Today's D Brief: Trump's lame-duck budget maneuvers; Daily COVID deaths pass 3K; Airstrikes in Somalia; And a bit more.

Trump’s lame-duck Navy plan. The outgoing White House is pitching a new shipbuilding plan for Congress to consider, one that would take the Navy from 296 warships today to 355 in a decade and nearly 400 within two decades — about 82 more than currently planned. Russ Vought from the Office and Management and Budget and Trump’s National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien laid out the broad strokes in an op-ed published Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal.  The price tag would be $6.7 billion more than planned in 2022, rising to an extra $39 billion by 2026 — for a total of $167 billion to be spent on shipbuilding over the next five years, Bloomberg reports.

Headwinds await: “Critics say the bulked-up fleet plan would cut dangerously into Army, Air Force budgets — if Congress and the Biden administration followed it,” write Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber and Katie Bo Williams, who reported the proposal Wednesday evening. The plan would cut the fifth planned Ford-class aircraft carrier and accelerate purchases of frigates, Weisgerber and Williams reported, leading to what naval analyst Bryan McGrath called a “slimmer Navy” with smaller ships.

Reax: McGrath, for one, is rather thrilled with the plan, as he explains in a 50(!)-tweet thread. But he notes that its release, late in a lame-duck administration, appears to be “part of a cynical political ploy” aimed at ultimately painting Biden as weak on defense. (Defense One has reported on other late-breaking budget maneuvers, here.) Adds John Kroger, who served until recently as the service’s chief learning officer: “The best time to release a new plan and new ideas for the Navy is not when you only have forty days left in office. If this was important, why did you wait?”

Trump’s lame-duck Pentagon-CIA divorce. The Pentagon wants to end most of its military support to the CIA by January 5, ABC News reports. In the final six weeks of President Trump’s administration, political appointees at the Pentagon are reviewing the Pentagon’s support to the CIA, Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams first reported Wednesday. And that review includes the use of counterterrorism operators detailed to a division of the agency that has been involved in some of the most high-profile clandestine counterterrorism missions in the last two decades. 

From the office of Cohen-Watnick: The review is the pet project of Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Ezra Cohen-Watnick, one of several top-level political appointees assigned to acting roles in the Pentagon in the wake of Trump’s Election Day loss. And “Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller sent a letter to CIA Director Gina Haspel outlining the decision,” ABC News confirmed Wednesday. 

Why this matters: At least on the surface, the goal of the review is part of a larger policy debate about the role special operations forces should or can play in what the Defense Department terms “competition” with Russia and China, Williams reports. But changing the current arrangement may not be easy since the military provides a wide range of support to the agency globally, including logistics assistance and physical security in Afghanistan and other active combat zones.

One forecasted consequence: "If it is not reversed, the CIA needs to be increased in personnel and funding to make up for the difference to continue their critical missions," Mick Mulroy, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense and retired CIA paramilitary officer told ABC News.

“If [CIA officers] start dying in Afghanistan, this is going to be a big deal,” one former administration official told Williams. More here.


From Defense One

White House Shipbuilding Plan Would Shrink Ford Carrier Class Over Navy Objections // Marcus Weisgerber and Katie Bo Williams: Critics say the bulked-up fleet plan would cut dangerously into Army, Air Force budgets — if Congress and the Biden administration followed it.

US Military Starts Vaccinating Troops, Behind Russia and China // Patrick Tucker: DOD has picked 16 sites for a “controlled pilot” COVID vaccination program.

The Future Of Flight Training Is A Gamer Headset That Watches You Play // Patrick Tucker: Google and other companies are helping design a smarter, cheaper way to produce aviators.

AI Is Reshaping the US Approach to Gray-Zone Ops // Patrick Tucker: Artificial intelligence and machine learning tools aren’t just for big hot wars, but also for places where the battle lines aren’t clear.

Why I Chose Lloyd Austin as Secretary of Defense // Joseph Biden, The Atlantic: We need a leader who is tested, and matched to the challenges we face in this moment.

This Is No Job for a General // Eliot A. Cohen, The Atlantic: President-elect Joe Biden should choose a civilian to lead his Department of Defense.

Welcome to this Thursday 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 2017, Iraqis celebrated the defeat of ISIS with a parade in Baghdad. 


More than 3,000 Americans died of Covid-19 on Wednesday, which is the highest single-day total for any country so far, according to The Atlantic’s Covid Tracking Project.
Someone hacked docs related to Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate, the company announced Wednesday. Reuters has more, here.

