Today's D Brief: Collision in the South China Sea; At least 25 dead in Kunduz; Pentagon’s new climate plan; A smaller defense budget; And a bit more.
About a dozen U.S. sailors were injured when their attack submarine hit something while running submerged in the South China Sea this past Saturday, naval officials said on Thursday. Fortunately, none of the injuries aboard the vessel, the USS Connecticut, are life-threatening, Capt. Bill Clinton told USNI News.
“The submarine remains in a safe and stable condition,” Clinton said in his statement, and added, “USS Connecticut’s nuclear propulsion plant and spaces were not affected and remain fully operational. The extent of damage to the remainder of the submarine is being assessed. The U.S. Navy has not requested assistance. The incident will be investigated.” A bit more, here.
BTW: The Connecticut is one of just three subs of the Seawolf class, a faster, deeper-diving, better-armed, and much more expensive class than its Los Angeles-class predecessors and Virginia-class successors. It also has the distinction of having survived a 2003 attack by a polar bear.
From Defense One
New DOD Climate Plan: Adjust Ops, Training, Gear for Extreme Weather // Tara Copp: Virtual exercises will help when wildfires rage; equipment will be tested for health effects in intense heat and cold.
The Pentagon’s New Climate Plan Aims to Manage the Unavoidable // John Conger: The new plan has considerably more specificity, requirements, objectives, and metrics than we had in 2014.
Army to Open Centers For Reporting Sexual Assault, Harassment // Caitlin M. Kenney: The seven “fusion directorates” will be designed to preserve privacy and improve access to care.
Bell Picks Rolls-Royce Engine for V-280 Valor in Army Black Hawk Replacement Contest // Marcus Weisgerber: The move dramatically increases the horsepower of the V-280 over the General Electric engines it uses today.
GOP Lawmakers Slam Pentagon Nominee for Tweets // Jacqueline Feldscher: “Do you believe every Republican in the GOP...are they all racist?” Sen. Dan Sullivan asked Brenda Fulton.
NSA Cyber Chief Spells Out Near-Term Priorities // Brandi Vincent: Ransomware is a top concern, but the agency is also looking ahead to defending networked weapons and post-quantum encryption.
Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Brad Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here.
At least people have died in an explosion at a Shiite mosque in northern Afghanistan’s Kunduz province, the Associated Press reports after initial indications suggested the toll could be much higher. The deputy police chief said he thinks the attack was from a suicide bomber who had gotten inside a dense crowd of worshippers at the Said Abad mosque in Kunduz City. Most observers suspect ISIS was behind the apparent attack since its fighters have been known to strike Shiite mosques.
“If confirmed, a death toll of dozens would be the highest since U.S. and NATO forces left Afghanistan at the end of August and the Taliban took control of the country,” AP writes. Continue reading, here. The BBC has more, here.
In local headlines:
- “Afghans Complain of Inability to Withdraw Salaries From Banks,” via Tolo News;
- “Islamic Emirate Delegates Head to Doha for Talks on Afghanistan,” also via Tolo;
- “Pakistan’s National Security Council to discuss Afghanistan,” via Khaama Press.
One last thing: SIGAR will investigate Ghani. America’s Afghan war and reconstruction watchdog, John Sopko, “said on Wednesday his office would look into allegations that former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani took millions of dollars with him when he left the country,” Reuters reported. More here.
The U.S. military has a new climate plan: adjust ops, training, gear for extreme weather. “More extreme environments may require changes to where and how U.S. forces train for future conflict,” the Department’s 32-page action plan found. To respond, the department is modifying its training and medical skills for the force, bolstering personal protective gear, and when conditions are still prohibitive, acknowledging that “wargaming, enhanced AI-based simulations, and state-of-the-art tabletop exercises may also assist in reducing the risks of actual ground-based maneuvers in extreme conditions.”
In the last year alone, wildfires in California shut down more than a dozen training exercises at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake because it was too dangerous for personnel and aircraft to operate in the heat and smoke. Defense One’s Tara Copp has more, here.
The U.S. wants to know what cybersecurity threats the nation’s schools are facing, which is why President Joe Biden is today planning to sign the “K-12 Cybersecurity Act of 2021” into law. The bill tasks the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency with “study[ing] the cybersecurity risks facing elementary and secondary schools and develop[ing] recommendations that include cybersecurity guidelines.”
ICYMI: Cybersecurity and education converged this summer in a report from the New America think tank entitled, “Teaching Cyber Citizenship: Bridging Education and National Security to Build Resilience to New Online Threats.”
Why this matters: “The online world has been a crucial tool for education and connection, especially during the pandemic,” tweeted one of the authors (and Defense One contributor) Peter W. Singer. “But it has also spread a new kind of threat. Viral misinformation, deliberately spread disinformation, conspiracy theories, and hate speech run rampant.” But with this new report, Singer said, “We lay out the need for a new approach, which we call ‘Cyber Citizenship.’ The concept blends the new skills that we all need in media and digital literacy, with the growing responsibilities of digital citizenship and civics, and the threat awareness of the cybersecurity field.” Dive in, here.
What would a “substantially smaller” U.S. defense budget look like? That’s the $1 trillion question recently taken up by Congressional Budget Office analysts in a new report released Thursday. How much smaller? Fourteen percent, or a trillion dollars, over a 10-year period ending 2031. This can be achieved, the authors write, “by phased budget cuts over the first five years…and growth with the rate of inflation thereafter,” which could yield a 2031 defense budget “about 15 percent smaller than DoD’s 2022 funding request.”
