Today's D Brief: Esper and Pompeo in India; F-35 delays; New hypersonics goals; Utah preps to ration healthcare; And a bit more.

SecDef Esper is in New Delhi, along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, for this week’s U.S.-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue. Esper’s staff tweeted his arrival, stepping off the E-4B almost 24 hours ago. 

The secretaries’ goal: “sign military agreements, and continue to push the Trump administration's anti-China message,” NPR reports, traveling with Pompeo. 

What kind of military agreements? One involves “the sharing of sensitive satellite data,” al-Jazeera reports. That’s known as the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement, India’s NDTV news reported. And it "will allow the US to share sensitive satellite and sensor data that would help India in striking military targets" and will reportedly enable India "to keep a close watch on the movements of Chinese warships in the Indian Ocean," or to verify alleged strikes from Pakistan, e.g. More here

Otherwise, Esper and Pompeo’s discussion points included “increased cooperation on energy, space, sustainable financing for infrastructure development, cybersecurity, and counterterrorism,” according to the State Department’s highlights

After laying wreaths at a war memorial in New Delhi, Pompeo reminded his Indian hosts that the Chinese Communist Party "is no friend to democracy, the rule of law, transparency, nor to freedom of navigation — the foundation of a free and open and prosperous Indo-Pacific.”

Esper was more diplomatic in his opening remarks, reminding his hosts, “This year marks the 15th anniversary of the first U.S.-India Defense Framework and our third 2+2 Ministerial. We have strengthened our defense and security partnership considerably since then, especially over the past year, during which we advanced our regional security, military-to-military, and information-sharing cooperation. Our focus now must be on institutionalizing and regularizing our cooperation to meet the challenges of the day and uphold the principles of a free and open Indo-Pacific well into the future.”

One big open question: Will India stop buying Russian weapons? As before, India’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh wouldn’t commit to that, NPR reports. "Decisions happen on the basis of negotiations," Singh said. "Whomever we buy from, or not buy from, depends on negotiations."

Up next for Pompeo: Stops in Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia. 

Up next for Esper: He could find himself fired if Trump wins re-election. And he could be joined by the directors of the FBI and CIA, Axios reported late last week. 

  • Related reading: “Throughout the long corridors of the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper is widely seen as a dead man walking,” Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt of the New York Times reported late last week as well. The tease: “Mark Esper’s strained relationship with President Trump, since he balked at using active-duty troops to quell civil unrest, may result in Mr. Trump choosing a new defense secretary if he keeps the White House.” 

But back to the Pacific: The U.S. and Japanese militaries just began joint air, sea and land exercises “in the face of increased Chinese military activity in the region,” Reuters reported Monday, in waters south of Japan. 

It’s called “Keen Sword,” and it’s a biennial series of drills involving “dozens of warships, hundreds of aircraft and 46,000 soldiers, sailors and marines.” This year for the first time, it will include “cyber and electronic warfare training,” Reuters writes. 

China said it will sanction Lockheed Martin, Boeing Defense, Raytheon and a few other U.S. defense contractors that Beijing’s foreign ministry said Monday are involved in new U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. However, it’s so far unclear what form those sanctions will take, Reuters reported.

FWIW: This has happened before, “though it is unclear what form the penalties have taken,” Reuters writes. 

One more thing about Lockheed: It’s delaying F-35 production because preparations for certain combat simulations — concerning weather and range, e.g. — are taking longer than expected, Bloomberg reported behind the paywall Monday. 

Get caught up on the backstory via’s Oriana Pawlyk, here.

From Defense One

DOD Funds an Academic Consortium of Hypersonic Researchers to Outdo China // Patrick Tucker: A new consortium seeks to bring students together across disciplines.

Lockheed Seeks Commercial Tie-Ups to Chase 5G Work // Marcus Weisgerber: CEO Taiclet wants a leading role as U.S. and allied militaries build out their next-gen mobile networks.

How to Avoid a Violent Election Season // Tara Maller: Beware the 'security dilemma.' Tell Americans that arming up, or posturing to do so against each other, could only make things worse.

In A Post-COVID World, We Need AI More Than Ever // Lisa Disbrow and Robert O. Work: Artificial intelligence tools promise, among other things, to make the Pentagon more efficient.

Administration Rushes Out Guidelines for Ending Civil Service Protections// Erich Wagner, Government Executive: Just two days after the executive order, initial instructions are issued on converting career federal policy-making positions to at-will appointments.

Welcome to this Tuesday 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 1962, 36-year-old Soviet submarine officer Vasily Arkhipov helped avoid nuclear war with the U.S. when he refused to authorize a strike against nearby U.S. warships at the peak of the Cuban missile crisis. 