President-elect Joe Biden will select Denis McDonough as his nominee to lead the Veterans’ Affairs Department, Politico reports. McDonough was POTUS44’s chief of staff for four years beginning in 2013.
Worth noting: “If confirmed, the 51-year-old McDonough would be only the second non-veteran ever to hold the post,” Military Times reports.
Here’s a good question from The Daily Beast’s Noah Shachtman: “This is one of the world's largest health care bureaucracies. McDonough is an extremely bright guy, but...is this his area of expertise?
And Susan Rice is returning to the White House, this time as director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, the Associated Press reports, which would give "her broad sway over his administration’s approach to immigration, health care and racial inequality and elevating the prominence of the position in the West Wing."

It’s now 37 days since the election. A mere eight days after the last election in 2016, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, welcomed then-Vice President-elect Mike Pence and his wife Karen to a luncheon at the VP’s White House residence. No such offer has been extended to the current VP-elect yet. Presidential historian Michael Beschloss marked the contrast on Twitter Wednesday with a photo taken on that day in November 2016. 

The president's refusal to accept his election loss has gone from unsubstantiated to now life-threatening — and for elected members of his own party, in their very homes.
Seriously? Seriously. Refusing to back President Trump’s false claims of election fraud would “get my house bombed,” the Republican majority leader of Pennsylvania’s Senate told the New York Times on Wednesday.
ICYMI: Armed Trump supporters rallied just outside the home of Michigan’s Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson on Saturday evening around 9:45 p.m. local. The crowd, numbering in the “dozens,” according to Benson, chanted "stop the steal!", which is one of President Trump's false claims of voter fraud. "We are not standing down, we are not giving up, you are not going to take this election from a man that has earned it completely 100% by a freaking landslide," said one protester who posted a video of the demonstration to her Facebook account. More from the BBC, here.
Reminder: 220 Republican lawmakers will not acknowledge Joe Biden’s win over President Trump, which is “about 88 percent of all Republicans serving in Congress,” the Washington Post reported Saturday.
This is not a time for left-vs-right rhetorical equivalence, tweeted Dan Drezner of Tufts University: “The President of the United States literally wants to overturn certified election results and a significant fraction of the GOP rank and file support him and I can’t wait to read the next take about how left-wing cancel culture is the greatest threat facing America.”

The Justice Department on Wednesday sentenced a 21-year-old Neo-Nazi from Arizona to 16 months in prison for threatening multiple journalists. The man “pleaded guilty in September to conspiring with other members of the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division to deliver threatening messages to journalists’ homes and other places in the U.S.,” AP reports.
Bigger picture: “More than a dozen people linked to Atomwaffen or an offshoot called Feuerkrieg Division have been charged with crimes in federal court since the group’s formation in 2016,” AP writes. “Atomwaffen has been linked to several killings, including the May 2017 shooting deaths of two men at an apartment in Tampa, Florida, and the January 2018 killing of a University of Pennsylvania student in California.” More, here.

The U.S. military targeted alleged bomb-makers from al-Shabab with two airstrikes near Jilib, Somalia, today, U.S. Africa Command said in a statement that did not specify how many suspected fighters were involved. The bombs were allegedly going to be rigged to automobiles, which are known as vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, or VBIEDs for short.
Says AFRICOM: “Al-Shabaab conducts dozens of VBIED attacks annually across central and southern Somalia, including against civilian, government, and U.S. targets. Since 2018, the group has conducted an estimated 45 VBIED attacks in Mogadishu alone, collectively resulting in the death of over 400 civilians, security forces and government officials.” More here.
Tweeted Defense One’s Executive Editor Kevin Baron: “There it is. Trump's dangerous Somalia ‘pullout’ announcement exposed for the political stunt it is. Zero chance the US just abandons Somalia.”

And finally today: Police in southern California are flying AI-enhanced drones, and those present a host of new civil rights questions, the New York Times reported this past Saturday.
Among the concerns flagged by privacy advocates: "As the police use more drones, they could collect and store more video of life in the city, which could remove any expectation of privacy once you leave the home." Or, the drones could "be used to identify people and restrict activity during protests like those that have been so prevalent across the country in recent months."
By the way, a company called Shield AI “has developed a drone that can fly into a building and inspect the length and breadth of the premises on its own, with no pilot, in the dark as well as in daylight.”
One big problem: Training enough cops to use the drones, which cost about $35,000 apiece. More from the Times, here.

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