Today's D Brief: Israel orders Gaza evacuation; Top Marine’s new priorities; Strategic commission reports; Robot arms-makers; And a bit more.

Israel orders civilians to evacuate northern Gaza as forces mass on the border. Early Friday local time, the Israeli government broadcast warnings to leave within 24 hours. “The evacuation order, which applies to Gaza City, home to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, sparked widespread panic among civilians and aid workers already running from Israeli airstrikes and contending with a total siege of Gaza,” the Associated Press reports. 

The order was also widely viewed as a prelude to the first Israeli military ground incursion since 2014. U.N. officials decried the order, saying it would lead to calamity, while Hamas leaders called it a “ploy” and urged civilians to remain in their homes.

Currently: Israel has cut off all food, water and supplies to Gaza, which has lost electricity. Israeli artillery, missiles, and airstrikes continue to pound targets inside the territory, including residential buildings, while Hamas rocket barrages have slackened. The death toll on both sides has passed 3,000 since Hamas forces stormed Israeli towns and opened rocket barrages on Saturday. (AP, New York Times, BBC).

The Israeli Air Force has dropped some 6,000 bombs on targets inside Gaza as of mid-Thursday, the service said in a tweet. That’s more in seven days than any month in the U.S.-led coalition’s fight against ISIS in the 2010s, Wesley Morgan noted on social media.

SecDef Austin: “I know a lot about ISIS, and this is—this is worse than what I saw with ISIS,” he said Friday of Hamas’ brutal attacks against Israelis.  

The UK is sending ships and spy planes to the eastern Mediterranean to support Israel and deter regional threats, Sky News reports.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Taliban have thrown their support behind Hamas, according to a pro-Hamas rally held Friday in Kabul.

A meeting of NATO defense leaders ended without resolution on what the alliance might do about the Hamas-Israel conflict, the New York Times reports.

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed, you can sign up here. On this day in 1775, the 13 colonies in America, organized under the Continental Congress, established their Continental Navy, which would later become the U.S. Navy.

America’s top Marine shared a few of his goals for the months ahead in a conversation this week with Defense One’s Caitlin Kenney. “The first thing I think about when I get up in the morning, or the last thing I think about before I hit the rack at night, is Marines. How do I make them more capable, more lethal? How do I make it easier for them to have some control over their careers?” Gen. Eric Smith told Kenney. 

During Smith’s first 100 days, the Marine Corps has had some wins but has also experienced tragedy, Kenney writes. The service met its 2023 recruiting goal, while the other services continue to struggle. But the Marine aviation community has seen two deadly crashes and the loss of an F-35B fighter jet. The incidents prompted Smith to direct a service-wide safety review and then a stand down; he expects the results of the former later this month.

Also coming this fall: Smith’s much-anticipated planning guidance. The document, in which every commandant lays out their priorities to the force, was delayed because of the drawn-out confirmation process. Not surprisingly, Smith said it will primarily focus on Marines: how to recruit them, how to prepare them to fight, and how to keep them in the service. Continue reading, here

Update: U.S. senator charged with secretly acting as an Egyptian agent. Sen. Senator Robert Menendez, D-N.J., already indicted on bribery charges, is now also charged with secretly acting on behalf of the government of Egypt. Read the Justice Department’s updated indictment, here

Industry watch: The U.S. Army is planning to use robots to help ratchet up shell production, but precision missiles are a harder problem, Defense One’s Sam Skove reported Thursday after speaking with Army secretary for acquisition Doug Bush. One of Bush’s jobs is to make sure the U.S. actually has enough artillery shells to fire, particularly amid heavy usage of U.S. munitions in Ukraine and high projected demands for war with China. 

As for the robots, they’re expected soon at a Texas plant run by General Dynamics, Bush said. Other plants also will eventually be updated and modernized, such as a munitions plant in Scranton, Pennsylvania, he said. A new munitions load-and-pack facility in Iowa will likewise see large investments in modernization, including significant automation. Continue reading, here

How should the U.S. approach nuclear weapons planning in the months ahead? A dozen Congressionally-handpicked experts from a group called the Strategic Posture Commission weighed in on that question this week with the publication of a new report (PDF), the first of its kind since 2009. Their findings are seen as a follow-up to the White House’s Nuclear Posture Review, which was published last October and derided by some hawkish lawmakers as too timid

Rewind: In the 14 years since the last Strategic Posture Commission report, China has grown increasingly aggressive and militaristic, frequently practicing an apparent blockade of Taiwan while expanding impromptu military bases throughout the contested South China Sea. But Russia has arguably become the most unpredictable nuclear power more recently, with its full-scale invasion of Ukraine and its very public development of new nuclear-capable weapons.

“The new global environment is fundamentally different than anything experienced in the past, even in the darkest days of the Cold War,” the group’s chair and vice chairman write in their latest report. “Today the United States is on the cusp of having not one, but two nuclear peer adversaries, each with ambitions to change the international status quo, by force, if necessary: a situation which the United States did not anticipate and for which it is not prepared.” 

The commission’s advice? In short, they recommend speeding up all of America’s most ambitious plans to modernize its nuclear forces and nuclear weapons. That includes producing new nuclear warheads; fielding a new Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile to replace the old Minuteman IIIs; replacing Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines to the newer Columbia class subs; and manufacturing enough of the Air Force’s new B-21 Raiders to replace the old B-2A Spirit bombers. 

One big problem: “While we did not conduct a cost analysis of our recommendations, it is obvious they will cost money,” the authors warn. “The nation must make these new investments and U.S. leaders must communicate to U.S. citizens both the need and urgency to rebuild the nuclear infrastructure and modernize the nuclear forces,” they add. 

A second opinion: “If taken seriously, these are a set of prescriptions for an open-ended arms race with no happy end,” said Ankit Panda of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writing Thursday on social media. 

Four other nuclear scholars essentially agree with Ankit. “The Commission’s embrace of a U.S. nuclear buildup ignores the consequences of a likely arms race with Russia and China (in fact, the Commission doesn’t even consider this or suggest other steps than a buildup to try to address the problem),” write Hans Kristensen, Matt Korda, Eliana Johns, and Mackenzie Knight of the Federation of American Scientists. “If the United States responds to the Chinese buildup by increasing its own deployed warheads and launchers, Russia would most likely respond by increasing its deployed warheads and launchers,” they warn in their own response Thursday. Despite apparent best intentions, “That would increase the nuclear threat against the United States and its allies,” they write.  

Top Republican hawks celebrated the Commission’s findings. That includes Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, and fellow southerner Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, both members of their respective Armed Services Committees. “It is apparent from the report that there is much more that we should be doing to ensure our military, and particularly our nuclear forces, are capable of deterring two near-peer nuclear adversaries at the same time,” Wicker said in a statement Thursday. “The current trajectory of the U.S. nuclear deterrent is insufficient to deter the looming Chinese and Russian threat,” Rogers said in his own statement. “The details of this report should serve as a wakeup call for our strategic posture—we need to rapidly make changes now if we want to deter tomorrow,” he added. 

Scholars’ warning: “While the timing of the report means that it is unlikely to have a significant impact on this year’s budget cycle, it will certainly play a critical role in justifying increases to the nuclear budget for years to come,” Kristensen, Korda, Johns, and Knight warn. “At the very least, before embarking on this overambitious wish list the United States must address any outstanding recommendations from the Government Accountability Office to fix its planning and budgeting processes, otherwise it risks overloading the assembly line even more,” they advise. Read more, here

Additional reading: 

Have a safe weekend, everyone. And you can catch us again on Monday!