Today's D Brief: Russia’s worsening pandemic; Army’s goggle delay; Navy’s damage-control failures; China’s hypersonic test; And a bit more.

Russia keeps breaking its own daily record for COVID-related deaths, passing 1,000 on Tuesday, the Associated Press reports from Moscow, which would rather talk about watching U.S. aircraft refuel over the Black Sea on Wednesday, as Reuters reports.

Behind the trend: Throughout the country, there is a “prevalence of conspiracy-fuelled vaccine skepticism, inconsistent public health messaging and fear mongering by the media,” two Ontario-based health professors wrote in The Conversation in mid-August after digging into a bit of recent Russian (er, Soviet) history. Slowing things further, many across Russia today deeply distrust state institutions, and “have developed a laissez-faire attitude toward the virus, questioning the need to be vaccinated and often wearing masks around their chins, if at all,” the New York Times’ Anton Troianovski reported about a month ago. AP reports separately today that “conflicting signals sent by authorities” aren’t helping either as “state-controlled media were often critical of Western-made shots, a controversial message that many saw as feeding public doubts about vaccines in general.” 

Panning out: Russia has lost more people to COVID than any nation in Europe—more than 221,000—and most observers believe that number, like many other tallies across the world, is a likely undercount. Indeed, “At least 300,000 more people died last year during the coronavirus pandemic than were reported in Russia’s most widely cited official statistics, according to a New York Times analysis of mortality data,” Troianovski wrote in late September. (The Guardian in early October put that mortality estimate closer to 600,000 deaths as of July.) 

And it’s not like Russia’s leaders aren’t paying attention. In case you missed it two weeks ago: “‘Get vaccinated’, says Kremlin as Russia's daily COVID-19 cases hit highest in months,” Reuters reported on Oct. 4.

Back stateside, a top GOP senator says he wants the Pentagon to suspend its COVID vaccinations, alleging that a vaccine mandate “hinders military readiness.” Senate Armed Services Committee member, Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma authored the letter, which was sent to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Monday, and demanded Austin reply with cost and impact assessments by Nov. 1. Hardly one to miss an opportunity, Inhofe also asserts in a short preview of his letter that “this administration will do more damage to the nation’s security than any external threat.” Read the rest, here.

On Tuesday, leading Democrats pushed back against Inhofe’s message, citing military readiness as well. One of them was Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee chair. And another—Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who chairs the Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee—added a warning against “anyone trying to make vaccine requirements a political football.” RollCall’s John Donnelly has more on all that, here.

Deadlines to watch: Pentagon civilians have until Nov. 22 to get vaccinated or produce an exemption. 

On the active duty side, the Air Force is up first with a Nov. 2 vaccination deadline. The Navy is targeting Nov. 22. And the Army, the largest force, is facing a Dec. 15 deadline. 

From Defense One

30 State Department Nominees, Including NATO Ambassador, Advance To Full Senate // Jacqueline Feldscher: Just two Biden ambassadors have been confirmed so far.

Army Delays IVAS Display Headset by a Year // Caitlin M. Kenney: Officials cited problems with the unusually wide field of view.

China’s Hypersonic Test Raises Questions About US Missile Defense, Deterrence // Patrick Tucker: Basic questions about how to defeat or deter orbital weapons remain undecided.

How to Think About Colin Powell // Richard Haass, Council on Foreign Relations: Did Powell always get it right? Of course not. But his mistakes were just part of his extraordinary American journey.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1961, the Soviet Union performed the first armed test of a sub-launched ballistic missile, beating the U.S. by months.

Nearly half of the Afghan evacuees staying at U.S. bases right now are children, the Wall Street Journal’s Nancy Youssef reported Wednesday morning.
The numbers—somewhere around 25,000 or so—have been made public thanks to SecDef Austin’s response to a previous letter from Sen. Inhofe. What’s more, “Nine of the 12 questions posed by Sen. Inhofe required Mr. Austin to provide answers that were classified, based on his responses,” Youssef writes. Read on, here.

A 31-year-old U.S. Army reservist is the first known service member to be kicked out of the military for his part in the Jan. 6 failed insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
His name is Timothy Hale-Cusanelli, and he sometimes wore a “Hitler mustache” while at work, according to previous reports (CNN, e.g.) as well as court documents reviewed by the Washington Post’s Alex Horton, who reported on the discharge Wednesday morning. Hale-Cusanelli was a part-time Army Reserve human resources sergeant. He was arrested 11 days after the riot. A few months later, “In May, he was demoted to private — the enlisted force’s lowest rank — and given an other-than-honorable discharge the next month, terminating a 12-year military career,” Horton reports.
There are at least three other soldiers facing charges from the Jan. 6 riot, according to Horton. “All three remain in uniform,” he writes. Read on, here.

A long chain of failures allowed a fire to devastate the USS Bonhomme Richard, a Navy investigation has found. USNI News first obtained the report, which looked into how a fire set by a sailor caught the crew of the amphibious assault ship unready, and ultimately led to multibillion-dollar ship’s early retirement. Read that, here.

What’s behind the U.S. Army’s IVAS delay? Service officials decided to postpone the testing and fielding of its augmented-reality headset so it can try to improve its performance, Defense One’s Caitlin Kenney reported Tuesday, one week after Janes alleged the delay was a full halt of the program.
Background: “The Army is working with Microsoft to develop the system, which was based on the technology company’s HoloLens headset,” Kenney writes. “Two years of effort led the Army in March to award Microsoft a contract worth up to $21.88 billion over the next ten years to produce and field the system.”
“Calculated risk and time for adjustment have been baked into our processes, and are vital to rapid Army modernization practices,” the service’s statement read Monday. Read on at Defense One, here.

And lastly: The U.S. Army’s National Guard Director Lt. Gen. Jon Jensen will speak today at a 1 p.m. ET virtual event moderated by Mark Cancian of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Jensen’s been on the job almost 14 months, and filled a vacancy left by Gen. Daniel Hokanson’s promotion to Chief of the National Guard Bureau in August 2020.
On Jensen’s agenda: “extreme weather events, balancing the Army National Guard’s continuing requirements for warfighting competence and domestic operations, and the evolving role of ARNG Space force,” according to CSIS’s preview. Registration and details, here.