Three options were developed.
- The first is called “Proportional Reductions” and is described as “deterrence by denial,” which relies on combat troops “denying or reversing military gains in regional conflicts.” However, under this plan, personnel numbers are eventually reduced by 20%.
- Another is called “Coalition Defense” and the CBO described it as “deterrence through punishment.” This option reduces “conventional forces, such as brigade combat teams and fighter aircraft, and increases in long-range strike capabilities, such as cruise missiles, anti-ship missiles, and air defense missiles.” Or, “Put another way, the objective in Option 2 would be to inflict high military, economic, and diplomatic costs for military aggression.”
- And the last path to $1 trillion in cuts is called “Command of the Commons,” and it emphasizes “freedom of navigation in sea, air, and space around the world” while also “avoid[ing] the use of large ground forces to seize and hold territory in regional conflicts in favor of engaging enemies at standoff ranges.” In terms of manpower, “DOD would retain a slightly larger naval force than in Option 1, but that force would be reconfigured to better maintain U.S. control of sea-lanes.”
FWIW: None of these would be as painful as reductions in the 1990s or the early 2010s. “Although substantial,” CBO warns, “a reduction that reached 15 percent by 2031 would be smaller than both the 1990s’ budget reductions (a 30 percent decline in annual budgets between 1988 and 1997) and the 18 percent decline in annual budgets between 2012 and 2015 that followed enactment of the Budget Control Act of 2011.” Read the full report, here.
A second opinion: This is “an extremely timely reminder” of what’s possible “for considerably less money than is being contemplated by either Congress or the Biden administration,” said William Hartung, who directs the Arms and Security Program at the Center for International Policy.
“At a time when Congress is seeking to add $24 billion to a Pentagon budget proposal that far exceeds spending at the peak of the Korean or Vietnam wars, the CBO analysis offers an opportunity to step back and take a closer look at how much is actually necessary to protect the U.S. and its allies,” Hartung continued. “At a time when the greatest risks to our lives and livelihoods are not military in nature, saving a trillion dollars that could be devoted to preventing pandemics, addressing climate change, or reducing racial and economic injustice is no small matter.”
For the first time in four years, the U.S. this week revealed how many nuclear warheads it has in its stockpiles (3,750). Why should you care? Jeffrey Lewis of California’s Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey argues in a Twitter thread that this is a great example of “extended deterrence” and trust-building with allies, which is something the U.S. has been doing for decades. For example, he writes, “Deterring the Soviets was one thing, reassuring the Europeans that we weren't going to get them all killed was another. And we needed to do both.”
However, “This problem is tougher today,” Lewis says. “In the Cold War, conservatives were staunchly anti-Soviet and, therefore, tolerably Atlanticist. Today? The gravity of support for the transatlantic alliance is located on the center-left of the political debate. Today's far-right types love Putin.” But “the people who we can reasonably persuade to support a strong NATO today against Russia are also pretty skeptical of a renewed Cold War or arms race.” As a result, “They're looking for more in the way of reassurance than deterrence.” And through this lens, you might be able to see how transparency on something as world-ending as nuclear weapons stockpiles can also be a trust-building gesture—one that becomes much more clear when set against China and Russia, neither of whom are as transparent about their stockpiles.
“Transparency and good-faith efforts to reduce nuclear dangers are an important part of a reassurance strategy to mobilize opposition in Europe to Russia's crazy nuclear programs like the doomsday torpedo, the nuclear-powered cruise missile, and so on,” Lewis continued. “Releasing the size of the [U.S.] stockpile is a small but helpful part of that; a way to illustrate that we're different. All of which is to say to the [U.S. government]: Good job! I fully expected you to shoot yourself in the foot—and you proved me wrong.” (Editor’s note: In our opinion, Jeffrey is a national treasure, and we raise our coffee mugs to him on this lovely fall day.)
Next week: The AUSA’s annual convention comes to Washington starting Monday, October 11 through 13 at the usual venue—the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Defense One staff will be there, so feel free to send us any questions you might have about Army programs before day one begins on Monday.
One of the things we’ll be watching for: The future of Army vehicle programs, especially since the AUSA exhibit floors are largely designed to show off an enormous variety of just these sorts of machines from manufacturers all around the world.
Here’s something we learned this year about the future of Army programs: The M1 Abrams tank program will eat up more than 40% of all Army acquisition costs through 2050, according the latest projections taken into account in a report published this spring by the Congressional Budget Office.
We’re also hearing good things from soldiers and Marines fielding the new Joint Light Tactical Vehicles at bases across the country. What’s your experience with JLTVs? Let us know. (After all, not everyone is a fan.) One reason we ask is that there’s potentially a $12 billion decision on the future of that program due later this fiscal year, and some analysts worry that future conflict in the Pacific perhaps ought to derail current JLTV acquisition plans, which call for buying more than 49,000 of the vehicles.
There are several other new Army vehicle programs with big decisions due later this fiscal year, including at least four in Q4 alone. There could be a new chapter in the evolution of ground robots and mini-tanks. An update on the program to replace Bradley Fighting Vehicles is due later this year—which gave us the opportunity to watch the late-90s HBO film “Pentagon Wars,” based on the book by former Air Force Col. James Burton about the origins of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle.
You can review AUSA’s full agenda on its program page, here. And if you plan to attend, you probably already know proof of COVID-19 vaccination is required, which you can either upload ahead of arrival or bring when you walk up to the convention center next week. Perhaps we’ll see you there!
Be safe this weekend. And we’ll catch you again in this newsletter on Tuesday!