Houthis seize South Korean, Saudi ships; Too-secret space-war plans; Hypersonic nanotubes; China steals tech; And a bit more.

South Korea has sent a warship to the Red Sea “where Yemeni Houthi rebels seized two of its vessels and one from Saudi Arabia, in the latest attacks on sea lines vital to oil shipping,” Bloomberg reports this morning. The RoK ships involved a tugboat and a sand dredger, both with a combined six people onboard; the Saudi vessel was also a tugboat, and it included 10 people. 
Fortunately, South Korea’s Cheonghae counter-piracy unit was already operating around Oman. A bit more about those sailors: “South Korea’s 302-personnel Cheonghae unit includes the destroyer Dae Jo-yeong, an anti-submarine helicopter and three speed boats,” Bloomberg writes. Cheonghae has been stationed in the Gulf of Aden since 2009.
According to the Houthis, the three vessels were seized "near Uqban island... and taken to the Yemeni port of Salif" because all three ships were "in Yemeni territorial waters without [Houthi] approval," Reuters reports
Houthi reax: If this tug and dredger are truly South Korea’s, then they can go. A senior official told Reuters, “Yemeni coast guards ... are checking to see whether (the vessel) belongs to the countries of aggression or to South Korea, in which case it will be released after completing legal procedures.” 

The shakedown continues in Seoul with U.S. negotiators walking out of today's negotiations over the cost of hosting American forces after South Korean officials balked at the five-fold price hike from the U.S. side, the Washington Post reports today — the second of two days of planned talks in Seoul. Reuters reports the talks “ended early, after about 80 minutes.”
On the U.S. side, lead negotiator James DeHart accused Seoul of pitching proposals that “were not responsive to our request for fair and equitable burden sharing. As a result we cut short our participation in the talks today in order to give the Korea side time to reconsider... We look forward to resuming our negotiations when the Korean side is ready to work on the basis of partnership, on the basis of mutual trust.”
Said South Korea’s lead negotiator Jeong Eun-bo to reporters this morning: “It is true that there is a substantial difference between the U.S. side’s overall proposal and the principles we pursue... The talks could not proceed as planned as the U.S. side left first."
FWIW: Ambassador Harry Harris has also been pressuring RoK officials on a five-fold price increase, the Post writes. And that was before Defense Secretary Mark Esper traveled to Seoul with the same message this weekend. 
Piling on: North Korea rejects a U.S. “concession,” with Pyongyang officials today saying that they “won’t consider a recent U.S. decision to postpone a joint military exercise with South Korea a major concession that can bring it back to nuclear talks,” the Associated Press reports
ICYMI: There's a separate U.S. effort to squeeze more money from Japan for hosting U.S. troops, too. Foreign Policy reported that one Friday, and it involves a nearly four-fold price hike, former U.S. officials told FP

From Defense One

What Does The US Military Need For A War In Space? It’s Hard to Say // Marcus Weisgerber: The plans for war above the atmosphere remain so tightly classified that industry can’t start building the things that will be needed.

Nanotechnology Is Shaping the Hypersonics Race // Patrick Tucker: New materials to deflect massive amounts of surface heat don’t come from nature.

Democrats Should Debate Arms Policy, Not Just Impeachment // Jeff Abramson: With Congress and the president at odds over Saudi exports and other questions, it’s time to press the candidates about their views.

Misguided Immigration Policies Are Endangering America's AI Edge // Zachary Arnold: Green card limits haven’t budged in decades, while new policies make it harder, costlier, and more uncertain for the world’s talent to come to the United States.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 2011, the U.S. military tested an “Advanced Hypersonic Weapon” over the Pacific, successfully targeting the Kwajalein atoll in the Marshall Islands.

