Today's D Brief: USAF reveals new jet; Multilateral Mideast accord; US-based troll farm; SecDef’s Western swing; and a bit more.

SecDef Esper heads to the West Coast today for a three-day swing that includes stops at the fire-damaged USS Bonhomme Richard, the not-damaged carrier USS Carl Vinson, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, and RAND Corporation for a speech on the National Defense Strategy scheduled to livestream at 2 p.m. ET.

The secretary’s goals, per the Pentagon: “meet with West Coast-based defense industry partners critical to the defense industrial base to discuss the impacts of COVID on their workforce and highlight efforts to prepare for future near-peer competition,” with an emphasis on “bases and platforms critical to maintaining naval power across the Indo-Pacific region.”

Also part of the trip: Meeting with California National Guardsmen tasked with fighting fires across the state.

And on the East Coast today, NSA/CYBERCOM's Army Gen. Paul Nakasone; Defense Intelligence Agency Director, Army Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley; National Reconnaissance Office Director, Christopher Scolese; and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Director, Navy Vice Adm. Robert Sharp, are all joining a panel discussion for today's virtual Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association/Intelligence and National Security Alliance Summit. That begins at 1:15 p.m. ET. Details here.

Little is known about the Air Force’s new sixth-generation fighter-jet demonstrator that officials revealed Tuesday, except that it’s apparently already setting records — and that it was designed using new digital tools that allow designers to do far more work before starting to bend metal. Read Marcus Weisgerber’s report on the Next Generation Air Defense program, and Patrick Tucker’s piece on the new era of weapons development that these tools portend. 

From Defense One

The Virtual Tools That Built the Air Force’s New Fighter Prototype // Patrick Tucker: “Digital twinning” is coming to a battlefield near you.

Revealed: US Air Force Has Secretly Built and Flown a New Fighter Jet // Marcus Weisgerber: The new digital tools that designed the full-scale flight demonstrator could herald a sea change in weapons acquisition.

Air Force General Defends Plans for Mixed F-35, F-15 Fleet // Marcus Weisgerber: Top Air Force generals are expected to discuss the service’s future fighter force in upcoming meetings.

Trump Says He Wanted To Assassinate Syria’s Assad // Katie Bo Williams: The revelation further undermines the president’s assertion that he has stood firmly between the Pentagon and war.

Stumbling Out of the Middle East is No Better Than Stumbling In // Jon B. Alterman: It is tempting for the United States to just throw in the towel, pull troops, and abandon allies. More important is understanding what the U.S. strategy toward the Middle East should be.

Alexander Vindman: Trump Is Putin’s ‘Useful Idiot’ // Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic: In his first interview, a key witness in the impeachment trial says Trump goes out of his way to try to please the Russian president.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. 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 1955, the Soviets became the first to launch a ballistic missile from a (surfaced) submarine when their B-67 sub in the White Sea launched a naval variant of the Scud missile that flew 135 nautical miles to impact at the Novaya Zemlya test range. Five years later, the U.S. became the first to launch a ballistic missile from a submerged submarine when SSBN-598 fired off a Polaris-A1 on July 20. The Soviets followed suit 40 days later.

American police departments now own at least $1.6 billion in military equipment transferred from the Defense Department since Sept. 11, 2001, according to a new report (PDF) from researchers at Brown University’s Costs of War project.
And that includes 1,100 mine-resistant vehicles, or MRAPs, which were designed to defend against roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Why it matters: In short, because maintaining the stuff “is expensive,” according to Jessica Katzenstein, the study’s lead author. But “most significantly, it normalizes racialized violence on communities at home and abroad,” she said.
What's more, “Investments in drones, armored vehicles, and surveillance systems are dollars denied to education, infrastructure, and renewable energy,” the study notes. Furthermore, “Militarization sits alongside other elements of current massive government operations — including prisons, the military, immigration enforcement, etc. — that involve spending on punishment, racialized control, and profit for private companies.” Find the full report, here.

Apropos of nothing, here’s a running list of top U.S. security challenges, no matter who wins the general election in November: 

  • Afghanistan drawdown
  • Coronavirus
  • Domestic unrest
  • 5G infrastructure
  • Germany-Poland troop movements
  • Iran
  • Libya
  • Niger
  • North Korea missile/nuclear threat
  • Russian antagonism (air, land, sea, cyber)
  • Saudi Arabia troop rotations
  • Somalia
  • South China Sea/Taiwan tensions
  • SOUTHCOM drug interdiction
  • Southwestern border deployments
  • Syria (ISIS)
  • Ukraine rotations
  • Venezuela
  • Yemen

What’s missing? Let us know.

