DOD diverts $1B to fight drugs at the border; ‘ambitious’ anti-missile test; USN in Taiwan Strait; digital literacy in Ukraine; And a bit more.
The first financial showdown of Trump’s national emergency declaration is here. That’s the word after the Pentagon announced late Monday evening that it just diverted $1 billion to pay for 57 miles of border security fencing, lights in El Paso and Yuma, and various road repairs along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The full statement from the Defense Department:
Today, Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan authorized the commander of the U.S Army Corps of Engineers to begin planning and executing up to $1 billion in support to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Patrol. These funds will be used to support DHS's request to build 57 miles of 18-foot-high pedestrian fencing, constructing and improving roads, and installing lighting within the Yuma and El Paso Sectors of the border in support of the February 15 national emergency declaration on the southern border of the United States.
For the record: The Pentagon statement cited 10 U.S.C. § 284(b)(7), which stipulates the funds be used “to block drug-smuggling corridors across international boundaries of the United States in support of counter-narcotic activities of Federal law enforcement agencies.” Democratic lawmakers were not impressed with this approach. More on that dissent below.
Update: Shanahan told House lawmakers this morning the $1 billion in diverted funds came from excess Army money after its recruiting shortfall in FY19.
Reminder: “Last week, the Pentagon gave Congress a list that included $12.8 billion of construction projects (aka, MILCON projects) for which it said funds could be redirected for construction along the U.S.-Mexico border,” Reuters writes in its short spot on this announcement.
Which MILCON projects could lose money to Trump’s national emergency? AEI’s Rick Berger mapped and annotated “almost all” of them last week in a multimedia page you can peruse here. The list includes projects ranging from an F-35 range to an MQ-9 Reaper drone flight operations facility, elementary school upgrades on Fort Bragg (Butner Elem.) to a hanger for drones in South Korea — and lots more. (h/t again to Military Times’ Tara Copp for a good portion of the leg work on MILCON tabulation.)
The late announcement drew immediate rebukes from Democratic lawmakers, CNN reported Monday evening. “From Every Democratic senator on the Senate Appropriations Committee's subcommittees on Defense and Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies signed on to a letter written to Shanahan objecting to moving $1 billion in personnel funds to counter drug funds to go toward the wall. The senators say the Pentagon did not seek permission before notifying the committee of the transfer.”
Said the senators in their letter to Shanahan: “We have serious concerns that the Department has allowed political interference and pet projects to come ahead of many near-term, critical readiness issues facing our military.” More from CNN, here.
But will they do anything about it? They’ll try to overturn Trump’s veto today in the House, Politico reports. But that effort is not expected to be enough since “House Democrats need a two-thirds majority to stop the president’s veto, meaning they will likely be over 40 votes shy of succeeding.”
Meantime, House lawmakers will have a chance to grill Shanahan on fiscal Qs during their morning hearing today before the Armed Services Committee at 10 a.m. EST.
The ostensible purpose for the hearing: The FY2020 defense budget. And Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford will be joining the Acting SecDef on Capitol Hill. Catch that live, here.
More to come? “The administration said previously it plans to shift an additional $1.5 billion at some point in the future,” CNN writes. So stay tuned…
From Defense One
Pentagon To Explore Potential of 5G — and Its Made-in-China Hazards // Marcus Weisgerber: Planned experiments will test the emerging wireless technology, even as leaders fret publicly about supply-chain risks.
Will Hypersonics Finally Force the Pentagon to Integrate Kinetic and Non-Kinetic Defenses? // Howard Thompson and Bob Elder: It’s long been too hard to get the U.S. military’s cyber-EW-IO operators on the same page with more traditional trigger-pullers.
The ‘Caliphate’ Is Dead, but Americans Might Not Be Any Safer // Kathy Gilsinan, The Atlantic: Why a terrorist group with land looked so threatening to the United States.
All ISIS Has Left Is Money. Lots of It. // David Kenner, The Atlantic: Even without a physical state, the Islamic State can still fund its main product: political violence.
The U.S. Is Running Low on Options to Force Maduro Out // Uri Friedman and Kathy Gilsinan, The Atlantic: The Trump administration has already deployed visa restrictions, sanctions, and even an embargo on Venezuelan oil. What else is left?
Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson. Thanks for reading! And if you’re not subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1970, the U.S. detonated its 500th nuclear bomb during an underground test in Nevada.
See the launch of America’s “most ambitious missile defense test” yet, which happened Monday somewhere in the sky between the Marshall Islands and the California coast.
What you’ll see in the footage, here: The U.S. ground-based midcourse missile defense system at Cali’s Vandenberg Air Force Base launching two interceptors at “an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) class target” fired from the Marshall Islands. The U.S. Missile Defense Agency labeled the two interceptors “GBI-Lead, and GBI-Trail” for the test.
