Today's D Brief: On the road with DepSecDef Hicks; Haiti’s president assassinated; Taliban drive around Badghis; Pentagon cancels JEDI contract; And a bit more.
Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks is wheels-up to New England, where she will see some key weapons and technology at the center of the Pentagon’s China-focused defense strategy. Defense One Business Editor Marcus Weisgerber is the only reporter traveling with Hicks so make sure you follow him on Twitter for updates.
On the trip, Hicks will see destroyers and submarines, and meet with officials working on artificial intelligence, biotech, and rapid experimentation efforts, according to defense officials.
This morning, Hicks is at Bath Iron Works, in Maine, where General Dynamics builds Arleigh Burke-class and Zumwalt-class destroyers. The health of the shipbuilding industry has been a key concern of Pentagon officials and lawmakers alike.
A major concern for Bath: Securing future work. The shipyard is finishing up work on the future USS Lyndon B. Johnson and has just under a dozen Arleigh Burkes in its backlog. The Navy is in the early stages of a new guided missile destroy class, called the DDG(X), but the question remains: How long will it continue buying the Arleigh Burke? Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Harker told lawmakers last month that the service planned to sign a multiyear procurement arrangement that runs from 2023 to 2027. Last year, the Navy selected Marinette Marine in Wisconsin over Bath—which is occasionally the subject of merger and acquisition speculation—to build a new frigate.
Later this afternoon, Hicks will visit the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, which overhauls and repairs Navy submarines. Lawmakers have been pushing a $25 billion bill to improve Navy shipyard maintenance.
Hicks will also visit the 157th Refueling Wing in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The wing is the first National Guard unit to fly the Boeing KC-46 Pegasus, a tanker that has experienced numerous problems throughout its development. Tankers are essential for refueling military fighter jets over the battlefield and extending the range of cargo supply planes. The Air Force plans to buy 179 KC-46 aircraft to replace KC-135 and KC-10 tankers. Just last month, it started its search for up to 160 additional tankers to supplement those KC-46s.
Later this week: Hicks has tech-focused meetings in Boston and is scheduled to visit submarine maker Electric Boat.
Developing: Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in his home this morning by a group of armed men, the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse report from Port-au-Prince. Moïse’s wife was also injured in the attack, and she’s been moved to a hospital for treatment.
Context: “The country appeared to be heading for fresh uncertainty ahead of planned general elections later this year,” AP writes. Moïse “had been ruling by decree for more than a year after the country failed to hold elections and the opposition demanded he step down in recent months.”
Now in charge: interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph, who was appointed to the PM post in April by then-President Moïse. Voice of America has a bit more on the drama there just three months ago.
From Defense One
It's Too Easy to Troll Like a Russian // Ivana Stradner and Pulkit Agrawal: We're scholars, but amateurs, and we found it alarming how quickly we imagined a personalized misinformation campaign with actual publicly available data.
How JEDI’s Ghost Will Bring Bitter Rivals Together // Patrick Tucker: The death of the Pentagon’s controversial cloud computing mega-contract likely puts Amazon and Microsoft in a new sort of partnership.
The Convergence of Man and Machine, But Better // Yi Se Gwon: Three steps to improve how we plan investments and prioritize changes across the military.
Pentagon Cancels JEDI Cloud Contract // Frank Konkel and Mila Jasper: The Defense Department will opt for a new multibillion-dollar, multi-vendor contract.
The White House is getting serious about the growing problem of ransomware and its impact on the U.S. and world economies. So President Joe Biden convened “key leaders across the interagency” to discuss a formal strategy during a private meeting this morning in the Situation Room.
On Tuesday, a top administration official video-chatted with the U.S. Conference of Mayors to share four elements of what the White House called a “ransomware strategy.” Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technology Anne Neuberger hosted that call, and laid out several responses, including:
- “disruption of ransomware infrastructure...by working closely with the private sector”;
- “international cooperation to hold countries who harbor ransom actors accountable”;
- “expanding cryptocurrency analysis to find and pursue criminal transactions” (think, e.g., of the $2.3 million seized by the Department of Justice after Colonial Pipeline was hit with a ransomware attack in May);
- and an ongoing federal review of ransomware payments.
ICYMI: The White House is piloting a cyber defense program for America’s electric sector, and it’s called the Cybersecurity Industrial Control Systems Initiative. That one “will soon be followed by similar initiatives to strengthen the cyber resilience of other critical sectors like pipelines, water, and chemicals,” Neuberger said Tuesday.
The U.S. military is about 90% withdrawn from Afghanistan, officials at Central Command announced Tuesday. That’s some rapid progress since the last status report from June 22, when the process was estimated at just around 50% complete.
