Today's D Brief: China’s growing nukes; The future of Project Convergence; WH delays contractor vax mandate; New WH cyber mandate; And a bit more.
China seems to indeed be rapidly adding to its nuclear warhead stockpiles, the Pentagon said in its latest Congressionally-mandated annual report on Chinese military power, published Wednesday. Read over the full assessment (PDF) here.
According to the U.S. military’s top officer: What’s happening across China is “one of the largest shifts in global geostrategic power that the world has witnessed,” Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said of the developments on Wednesday.
Beijing was believed to have more than 200 nuclear warheads in 2020, according to the Pentagon’s assessment from that year. But this year’s report follows a flurry of reporting (at the Washington Post, e.g.), often featuring commercially available satellite imagery, which suggests China is dramatically escalating its nuclear development and launch programs with the installation of dozens of possible silos that could contain intercontinental ballistic missiles. Related ongoing work could see China add 700 operational warheads by 2027 and 1,000—or more—by 2030, “exceeding the pace and size that [the U.S. Defense Department] projected in 2020,” according to the Pentagon’s new report.
Reminder: The U.S. maintains about 3,800 nuclear warheads in its arsenal, the BBC reported over the summer.
One concerning takeaway: China’s rapid expansion of all three legs of its nuclear triad, as well as other improvements to its air, sea, and space forces, will by 2027 give it an array of offensive weapons that would give it credible options for attacking or otherwise coercing Taiwan, Defense One’s Tara Copp reports.
“The challenge is clear,” said the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama. “Either the United States rises to meet this challenge with unprecedented defense modernization, or we cede the world stage to the Chinese Communist Party...This report should crystalize for the Biden administration what has been self-evident for some time—that China poses a real and imminent threat. Kicking the can down the road for our own military modernization is no longer an option.” Read more via Defense One, here.
For your ears only: Take a closer look at how the U.S. military thinks it should brace for a war with China in our latest Defense One Radio podcast. This episode, we explore what could be one of the most transformative moments in the U.S. Army’s history—the ongoing work on what’s known as Project Convergence, which is the Army’s role in the wider Joint All-Domain Command and Control concept, often referred to simply as JADC2. (Defense One’s Patrick Tucker calls it “the Army’s connect-everything experiment.”)
Project Convergence 2021 is playing out right now through next Tuesday across several sites in the U.S., including Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona, the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, Fort Bragg, N.C., and more.
“Last year's [demonstration] was kind of meant to represent an adversary that looked more like Russia,” Tucker told us. “And this one is supposed to much better emulate China, which means a lot more going into it.”
Two big reasons all this matters: “We know that both China and Russia are also pursuing these very similar concepts,” said Tucker, “And in many ways, they don't have the same bureaucratic barriers to prevent them from doing it.”
Bonus: Take a trip back in time to an Army experiment that revolutionized how America’s military went to war via Angry Staff Officer’s recounting of the 1941 Louisiana maneuvers, which played out across much of modern-day Fort Polk—and later informed massive changes across the force, like how to make smarter use of tanks, planes, and paratroopers. All that and a lot more in our latest Defense One Radio, which you can find on Apple, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.
From Defense One
Biden Administration Delays Contractor Vaccine Mandate Until Jan. 4 // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense firms had warned of layoffs and weapons-manufacturing delays.
North Korean Uranium Mining Picked Up From 2017 to 2020 // Patrick Tucker: Satellite photos show accelerated mining efforts but the meaning of the activity is still unclear.
Zero Religious Exemptions Granted for COVID Vaccines in Air Force, As Deadline Passes // Elizabeth Howe: Nearly 5,000 religious exemptions are still pending approval.
Marine Corps Seeks ‘Fundamental Redesign’ to Recruiting, Retention, Careers // Caitlin M. Kenney: Commandant wants to keep young Marines longer, bring in older ones with skills.
China Likely to Have ‘At Least’ 1,000 Nukes by 2030, Pentagon Estimates // Tara Copp: Beijing’s new capabilities could embolden a Taiwan attack—but that’s not likely within the next two years, Milley says.
Belarus’s Weaponized Migrants Offer a Primer on Gray-Zone Warfare // Elisabeth Braw: Western governments would do well to study Minsk’s actions—and prepare their populations to be on guard.
Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1944, British Field Marshal Sir John Greer Dill passed away at Walter Reed hospital while on assignment in Washington, D.C. Dill was known for his poor rapport with UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who assigned him to the diplomatic post in the states around the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor. But it was in Washington that Dill developed a close friendship with U.S. Army Gen. George Marshall, and later won high praise from President Franklin Roosevelt for his work coordinating American and British efforts during the Second World War. Shortly after his death and with Marshall’s support, Dill was interred at Arlington National Cemetery. Almost six years later, an equestrian statue was placed there to solidify his legacy, near section 32. To this day, Dill remains the highest ranking foreign soldier buried at Arlington.
The U.S. Navy is 99% vaccinated against COVID-19, and the Marine Corps is closer to 95%, Secretary Carlos Del Toro said this morning in conversation with Defense One’s Kevin Baron at the Aspen Security Forum, held this year in Washington, D.C., and streaming (as well as in reruns) on YouTube, here.
The Department of the Air Force—that includes Space Force—missed its self-imposed deadline to vaccinate all active-duty troops, but is still trying to get through the thousands of requests for exemptions, Defense One’s Elizabeth Howe reported Wednesday. Close to 96% of airmen and guardians were vaccinated as of Tuesday.
Still pending: Nearly 5,000 airmen and guardians applied for religious exemptions, but a total of zero have been granted so far.
Department of the Air Force officials have already worked through the medical and administrative exemption requests, and approved 1,634 medical and 232 administrative, Howe writes.
Federal contractors, meanwhile, will have a few more weeks to get the jab. The Biden administration has pushed the vaccine deadline for those workers from Dec. 8 to Jan. 4, Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber reports this morning.
A bit later at the Aspen Security Forum, Defense Innovation Unit's Mike Brown is scheduled for a 2 p.m. ET appearance. Special Operations Command’s Gen. Richard Clarke takes the stage at about 3 p.m. ET this afternoon. And he’s followed shortly afterward by Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger, who is slated for a 3:45 p.m. ET appearance.
North Korea has more of the right stuff to make nuclear bombs than previously thought, Defense One’s Patrick Tucker reported Wednesday. Stanford researchers using artificial intelligence in their assessment say activity at the country’s Pyongsan uranium mine “appears to have increased from 2017 to 2020, though its output still lags the country’s uranium processing capabilities,” Tucker writes.
Interesting timing: The apparent increase came “around the same time that the North Korean regime and the Trump administration were in talks to cease North Korean nuclear activity in exchange for sanctions relief,” he continues. More on how the researchers used technology to come to their conclusion, here.
The Pentagon says it didn’t violate any laws of war when it mistakenly killed 10 people during an airstrike in Kabul as the U.S. hurriedly withdrew from Afghanistan on Aug. 29. The strike was initially believed to have targeted alleged ISIS fighters transporting jugs of explosive material near the back of an automobile. (A New York Times investigation later found that those jugs contained only water.)
Among the most complicating factors clouding the U.S. decision to strike: “execution errors” that “combined with confirmation bias and communication breakdowns,” all of which “regrettably led to civilian casualties,” Air Force Inspector General Lt. Gen. Sami Said told reporters Wednesday.
The service is now considering three specific recommendations in response to these sort of “rapid strikes,” or in instances “where we're time-constrained...because of the need to exercise self-defense in urban terrain,” Said explained. The BBC has more, here.
And lastly: The White House just mandated all federal agencies (except DOD, CIA and ODNI) patch more than 200 cyber vulnerabilities, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. The new directive “covers all software and hardware on federal information systems, including those hosted by third parties—such as federal contractors—and includes those that wouldn’t necessarily meet the generally accepted threshold for critical or high risk,” and it’s “the first directive to require governmentwide fixes concerning both internet-connected systems and those maintained offline,” the Journal’s Dustin Volz writes.
Some vulnerabilities, like ones discovered this calendar year, must be fixed “within two weeks, and, going forward, newly added flaws could require faster mitigation,” a White House official said.
Others come with a six-month window to patch, and this is “because they are less likely to carry a high risk of exploitation” and it lets IT compliance teams focus on the riskier problems. Continue reading, here.