STRETCHED TO THE LIMIT: As the Pentagon prepared for a three-day weekend, the civilian head of the Air Force delivered what has been become an increasingly urgent refrain. While higher funding levels are in the new defense authorization bill, they mean nothing unless Congress acts to lift the spending caps known as sequestration that remain the law of the land. “The most important thing we need to do is we need to lift sequestration as it's currently structured,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told reporters at a Pentagon briefing yesterday. “Risk accumulates over time, and you just don't know exactly when things will break. But we are stretching the force to the limit, and we need to start turning the corner on readiness.”

Wilson and Gen. David Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff, painted a grim picture of a overburdened force on the ragged edge of readiness, in which jobs formerly performed by the many are now done by the few. That, Wilson said, is burning out people, and exacerbating a growing shortage of pilots that has gone from 1,500 earlier this year to 2,000. “It's not just pilots, though, and air crew, when it comes to readiness. It is spare parts and flying hours and munitions,” Wilson said.

High operational tempo combined with years of budget cuts have left the Air Force “too small for all the missions that we're being asked to carry out on behalf of the nation,” Wilson said. “Secretary Wilson and I remain adamant that Congress turn off the auto-pilot and get back in control of the budget,” Goldfein said.

SHELL GAME: It was a similar tale of woe over at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee's readiness subcommittee, where the senior aviation officers from the four services described the toll that the lack of stable, predictable budgets was taking on the combat readiness of U.S. forces. “We are meeting the combatant commanders' requirement for ready, lethal carriers and air wings forward, but at a tremendous cost to the readiness of our forces at home," said Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, commander of Naval Air Forces.

Shoemaker described what he called the “shell game” required to move jets around in order to ensure the USS Carl Vinson, USS Nimitz and USS Theodore Roosevelt had their full complement of aircraft for their deployments this year. The result is the hollowing out of nondeployed squadrons, which are left behind without enough planes to provide the flying hours needed to allow pilots to maintain their proficiency.

NO TRUMP-PUTIN MEETING: As we go to press this morning, there are conflicting reports about whether President Trump will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin while both are in Vietnam for an economic summit. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders says there will be no formal meeting, but the two leaders may chat informally on the sidelines. “There was never a meeting confirmed and there will not be one that takes place due to scheduling conflicts on both sides. We're not going to be able to make anything work,” Sanders said. “Now, they're going to be in the same place, so are they going to bump into each other and say hello?  Certainly possible and likely.” Meanwhile, the Russians are still hinting that a meeting could happen.

SYRIAN PEACE DEAL: Washington and Moscow are reportedly on the verge of an agreement to end the fighting in Syria and begin a process that could lead to a peace agreement. The impetus for the renewed focus on diplomacy is what now appears to be the inevitable defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. “The U.S.-Russian agreement being discussed would focus on three elements, officials said: ‘deconfliction’ between the U.S. and Russian militaries, reducing violence in the civil war and reinvigorating U.N.-led peace talks,” reports The Associated Press, quoting unnamed officials. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said that the way ahead involves stabilizing Syria with so-called “de-escalation zones” and getting the parties to the peace table in Geneva. One potential flashpoint is that U.S.-backed Syrian forces are holding large oil fields and strategic territory in the country’s north and east.

Good Friday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre’s Daily on Defense, compiled by Washington Examiner National Security Senior Writer Jamie McIntyre (@jamiejmcintyre), National Security Writer Travis J. Tritten (@travis_tritten) and Senior Editor David Brown (@dave_brown24). Email us here for tips, suggestions, calendar items and anything else. If a friend sent this to you and you’d like to sign up, click here. If signing up doesn’t work, shoot us an email and we’ll add you to our list. And be sure to follow us on Twitter @dailyondefense.



HAPPENING TODAY: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis wraps up his weeklong trip to Europe, landing today at Joint Base Andrews after a stop in London on the way back from the NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels.

The Pentagon is on a holiday schedule, in observance of Veterans Day.

And today is the 242nd birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps. In a message to the Corps, Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said “Today, as we celebrate our 242nd birthday, we must remember who we are, where we came from, and why we’re here. We must remember the past, honor those who are no longer with us, focus on today’s battles, and get ready for tomorrow.

“And we remain committed to being our Nation’s Expeditionary Force in Readiness that sets the standard for honor, discipline, and courage.

MURKY NUMBERS: Mattis departs Brussels leaving confusion in his wake about exactly how many troops other NATO nations are contributing to the Afghanistan mission. The U.S. has already sent more than 3,000 troops to bolster the 11,000 that were there under President Barack Obama, and other NATO nations have promised to send more as well. But yesterday nobody, not Mattis nor Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, nor NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, would say if other members of the alliance had stepped up.

Scaparrotti said discussions with NATO nations are still going on, and some are considering an “additional plus up” of their contributions. “So this is all very encouraging and I would just say that as you look at the contributions to the nations to date, we will fulfill Gen. [John] Nicholson's requirement substantially, in a very satisfactory way in my mind. I'm very encouraged by this.”