What’s on the president’s mind this morning? COVID-19. He was fuming about it on Twitter, writing at 7:30 a.m. ET, “ALL THE FAKE NEWS MEDIA WANTS TO TALK ABOUT IS COVID, COVID, COVID. ON NOVEMBER 4th, YOU WON’T BE HEARING SO MUCH ABOUT IT ANYMORE. WE ARE ROUNDING THE TURN!!!”
One possible reason why: Utah hospitals may need to start rationing care soon because they’re so overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases, CNN reported Monday.
Also: “[N]ow the virus is getting worse in states that [Trump] needs the most, at the least opportune time,” the Associated Press reports Tuesday morning. “New infections are raging in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the upper Midwest,” including Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio.
Trump is campaigning today in Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska, with rallies planned at airports in Lansing, Mich., and Omaha; and another rally planned at a race track in West Salem, Wisc., before calling it a night in Las Vegas.
Wisconsin attendees “will be given a temperature check, masks that they will be instructed to wear and access to hand sanitizer,” local WBAY news reports today.

Two things you’re hearing much less about from Trump this time around: Immigration and terrorism, the Wall Street Journal reports, comparing his public comments from 2016 to 2020. Among their findings: “[I]mmigration was the fourth most mentioned issue in Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign TV ads but has barely cracked the top 10 this cycle.”
Instead, Trump’s team emphasizes “violence that has erupted at some protests around the country, jobs, government spending and China. Notably, terrorism—the third most mentioned issue in Mr. Trump’s 2016 ads and one he often connected to immigration four years ago—isn’t among the top 10 most mentioned issues in 2020.” More on messaging, here.
Most of that violence was directed against protesters, say researchers. “Here is what we have found based on the 7,305 events we’ve collected, Erica Chenoweth and Jeremy Pressman wrote in the Washington Post on Oct. 16. “The overall levels of violence and property destruction were low, and most of the violence that did take place was, in fact, directed against the BLM protesters.” Read on, here.

The FBI is four months late in producing a public report on white supremacists and domestic terrorism, The Daily Beast reported Monday. “The most recent National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) requires the FBI, in accord with Department of Homeland Security and consultation with the Office of Director of National Intelligence, specify not only known acts of domestic terrorism, but ‘ideologies relating to domestic terrorism,’ and what the FBI and its partners are doing to combat it all.”
Why bring it up? “Suspicion is building that the FBI, whose director Christopher Wray is on the outs with Trump, will keep the public from seeing the scope of its premier terror threat before an election that may feature violence emerging from it,” Spencer Ackerman writes. Read, here.

“Too many Afghans are dying,” America’s top Afghan envoy says today. “The sides urgently need an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire,” U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad announced Tuesday in a statement. Khalilzad is about to fly to Qatar in anticipation of future rounds of intra-Afghan peace talks, Reuters reports

Afghan special forces killed a top al-Qaeda leader last week, and the White House’s National Security Council congratulated the Afghans for the operation in a tweet Monday afternoon.
Gone: Abu Muhsin al-Masri, who was killed in the eastern Ghazni province. President Ashraf Ghani announced al-Masri’s death in his own tweet on Sunday, calling him “a key member of [the] Al-Qaida terrorist network for the India[n] sub-continent.” For more on his importance, check out this Twitter thread from Afghan-watcher Bill Roggio of FDD.

UK troops secured a hijacked oil tanker off the British coast this weekend, CNN reported. More from the Guardian, here

In search of Stingray 2.0. “Police across the United States are scrambling to secure funding for new cellphone-tracking equipment after the maker of the controversial ‘Stingray’ device quietly announced last year it would no longer sell equipment directly to local law enforcement,” Gizmodo reports. Background: L3Harris Technologies, formerly known as the Harris Corporation, notified police agencies last year that it planned to discontinue sales of its surveillance boxes at the local level, according to government records.” Read on, here.

U.S. Navy stands down non-deployed aviation units. Vice Adm. Kenneth Whitesell, Commander, Naval Air Forces, ordered the pause on Wedensday after a pair of crashes, including one that killed two junior aviators. “This stand down provides an opportunity for our aviation commands to focus on how to further improve operational risk management and risk mitigation across the Naval Aviation enterprise,” the service announced in a press release.
The fatal T-6B accident occured on Friday, four days after the Navy and Marine Corps completed their first one-year period without a deadly crash since the dawn of naval aviation.

Lastly: Space Force Commander Gen. John Raymond is scheduled to speak this morning at a virtual event with the NDU Foundation. That gets started at 11 a.m. ET. Details and registration, here.