Today's D Brief: USAF’s budget limbo; Red Sea attack; Navy gets chief buyer; US-Finland pact; And a bit more.

The Pentagon’s budget limbo is freezing nearly 100 new Air Force programs. Even though Congress passed its annual defense policy bill this week, lawmakers must still pass separate spending bills before the Pentagon can stop operating on a short-term basis known as a continuing resolution. 

The entire U.S. government is currently being funded by a continuing resolution, which freezes most spending at 2023 levels and bars the military from starting new programs—many, in fact. The CR expires in February, and Air Force officials said this week they’re growing increasingly anxious about the consequences, as Defense One’s Audrey Decker reported Thursday. 

Failing to pass the spending bills by January would result in the Air Force losing $13 billion in “buying power,” Kristyn Jones, who is performing the duties of the Air Force undersecretary, said Thursday at the AFCEA NOVA Air Force IT Day. “This would stop 89 new starts [and] 19 modernization initiatives focused specifically on countering [People’s Republic of China] threats,” she said. 

A continuing resolution also delays the Air Force’s collaborative combat aircraft program by at least another year, and cancels $2.8 billion in Space Force research and development growth. Her advice? Read on, here

Developing: The U.S. federal government will soon be forbidden to purchase drones made in countries classified as national-security threats, and that includes China, according to a provision tucked into the $886 billion defense policy bill that passed both houses of Congress this week. 

The measure was added in large part on the recommendation of the House Select Committee on Strategic Competition between the U.S. and China, and several U.S. drone firms have reached out to us to share their enthusiasm. Read over the details of the new requirements, which will become law soon as President Biden signs this week’s newly-passed National Defense Authorization Act, here

Coming soon, maybe, from Capitol Hill: Senators say they plan to vote next week on a compromise supplemental aid bill combining aid for Israel and Ukraine with unspecified immigration-related changes demanded by Republicans. 

House lawmakers already went home for the holidays; but Senators are staying around Washington in the hopes of hammering out some sort of deal the two parties can agree upon. Reuters has more.

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. Share your newsletter tips, reading recommendations, or feedback for the year ahead here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. The most dramatic moment in Sino-American relationsoccurred 45 years ago today when President Jimmy Carter announced the U.S. would formally open relations with China and withdraw diplomatic recognition from Taiwan. 

The Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen harassed another cargo ship in the Red Sea on Thursday, according to officials at the U.S. military’s Middle East-focused Central Command. 

After a ballistic missile launched from Yemen landed in the Red Sea, the Hong Kong-flagged ship M/V Maersk Gibraltar was then “hailed by the Houthis, who threatened further missile attacks,” CENTCOM said, without elaborating on methods or approximate numbers of Houthi participants.

“While this incident did not involve U.S. forces, we continue to closely monitor the situation,” CENTCOM said Thursday, and emphasized, “These attacks continue to threaten international maritime security.”

For what it’s worth, the Houthis claimed the attack featured a drone, but Danish shipping firm Maersk denied this in a subsequent statement. Reuters has a tiny bit more, here

Related reading:Iran Hoped to Profit From Israel-Hamas War, but Big Gains Still Elude It,” the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

RTX CEO Greg Hayes to step down in May. In what the company is called a “planned transition,” the outspoken chief executive will be replaced by Christopher Calio, who served as company CFO before becoming its president in 2022. D1’s Marcus Weisgerber limns Hayes’ tenure and Calio’s record, here.

The Navy gets a confirmed acquisition chief—nearly three years into the Biden administration. It’s Nickolas Guertin, who has served as Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation since December 2021. The new assistant Navy secretary for research, development and acquisition was nominated in September 2022, but it took the Senate six months to give Guertin a confirmation hearing, and another nine months to vote on him. In the meantime, the post has been temporarily filled by Jay Stefany, a career civil servant. USNI News has a bit more, here.

And lastly: Finland is planning major increases in how much access it will give the U.S. military across the new NATO member’s territory. The two countries plan to sign a defense pact as early as Monday, Reuters reported Thursday. 

The deal includes 15 different “facilities and areas in Finland to which the U.S. military will have unimpeded access and where it can also store military equipment and ammunition,” the wire service reported from Helsinki. 

At least four air bases are included, as well as “a storage area alongside a railway that leads up to the Russian border.”  

Sweden signed a similar agreement with the U.S. last week, and that deal also included access to four air bases. 

For the record: “The U.S. has signed similar agreements with Norway, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Estonia, while the one with Denmark is pending approval,” Reuters reports. More, here

Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll be back again on Monday!