Today's D Brief: Still more US COVID records; NDAA details; Milley’s newsy week; Putin’s AI rules; And a bit more.

American COVID-19 deaths continue to break records. The Wall Street Journal reports that another 2,879 people across the country died from complications related to the novel coronavirus on Thursday, the second new record in as many days.

Trending badly: “Over the past week, there has been an average of 180,327 cases per day, an increase of 8 percent from the average two weeks earlier,” the New York Times reports.

In escalated measures, “the governors of Iowa and North Dakota ordered residents to wear masks,” the Times writes. Elsewhere, “State leaders have imposed curfews in Ohio and most of California. And with more than 1.2 million cases announced in a one-week stretch, officials worried aloud about the impact Thanksgiving gatherings could have on the weeks ahead.”

Data glitches: So many people sought tests before last week’s holiday weekend that it caused backups and reporting delays nationwide, the Covid Tracking Project reported Thursday. “Thanksgiving has skewed reporting of COVID-19 cases and deaths, but one metric is still clear: Hospitalizations keep rising.” More, here.

Around the world, infections are growing so quickly that even South Korea — frequently lauded for the effectiveness of its countermeasures — is planning new restrictions to help control the spread of the virus. And that includes reducing public transportation by 30% after 9 p.m., as well as moving school classes online. More from NPR, here. More on global trends from Reuters, here.


From Defense One

Putin Urges AI Limits — But for Thee, Not Me? // Sam Bendett: An attempt to parse the two themes sounded by Russian leaders on artificial intelligence.

2021 NDAA Would Create a National Cyber Director // Mariam Baksh, Nextgov: If the bill passes next week and is signed into law, another amendment would codify cybersecurity roles for sector-specific agencies.

How Biden Can Help Warriors Save Warriors // Frank Larkin: Make a call, take a call, and be honest — it could help save a life.

America Needs a COVID-19 Reckoning // William Haseltine and John R. Allen: Both parties wanted answers after 9/11. The pandemic has killed nearly 100 times more Americans.

Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Team Trump’s 2022 budget plan; COVID cancels conference; Raytheon, C3.ai team up; and more.

Welcome to this Friday 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 1983, Syrian air defense units shot down two U.S. aircraft among several carrying out a retaliatory airstrike on Syrian systems after an American recon plane was shot at (but not hit) outside of Beirut, Lebanon, the day prior—and roughly six weeks after 241 Americans were killed in a barracks bombing near the Beirut airport. The New York Times, in 1989, recounted numerous mistakes that compounded risk in an already very risky mission on this day 37 years ago, here.


House and Senate lawmakers have officially finished hammering out their annual defense policy bill, the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2021. And just as Sen. Elizabeth Warren told reporters on Wednesday, it authorizes a study to recommend new names for the 10 U.S. military bases with Confederate officer names within three years. And as observers guessed Wednesday, too, there does not appear to be any mention of repealing the social media legal immunity law known as Section 230, as outgoing President Trump demanded on Twitter Tuesday evening.
Dramatic reminder: Trump said he would veto the NDAA if it contained a base renaming measure or it failed to repeal Section 230 — which all sets up a bit of drama for the bill’s (at least short-term) fate, as Roll Call’s John Donnelly explained Wednesday.
As for military hardware, the new $740.5 billion defense policy bill authorizes the following items, according to the GOP’s readout distributed Thursday by House Republicans on the Armed Services Committee: 

  • $500 million for a new large deck amphibious ship to replace the soon-to-be-scraped USS Bonhomme Richard;
  • $1.4 billion for eight P-8A Poseidon aircraft and $49 million for sonobuoys;
  • $417 million for four additional V-22 Osprey;
  • 93 more F-35s at a cost of about $9 billion;
  • 16 more MQ-9 Reaper drones with $108 million in procurement funds;
  • 12 F-15EX aircraft and 24 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets;
  • 60 UH-60L/M/V Blackhawk helicopters;
  • 50 AH-64E Apaches; 
  • 6 MH-47G Chinooks;
  • $375 million for 60 Stryker Combat Vehicles;
  • $2.5 billion for one Virginia-class attack submarine;
  • $260 million for a Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport vessel;
  • $350 million for investments in biotechnology, AI, hypersonics, and directed energy;
  • $47 million for counter-drone research and testing;
  • $2.2 billion for a Pacific Deterrence Initiative "to modernize and strengthen U.S. posture and capability" and "to deter against Chinese malign behavior";
  • Allegedly enhanced measures for vetting foreign students’ access to military bases as well as prohibitions against foreign students’ possessing firearms on military bases;
  • Sanctions on Turkey for its acquisition of the Russian-made S-400 air missile defense system; 
  • And $250 million for a Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, including $75 million for so-called “lethal assistance.” 