How the intercepts played out: “The GBI-Lead destroyed the reentry vehicle, as it was designed to do,” MDA said in its generous video caption. “The GBI-Trail then looked at the resulting debris and remaining objects, and, not finding any other reentry vehicles, selected the next ‘most lethal object’ it could identify, and struck that, precisely as it was designed to do.”
FWIW: Amtrak notified Twitter followers Monday that one of its trains could be delayed during the launch. (h/t @armscontrolwonk)
Worth noting: If an adversary were truly dedicated (and world-endingly insane), it could still easily overwhelm U.S. missile defense systems. That’s because, in part, both China and Russia have Multiple Independently-targetable Reentry Vehicles (or, MIRVs) in their ICBM arsenals. The U.S., for example, only has 44 GBI interceptors watching the Pacific coast — 40 in Alaska and four at Vandenverg. And in the case of Russia, one “MIRVed missile under development may be able to carry up to 16 warheads, each in a separate re-entry vehicle,” the Arms Control Center wrote in 2017.
Get smart on the dynamics at work — history, physics and fiscal considerations — in Monday’s test via a helpful Twitter thread from Laura Grego of the Union of Concerned Scientists. She rolled up much of what we learned Monday, and relevant data that we already knew prior to Monday’s test, here.
The U.S. Navy sailed through the Taiwan Strait overnight Sunday, the Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold reported Sunday evening.
The ships: The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer Curtis Wilbur and Coast Guard cutter Bertholf.
The transit is the third in two months, Japan Times reports. The other two occurred:
- Jan. 24, when the guided-missile destroyer McCampbell (also based in Yokosuka) and the fleet replenishment oiler Walter S. Diehl.
- And Feb. 26-27, when the guided-missile destroyer Stethem and the cargo and ammunition ship Cesar Chavez.
Context, via Reuters: “Taiwan is one of a growing number of flashpoints in the U.S.-China relationship, which also include a trade war, U.S. sanctions and China’s increasingly muscular military posture in the South China Sea, where the United States also conducts freedom of navigation patrols... Washington has no formal ties with Taiwan but is bound by law to help provide the democratic island with the means to defend itself and is its main source of arms.”
Next moves: "Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, to China’s anger, will stop over in Hawaii this week at the end of a tour of the Pacific.” A bit more from Reuters, here.
The White House’s North Korean envoy will deliver his third recent public speech on April 8 at Harvard’s Belfer Center. (RSVP here.) That follows a March speech at the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference in Washington, and a late January address at Stanford.
Joked one wonk, Mark Bell of the University of Minnesota: “Never too early to begin putting out feelers for a senior fellow position in case you get fired by a presidential tweet.”
DNI Coats nearly resigned from the White House in December, but VP Pence talked him out of it, NBC News reports this morning.
The gist: “the tipping point for Coats came in December with Trump's abrupt decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria, and the contentious departure of former Defense Secretary James Mattis after protesting the policy, according to the current and former officials. The vice president, who has repeatedly played the role of envoy between Trump and Coats, convinced his longtime Indiana friend to stay until at least this summer, the officials said.” More here.
Tensions are rising in Gaza today “after a night of heavy fire as Israeli aircraft bombed targets across the Gaza Strip and Gaza militants fired rockets into Israel in what threatened to escalate into a major conflict, just two weeks before the Israeli election,” AP reports from Jerusalem.
“The cross-border fighting was triggered by a surprise rocket fired early Monday from Gaza that slammed into a house in central Israel and wounded seven people. The Israeli military said it was a self-manufactured rocket with a range of 120 kilometers (75 miles), making it one of the deepest strikes ever carried out by Hamas. The military mobilized two armor and infantry brigades and drafted some reserve forces before striking back at militant sites in Gaza.” Read on, here.
Related: Fellow NATO members Canada and Turkey said they will not follow the Trump administration’s lead in signing “a proclamation on Monday recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, reversing more than a half-century of U.S. policy in the Middle East,” AP reported separately on Monday.
Said a UN spox: Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights is “null and void and without international legal effect.” More here.
And finally today: "Imagine a world where US students (and their parents) were also taught digital literacy," New America’s P.W. Singer wrote after reading this NPR report last week from Ukraine where just that sort of thing is already happening.
Long story short: “The Listen to Discern program, funded by the U.S. and U.K. embassies in Ukraine, was tested in 50 schools, including in the eastern city of Mariupol which saw major fighting in the war's first years. A group of fact checkers, journalists and teachers wove the training into some 15 existing lesson plans,” NPR’s Sasha Ingber writes. Global education organization “IREX says that kids who received the modified lessons performed better in all media-analysis skills, such as distinguishing facts and opinions, identifying hate speech, and noticing where information had been omitted.”
One curious finding: “Girls gained more knowledge than boys.” IREX plans to dig into why that might have been the case so far. Read on, here.