F-35s JOIN KOREA FLYOVER: Another missile test, another flyover in response, but this time with a live-fire exercise. The U.S. sent four of its stealthy, top-of-the-line F-35 joint strike fighters along with a pair of B-1 heavy bombers on a show of force mission over the Korean Peninsula, which included a bombing run at a training range. The Air Force B-1Bs flew out of Guam, and the Marine Corps F-35Bs were out of a base in Japan. Two Japanese and four South Korean F-15s also took part, for a total of 12 planes.
“Over the course of the 10-hour mission, the F-35Bs, B-1B bombers and Koku Jieitai fighters flew together over waters near Kyushu, Japan. The U.S. and ROKAF aircraft then flew across the Korean Peninsula and practiced attack capabilities by releasing live weapons at the Pilsung Range training area before returning to their respective home stations,” said a statement from U.S. Pacific Command.
It was the first time the U.S. added its newest and most advanced fighter to the mix. “The F-35 embodies our commitment to our allies and contributes to the overall security and stability of the Indo-Asia Pacific region,” Lt. Gen. David Berger, commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific, said about the Lockheed Martin planes. “By forward-basing the F-35, the most advanced aircraft in the world, here in the Pacific, we are enabling the Marine Corps to respond quickly during a crisis in support of Japan, the Republic of Korea, and all our regional partners.”
The show of force came two days after North Korea’s firing of an intermediate-range missile, with the capacity to threaten Guam, over the northern tip of Japan. And it comes one day after President Trump expressed his frustration with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s continued intransigence. “The U.S. has been talking to North Korea, and paying them extortion money, for 25 years,” Trump tweeted yesterday. “Talking is not the answer!”
Within an hour, Trump’s level-headed Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was tamping down the war talk. As he went into a Pentagon meeting with South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo, Mattis was asked by a pool reporter to respond to the president’s tweet. “Are we out of diplomatic solutions for North Korea?" asked Tara Copp of Military Times. When Mattis answered “No,” she pressed, "What additional diplomatic solutions can be taken?" Mattis then said, "We're never out of diplomatic solutions. We continue to work together and the minister and I share responsibility to provide for the protection of our nation our populations and our interests, which is what we are here to discuss today.”
DOWN TWO MISSILE DEFENDERS: The accidents that have disabled two of the 7th Fleet’s guided-missile destroyers, the USS Fitzgerald and the USS John S. McCain, have left a hole in the multi-layered missile shield the U.S. relies on to protect South Korea and Japan. Both ships were equipped with an Aegis BMD system that uses Standard Missiles to shoot down enemy missiles in flight. But the Navy’s Pacific Fleet says there is plenty of redundant capacity in the system that relies on multiple ships and land-based interceptors to counter missile threats from North Korea. “We have sufficient BMD-capable ships in the 7th Fleet area of responsibility to meet our mission,” said Lt. Cmdr. Nicole Schwegman, Pacific Fleet spokeswoman, in response to the Washington Examiner.
Not all U.S. destroyers or cruisers are equipped with ballistic missile defense systems, and the Navy doesn’t like to give out specific numbers or discuss ship movements, but Pentagon sources say so far no replacement ships have been shifted to the Pacific to make up for the loss of the Fitzgerald and McCain. If necessary, an additional missile defender could moved to the the 7th from the Navy’s 3rd Fleet based in San Diego. A successful test of the latest version of the ship-based system was conducted yesterday. You can watch the video here.
STILL NO EVIDENCE SHIPS WERE HACKED: Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson took to Facebook yesterday for an all-hands live broadcast to the fleet and said the Navy has found no evidence of cyber attacks as part of its investigation into the USS John S. McCain and USS Fitzgerald collisions. “I’ll tell you that we’ve given that an amazing amount of attention,” Richardson said. "We'll continue to look deeper and deeper but I just want to assure you that to date there's been nothing that we've found to point to that.”
The Navy’s top admiral has repeatedly downplayed what he called a “thread” of conversation, partly sparked by the service’s own earlier acknowledgment, that while unlikely, hacking could in theory have played a part in the unusual collisions in June and August that killed a total of 17 sailors. “It is sort of a reality of our current situation that part of any kind of investigation or inspection is going to have to look at the computer, the cyber, the information warfare aspects of our business,” he said.
HONORÉ’S HARSH POST-HARVEY ASSESSMENT: Retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who rose to prominence in 2005 as the commander of Joint Task Force Katrina, is sharply critical of what he sees as a haphazard and under-resourced response to the devastating flood wrought by Hurricane Harvey. Honoré, now a CNN contributor, toured the relief efforts in a boat with volunteers and pronounced the federal response “amateur hour” for failing to get its assets in gear. “You have to come in big and you got to be there right at the edge of the storm so you can come in as soon and go in and rescue people,” the retired three-star told CNN’s Erin Burnett last night. “Katrina, we had 40,000 National Guard, 240 helicopters in the first four days. They just got 100 helicopters in Texas,” Honoré said. “Something is significantly wrong with our command and control, and they need to stop patting each other on the back while these poor people are out here waiting to be rescued.”
