Today's D Brief: Climate crisis, back on DoD’s radar; AI in space; Lawmakers, threatened; COVID trends, improving; And a bit more.
SecDef Austin: Climate change “is a national security issue, and we must treat it as such,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in an extended statement following a related executive order and Wednesday messaging from the Biden administration. “There is little about what the Department does to defend the American people that is not affected by climate change,” he added. (And if you want to explore the matter further, catch our podcast on associated questions of “resilience” and base design, here.)
So what’s the military gonna do about it at this point? The Defense Department, Austin said, will now “include the security implications of climate change in our risk analyses, strategy development, and planning guidance.” Austin also wants his department to begin “incorporating climate risk analysis into modeling, simulation, wargaming, analysis, and the next National Defense Strategy.” And he also expects the military to work on reducing its carbon footprint. Read over his full remarks here.
Highlights from Biden’s climate-centric executive order, signed on Wednesday:
- It establishes an Office of Domestic Climate Policy at the White House;
- It requests National Intelligence Estimate on the national and economic security impacts of climate change; this is “a major intelligence action requiring the approval of the heads of all 18 intelligence agencies,” John Conger of the Center for Climate and Security writes;
- It orders SecDef Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley to incorporate the security-related impact of climate change in a series of key reviews, including the next National Defense Strategy as well as ordinary Defense Planning Guidance;
- Austin must work with several other agencies including the Director of National Intelligence, to assess the security implications of climate change in a report now referred to as a “Climate Risk Analysis”;
- The Department of Homeland Security is now a part of the process, too; Biden also ordered his DHS Secretary to incorporate the “homeland security implications of climate change” into departmental “strategy, planning, and programming documents and processes.”
By the way: Explore these new developments in greater depth today via an online event organized by the Center for Climate and Security. The ostensible focus is on “actions the Biden Administration can take on climate security in its first 100 days and beyond,” and it features five expert voices — two of whom you may have heard already in our podcast, including the Navy's former official Oceanographer, retired Rear Adm. David Titley. That all happens starting at 2 p.m. ET. More information here.
From Defense One
US Flies B-52 Bomber To Gulf In Show of Force Against Iran / Katie Bo Williams: “We were also thinking: Would they try to test the U.S. military in the early days of the new administration?”
Military Eyes AI, Cloud Computing in Space in a Decade // Patrick Tucker: Physics keeps the Pentagon from orbiting a computer powerful enough for machine learning. So they’re building a network in space.
Lockheed Overtakes Boeing as Largest US Aerospace and Defense Firm // Marcus Weisgerber: Boeing, which saw no defense revenue growth last year, takes another financial hit from the tanker program.
What Happens to the Space Force Now? // Marina Koren, The Atlantic: President Biden is inheriting one of Trump’s pet projects.
Regulate Social-Media Companies / Divya Ramjee, Elsa B. Kania: They have proven unwilling to change algorithms and data-collection policies that stoke extremism and undermine national security.
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 1964, three U.S. Air Force officers were killed when their unarmed T-39 Sabreliner trainer aircraft stopped responding to radio communications before it was shot down over East Germany by a Soviet MiG-19 jet fighter.
Since the Jan. 6 insurrection, lawmakers have faced an elevated security threat in their home states, law enforcement officials told CNN on Wednesday. This is largely “when traveling to and from the nation's capital,” according to CNN. And “In some cases, local police departments have been tasked with providing this additional layer of security and have even stationed officers outside lawmakers' family homes.” More to all that, here.
A second Capitol Police officer has committed suicide since working on location during the failed insurrection, Acting police chief Robert J. Contee III told lawmakers in a closed-door meeting on Tuesday. “The costs for this insurrection — both human and monetary — will be steep,” Contee told lawmakers, according to the Washington Post.
$8.8 million in damages. That’s the latest estimated damage from rioters in their pro-Trump attack on the U.S. Capitol building — and Contee said that number could change as more information comes in via any one of the several investigations initiated so far.
Nearly 140 police officers were injured in that Jan. 6 insurrection, the Capitol Police Union said Wednesday. Officers without helmets “sustained brain injuries,” another “has two cracked ribs and two smashed spinal discs.” Another “officer is going to lose his eye,” and still “another was stabbed with a metal fence stake.”
