Today's D Brief: Top US threats, ranked; Pandemic politics; How the Army fits in the Pacific; Replicating robots; And a bit more.

National Guard troops who refuse a COVID-19 vaccine can expect to lose pay and be kept out of training events, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a memo (PDF) dated Tuesday that the Washington Post’s Alex Horton got his hands on. 

“No credit or excused absence shall be afforded to members who do not participate in drills, training, or other duty due to failure to be fully vaccinated against covid-19,” SecDef Austin said in the memo.

What this could mean: Guard troops may not feel the pain unless they’re on federal orders. That’s because, “Although some Guard troops could skip the vaccine and still serve within the state for some time,” the Post’s Horton explains, “they won’t be able to avoid the federal mandate if mobilized for an overseas deployment or attend various training programs vital for career advancement, all but ending their careers.” Continue reading, here.

The Navy and Marine Corps’s COVID-19 vaccination deadline for active-duty troops passed this weekend, but thousands of personnel remain unvaccinated, Defense One’s Caitlin Kenney reports. The Marine Corps said 95% of the force had at least one vaccine dose, while the Navy said 97.2% of active-duty sailors had at least one dose—and that is so far an unexplained decrease from the 99.8% service officials reported last week. 

Next up: The naval services will now start processing separation paperwork for those who have failed to get the vaccine.  

Meanwhile in D.C., some Republicans are trying to shut down the government at the end of the week in order to “defund” enforcement measures linked to the White House’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for the private sector—and they want that “defunding” to last for at least several months, Utah GOP Sen. Mike Lee told Politico on Tuesday. 

Should those GOPers proceed with a shutdown, the earliest it could end is Sunday, and that’s a best-case scenario that relies on “appropriators strik[ing] a bipartisan agreement to extend funding by the end of today,” Politico reported this morning in its Playbook newsletter. And that timeline is so rigid because “The Senate can’t begin the process of voting until the [Continuing Resolution] passes the House—and the House can’t pass the CR until a deal is agreed to.”

Said former Pentagon spox David Lapan: “Once again, some members of Congress are playing with the lives & livelihoods of millions of federal employees (reminder, most of them live outside the DC area). A [government] shutdown is disruptive, unnecessary, and a failure of governance. And it’s a threat to national security.”


From Defense One

US, S. Korea to Write New War Plan to Counter N. Korean Nukes, Missiles // Tara Copp: During visit, defense chiefs also expected to announce Seoul will test for long-awaited operational control of joint forces in 2022.

Former Air Force Weapons Chief Tapped to Become the Pentagon’s Lead Arms Buyer // Marcus Weisgerber: Bill LaPlante has spent the past six years working on military-related tech.

Range Limits, Enemy Snooping Are Leading Naval Services to More Virtual Training // Caitlin M. Kenney: And the Marines want virtual foes that fight more like their real enemies.

The NDAA Likely Won’t Become Law Until 2022. That’s ‘Not The End of the World’ // Jacqueline Feldscher: The Pentagon does not need the must-pass bill to operate, experts say.

Space Force Has a Plan for Training Its Troops. Now It Must Figure Out What They Need to Learn // Patrick Tucker: The newest service can’t train the same way its sisters do. It needs a new simulated environment.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad and Caitlin Kenney. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1941, Japanese Emperor Hirohito finally committed to initiating war with the U.S., the British and the Dutch. (View the military’s directive, issued under “Navy Order No. 9” here.) Japan’s fateful attack on Pearl Harbor would occur just five days later. 


The top threat to U.S. national security? Most Americans reply “China,” and by a long shot, according to a new survey (PDF) of about 2,500 people published Wednesday by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute. Some 52% of those polled placed China atop the list of global threats to the U.S.; Russia and North Korea were the only other nations with double-digit percentage responses to that particular question (14% for Russia and 12% for North Korea).
Are America’s biggest threats foreign or domestic? About 41% said they think internal threats are greatest presently; 25% felt otherwise and worried most about external threats. (FWIW: Those numbers were 36% and 35%, respectively, just nine months ago.) The Wall Street Journal has more on the findings, here

U.S. Army Secretary Christine Wormuth spoke directly about China in a virtual event hosted Wednesday morning by the Center for Strategic and International Studies—an event with technical difficulties that the moderator obligingly joked could be the work of Beijing’s hackers.
Wormuth flagged logistics, regionally-specific SFAB teams, and the Army’s emerging hypersonic missile program as strengths and necessities should conflict break out in the Indo-Pacific over the next few years. Wormuth also pressed the importance of allies and the Army’s China-focused Project Convergence, which recently concluded its big annual experiment in Arizona.
Five “core tasks” form the bulk of the service’s Pacific presence, should a conflict break out in the region, Wormuth said. “First, we will serve as the lynchpin service for the joint force,” which means that “the Army will establish, build up, secure, and protect staging areas and joint operating bases for air and naval forces in theater.”
“Second, we will sustain the joint force across the vast distances of the Indo-Pacific theater using Army theater support capabilities” like secure communications and logistics, which could include fuel and ammunition depots.
Much like it has for Project Convergence, the Army can cover “command and control at multiple operational levels to coordinate, synchronize, sustain and defend ongoing joint operations” using what Wormuth referred to as a “scalable, tailorable combined joint task force headquarters.”
Long-range missiles like the ERCA form the bulk of her fourth “core” function that the service could offer in future conflicts close to China.
And lastly, Army infantry Stryker and aviation brigades could be leveraged to help “restore the territorial integrity of our allies and partners,” Wormuth said. 

Apropos of nothing, get to better know POTUS46’s National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, via a feature-length profile in the New York Times published Tuesday. 

The Taliban have executed or “forcibly disappeared” more than 100 former Afghan soldiers and police across just four provinces since Kabul fell in August, investigators at Human Rights Watch assert in a new report released Tuesday.
Background: “The Taliban leadership has directed members of surrendering security force units to register to receive a letter guaranteeing their safety,” HRW writes in a preview. “However, Taliban forces have used these screenings to detain and summarily execute or forcibly disappear people within days after they register, leaving their bodies for their relatives or communities to find.”
A Taliban spox told the New York Times “We are fully committed to the amnesty that we have announced. We don’t have a security system yet in place, and some people are taking advantage of this vacuum, misusing the name of Islamic Emirate and carrying out such killings.”
Related reading:Taliban and 9/11 families fight for billions in frozen Afghan funds,” NYTs reported separately on Monday. 

And lastly today: Robots may have just advanced to another level. After scientists created the first known “living robots” from frog stem cells back in January 2020, CNN reported on Monday that those Xenobots “can now reproduce—and in a way not seen in plants and animals.”
To be clear: They are quite small; and it appears as though they can replicate, but not all the time.
Why this matters, even if it’s not terribly consequential just yet: The “combination of molecular biology and artificial intelligence could potentially be used in a host of tasks in the body and the environment, according to the researchers,” CNN writes. “This may include things like collecting microplastics in the oceans, inspecting root systems and regenerative medicine.” Read on, here.

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