Today's D Brief: Korean missile launches; Nuclear subs for Australia?; Drone tanker refuels F-35; And a bit more.

The two Koreas are firing off missiles around each other. North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles that flew for about 500 miles “before landing in the [East Sea] inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone,” the Associated Press reports from Seoul. 

Pyongyang’s launch comes two days after its new cruise missile test got the world’s attention briefly on Monday. Those cruise missiles are not banned by UN resolutions; ballistic missiles, however, are (not that that’s stopped North Korea before). 

According to Seoul’s Yonhap News agency, “Government sources said the tested missiles appear to be an upgraded version of the North’s KN-23 Iskander ballistic missile, as the military detected the so-called pull-up maneuver over the course of their flight.”

According to the U.S. military in Korea: “This activity highlights DPRK’s continuing focus on developing its military program and the threat it poses to Northeast Asia and the international community. We will continue to monitor the situation, consult closely with our South Korean allies, and remain committed to providing a combined robust defense posture to protect the ROK against any threat or adversary,” U.S. Forces-Korea said in a statement. 

Seoul responded by carrying out its first submarine-launched ballistic missile test, though the target and its traveling distance were not specified. 

Pyongyang responded to that by sending the dictator’s sister out for a rhetorical barb—warning of the “complete destruction” of ties between North and South if Seoul’s President Moon Jae-in doesn’t use nicer words in the future. More from AP, here

In regional considerations, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin welcomes his Australian counterpart, Defense Minister Peter Dutton, to the Pentagon this morning. 

And later in the afternoon, President Biden is expected to deliver brief remarks on a “national security” theme. If—as some analysts suspect—the remarks concern a pathway for Australia to obtain nuclear-powered submarines, that could be a huge mistake in terms of nuclear proliferation, according to James Acton, who co-directs the Carnegie Nuclear Policy Program. 

“If the US and UK help Australia acquire nuclear submarines, will they say no to, for example, South Korea, whose nonproliferation credentials are less than perfect (sorry) and which has stronger potential incentives to proliferate? And what about Brazil? Or Saudi Arabia? Or Iran? They could all invoke Australia as a precedent too.” There’s more to his argument, here.

From Defense One

Five Ways 9/11 Changed the Defense Industry // Marcus Weisgerber: More outsourcing, more services contracts, more generals on corporate boards—and that's just for starters.

The Marines Are Copying the Air Force's Efforts to Counter Online Disinformation // Brandi Vincent: Meanwhile, the Army is trying to get inside perpetrators' OODA loops.

The U.S. Should Get Serious About Submarine Cable Security // Justin Sherman, Council on Foreign Relations: Three trends are accelerating risks to underwater cables’ security and resilience.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Jen Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here

Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley is under pressure for what some refer to as routine phone calls and conversations with aides, and what others insist are fireable offenses against a sitting commander-in-chief. 

The drama stems from Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s upcoming book, “Peril,” which covers the last months of the Trump administration and the first few months of the Biden White House. According to Woodward and Costa, Milley called his Chinese counterpart twice around the November 2020 election—once a few days before, and again closer to Jan. 6—to assure Beijing that POTUS45 was not going to attack them without Milley warning China first. The context, of course, was President Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the election. 

Calling for Milley’s ouster: Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who sent a letter to President Joe Biden saying he must “dismiss [Milley] immediately.” 

Coming to Milley’s defense: Former SecDef Mark Esper, according to Jonathan Swan and Josh Rogin.   

For the first time ever, a drone tanker just refueled an F-35C in midair. It happened Monday near MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah, Ill. Boeing’s MQ-25 T1 Stingray unmanned aircraft linked up with a Navy F-35C Lightning II. 

Tuesday’s test marks the third time this year that manned Navy aircraft have tested the unmanned refueling concept—the other two tests involved F/A-18 Super Hornet and E-2D Advanced Hawkeye aircraft earlier in the summer, Naval Air Systems Command said in a news release. If everything goes to plan, the MQ-25 “will refuel every receiver-capable carrier-based aircraft,” according to NAVAIR. 

Big picture: The MQ-25 is intended to increase the Navy’s refueling capabilities by freeing up aircraft, and also assist with some intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance tasks, Defense One’s Caitlin Kenney writes. The next phase of planned testing involves some kind of “future shipboard demonstration” later this winter, according to NAVAIR.

One more thing about the MQ-25: A group of Chinese military officers asserted in a recent study that the MQ-25 Stingray “will render a qualitative leap for the U.S. Navy's future war-fighting capability,” according to Collin Koh of the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies in Singapore. “The authors duly acknowledged the MQ-25's limitations,” Koh writes, and highlights, e.g., “that the fuel capacity is a far cry from conventional manned tankers such as KC-135. Nonetheless, they view the MQ-25 as revolutionary to American carrier warfighting CONOPs. 

“They believe the MQ-25 will improve the survivability of US Navy carrier-borne assets, making the entire system of these capabilities more ‘resilient,’” according to Koh. “To the PLA, it's the system and its resilience that matters. For reasons that the PLA is creating and refining its own systems approach to warfighting, and has been finding ways to poke holes at the American systems approach.”

And lastly: Congrats this week to Elizabeth Threlkeld, who moves up from deputy to now Director of the South Asia Program at the Stimson Center. We spoke to Elizabeth about Afghanistan two weeks ago to leverage her experience as a State Department official based in Pakistan during POTUS44’s second term. Read over (or listen to) that conversation and her advice for what lies ahead in the region, here.