Today's D Brief: Budget day for the Pentagon; Big day for AUKUS; Russia's declining arms industry; China's diplomatic turn; And a bit more.

It’s budget day for United States defense policy folks. News about individual line items will come out throughout the day, but the major takeaway is that the Pentagon is asking for $842 billion for fiscal 2024, which is the “largest, nominal-dollar peacetime budget ever” for the Pentagon, defense officials told Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber. (To be clear, America’s defense budget has been rising each year since 2016.)

The latest total includes $315 billion for weapons systems and a 5.2 percent pay raise for troops, but just $300 million for Ukraine in security assistance. “If [Ukraine] is still an ongoing issue in ’24, we would expect to handle that by contingency or supplemental funding,” a senior defense official said on that matter, but noted that a lot can happen before the budget is actually passed by lawmakers. 

Conspicuously absent from the Navy’s budget: Funding for any new amphibious ships. It does, however, mention divesting three aging dock landing ships. That is unlikely to please Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger, who has been telling everyone who will listen that the Marine Corps needs 31 amphibious ships to operate. He also said Thursday that the readiness rate for the Navy’s amphibious ships that day was 32 percent. “We can’t live with that,” he said, Defense One’s Caitlin Kenney reported

Meanwhile, the Air Force is abandoning plans to develop a new engine for its F-35s and will upgrade the existing engines instead, Defense One’s Audrey Decker reports. The decision came down to cost, said Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall. 

Expect much more throughout the day; and feel free to keep track of all our reporters on Twitter today and everyday at this list

From Defense One

Fewer Than 1/3 of Navy’s Amphibious Ships Are Ready to Deploy // Caitlin M. Kenney: “We can’t live with that,” Marine commandant says after high-profile missions were delayed or scuttled.

Biden Ditches Trump’s Air Force One Paint Scheme For Classic Blue-and-White // Marcus Weisgerber: But the new jets won’t have any polished metal.

5.2% Pay Bump for Troops, Feds in 2024 Budget Proposal // Erich Wagner: The largest proposed pay raise for federal employees since the Carter administration still falls short of the demands of some Democrats and unions.

What to Do in an Increasingly Bipolar World // Colin P. Clarke and Mollie Saltskog: Invite countries to stand on the side of territorial sovereignty and international law.

In a Changing Security Environment, Defend Your Values // Ali Soufan and Naureen Chowdhury Fink: America’s inclusive narrative, and its capacity to learn, remain a beacon for the world.

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to this newsletter, you can do that here. On this day in 1868, the first impeachment trial in U.S. history began, and would eventually lead to the acquittal of President Andrew Johnson by just one vote in the Senate. 

President Joe Biden will meet his British and Australian counterparts at San Diego’s Naval Base Point Loma this afternoon where they’re expected to announce a plan to sell Canberra five Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines. Biden will hold a three-way meeting with Prime Ministers Anthony Albanese of Australia and Rishi Sunak from the UK first, followed by two separate meetings with each leader individually, according to the White House.
A “landmark agreement” is how the New York Times described the AUKUS developments on Sunday, calling it “a sign of the degree to which Mr. Biden and his aides are investing in strategic military planning with allies and partners to counter China’s growing capabilities and to prepare for a potential armed crisis over Taiwan.” Previously, the U.S. had only shared its nuclear submarine technology with only the Brits as part of an agreement in place for the past 65 years. Reuters has more on what’s expected in San Diego, here
Also: The Brits just created a task force to stop the theft of intellectual property and technology—with a direct reference to “espionage activity by the Chinese state,” the prime minister’s office announced Monday. “We know that hostile actors are trying to steal intellectual property from UK institutions in order to harm our country,” Security Minister Tom Tugendhat said in a statement. The new National Protective Security Authority “will play a crucial role in helping businesses and universities better protect themselves and maintain their competitive advantage,” he promised. 
Another thing: U.S. and Canadian officials met Friday to discuss shared challenges in the Indo-Pacific region. That included the president’s Deputy Assistant to the President and Coordinator for Indo-Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell and Ottawa’s National Security and Intelligence Adviser Jody Thomas. Read a bit more from the White House, here.
Related reading: 

The U.S. and Philippine militaries just started their annual Salaknib joint exercises, which focus on coastal and air defense and last for three weeks around the Fort Magsaysay base. “The scenarios would involve the defense of the Philippine archipelago from potential foreign aggressors,” Philippines Army Chief Lt. Gen. Romeo Brawner said Monday, according to Reuters

China has a new military chief. His name is Gen. Li Shangfu, and he got himself sanctioned by U.S. officials five years ago for purchasing Russian weapons parts and aircraft, Reuters reported Sunday from Beijing. More, here

Also new: China’s autocratic leader reportedly wants to speak with Ukraine’s elected president for the first time since Russia invaded its democratic neighbor more than a year ago. The meeting will be virtual, not in-person; and seems to “reflect Beijing’s effort to play a more active role in mediating an end to the war,” according to the Wall Street Journal, which reported the development Monday from Singapore.
But Xi Jinping plans to visit his fellow Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin first, and that could happen as early as next week in Moscow, Reuters reported Monday.
Context: “Trade between China and Ukraine fell 60% in 2022 from a year earlier to $7.6 billion,” according to the Journal, while “trade between Moscow and Beijing rose by roughly 29% from a year earlier to $190 billion.” And of course, “China has emerged as a significant buyer” of Russian gas and oil as European embargoes shrank Moscow’s opportunities.
Related reading: 

Trend-watching: Russian arms exports have been declining for five consecutive years, according to new annual data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. However, Moscow is still ranked No. 2 in that category, behind the U.S., which accounted for about 40% of global arms sales over the past five years compared to Russia’s 16% share. (Arms exporters in the three, four, and five spots are France, China, and Germany, respectively.)
Who bought the most weapons since 2018? India, followed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Australia, and China. And with reductions in Russia’s global arms sales, France has stepped up to fill some of that gap—with most of its sales to nations in the Pacific region and the Middle East.
Who bought the most last year? India again, followed by Qatar, and the country many may have suspected would be higher on the list—Ukraine.
Pacific arms race, continued: Most of the world’s newly-purchased weapons are going to countries in the Indo-Pacific region, extending a trend that had been in place over the previous five years ending in 2018. Indeed, “Six states in the region were among the 10 largest importers globally in 2018–22: India, Australia, China, South Korea, Pakistan and Japan,” SIPRI notes. What’s more, “the biggest increases in East Asia were by US treaty allies South Korea (+61 per cent) and Japan (+171 per cent),” while Australia, which is “the largest arms importer in Oceania, increased its imports by 23 per cent,” according to SIPRI. There’s much more where that came from over here.
Related reading: 

And lastly today: The USAF just unveiled the new color scheme for the next Air Force One, and it drops the previous darker blue template from twice-impeached former President Donald Trump, CNN reported Friday.
The new colors are a much more obvious link with the classic AF-1 lighter blue, which harkens back to the time of POTUS35 John F. Kennedy. One notable difference: “the shade of blue around the nose and engines of the aircraft will be a darker color than the current robin’s egg blue,” CNN reports.
Two of these aircraft are expected, but not until at least 2027; the second is expected the following year. Read more, here.