Stoltenberg noted other NATO nations are providing “almost a billion U.S. dollars each year” to the Afghan defense and security forces.

TRUMP IN VIETNAM: The president has left China and is now in Da Nang, Vietnam, where he gave a speech to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting. While focused mostly on trade, Trump urged assembled nations to confront the North Korean threat.

“Earlier this week, I addressed the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea and urged every responsible nation to stand united in declaring that every single step the North Korean regime takes toward more weapons is a step it takes into greater and greater danger.  The future of this region and its beautiful people must not be held hostage to a dictator’s twisted fantasies of violent conquest and nuclear blackmail.”

He also appear to address a host of disputes involving claims to islands in the South and East China Sea. “In addition, we must uphold principles that have benefitted all of us, like respect for the rule of law, individual rights, and freedom of navigation and overflight, including open shipping lanes.”

GUN, ABORTION COMMENTS SNAG WINSLOW: The Senate Armed Services Committee sent another batch of Trump Pentagon nominees to the chamber floor with a quick voice vote on Thursday. But it did not include Dean Winslow, a Stanford University medical professor who Trump picked to oversee the military healthcare system. Sen. John McCain, the Armed Services chairman, confirmed his committee is holding up Winslow after he criticized U.S. gun laws as “insane” and advocated “therapeutic abortions” during a hearing Tuesday. “I happen to be pro-life and I happen to believe what he said was not pro-life,” McCain said. “We’ve asked additional questions and we will give him every chance to make his case.”

McCain has pushed other nominees to amend their testimonies and now it is up to Winslow, who served as a military flight surgeon and worked to bring Iraqis to the U.S. for needed surgeries, to do the same. During his Tuesday testimony, the doctor criticized laws that allow citizens to purchase long guns like the one used in the recent Texas church shooting. “I’d also like to, and I may get in trouble with other members of the committee, just say how insane it is that in the United States of America a civilian can go out and buy a semi-automatic assault rifle like an AR-15, which apparently was the weapon that was used,” Winslow said. He also advocated in a written statement that “therapeutic abortion services” — abortions when the health of the mother is at risk — be provided in appropriately staffed military facilities.

FILLING JOBS: Rep. Ruben Gallego urged Congress on Thursday to pass the bipartisan Dream Act because the military is dealing with a "critical shortage" of skilled members, and non-U.S. citizens are the only people who can fill the gaps.

"We have a critical shortage of highly qualified and skilled people as it is in the military. The military is not a jobs program. We should not be trying to save military jobs for American citizens. We want the best. We want the brightest. We want the strongest. And we need to get them from wherever they come from and if they're willing," Gallego said during a Democratic press conference at the Capitol.

AIR FORCE PROMISES FULL ACCOUNTING: Wilson is promising to get to the bottom of why the criminal record of a former airman responsible for the Texas church massacre was not reported for inclusion in a national database. “The offenses for which the shooter in Texas was court-martialed should have been reported, and that's why we launched a full-scale review of this case, and all others like it,” Wilson said. “Since Sunday night, the Air Force inspector general has talked to about 100 people involved in this case. We are looking at all of our databases, and if we have problems that we find, we'll fix them. Our approach here is to act in accordance with our values, which include integrity and excellence.”

A COMMANDANT’S MISTAKE: A military court of appeals overturned the conviction Wednesday of a former Marine Corps scout sniper who, along with other Marine snipers, urinated on Taliban corpses and posted the video on YouTube.

The decision from the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals comes five years after the Marine scout sniper, Staff Sgt. Joseph Chamblin, was originally convicted. The court found the then-commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Jim Amos, attempted to force strict punishments for the Marines who were involved, thus tainting the case, according to Military.com.

Chamblin initially was sentenced to 30 days confinement, a dock in pay, and a demotion to sergeant in December 2012 after pleading guilty.

“The highest-ranking officer in the Marine Corps told [Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser] that the appellant and his co-accused should be ‘crushed,’ ” the court said. “This is an unusually flagrant example of UCI [unlawful command influence]. We find that UCI this direct, and occurring at this level, is highly corrosive to public trust in this proceeding.”

TABLES TURNED: Putin has accused the United States of trying to “stir up problems” in the run-up to his next election bid. “In response to our alleged interference in their elections [in the United States], they want to stir up problems during Russian presidential election," Putin said Thursday, according to state-run media.

Putin appeared to be accusing the U.S. of ginning up problems for Russian athletes at the World Anti-Doping Agency just before the 2018 Winter Olympics. The International Olympics Committee on Thursday banned four more Russian athletes from competing in future games, and Putin indicated he suspected the U.S. might be behind that move.

