The D Brief: New cyber strategy; China’s Maui disinfo; Promotion hold’s toll; And just a bit more...

U.S. Space Force needs more cyber specialists to monitor and protect the service’s uber-connected satellites and other systems, says Maj. Gen. Douglas Schiess, the commander for U.S. Space Command’s Combined Force Space Component Command. “We really need to worry about our weapons systems…because every weapons system talks to another weapons system that talks to another system. So we have to make sure that we are secure,”  Schiess told reporters Tuesday during the Air & Space Forces Association’s annual Air, Space & Cyber conference.

It’s a problem across DOD, which last month announced a new effort to find experts.

Speaking of strategies: The public can learn just a bit more about the overall cyber strategy that DOD sent to Congress earlier this year, thanks to an unclassified version released on Tuesday. “This strategy draws on lessons learned from years of conducting cyber operations and our close observation of how cyber has been used in the Russia-Ukraine war,” Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy John Plumb said in a statement.

China’s race to space is extending its military reach, says Maj. Gen. Greg Gagnon, deputy chief of space operations for intelligence. Last year alone, China launched 200 satellites, more than half devoted to keeping tabs on Chinese and adversary forces, Gagnon said at the ASC conference. “The significant growth of on-orbit capabilities of the PLA now allows them to see much further with greater precision at day and at night and through all weather,” he said. “They have extended their weapons engagement zone. This is a profound shift in the operational problem that we face in the western Pacific.”

China is adding fighter jets and drones along along the coast facing Taiwan, Taiwan's defense ministry said on Tuesday in its biennial report. Reuters has a bit more, here.

China’s unsafe intercepts of U.S. aircraft risk “disaster,” Gen. Kenneth S. Wilsbach, commander of Pacific Air Forces, told reporters at ASC on Tuesday. “We do fly a lot close to China,” Wilsbach said. “It’s not uncommon for U.S. military aircraft to be intercepted 10 times a day.” The U.S. operates RC-135s and other sensor-equipped aircraft in international airspace and most of the intercepts are safely performed, he said. (Air & Space Forces)

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson and Jennifer Hlad with Audrey Decker and Bradley Peniston. (Did someone forward this to you? Sign up here.) On this day in 1918, U.S. and French units launch the St. Mihiel offensive, the first WWI operation carried out by a complete American army.

It would take more than 689 hours of consideration on the Senate floor, plus two days of Senate session—nearly 31 straight days—to process all the pending military nominations affected by Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s holds, the Congressional Research concluded in a recent memo. And those numbers assume the legislative body would work 24 hours a day on only the nomination issue, CRS said. If the Senate instead worked eight hours a day, it would take nearly 90 days to confirm all 273 nominees currently in limbo.

Those nominations include Air Force Gen. C.Q. Brown, nominated to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Gen. Randy George, nominated to lead the Army; Gen. Eric Smith, nominated to lead the Marine Corps, and Gen. David Allvin, nominated to lead the Air Force. 

Allvin appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday for his confirmation hearing, which unsurprisingly included extensive commentary from the senators about the Alabama Repubican’s holds. 

“When I met with NATO leaders, I heard concerns that leaving so many senior positions unfilled is leading our allies to question our commitment to NATO,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said at the hearing. “Instead of trying to embarrass the United States in front of its allies and trying to embolden our enemies, the senator from Alabama should lift his holds and let our top military leaders do their jobs.”  Defense One’s Caitlin Kenney has more, here.

Also at ASC: The holds also came up at the ASC conference, where Gen. Mark Kelly, leader of Air Combat Command, said the situation is not just affecting troops, it’s also damaging the United States’ reputation around the world.

Where “our allies and partners look for confidence, our adversaries look for weakness, and they look for fractures. And this situation is not instilling confidence in our allies—and it is instilling confidence in our adversaries. I'd go so far to say if you drive north of the National Cathedral, up Connecticut Avenue, that popping sound you hear is not straight gunfire. It is champagne corks in the Chinese Embassy bouncing off the walls,” Kelly said.

Forty-two people are still missing in Maui, and 115 have been confirmed dead after a fast-moving wildfire ripped through the historic town of Lahaina more than a month ago. 

Hawaii National Guardsman 1st Lt. Ryan Edgar has been on the island since roughly 24 hours after the disaster; he told Defense One that he and other members of the chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosive enhanced response package (also known as CERFP) initially helped with the search and recovery mission before transitioning in late August to help with the decontamination effort. “The EPA is in the area, collecting whatever hazardous material they can find for proper disposal,” while the CERFP team is helping decontaminate the people doing that search. 

The fire burned more than 2,000 acres, and several multi-story buildings collapsed, so the search area is large and also complex.  and searching such a large area takes time, Edgar said. “We have to understand that this was, in some areas, the fires, the temperature was so hot that it would be pretty similar, if not hotter than, cremation. So it made recoveries very difficult.,” he said.

Edgar had just returned to Oahu from his month of annual training when he got the call to go to Maui, but said his team has not done a fire response before—“certainly not something of this complexity and scale.” Even the FEMA personnel who have responded to dozens of wildfires around the world said the Maui fire was beyond anything they’ve seen. 

“A lot of responders have experience with wild brush fires, and this has been called [a wildfire],” Edgar said. But this was not in the wild. “This is right in the middle of a bustling town, historic site, has a lot of meaning tot he people there. So… not only are we talking about a highly populated area, both residential and commercial, it also has a lot of historic significance.” 

As Edgar and nearly 700 other DOD personnel were responding to the fire, Chinese agents were spreading disinformation about what caused the blaze, the New York Times reported Monday. Those false posts alleged that instead of a natural disaster, the fire was sparked by a “secret ‘weather weapon,’” the Times reported, noting that the use of artificial intelligence to create fake photos for the posts made them “among the first to use these new tools to bolster the aura of authenticity in a disinformation campaign.” 

Also in Hawaii: The defueling of Red Hill Bulk Storage Facility in Oahu, will begin October 16, and “will not adversely impact DOD’s ability to support military operations in the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command theater,” Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters Tuesday. 

Rewind: Multiple fuel spills from Red Hill in 2021 contaminated the drinking water for tens of thousands of people at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and nearby civilian and military housing areas. Now, as the Pentagon works toward defueling and closing the site, “The Defense Logistics Agency has taken actions to reposition fuel within the theater,” Ryder said.