Today's D Brief: USN needs more $, says SecNav; US, NATO in the Black Sea; $650m in missile sales to the Saudis; And a bit more.
America’s Navy will need significantly more money if it’s going to keep up with China’s growing navy, U.S. Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said Thursday at the 2021 Aspen Security Forum in Washington, D.C.
How much more? About three to five percent above inflation if it’s to reach its 355-ship target ratified by Congress in 2018. And that’s especially notable because the Navy’s budget was essentially flat this year, Defense One’s Caitlin Kenney reports. “Flat” how? The service asked for $211.7 billion in 2022, including $22.6 billion for shipbuilding procurement. Even taking those together, the total is less than what the Navy received in 2021.
Del Toro also wants Congress to stop buying F/A-18 Super Hornets so the Navy can add more F-35 Lightning IIs, which he said were better able to “meet the significantly increasing capabilities of the Chinese.” Continue reading, here.
Also on Thursday: The Navy fired the captain and two other leaders of the USS Connecticut for “loss of confidence” after the submarine hit an underwater mountain in the South China Sea, the service announced in a statement.
Background: A command investigation into the Oct. 2 incident found that the Seawolf-class nuclear attack submarine grounded on an uncharted seamount while operating in international waters, U.S. 7th Fleet said Monday. The grounding injured 11 sailors and damaged the ballast tanks in the submarine’s forward section, and now the vessel is in Guam for damage assessment. It’s expected to return to its homeport of Bremerton, Washington, for repairs. Defense One’s Caitlin Kenney has more on that one, here.
From Defense One
Navy Secretary Seeks 3-5% Annual Budget Increases // Caitlin M. Kenney: “I think more members of Congress understand the real threat that China presents,” Del Toro said.
New Tech Will Erode Nuclear Deterrence. The US Must Adapt // Barry Pavel and Christian Trotti: A nuclear-only review can’t properly assess sensors and weapons from hypersonics to directed energy.
Navy Fires Commander, Other Leaders of Damaged Submarine // Caitlin M. Kenney: A separate safety investigation is still proceeding into the Oct. 2 grounding of USS Connecticut.
Welcome to this Friday 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 1925, a multi-lingual adventurer who came to be known as an “ace of spies,” Sidney George Reilly, was executed near Moscow after linking up with a group he thought were anti-Bolsheviks, but who were in fact intelligence agents running a counter-spy operation. Reilly’s life and exploits would later inform Ian Flemming’s famous James Bond character, who debuted in the 1953 novel, “Casino Royale.”
Turkish protesters put a hood over the head of a U.S. Navy civilian in Istanbul this week during a port visit by the USS Mount Whitney. Seventeen of the protesters were later detained for the stunt on Wednesday, which was captured in video for maximum social media outrage here, and meant as a protest of U.S. military support for YPG fighters inside Syria, according to Reuters.
- By the way: The U.S. military is still very well dug-in inside Syria, and it’s still being attacked by alleged Iran-backed forces at the Al-Tanf outpost in the south. Fox and CBS News have more on that recent, purportedly harmless mid-October incident.
FWIW: The Istanbul protesters, known as the Turkey Youth Union, or TGB, “carried out a similar act in 2014 by putting a hood over the head of U.S. soldiers returning from an exercise in the Black Sea region,” Reuters reminds us.
With some perhaps understandable restraint, here’s how the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet described at least some of Wednesday’s developments in a statement the following day: “While in Istanbul, Mount Whitney’s crew, as well as members of the embarked SIXTHFLT and Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO staff, had the opportunity to enjoy Istanbul’s rich culture and history while interacting with local Turkish citizens through Morale, Welfare, and Recreation tours.”
Update: The USS Mount Whitney and its international crew are now patrolling the Black Sea, the U.S. Navy announced Thursday.
From the region: “Romania, Ukraine say more troops needed on the Black Sea,” via Defense News, reporting Thursday.
The White House just authorized $650 million in missile sales to the Saudis, the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs announced Thursday after its obligatory notification to Congress.
One motivating factor: “We’ve seen an increase in cross-border attacks against Saudi Arabia over the past year,” the Bureau tweeted Thursday after the announcement.
Involved: As many as 280 AIM-120C-7/C-8 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles, which are expected to be used to at least in part to help thwart “the persistent [drone] attacks that have put U.S. forces at risk and threatened the more than 70,000 U.S. citizens in the Kingdom,” a State Department official said Thursday, isolating “Iranian-backed Houthi air attacks,” in particular. A bit more, here.
All 24 female U.S. senators have urged President Biden to craft a plan to protect women and girls in Afghanistan. Kabul’s “former government, while flawed, was bound by a constitution that promoted human rights, and freedom of speech and assembly for both women and men,” the senators write in their letter. But more recently, of course, “Taliban leaders who promised that women would be treated well under the new government are not upholding those commitments.”
“Afghan women and girls need our action now,” they write, adding, “We request and look forward to a briefing from the administration on your plan.” Read over the full one-page letter (PDF), here.
There’s at least one technology application in which Russia seems a bit ahead of the rest of the world. It’s called nuclear-powered residential heating, and Russian officials are pioneering its use in the arctic port town of Pevek, which is close-ish to Alaska and has a population of about 4,500 people, the New York Times’ Andrew Kramer reported Friday.
One reason this matters: It could reduce fossil fuel use at a time when the world is seeking adaptations to the challenges posed by climate change.
Another reason it matters: American, Chinese, and French companies are now mulling a similar application of small nuclear reactors (GE and Westinghouse, in the U.S. instances). In Pevek’s case, the residents are using power generated from a floating reactor facility called Akademik Lomonosov and that’s almost as large as a city block.
Like China’s new use of the old Soviet orbital bombardment system, Russia’s use of small reactors also harkens back to the late 1960s and early 1970s. And in fact, Kramer writes, “The United States operated a barge-based reactor to electrify the Panama Canal Zone from 1968 to 1976, and Sweden used nuclear heating in a suburb of Stockholm from 1963 to 1974.” The U.S. military is even trying to obtain one small enough to fit in a Conex box. Continue reading, here.
The U.S. has a National Space Council, and it is holding its first meeting on Dec. 1, SpaceNews reports Friday. Vice President Kamala Harris will direct the meeting, which is expected to take place at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, near Greenbelt, Maryland. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson is also expected to attend.
If this sounds somehow both old and new, that’s because “The council was revived by the Trump administration in 2017 after nearly a quarter-century of dormancy,” according to SpaceNews. More here.
And finally today: RIP, Colin Powell. President Joe Biden will join two of America’s previous commanders-in-chief at the private funeral of Colin Powell, scheduled for noon Friday at the Washington National Cathedral.
POTUS44 and 43 are expected to attend, along with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the Wall Street Journal reports in a preview.
Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!