, including the why’s behind the pitch, here.

For your eyes only: Travel to the snowy Sierra Mountains near Bridgeport, Calif., (and Lake Tahoe) where U.S. Marines are training in harsh arctic climes “for a more capable, high tech enemy like Russia, North Korea or China,” according to the Associated Press in this 2 minute, 23 second video report.

A storm ruined a few missiles from Russia’s new S-400 air defense systems bound for China, the BBC reported Tuesday.
The missile in question: “The 40N6 is meant to shoot down intelligence, surveillance, and airborne early-warning and control aircraft, such as the E-3 AWACS used by the U.S. and NATO,” Popular Mechanics writes. “It has an extraordinary maximum range of 236 miles and a maximum engagement altitude of 98,450 feet.” Read on, here.
For the record, the BBC reminds us that “China is under US sanctions for buying S-400s and other Russian arms. India and Turkey are also buying S-400s.”

Big in China: The Chinese Communist Party app to help in “applying President Xi Jinping's thoughts.” Reuters has the murky story, involving a special development team within Alibaba known as the Y Projects Business Unit for entities like the CCP, here.
Outside of China: A reporter found the Chinese military base in Tajikistan, on the border with Afghanistan. That reporter: Gerry Shih of the Washington Post. He explains his travels and the story’s backstory, here; find his reporting from “NEAR SHAYMAK, Tajikistan,” here.

For your ears only: How the CCP views the world, how it views competition with the United States and its allies, and perhaps most importantly, how Chinese leaders view power, control and history — in our latest Defense One Radio podcast episode, part two in our look Beyond South China sea tensions.

USAID may expand its relationship with special forces. The U.S. Agency for International Development is considering inserting its people into more "nonpermissive environments," which could mean training with U.S. special forces, Devex (a media platform for global development community) reported Tuesday.
Program’s possible title: RED teams, or “rapid expeditionary development teams.”
The idea: “RED Team development officers would be deployed as two-person teams and placed with ‘non-traditional’ USAID partners executing a mix of offensive, defensive, and stability operations in extremis conditions,” Devex writes.
And by non-traditional, that could include “U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, U.S. Army Special Forces, the State Department Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Drug Enforcement Administration, according to the study.” Much more here.

Across the pond last week, a French military colonel criticized the “American way of war” with a heavy emphasis on air power and a somewhat small contingent of ground troops. Shortly after the criticism was published in the National Defense Review, it was taken down, Ulrike Franke of the European Council on Foreign Relations noticed Tuesday.
The officer in question: François-Régis Legrier, commander of the 68th Artillery Regiment of Africa.
The apparent chief gripe: "Yes, the Battle of Hajin[, Syria — which ended in mid-December] was won, at least on the ground but by refusing the ground commitment, we unnecessarily prolonged the conflict and thus contributed to increase the number of victims in the population. We have massively destroyed the infrastructure and given the population a disgusting image of what may be a Western-style liberation leaving behind the seeds of an imminent resurgence of a new adversary. We have in no way won the war for want of a realistic and persevering policy and an adequate strategy… The question is whether the liberation of a region can be done only at the cost of the destruction of its infrastructure (hospitals, places of worship, roads , bridges, dwellings, etc.). This is the uncomplicated approach taken yesterday and today by the Americans; it's not ours."
FWIW: The argument in some ways begs the question (something along the lines of) if not so much air power, then what — a counterbalance of ground troops to the tune of thousands more?

Uncertainty surrounds the 2020 budget, according to a new lookahead from CSIS’ Kathleen H. Hicks, Andrew Philip Hunter, Mark F. Cancian, Todd Harrison. A sample: “Expectations have been building for the FY 2020 defense budget request, a budget that acting secretary of defense Shanahan has called the “masterpiece.” While the administration’s FY 2019 defense budget of $716 billion is fully funded through the remainder of the current fiscal year, a surprising number of statements on defense spending from the White House over the past several months have generated significant discussion and uncertainty.” Read on, here.

And finally today: The more you know — robot news edition. China just unveiled its first “female AI news anchor,” Xin Xiaomeng. That comes the same day China added “more body language” to one of its previously known male news anchor.
ICYMI: China first introduced the world to these “AI news anchors” at its annual World Internet Conference back in November. Watch it, er um — watch “Qiu Hao” read English somewhat convincingly, here. (Some questions we still have about this: Surely AI is more than text-to-voice reading, no? Perhaps this is more CGI than “AI”?)