Houston officials have said it was not practical to evacuate everyone from the flood zone, because there was nowhere to put what could be as many as six million people, but Honoré said that thinking ignored the lessons of Katrina. “You don't have to evacuate six million people. You evacuate the elderly and disabled, you evacuate the people that previously flooded and you allow people to voluntarily evacuate.” Honoré says large numbers of National Guard troops should have been pre-positioned to carry out rescues, instead of being moved in incrementally after the fact. “It didn't look like nobody in Texas ever read the plan. We need to get back to that doctrine that was supposed to be supervised by NORTHCOM because now we have 50 different state solutions as to how we mark a house that’s been cleared.”
Honoré says one big takeaway from Katrina is that the U.S. military has to stop worrying about offending local officials and step in to save lives. “They need to get the hell over it and bring the big dogs in when they have a big mission,” he said. “I know I’m sounding critical, but if we don’t talk about this now, because the Congress thought we fixed this, which is why the Fifth Army got the mission to supervise the Army response to civil authorities under Northern Command, a command you never hear of that’s got a four-star general responsible for security in the United States. There comes a point in time when their mission is too big for the state National Guard.”
TWO SHIPS HEAD SOUTH: Six days after Harvey first made landfall, the Navy is sending two Virginia-based amphibious ships to the Gulf of Mexico to help in the relief efforts. The USS Kearsarge, which is a large-deck amphibious assault ship, and the USS Oak Hill, which is a dock landing ship, have been ordered to get underway today "to support federal, state and local authorities’ ongoing relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey," the Navy said.
The ships are carrying Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. Kearsarge is homeported in Norfolk Naval Station and Oak Hill is based at nearby Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story. Both ships carry helicopters and landing craft that can be used to provide medical support while ferrying supplies and people.
Good Thursday 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 — TOWNSEND’S LAST BRIEF: Today is Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend’s last briefing from Baghdad as the commander, Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve. Townsend presided over the hard-fought victory by Iraqi forces in Mosul, and has watched the Islamic State steadily lose territory and influence. The general will offer some final thoughts as he prepares to turn over command next Tuesday to Lt. Gen. Paul Funk, from III Corps, Fort Hood, Texas. Townsend returns to Fort Bragg, N.C., as the XVIII Airborne Corps commander.
ISIS STYMIED: Yesterday U.S. and coalition aircraft bombed a road and some ISIS vehicles to stop a convoy of vehicles from Syria from transporting Islamic State fighters and their families to the border with Iraq. The convoy was arranged in a deal by Lebanon's Hezbollah group, the U.S. military said, but noted “the Coalition was not a party to any agreement between the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Syrian regime and ISIS.” The statement said only "individual vehicles and fighters that were clearly identified as ISIS" were struck, along with sections of road to block the convoy's movement.
COMING CLEAN: The Pentagon announced yesterday the end of an Obama administration policy of announcing phony U.S. troops levels in order to maintain the fiction that there were fewer American troops serving in war zones than in reality. “This way of doing business is over,” said Dana White, chief Pentagon spokesperson. As a first step in the new policy, Lt. Gen. Frank McKenzie, director of the Joint Staff, announced that there are actually closer to 11,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, not the 8,400 that the Pentagon has been sticking to for over a year now. “This is not an attempt to bring more forces in. But it's an attempt to actually clarify a very confusing set of reporting rules that has the unintended consequence of forcing commanders to make readiness trade offs as they deploy their forces under these very narrow bands of requirements,” McKenzie said. “What it does is it actually lets the American people know what their sons and daughters are doing in Afghanistan, how many are there. And I think that's a reasonable thing.”
The change was ordered by Mattis after he took charge of the Pentagon and discovered the real numbers were not what he read in the paper. The Pentagon plans to announce new numbers for Iraq and Syria as well, but will still give approximate numbers, and will not announce troop movements in and out of theater. Mattis also said he needed a more accurate head count, in order to make a final decision on the deployment of up to 4,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan.
MAC’S BACK: Sen. John McCain returns to the Senate next week as Congress starts a new legislative season. McCain, who turned 81 on Tuesday, is looking "forward to continuing his work for the people of Arizona and the nation," according to a statement from his office. McCain has been receiving treatment for brain cancer and according to his daughter, Meghan McCain, completed his first round of chemotherapy two weeks ago. As Senate Armed Services chairman, McCain will lead the chamber's debate on the National Defense Authorization Act.
MCCAIN SAYS CR SET TO HIT PENTAGON HARD: Amid growing certainty Congress will again punt on a defense budget, McCain and Jack Reed said the military is set to lose out under a continuing resolution, and they requested Mattis prepare a report on the potential damage. "In practice, this will result in billions of dollars in cuts to the defense budget from last year's level – cuts that the Department of Defense can ill afford at a time of diminished readiness, strained modernization, and increasing operations," McCain and Reed wrote in the letter sent to the defense secretary.
