Today's D Brief: SecDef Austin kicks off #D1Outlook2022; Biden phones Europe before Putin; MBS tours the Gulf; And a bit more.

America’s military chief wants to “lead with diplomacy” to avoid any new wars in Ukraine or Taiwan, he told Defense One’s Tara Copp in an exclusive interview this morning to kick off our annual Outlook 2022 event series.

The SecDef refused to draw red lines for either potential conflict, saying that doing so “only exacerbates the problem,” and that the U.S. should instead focus “on finding ways to de-escalate and reduce tensions.” Otherwise, Copp writes of her interview that this “diplomatic-led approach is an early inkling” of Austin’s “integrated deterrence” policy. And that’s expected to form the foundation of President Joe Biden’s upcoming National Defense Strategy.

Register now to watch the rest of today’s Outlook 2022 sessions, including an interview with U.S. Army Japan Commander Maj. Gen. Joel Vowell that began at 10:30. And tune in tomorrow at noon for an exclusive interview with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. 

SecDef Austin’s message to Congress: Get a damn budget together already, because bouncing from short-term fix to short-term fix—in the form of one Continuing Resolution after another to avoid a shutdown—is hardly ideal. But extending that to a year-long CR? That’s a great way to “misalign billions of dollars in resources in a manner inconsistent with evolving threats and the national security landscape,” America’s 28th defense secretary warned in a statement Monday.

If lawmakers can’t agree on a budget, they should expect an eroded “U.S. military advantage relative to China,” and untold damage to innovation, readiness and military families. “And it would offer comfort to our enemies, disquiet to our allies, and unnecessary stress to our workforce,” Austin wrote. Another CR would mean that paycheck and housing allowance increases “would come at the expense of suspending many of their change-of-station moves and force us to limit the numbers of new recruits we bring in.”

Another CR would “result in over five billion dollars in cuts to our operating accounts,” which Austin said would damage unit readiness and each service’s ability “to cover the health-care needs of military families.” Other anticipated disruptions include: 

  • Delays to more than 100 military construction projects, resulting in additionally lost revenue for local businesses; 
  • Hypersonic missile programs, along with AI and cyber weapons research would also slow considerably. 

Austin’s parting message to the House and Senate: Hammering out a defense budget is “not only the right thing to do, it’s the best thing [lawmakers] can do for our nation’s defense.” Read his take, here.

The latest from the Hill: House lawmakers could vote as early as today on the annual defense policy bill, the National Defense Authorization Act, Roll Call’s Jennifer Shutt reported Monday evening. But there’s still lots of uncertainty as to how those votes could shake out, as Politico’s Heather Caygle tweeted Tuesday morning.  

From Defense One

‘Slow-Boil Crisis’: DIA Needs More Capability to Track Russian, Chinese Tech Work // Patrick Tucker: It takes years to train intelligence analysts, but the Pentagon doesn’t have “that kind of time.”

Biden to Phone Putin, Lay Out the Economic Consequences of Invading Ukraine // Jacqueline Feldscher: The president has been talking with European allies to craft a united sanctions plan to deliver “significant, severe harm,” a senior administration official said.

Amazon Offers 2nd Air-Gapped Cloud For Top-Secret Data // Frank Konkel: The new cloud's data centers are "more than 1,000 miles" away from the northern-Virginia complex that serves U.S. intelligence and defense agencies.

Diplomacy Is the Key to Reducing US Forces in the Mideast // Bilal Y. Saab and Barry Pavel: The Pacific pivot need not reduce Middle East security—if the U.S. can get its partners on board.

DODIIS Conference Wire: What to Look For // Defense One Staff : Some 3,000 people are expected to attend this year's edition of the DIA's IT-and-intelligence conference.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. Eighty years ago today, the Japanese imperial military surprise-attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, killing more than 2,400 people over the course of 75 terrifying minutes. (Read over Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s statement commemorating survivors and the wider significance of the day, here.)

President Biden called up the leaders of France, Germany, the UK and Italy ahead of his call later today with Russian President Vladimir Putin. According to the White House, “The leaders discussed their shared concern about the Russian military build-up on Ukraine’s borders and Russia’s increasingly harsh rhetoric.” That call followed “days and weeks of intense diplomacy with European allies and partners, as well as discussions with the Russians and the Ukrainians at multiple levels,” administration officials told reporters in a separate call Monday.
And about the Biden-Putin chat, “The United States does not seek conflict,” White House officials stressed Monday, and said they expect Biden to communicate that the U.S. and Russia “can work together on issues like strategic stability and arms control.” Biden will also stress that “there will be very real costs should Russia choose to proceed [with another invasion of Ukraine], but he will also make clear that there is an effective way forward with respect to diplomacy.” Defense One’s Jacqueline Feldscher previews today’s call, here.
Related reading: 

Saudi Arabia says it really, really needs to buy more Patriot missiles to shoot down Houthi drones, the Wall Street Journal reports as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman kicked off a regional tour on Monday. The request is reportedly “urgent” and it’s gone out not only to the U.S., but also to Riyadh’s “Gulf and European allies.”
Much like America and IEDs 15 years ago, “More missile interceptors won’t address the longer-term budget problem” presented by lethal drones, the Journal’s Gordon Lubold writes. That’s because those Raytheon-made Patriot “interceptors cost about $1 million a piece, but the drones, described by people familiar with them as ‘$10,000 flying lawn mowers,’ are small, simply made, and relatively inexpensive.” Read on, here.

  • By the way, U.S. senators are set to vote this evening on a resolution (PDF) to block the Biden administration’s latest arms deal with Saudi Arabia, worth some $650 million. The resolution is the work of Sens. Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Bernie Sanders. Details here; or read more from Politico—including an unlikely forecast for its passage—here. 

MBS is visiting Oman, the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, and Kuwait in his travels this week. Perhaps most notably, “It will be the crown prince's first trip to Qatar since Riyadh and its Arab allies imposed an embargo on Doha in mid-2017 in a row that was only resolved last January,” Reuters reported in a preview Monday.
Another reason to work the crowd: Riyadh is hosting an upcoming summit of Gulf leaders on Dec. 14.
Also visiting the region: Turkish President Recep Erdoğan, who dropped by Dubai on Monday while also hoping to score a sit-down with Riyadh’s MBS, who was reportedly in Oman at the time.  

Elsewhere in traveling world leader news: Russian President Vladimir Putin brought his top military and diplomatic chiefs to the Indian capital of New Delhi on Monday for a face-to-face with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The two countries allegedly signed more than two dozen deals relating to rifle manufacturing and unspecified shipbuilding, as well as petroleum, coal, and steel agreements. Reuters has more here.

And lastly today, in case you have occasionally wondered: What’s Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad been up to? The answer seems to be shaking down the locals—including his own family members—to fill his coffers. That’s because over the past two years in particular, regime officials appear to have “raided or outright seized dozens of businesses, including foreign corporations and family enterprises that rode out Syria’s decade-long war in government-held territory,” the Washington Post’s Greg Miller and Liz Sly reported Saturday in a #LongRead that’s packed with useful tables and graphics.