More than a week after rumors surfaced of an imminent exchange, the Taliban today have reportedly freed two Western hostages in exchange for three Taliban-linked militants that were flown out of Afghanistan on Monday, AP reports from Kabul. The Westerners — American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks — were released in Zabul province’s Naw Bahar district, “a region largely under Taliban control,” a Taliban source told AP. Zabul is a mountainous south central province just north of Kandahar. The two Westerners “were kidnapped in August 2016 from outside the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul where both worked as professors,” Reuters reports.
And the two released militants include “Anas Haqqani, the younger brother of the Taliban’s deputy Sirajuddin Haqqani, who also leads the fearsome Haqqani network,” AP writes. “The other two were Hajji Malik Khan, an uncle of Haqqani and a Haqqani lieutenant, Hafiz Abdul Rashid.”
Some see this prisoner exchange as an event that “could spur the resumption of negotiations to end the 18-year Afghan war,” the Wall Street Journal reports. And toward that end, AP notes that in Zabul province, “an unofficial cease-fire is now being observed in three districts of the province — Shahjoy, Shahmatzo and Naw Bahar — possibly to facilitate the release of the two hostages.”

Russian officials are “bewildered” by the threat of a new Turkish military operation in northern Syria “if the area [is] not cleared” Kurdish YPG fighters, Reuters reports today from Moscow. The threat came Monday from Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, and was countered by Major General Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the Russian Defence Ministry, who responded today, “The head of the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s call for military action can only escalate the situation in northern Syria rather than sort things out in the way set out in a joint memorandum signed by the presidents of Russia and Turkey.” A bit more, here.
FWIW: Erdogan says he told Trump Turkey’s not giving up its S-400 system acquired from Russia, the Turkish president told reporters today in Ankara. 

There was another extremist attack in Mali on Monday, this time killing 24 soldiers. It’s the latest in “a surge in assaults that have killed over 100 Malian troops in recent weeks and led to public outrage, political pressure on President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and a decline in military morale,” AP reports from South Africa. This most recent attack “occurred while soldiers from Mali and Niger were carrying out a joint operation along their border to track extremists. Nigerien troops detained about 100 suspects.” 

Technology stocks appear to be having their best year in a decade, the Wall Street Journal reports this morning, enabled in large part by how “smart phones are sneakily and quickly reshaping societies. 
What to watch: “Among the biggest gainers in the sector are semiconductor manufacturers, as well as the companies that create devices to make chips. Applied Materials Inc. has soared 90% this year, Tokyo Electron Ltd. has jumped 85%, ASML Holding NV has risen 81% and Lam Research Corp. has more than doubled.” And more directly to the smartphone point, “Shares of companies focusing on electronic payments also have done particularly well—something investors have attributed to the technology’s growing presence around the world.”
These trends can’t last forever; indeed, the Journal writes, they may have slowed already. “Among the S&P 500’s 11 sectors, technology companies actually posted among the steepest declines in profits for the third quarter, according to FactSet. The sector reported a roughly 5.3% drop in earnings from the year-earlier period, compared with a 2.3% decline for the broader S&P 500.” More here.

By the way: “The United States government has failed to stop China from stealing intellectual property from American universities and lacks a comprehensive strategy for dealing with the threat,” AP reports off a Congressional report released Monday. Its title: “Threats to the U.S. Research Enterprise: China’s Talent Recruitment Plans.”
About that war for talent: Here are some of the best pieces we’ve published on the topic: 

Mina Chang resigns. Six days ago, NBC News reported that the deputy assistant secretary in the State Department's Bureau of Conflict and Stability Operations had embellished her resume. On Monday, Chang submitted a resignation letter. “Resigning is the only acceptable moral and ethical option for me at this time,” she wrote, according to Politico, which obtained a copy.  Her resignation came just hours after NBC News asked her for comment on newly discovered alleged embellishments. (Chang spoke earlier this month at Defense One’s Outlook 2020 summit, a few days before the initial NBC News report.)

And finally today, impeachment TV continues as U.S. Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and adviser Jennifer Williams today are “the lead witnesses in perhaps the most consequential week of the impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump,” the Associated Press reports off the House Intelligence Committee’s schedule for the week. Catch the proceedings on C-Span, here.