Today's D Brief: US upgrades Vietnam ties; Kim heads to Russia; Ukraine vows fight into winter; Navy, Air Force confirmation hearings; And a bit more.

It’s been 22 years since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 that killed nearly 3,000 people. “As the years go by, it may feel that the world is moving on, or even forgetting what happened here on September 11, 2001,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Monday during a special observance ceremony at the Pentagon. 

“But please know this: The men and women of the Department of Defense will always remember,” Austin said. “We will always honor the memory of our fallen teammates, and we will always strive to be worthy of the memory of those we lost.” Catch the full ceremony on DVIDS, here

President Joe Biden is visiting Alaska’s Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, where he’ll address troops and first responders on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The stopover near Anchorage is Biden’s last visit after a weekend abroad for a meeting of G20 leaders in New Delhi, followed by talks with Vietnamese leaders in Hanoi earlier on Monday. 

While in New Delhi, Biden announced a new rail project intended to link India with Europe, the Middle East, and Israel. The plan involves “new shipping lanes and pipelines across the Mediterranean through Europe, up into Great Britain and beyond,” Biden told reporters Sunday. “That has nothing to do with hurting China or helping China,” he added. “It has to do with dealing with everything from climate change to making sure that these countries can succeed economically and grow.” 

Why visit Hanoi? In part, to “strengthen alliances around the world to maintain stability,” Biden told reporters on Sunday. “That’s what this trip was all about: having India cooperate much more with the United States, be closer with the United States, [and] Vietnam being closer with the United States.” 

“It’s not about containing China,” the president said. “It’s about having a stable base in the Indo-Pacific.”

Biden also upgraded Vietnam to a “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership,” White House officials said this weekend. That partnership yielded a joint statement between the two nations’ leaders that was published Sunday as well. 

“The title may be symbolic, but closer ties could mean better business deals, and less reliance on China,” according to the BBC. But that’s not all. “Washington is also keen to help Vietnam become an integral part of the world's semiconductor supply chain and develop its electronics sector—areas which have become contentious as the US tries to restrict China's access to advanced tech,” the BBC reports. 

Read more: 

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston and Caitlin Kenney. If you haven’t subscribed to this newsletter yet, you can do that here. On this day in 1943, the first precision-guided munition, Germany’s Fritz X radio-controlled bomb, struck the light cruiser USS Savannah (CL 42) off Salerno, Italy, killing 206 U.S. sailors.

North Korea’s dictator is believed to be on an armored train bound for Russia, South Korean officials said Monday. State-run media confirmed leaders of the two isolated nations will meet “soon,” likely in the eastern Russian port city of Vladivostok, where Vladimir Putin is attending an economic summit

For North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, the trip will be his first known travels abroad since the Covid-19 pandemic first began more than four years ago. South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reports the train ride from Pyongyang is expected to take around 20 hours. 

Putin is likely seeking more artillery and ammunition for his invasion troops occupying Ukraine’s eastern and southern regions. Kim is reportedly seeking help with his struggling satellite program as well as Pyongyang’s burgeoning submarine program, according to the New York Times, reporting last week. 

New: North Korea’s paramilitary force just unveiled two civilian trucks that are actually Multiple Rocket Launchers in disguise. The trucks were displayed during the country’s 75th anniversary parade over the weekend in Pyongyang. Joseph Dempsey of the International Institute for Strategic Studies flagged the development on social media shortly after the parade.

The North also displayed tractors pulling rocket launchers and anti-tank systems on trailers, similar to what they showed off in a different parade two years ago, The Drive reported this weekend. “The tractors are a clear representation of a very real North Korean operational tactic — using these civilian instruments for all-out war should a conflict kick off,” The Drive writes. “This heavy weaponry also underlines how North Korea’s ‘civil defense’ possesses significant firepower.” Read more, here.

Related reading:  

The Ukrainian military’s counteroffensive may only have a month left before autumn rains halt it, Washington’s top military officer predicted Sunday in an interview with the BBC

“There's still a reasonable amount of time, probably about 30 to 45 days' worth of fighting weather left, so the Ukrainians aren't done,” Army Gen. Mark Milley, the outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman, said on the BBC's “Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg” show. “The Ukrainians are still plugging away with steady progress,” but “haven't finished the fighting part of what they're trying to accomplish,” Milley said. 

However, a top Ukrainian officer said they’re planning to continue operations well past when the “cold, wet and mud” traditionally sets in during the late autumn months. Reuters has a tiny bit more on that messaging from Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, Kyiv’s military intelligence chief. 

Progress markers: Analysts at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War continue diligently plotting Ukraine’s confirmed and suspected advances in their daily reports, including atop their latest report Sunday evening. 

At least three significant “roadblocks” are stifling Ukraine’s progress: (1) Ukraine lacks air power and enough air defense systems; (2) Ukraine’s allies remain either too timid or unable to arm it as comprehensively as is needed to eject Russian occupation forces; and (3) prospects of negotiations with Russia seem especially dim, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. 

Additional reading: 

Questions loom for Air Force’s robot-wingman effort. As the service edges toward a competition to build autonomous aircraft to fly into battle alongside manned fighter jets, industry execs have questions that are generally less technological than philosophical. Just how will these “collaborative combat aircraft,” or CCAs, work with manned fighters? How much autonomy should they have? How will their AI be tested? D1’s Audrey Decker delves into the unresolved issues at the core of the CCA effort, here.

Some news about the CCA program is expected at this week’s Air Force Association conference outside Washington, D.C., this week. Check back with Decker and the D1 team over the next few days.

And lastly today: Tuberville’s obstruction continues. This week, the Senate Armed Services committee will hear from the officers President Biden tapped to lead the Air Force and Navy. However, even if the panel of lawmakers approves, Air Force Gen. David Allvin and Navy Adm. Lisa Franchetti’s nominations will still be held up by Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville, whose procedural obstruction in the name of abortion politics has delayed top Pentagon nominations in the wider Senate for more than six months. 

According to the Pentagon last week, 98 Air Force officers’ promotions are on hold because of Tuberville. Ninety-one others in the Army are held up; 86 in the Navy; 18 in the Marine Corps; and eight within the Space Force. Twenty-two of those officers are tied to positions within the INDO-PACOM area of responsibility, with responsibility for the Pacific region, which includes China. 

Allvin’s hearing is scheduled for Tuesday; Franchetti’s is slated for Thursday. The country’s top military officer could be the next vacant senior position when Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley retires later this month at the conclusion of his four-year term.