‘Long-expected upturn’ in COVID deaths; US warship afire in San Diego; China, Iran near defense pact; Battle for Diego Garcia; And a bit more.

What you need to know about the coronavirus this morning: "A long-expected upturn in U.S. coronavirus deaths” began this weekend, “driven by fatalities in states in the South and West," the Associated Press reported on Saturday. Overall, more than 135,200 Americans have died from coronavirus complications; and the U.S. reached a dismal new record of 66,627 new cases on Friday — led by Florida with more than 15,000 alone.

Georgia is trying to make deals to free up ICU beds, including reopening a makeshift hospital in Atlanta. More from the Atlanta Journal Constitution, here

Trump at last wore a mask in public for the first time on Saturday, four months after the pandemic was declared. CNN reported that White House aides “hope it'll encourage skeptical Trump supporters to wear a mask.”

This morning, President Trump is retweeting a conspiracy theorist and ranting against Fox News for being “scared” and for under emphasizing economic developments. 

It’s 113 days until the U.S. general election. And that prompts AP to ask “How many more Americans will die from COVID-19?” According to the CDC’s latest model, “as many as 160,000 deaths by the end of August.” More on that and three other big questions ahead of November, here.

FWIW: More than half of Americans [56%] think the economy is reopening too soon. And two-thirds of Americans do not approve of how Trump is handing the ongoing pandemic. That’s according to a new ABC News/Ipsos poll released on Friday. And in case you were curious, that approval/disapproval falls along partisan lines, with “Seventy-eight percent of Republicans approv[ing] of the president’s handling of the COVID-19 response, compared to 26% of Independents and just 7% of Democrats.”

Let’s be clear: “Black and Latinx Americans are almost twice as likely to die” as white folks, according to CDC data. How so? “[M]ore than a third of deaths among Hispanic Americans (34.9%) and almost a third of deaths among non-white Americans (29.5%) were in people younger than 65. That compares to 13.2% among white people under that age,” STAT reported from the data on Friday. 

Now what? Unclear exactly; but the CDC noted “further studies to understand and address these racial/ethnic differences are needed to inform targeted efforts to prevent COVID-19 mortality.”

Not so fast, doc. "The Chinese-born head of immunology at Ohio State's medical school was arrested in Alaska in May," The Daily Beast reported. “Prosecutors say he was attempting to flee to China to escape a probe into his alleged ties to the PRC and undisclosed Chinese funding.”

Two U.S. Marine bases on Okinawa have been put on lockdown after 61 Marines tested positive since July 7, AP reported Sunday. Said Gov. Denny Tamaki, “We now have strong doubts that the U.S. military has taken adequate disease prevention measures.” (By the way, AP writes: “The disclosure of the exact figures came only after Okinawa’s repeated requests to the U.S. military.”) More, here.

And back stateside, the Pentagon continues bailing out companies hit hard by the coronavirus. An estimated $84.4 million in COVID-linked deals will "help sustain and strengthen essential domestic industrial base capabilities and defense-critical workforce in the" small drone, space and shipbuilding sectors, the Pentagon said Friday. 

The companies getting the money include:

  • AirMap who received $3.3 million"to aid product development and engineering support for integration of sUAS mission planning, post-mission analysis, and unmanned traffic management software;"
  • ModalAI who received $3 million "to develop their next generation U.S.-made flight controller that will enable advanced autonomy including GPS-denied navigation, and all-environment obstacle avoidance;"
  • Skydio who received $4 million "to improve the flight controller hardware/software and data link for their sUAS so that highly capable components can be purchased and used across U.S. Government unmanned systems;"
  • Graffiti Enterprises who received $1.5 million "to modify their commercial data link for DoD’s sUAS use including operation in restricted frequency bands, reduction in the size, weight, and power of the hardware, and software developments to improve security and resiliency of their data link;"
  • Obsidian Sensors who received $1.6 million "to build a low-cost, dual thermal sUAS camera that can be mounted onto a stabilization gimbal and then integrated and flown on small, packable, ISR systems;"
  • LeoLabs who received $15 million "to ensure the continued viability of space surveillance capability through the operation and maintenance of a world-wide highly capable phased-array radar network;" and
  • ArcelorMittal who received $56 million that will "expand ArcelorMittal’s plate processing footprint and heat-treating capability, subsequently increasing its alloy steel plate production and ensure the U.S. Government gets dedicated long-term industrial capacity to meet the needs of the nation."

The latest round of deals brings the Pentagon's defense industry bailout total to just over $400 million, with two prior rounds of investments in June.