You read that right: A police officer was “stabbed with a metal fence stake.” The New York Times has a bit more here.
Three U.S. military vets have been charged with “soliciting recruits for potential violence within days of the 2020 presidential election, later training in Ohio and North Carolina and organizing travel to Washington with a busload of comrades and a truck of weapons,” the Washington Post reported Wednesday evening. The ensemble involved a retired Navy lieutenant commander, according to a 15-page indictment unsealed Wednesday. Story here.
Related: Two police officers from North Carolina have been fired for their involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection. The Roanoke Times has that story, here.
DHS’s new terrorism advisory says “individuals frustrated with the exercise of governmental authority and the presidential transition, as well as other perceived grievances and ideological causes fueled by false narratives, could continue to mobilize a broad range of ideologically-motivated actors to incite or commit violence,” the Department of Homeland Security warned in an official National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin Wednesday.
Related: The GOP is filibustering Biden’s DHS Secretary nominee. Though the Senate Homeland Security Committee held a hearing last week into Alejandro Mayorkas’ qualifications, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, wants another one. The Senate is to vote today on whether to break the filibuster and proceed with a floor vote on Mayorkas’ nomination. CNN, here.
SecDef Austin to Germany: let’s talk about forces. In their Wednesday phone call, Austin thanked Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer for her country’s hosting of U.S. troops and “expressed his desire for a continued dialogue on U.S. force posture in Germany,” according to a Pentagon readout of the call released Wednesday.
Rewind: Last July, Trump surprised the world by saying he would withdraw about 11,000 of the 36,000 U.S. troops stationed in Germany. Congress hated the idea with bipartisan fervor; the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, passed over Trump's veto, mandates that “troop levels in Germany be kept at 34,500 unless the defense secretary provides cost estimates and assessments of the impact of a withdrawal on NATO and military families.” Military.com, here.
BTW: SecState Blinken called NATO’s Stoltenberg, one day after Biden. The two “agreed to begin talks to schedule a NATO Summit/Leaders’ Meeting in the first half of 2021.” Here’s the terse readout.
Saudi, Emirati arms deals on hold. In an expected and ordinary move, the new White House is pausing new arms deals to the Middle East until it finalizes a review of the deals struck during former President Trump’s tenure. The Wall Street Journal reported the pause Wednesday, noting crucially “that despite the pause, many of the transactions are likely to ultimately go forward.”
Speaking of weapons, the U.S. may have just gotten its hands on a Russian Pantsir air defense system, according to The Times of UK, reporting a truly remarkable story out of Libya on Wednesday.
According to a Russian official, they’re not too worried about this (publicly). That’s because “Export versions...are stripped of a carefully guarded identification friend or foe database with the transponder codes for Russian air force jets,” he said. Trace the outline of this wild one via the reporter’s Twitter thread, here.
Because of COVID, Norway just cancelled two cold-weather training exercises. Now about 1,000 U.S. Marines who travelled there earlier this month are in a sort of limbo, Military.com reported Wednesday.
Meantime stateside, America’s COVID trends are improving — and at rates not seen since the start of the pandemic. According to the New York Times, “New cases in the U.S. have fallen 35 percent over the past three weeks. Hospitalizations have dropped, as well. Deaths have not, but they have stabilized — and the death trend typically lags the cases trend by a few weeks.”
There are (at least) two possible reasons, the Times reports: First, “We may be in the very early stages of herd immunity. Roughly 100 million Americans seem to have had the virus. (For every person who tests positive, three more have had it without being diagnosed, studies suggest.) Another 24 million people have received a vaccine shot.” More directly, Americans appear to be getting better at wearing masks and staying away from each other. Read, here.
Finally today: Robot buses have come to Singapore. The republic is piloting a new program of driverless buses for public transportation, Agence France-Presse reports in a video this morning.
In case you’re curious, there is still a driver who is in the driver’s seat; but he’s only there to intervene, if needed, and drive small portions of routes on particularly dense streets. See for yourself how it’s all working so far, here.