Today's D Brief: Supply-chain review; Sailor dies of COVID; Busy natsec day on the Hill; Microwaving drone swarms; And a bit more.
President Biden is ordering “an immediate 100-day review” of U.S. supply chain vulnerabilities for rare earths, semiconductors and large-capacity batteries, the White House previewed this morning ahead of an executive order. He’s also ordering “a more in-depth one-year review” of the defense industrial base, along with five other sectors.
Why this matters: “From rare earths in our electric motors and generators to the carbon fiber used for airplanes—the United States needs to ensure we are not dependent upon foreign sources or single points of failure in times of national emergency,” the White House said. “For example, while the U.S. is a net exporter of electric vehicles, we are not a leader in the supply chain associated with electric battery production.”
Here’s an argument that the U.S. has been taking the wrong approach to securing rare earths, and a look at one potentially better way.
Another thing the Biden administration is reviewing: Drones strikes and counterterrorism raids, according to The Daily Beast. But good luck getting your hands on it because even the interim guidance issued on Jan. 20 is classified.
It’s a busy day on Capitol Hill, beginning with a hearing for the defense budget wonks: “Future Defense Spending” is the focus of a House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing that started at 9:30 a.m.
The House’s Homeland Security Committee is hearing about lessons learned so far in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. That, too, began at 9:30 a.m. Catch it live here.
DCIA Burns? Veteran diplomat William Burns is already testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee for his nomination to become the first CIA director under President Biden. Catch that live here.
“Disinformation and Extremism in the Media” is the focus of another hearing today before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. That one begins at 12:30 p.m.
Former Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker joins New America’s Anne-Marie Slaughter at 1:30 p.m. for a hearing on “Restoring Diplomacy and Development in a Fracturing World” at the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“The Rise of Domestic Terrorism in America” will draw the attention of the House Judiciary Committee beginning at 2 p.m. ET.
And House appropriators will hear about “PFAS Exposure on Service Members” at 2 p.m. To learn more about the issue, see Tara Copp’s impactful reporting over at McClatchy.
From yesterday: five takeaways from law-enforcement testimony about the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, from The Hill. No. 1: “Congress will need to probe contradictions” in the testimonies of various officials. Read the rest, here.
Also: testimony from industry execs on the SolarWinds hack reveals U.S. vulnerabilities — and mysteries that remain months after the breach was discovered. Cyberscoop, here.
From Defense One
Leidos Deepens Maritime Reach with Planned Acquisition of Gibbs & Cox Naval Design Firm // Marcus Weisgerber: It’s the latest move to better position itself for Navy undersea business.
What Can the Pentagon Realistically Get from Its Advisory Boards? // Eliahu Niewood: A former chair says the boards provide a lot, could do better — and help weed out impractical or oversold ideas.
Pentagon Looks to Tap 5G in Space // Brandi Vincent, Nextgov: “Any aspect of 5G applied to any aspect of space systems is of potential interest,” says a new request for information.
The Ultimate Symbol of America’s Diminished Soft Power // Yasmeen Serhan, The Atlantic: The Trump administration’s partisan takeover of the United States’ international broadcasters failed. What’s to prevent a future administration from trying again?
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 1917, U.S. Ambassador to the UK Walter Page at last handed President Woodrow Wilson a translated copy of the infamous “Zimmermann Telegram,” wherein WWI belligerent Germany pitched an alliance with Mexico against the then-neutral United States. About six weeks later, Congress declared war on Germany, entering the Great War.
The U.S. Air Force sent four B-1B Lancers to Norway, along with 200 airmen, for Arctic training “opportunities for U.S. integration with NATO allies and regional partners,” the service said. “The last time the B-1 operated in this manner was in the late 1990s to support operations in the central area of command,” said an unnamed director of operations for the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron.
The USAF tested an ICBM overnight, launching “an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile equipped with a test reentry vehicle at 11:47 p.m. Pacific Time” from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base. “During this test, the ICBM's reentry vehicle traveled approximately 4,200 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands,” the service said in a statement.
Similar recent ICBM tests occurred in early August and late October, both from Vandenberg AFB.
Current events caveat: “The launch calendars are built three to five years in advance, and planning for each individual launch begins six months to a year prior to launch,” the Air Force said in the statement, adding, “Test launches are not a response or reaction to world events or regional tensions.”
Have a look at a prototype directed-energy weapon the USAF and Army are perfecting for base security against drones and drone swarms. It’s the Tactical High Power Operational Responder, or THOR, system, which comes from the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Directed Energy Directorate at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico.
Reminder: Drones and drone swarms aren’t just a problem for the Middle East — though that’s certainly not going away any time soon, according to CENTCOM’s Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, speaking on Feb. 8. They’re also a pesky and often strange phenomenon for the U.S. Department of Energy, as we explained in our September podcast on the technology and its future prospects.
If everything for the two services stays on track, the THOR system could find its way to an Army platoon as early as fiscal year 2024. Read on, here.
In other sensor news, a recent North Korean defector “popped up on military cameras eight times and strolled down a barricaded road” before he was seen by human eyes, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday from Seoul, where lawmakers met to discuss security along that 150-mile long border.
If that episode sounds familiar, “In November, a North Korean man made it over a 10-foot-high border fence and evaded detection for half a day,” the Journal reminds us. “A military investigation said loose fence screws had caused motion-detecting sensors to fail.” More on RoK’s border security dilemma, here.
Christmas in Kabul. The U.S. is giving Afghanistan’s military 640 military vehicles, including 403 armored Humvees, 42 Ford ranger vehicles, 23 ambulances, and 170 motorcycles, according to Afghanistan’s Khaama news.
Germany is set to extend its Afghan deployment to Jan. 31 of next year, Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer announced Tuesday in Berlin. “The current parliamentary mandate for the German operation with up to 1,300 troops expires at the end of March,” Reuters reported.
ICYMI: The UN says Erik Prince violated a UN arms embargo in Libya, the New York Times reported Friday. In a report that spans 121 pages and includes generous skepticism from the Jordanians, Prince allegedly “deployed a force of foreign mercenaries, armed with attack aircraft, gunboats and cyberwarfare capabilities, to eastern Libya at the height of a major battle in 2019” and at a cost of $80 million.
Also included: A terminal disagreement with rogue Libyan General Khalifa Hiftar before “an arduous 40-hour journey across the Mediterranean until [the retreating mercs] reached safety in Malta.”
For the record, “Prince refused to cooperate with the U.N. inquiry; [and] his lawyer did not respond to questions about the report.”
Now what? The charges expose Prince “to possible U.N. sanctions, including a travel ban and a freeze on his bank accounts and other assets — though such an outcome is uncertain,” the Times writes. Continue reading, here.
Lastly today: Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has a real beef with all these televised cooking shows, the New York Times reported separately this week. The problem for his economically-wrecked country: Those shows are “taunt[ing] Syrians with images of unattainable food,” Assad reportedly said in a private meeting with friendly regional journalists in January.
How bad off is Syria today? It’s “economy is worse than at any time since the war began in 2011,” the Times reports. And just since last year, food prices have doubled. Meantime, “This month, the Syrian pound reached an all-time low against the dollar on the black market, decimating the value of salaries and rocketing up the cost of imports.”
But here’s what’s really destroying Syria, according to Assad: “the ‘brutality’ of world capitalism, ‘brainwashing’ by social media and an ill-defined ‘neoliberalism’ that was eroding the country’s values.” Much more to the story of Assad’s many problems, here.