Authorized end strengths for each service:

  • Army: 485,900 (up from 480,000 in the FY20 NDAA);
  • Navy: 347,800 (up from 340,500);
  • Marine Corps: 181,200 (down from 186,200);
  • Air Force, including Space Force: 333,475 (up from 332,800 in FY20).

Worth flagging: No more hiding behind camo for domestic law enforcement. “The defense bill demands that federal law enforcement officers and members of the U.S. armed forces and National Guard ‘visibly display’ the name of their agency and their own name when participating in a response to a civil disturbance,” the Washington Post reported Thursday evening — extending concerns about the militarization of U.S. police in the wake of protests against police brutality and systemic racism over the summer. (h/t Peter W. Singer of New America)

And here are a few interesting reports the FY21 NDAA mandates:

  • One on “Russian support to foreign racially and ethnically motivated violent extremist groups and networks inside and outside Russia and an assessment of the threats this poses to U.S. counterterrorism and national security interests”;
  • A cost and feasibility study of “increased U.S. military presence in the Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea regions”;
  • An “aviation procurement plan across all services” to be completed annually;
  • And another that's to be “an unclassified study of the nuclear weapons programs of Russia, China, North Korea and Iran, so that the American people can be informed about the threats to the United States,” according to HASC Republicans.

And a few curious fine-print notes in the FY21 NDAA include: 

  • A rule keeping at least 28,500 U.S. troops deployed in Korea “unless numerous certifications and requirements are met”;
  • A rule against reducing active duty U.S. troops in Germany below 34,500 “until an assessment on its impact has been completed”;
  • An expansion of “the authority for special operations forces to provide support to partners for irregular warfare”;
  • A requirement the Pentagon maintain a baseline of "386 available operational squadrons" and 3,850 "combat-coded aircraft" in the event a major war breaks out; 
  • Authorization to take back "the six F-35 aircraft that had been accepted by Turkey before they were removed from the F-35 program.”

Cyber czar inbound? The NDAA also has language calling for a national cyber director within the Executive Office of the President, Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., told Nextgov’s Mariam Baksh. He added that the bill “has other cybersecurity provisions that will affect all agencies.” A bit more, here.
Wanna learn more? Read over the Senate Armed Services Committee’s 15-page summary (PDF) here

Trump just put a new member on an Air Force Academy board — right after she was kicked out of the Justice Department for “trying to pressure staffers to give up sensitive information about election fraud and other matters she could relay to the White House,” the Associated Press reported Thursday.
Her name is Heidi Stirrup, and she was put in that DOJ post only a few months ago. But it was just within the last two weeks that she was banned from DOJ “after top Justice officials learned of her efforts to collect insider information about ongoing cases and the department’s work on election fraud,” AP writes. More here.

Speaking of DOJ, it’s reportedly negotiating a deal with Huawei’s detained CFO “that would allow her to return home to China from Canada, in exchange for admitting wrongdoing” in “wire and bank fraud charges related to alleged violations of U.S. sanctions on Iran on Huawei’s behalf,” the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday evening. 
Why this matters: “Her arrest touched off a major diplomatic standoff, during which two Canadians, including a diplomat on leave from his post, were detained and charged earlier this year with espionage.” There’s likely much more to follow on this developing story, which you can catch up on here.

Lastly: The Joint Chiefs chairman’s newsmaking week, in review. Gen. Mark Milley spoke at several public events this week, making news on just about every stop. A partial recap:

  • Wednesday: Two decades of war in Afghanistan have seen a “modicum of success” but also years of “strategic stalemate,” Milley said in a sharp contrast to the Pentagon’s generally sunnier assessments of the war effort. (Defense One)
  • Thursday: “I would advocate, and bias going forward, heavy investment” in sea, air and space-centric platforms, Milley said. “It’s going to be ruthless, there’s going to be a lot of bloodletting and a lot of stuff left on the floor. We’re gonna have to do that in the coming years — no question about it.” (Breaking Defense)
  • Also Thursday: “The top U.S. military officer said Thursday the United States should reconsider its decades-old practice of stationing troops and their families in allied countries at risk of war, like South Korea and in the Persian Gulf.” (Washington Post)

Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!

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