The U.S. can be more strategic and efficient with its Middle East deployments, especially now that we’re six months into the coronavirus pandemic, write Mara Karlin and Tamara Cofman Wittes in a new essay (in front of the paywall) at Foreign Affairs. “The challenge for the United States is to protect its remaining and still important interests in an era of austerity and competition, without simply doubling down on the failed approaches of the past,” Wittes and Karlin argue.
Why this matters now: “The United States still enjoys opportunities for progress toward a more stable region that do not require expensive or long-term commitments. A focus on constraining geopolitical competition within the region, confronting Iranian behavior more effectively, and resolving proxy conflicts where possible should enable Washington to maintain preponderant influence, doing less in the Middle East without giving up on it altogether.” Read the rest, here

Who benefits from the new multilateral agreement between the U.S., UAE, Bahrain, and Israel? The Atlantic’s Jeffery Goldberg breaks it down, here.

A U.S.-based pro-Trump youth group is paying minors in a secretive “troll farm” that’s designed, in part, to circumvent safeguards against the spread of misinformation on Facebook and Twitter, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.
What’s going on here: “The messages have appeared mainly as replies to news articles about politics and public health posted on social media,” and many “seek to cast doubt on the integrity of the electoral process, asserting that Democrats are using mail balloting to steal the election.”
Sound familiar? It could be because warnings about the spread of Russian “troll farm” tactics were presented to the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last October.
The American twist: “Teenagers, some of them minors, are being paid to pump out the messages at the direction of Turning Point Action, an affiliate of Turning Point USA, the prominent conservative youth organization based in Phoenix,” the Post reports. “Their descriptions were confirmed by detailed notes from relatives of one of the teenagers who recorded conversations with him about the efforts.”
Some of the disinformation includes the unsupported claim that mail-in ballots “will lead to fraud for this election,” and, according to the Post, an “erroneous claim that 28 million ballots went missing in the past four elections.”
Other claims allege the CDC is inflating the coronavirus death toll. But, predictably, “Much of the blitz was aimed squarely at Joe Biden.”
Twitter took down some of the accounts when alerted by the Post. “You can’t artificially amplify or disrupt conversations through the use of multiple accounts,” the company said. Continue reading, here.

Many U.S. troops don’t file formal race-related discrimination complaints for fear of retaliation, Reuters reported Tuesday. For some supporting data, consider this:

  • “Last year, 71 sailors formally complained of discrimination on the basis of race or color, one-sixth as many as the 404 complaints filed by the Navy's smaller civilian workforce,” Reuters writes. “Navy uniformed personnel filed about 21 complaints per 100,000 personnel while their civilian co-workers filed about 200.” 
  • Similarly, “The Army saw 107 formal Equal Opportunity complaints by soldiers involving racial discrimination in 2019, one-fifth the number filed by its civilian workforce.”
  • And likewise, “The Air Force reported 92 formal complaints in 2019 involving race and color from a force of 400,000 active duty or reserve airmen. That was a third of the number filed by civilians in the service.”

The heart of the matter, as articulated by Phil Stewart of Reuters “U.S. military leaders say they want to root out racial discrimination and increase diversity at the top. But how, if troops fear coming forward with discrimination complaints?”
One big problem seems to be that the reporting system for filing such a complaint is locked too closely with the service member’s chain of command. “The end result of fewer complaints, Reuters found, is that the military is likely less aware of discrimination happening day-to-day than it would be if U.S. troops were incentivized to come forward.” Continue reading to learn more about the Pentagon’s response so far, as well as recent lawmakers’ efforts to address these disparities, here.

Lastly: A second wave of coronavirus infections is sweeping across Europe, the Wall Street Journal reports. Spain and France are leading the way; but you can see Reuters data analysis (near the bottom, here) to find the full list of who’s getting hit the hardest, according to the latest trends.
Worth noting: “The new wave of infections is concentrated among younger people,” the Journal reports. And “Most of those testing positive in recent weeks have no or only mild symptoms.”
The big worry: “Health experts caution that the pandemic could turn more dangerous in the winter, as people spend more time indoors.”
Recall that the 1918 flu’s second wave began rising significantly in September and peaked in October with more than 195,000 deaths in the U.S.
Now what? European “politicians and senior doctors are calling for more personal engagement by citizens rather than new government restrictions,” since those seem to be contributing to street protests, even in countries with relatively relaxed safeguards (like Germany), the Journal writes. More here.