”This is what raises my concern: the Olympic Games are due to begin in February while we will be holding presidential elections in March,” Putin said. “There are vast suspicions that all this is being done to stoke an atmosphere necessary for someone where sports fans and athletes are disgruntled over the fact that the state is allegedly involved in breaches and it is responsible for that.”

THE RUNDOWN

Reuters: U.S. Air Force could face liability in Texas shooting: legal experts

Wall Street Journal: U.S. to seek Russian approval for peacekeepers in eastern Ukraine

USNI News: Physiological episodes down in the Navy after slew of changes; New pilot production rate nearly back to normal

Navy Times: Only one-third of Super Hornets ready to ‘fight tonight’ as of October, admiral says

Associated Press: Marine drill instructor convicted of abusing recruits

Task and Purpose: The Army’s upgraded Apache helicopters just arrived in Europe to stare down Russia

Defense One: Can two nuclear powers fight a conventional war?

UPI: BAE completes full scale test of F-35A airframe

New York Times: U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan lacks troops for new strategy

DoD Buzz: Navy cutting maintenance, cannibalizing planes amid readiness crisis

Defense News: China claims breakthrough in electromagnetic launch system for aircraft carrier

Washington Post: Transgender military ban is stigmatizing, likely harmful already, judge says

Calendar

MONDAY | NOV. 13

9 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. A book talk with author Victor Davis Hanson about “The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won.” csis.org

10 a.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Is there really a military readiness crisis in the United States? brookings.edu

1 p.m. Preparing military leadership for the future with Rear Adm. Jeffrey Harley, president of the U.S. Naval War College; Brig. Gen. William Bowers, president of the Marine Corps University; Maj. Gen. John Kem, commandant of the U.S. Army War College; and Vice Adm. Frederick Roegge, president of the National Defense University. csis.org

4 p.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. A historical discussion about “When the World Seemed New: George H.W. Bush and the End of the Cold War” with author Jeffrey Engel. wilsoncenter.org

TUESDAY | NOV. 14

8 a.m. 2101 Wilson Blvd. Robotics division quarterly meeting. ndia.org

8 a.m. 45425 Holiday Dr. Navy League board of directors meeting. navyleague.org

10 a.m. Dirksen G-50. Nomination hearing for Anthony M. Kurta to be principal deputy under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness; James E. McPherson to be Army general counsel; and Gregory E. Maggs to be a Judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. armed-services.senate.gov

10 a.m. Dirksen 419. Authority to order the use of nuclear weapons with retired Gen. C. Robert Kehler, former head of U.S. Strategic Command. foreign.senate.gov

11 a.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. Winter is coming: Russia, the Baltic states and U.S. policy in Europe. heritage.org

2 p.m Sustaining U.S. leadership against nuclear terrorism and proliferation: A conversation with Christopher Ford, special assistant to the president and senior director for weapons of mass destruction and counterproliferation. hudson.org

2:30 p.m. Dirksen 419. American leadership in the Asia-Pacific, part 4: View from Beijing. foreign.senate.gov

WEDNESDAY | NOV. 15

7:30 a.m. 300 First St. SE. Breakfast series with Gen. Darren McDew, commander of U.S. Transportation Command. mitchellaerospacepower.org

8 a.m. 45425 Holiday Dr. Navy League board of directors meeting. navyleague.org

9 a.m. 1201 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Kleptocratic regimes and national security: A pervasive threat and how it can be neutralized. hudson.org

10 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Prospects and challenges of building the 350-ship Navy with three former service secretaries. csis.org

2 p.m. Dirksen 419. Attacks on U.S. diplomats in Cuba: Response and oversight. foreign.senate.gov

4 p.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Book discussion of “Russia's Border Wars and Frozen Conflicts.” atlanticcouncil.org

THURSDAY | NOV. 16

8:30 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Sixth Annual Transatlantic Forum on Russia. csis.org

9 a.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Nuclear strategy and security in the second nuclear age conference. atlanticcouncil.org

9:30 a.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Strengthening military readiness: The role of military families in 21st century defense with Anthony Kurta, performing the duties of under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness. brookings.edu

10 a.m. Dirksen G-50. Nomination hearing for John C. Rood to be under secretary of defense for policy and Randall G. Schriver to be assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific affairs. armed-services.senate.gov

10 a.m. Senate Visitor Center 217. Closed hearing on new counter-terrorism guidance with Maj. Gen. Albert M. Elton II, Joint Staff deputy director for special operations and counterterrorism. foreign.senate.gov

5 p.m. 1957 E St. NW. Opportunities and challenges of a complex future: NATO ACT report launch with Gen. Denis Mercier, NATO supreme allied commander for transformation. atlanticcouncil.org

FRIDAY | NOV. 17

8 a.m. 3301 Massachusetts Ave. NW. U.S.-Finland Defense and Security Industry Seminar. ndia.org

3 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. A book talk with author Serhii Plokhy about “Lost Kingdom: The Quest for Empire and the Making of the Russian Nation.” csis.org