From Defense One

The US Needs a Global Coalition to Defeat COVID // Joseph Votel and Samuel J. Locklear III: Only a multinational effort can meet this unprecedented threat, say the authors, who led U.S. troops and international coalitions in the Middle East and Asia.

The Defense Bill Could Rewrite How the US Does Cyber Defense // Patrick Tucker, Government Executive: A proposed new office would help private entities and the government respond together to major hacks.

How a Tiny Indian Ocean Island Could Force a US-UK Rift // Nilanthi Samaranayake: Will the U.S. choose its closest ally over the international rule of law?

Defense One Radio, Ep. 72: What “China” means in 2020 // Defense One Staff : An exploration of what we mean when we talk about China today.

COVID-19 Cases Are Rising, So Why Are Deaths Falling? // Derek Thompson, The Atlantic: The gap between soaring cases and falling deaths is being weaponized by the right to claim a hollow victory in the face of shameless failure. What’s really going on?

Inside the Volunteer Supercomputer Team That's Hunting for COVID Clues // Brandi Vincent, Nextgov: The White House's team recently added the world's fastest computer to its informal network of more than 40.

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston and Marcus Weisgerber. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 2016, UK Prime Minister David Cameron resigned after the late June “Brexit” vote delivered a 52% tally of Brits in favor of withdrawing from the EU. 

China and Iran near trade-and-military cooperation agreement, the New York Times reported this weekend off an 18-page draft of the pact, which was proposed in 2016 by China’s Xi Jinping and approved last month by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s cabinet.
On defense: The agreement “calls for joint training and exercises, joint research and weapons development and intelligence sharing — all to fight ‘the lopsided battle with terrorism, drug and human trafficking and cross-border crimes’” and “potentially giving China a foothold in a region that has been a strategic preoccupation of the United States for decades.”
On trade: The pact would “vastly expand Chinese presence in banking, telecommunications, ports, railways and dozens of other projects. In exchange, China would receive a regular — and, according to an Iranian official and an oil trader, heavily discounted — supply of Iranian oil over the next 25 years.” Read on, here.

“We will only accept 100 percent of power in Afghanistan,” a Taliban fighter in Kunar province told the Washington Post’s Susannah George and Aziz Tassal — even as Taliban negotiators carry on negotiations in Doha and Kabul. “The competing visions of a postwar Afghanistan within the Taliban’s ranks reveal the difficult task facing the group’s leaders as they seek to rally support for an agreement with the government in Kabul ahead of long-awaited formal talks. Many fear that even with a peace deal, a fractured Taliban could lead Afghanistan back to a period of perpetual violence,” they write.

"Gun silencer makers had pushed for years to lift a ban on foreign sales intended to protect US troops serving overseas," the New York Times Ken Vogel reports. "The ban got lifted quietly on Friday, thanks in part to a former silencer industry lobbyist who has been working as a [White House] lawyer."

The fire is still burning aboard USS Bonhomme Richard in San Diego. The blaze began Sunday afternoon aboard the amphibious assault ship. Fireboats and water-toting helicopters helped the ship’s own damage control teams fight the fire through the night and into Monday morning.
How? Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 3, told reporters that the Navy believes the fire began in a lower cargo hold where Marine Corps gear and vehicles are stored (San Diego Union-Tribune)
Injured: “A total of 57 people, including 34 sailors and 23 civilians, have been treated for minor injuries including heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation,” Naval Surface Forces tweeted at 9:30 a.m. Eastern. On Sunday, 17 sailors, 4 civilians were hospitalized with heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation; all but five have since been released.

Now for something completely different: Former Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke told the NYTs that President Trump once suggested selling Puerto Rico not long after Hurricane Maria wrecked the island, killing nearly 3,000 people there. More on that toll from the BBC, here.

Somalia’s military chief was nearly killed today when an al-Shabab suicide car bomber attacked his convoy while traveling in the capital city of Mogadishu, Reuters reports in a shorty. 

And finally today: Review what we mean when we talk about “China” in our latest Defense One Radio podcast. We explored three elements of the U.S.-China relationship here in 2020, including: 

  1. How Americans feel about China, with Laura Silver of the Pew Research Center;
  2. The tech and values challenge posed by China, with Rui Zhong of the Wilson Center; and Kara Frederick of the Center for a New American Security — both from this year’s Defense One Tech Summit;
  3. And a quick jaunt through history, from 1517 to 2020, with Michael Schuman, author of “Superpower Interrupted: The Chinese History of the World.” 

Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.