The Taliban are making noise in northern Badghis Province. Kabul’s defense ministry this morning calls a coordinated Taliban movement in Badghis on Tuesday a “failed attempt to capture Qala-e-Naw,” the provincial capital. The New York Times reports “details were murky” from Qala-i-Nau, “where fighting was widespread,” and the group allegedly carried out a jailbreak, releasing dozens of inmates. Dozens more Afghan security forces were allegedly killed Tuesday when their convoy was ambushed by the Taliban outside of Qala-i-Nau, according to the Times.
A note on the geography around Qala-i-Nau, from a former U.S. soldier who helped build the district center 11 years ago: “Trucks would find it difficult to get there 6-8 months of the year, and impossible 4-6 months of the year. Construction material was delivered by donkey. And sometimes the donkeys refused to climb these mountains.” He suggests these Taliban movements may be far less "offensives" than intimidating drives around a mostly-rural country.
In Afghan headlines: “Taliban’s hours rule over Qala-e-naw city ended,” Khaama Press reports this morning.
With Afghanistan seemingly out of the deployment picture, a few U.S. Army units are headed overseas soon. Nearly 2,000 will deploy to what remains of the counter-ISIS war in Iraq, and almost 4,000 are headed to Europe to discourage Russia from invading beyond the land it grabbed in Ukraine seven years ago.
- For Iraq, the 4th Infantry Division's 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team is sending about 1,800 soldiers and personnel;
- For Europe, the 1st Infantry Division's 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team will deploy nearly 3,800 people in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve.
The U.S. military has been shot at five times across Iraq and Syria in the past 72 hours, Joyce Karam of The National tweets today, gathering up the relevant details, beginning Monday with Ain Al Assad, Iraq; then twice Tuesday (once near Baghdad, and once at Erbil); and twice Wednesday (Ain Al Assad, Iraq, and Deir-ez-Zour, Syria).
Biden’s national security advisor met with the Saudi vice defense minister Tuesday in Washington. NSA Jake Sullivan and Vice Minister Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud chatted about “the U.S. commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory as it faces attacks from Iranian-aligned groups,” as well as “a strong global economic recovery,” what the White House called “the climate agenda,” and “de-escalat[ing] tensions in the Middle East,” broadly speaking.
In emerging weapons news: The U.S. Air Force’s new B-21 stealth bomber could have different windows than we’d thought just last week, according to a new “artist’s rendering” published Tuesday. Air Force Magazine’s John Tirpak spotted the updated detail and explains a few other subtle and major apparent redesigns, here.
Now six months after the Jan. 6 insurrection, “We can say unequivocally that democracy did prevail—and that we must all continue the work to protect and preserve it,” U.S. President Joe Biden announced in a statement marking the occasion Tuesday.
“Not even during the Civil War did insurrectionists breach our Capitol, the citadel of our democracy. But six months ago today, insurrectionists did,” Biden said. “They launched a violent and deadly assault on the people’s house, on the people’s representatives, and on the Capitol police sworn to protect them, as our duly elected Congress carried out the sacred ritual of our republic and certified the Electoral College vote.”
- By the way: The FBI says “some of the most violent offenders have yet to be identified.” And that includes 11 mostly bearded men who were filmed assaulting officers. (Review the footage, here.)
For the record: “To date, the FBI has arrested more than 500 individuals for criminal activity on January 6,” said Steven D’Antuono of the FBI’s Washington Field Office. Of those, more than 100 were arrested for assaulting police and law enforcement officers.
“This was not dissent. It was disorder,” said Biden in his statement. “It posed an existential crisis and a test of whether our democracy could survive.” Protecting and preserving that democracy, the president said, “requires people of goodwill and courage to stand up to the hate, the lies, and the extremism that led to this vicious attack...It requires all of us working together—Democrats, Republicans, and independents—on behalf of the common good to restore decency, honor, and respect for the rule of law.”
You may wonder: What are some antidotes to tribalism and divisiveness? Re-establishing connections and strengthening bonds, generally speaking, from neighbors to neighborhoods to communities and beyond. Granted, that’s an easier answer to read than to apply. And it’s an especially hard sell in a media climate that often foments and thrives on outrage, as psychotherapist Nick Carmody recently explained. But the president was more optimistic in his message Tuesday.
“We are so much better than what we saw on January 6th,” Biden said. “We are the United States of America, and over the last few months we have shown what we can do when we come together—beat a deadly virus, get our economy going again, and prove that democracy can deliver for the people...Together, let us demonstrate to ourselves, and to the world, the enduring strength and the limitless capacity and goodness of who we are as Americans.”