They have asked for an in-depth list of all negative effects on military services, agencies and combatant commands in the event of either a three-month or six-month continuing budget resolution, which would lock in current funding levels. Both senators said it is "very likely" Congress will begin the new fiscal year on Oct. 1 with another CR, echoing a recent statement by House Speaker Paul Ryan. The Pentagon told the Washington Examiner last week it was planning for a stopgap budget and the move might delay or block efforts to shore up depleted forces, even as the services are grappling with a string of deadly naval and aviation mishaps this summer.
LUKE F-35s RESUME HIGH FLIGHT: The Air Force has lifted altitude restrictions on its F-35A joint strike fighters at an Arizona base, which were imposed after a string of oxygen deprivation incidents among pilots this year. A cause of five incidents in May and June at Luke Air Force Base is still not known, the service said, but it is allowing the pilots to again fly the high-tech fighter jets above 25,000 feet. “While we have yet to identify a singular cause, we have reduced potential causes for labored breathing, carbon monoxide ingestion, and refined our procedures and training," said Brig. Gen. Brook Leonard, the base's 56th Fighter Wing commander.
VENEZUELA TREASON TRIALS: The State Department on Wednesday accused Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of undermining democracy even further by looking to try his political opponents for treason, which the U.S. said was creating "yet another rupture" in his nation's constitutional order. "This injustice is only the latest in a sustained effort by the Maduro regime to undermine democracy, repress political dissent, and sow fear among its critics," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Wednesday. "It embodies yet another rupture in Venezuela's constitutional order and defies the fact that in democracies, ideas and opinions are not crimes."
‘WE BRING YOU UP HERE TO TAKE PICTURES’: There was a moment in the brief interchange yesterday between Mattis and Copp, the Military Times Pentagon bureau chief, when the secretary with a twinkle in his eye feigned irritation at being pressed to answer a question that could put him at odds with his boss. Seated at a table across from his South Korea counterpart, Copp pressed him to respond the president’s latest tweet. “Now you're testing us here, you know. We bring you up here to take pictures."
The joke reflected the good-natured tension between the Pentagon press corps, which rarely sees Mattis in an on-camera setting, and the compromise worked out that allows a pool reporter to ask a single question when Mattis hosts a foreign dignitary. Mattis went on to answer the question as noted above, but the truth is he would be just as happy if the press pool just took pictures, and didn’t ask pesky questions. As my dear departed Mother used to say, “Many a truth is said in jest.”
SO LONG SPICEY: Today is former White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s last day in the in the West Wing. The Navy reservist has been spotted in the halls of the Pentagon recently in uniform doing his reserve duty. Spicer resigned July 21 after Anthony Scaramucci was hired as White House communications director. An administration official told CNN that today will be Spicey’s official last day, and two other sources say colleagues will throw him a "farewell party." Hope we didn’t spoil the surprise.
New York Times: U.N. condemns North Korea’s latest missile tests, but takes no action
Defense One: Our Navy is broken, and that is a bad thing
DoD Buzz: US military begins surveillance flights above Houston
Washington Post: Afghan troop surge likely to include thousands of paratroopers, Marines and heavy bombers
Wall Street Journal: NATO will send three observers to Russian military exercise
Defense News: U.S. Army primes pump for $2B in foreign Humvee sales
Foreign Policy: Mapped: The Taliban’s strongholds in Afghanistan
USA Today: Shooting down a North Korean missile test may not be practical. Here's why
Stars and Stripes: Marines help Afghan forces clear insurgents from Helmand district
Daily Beast: Mattis didn’t kill the trans ban, Trump’s big mouth will
THURSDAY | AUG. 31
11 a.m. Pentagon Briefing Room. Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander, Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve provides an update on counter-ISIS operations. Live streamed on www.defense.gov/live.
11 a.m. 46870 Tate Road. C4ISR August luncheon with Capt. Jason Lopez, the program manager of the Naval Aviation Training Systems Program Office. ndia.org
TUESDAY | SEPT. 5
9:30 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Republic of Korea and U.S. strategic forum 2017: Now and the future of the alliance with Richard Armitage, former deputy secretary of state, Rep. Stephanie Murphy, and Mark Lippert, former U.S. ambassador to Korea. csis.org
10:30 a.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. A discussion on BRAC and responsibly adjusting DoD’s infrastructure to meet current and future needs with Lucian Niemeyer, assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations and environment. heritage.org
WEDNESDAY | SEPT. 6
7 a.m. 1250 S Hayes St. Defense News conference on defining the military agenda with Rep. Mac Thornberry, Rep. Kay Granger, Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer, and DoD Comptroller David Norquist. defensenews.com
8:30 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. How to organize military space with Rep. Mike Rogers and former Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. csis.org
10 a.m. 529 14th St. NW. Headliners newsmaker: CIA analysis of Soviet navy. press.org
3 p.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Launch of the State Department reform report with Rep. Ed Royce. atlanticcouncil.org
THURSDAY | SEPT. 7
9:30 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Asia’s reckoning: China, Japan, and the fate of U.S. power in the Pacific century. wilsoncenter.org
2 p.m. Rayburn 2118. Navy readiness and the underlying problems associated with the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain with John H. Pendleton, director of defense force structure and readiness issues at the Government Accountability Office, and Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, commander of naval surface forces. armedservices.house.gov