SNAKEBITTEN: It could be a coincidence, or it could be another red flag about the serious decline in readiness in the U.S. military in general and the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet in particular. A C-2A Greyhound, a prop plane that has been used for years to ferry people and supplies to aircraft carriers underway, crashed while on its way to the USS Ronald Reagan, which was operating in the Philippine Sea. Eleven crew and passengers were on board. A rescue operation was launched immediately, and eight people were pulled from the water in less than 45 minutes and are reported to be in good condition by 7th Fleet as they receive medical attention on the carrier.
While Navy says the transport plane was inbound to the carrier, it hasn’t said at what point the crash occurred. The most risky part of the flight is landing on a moving aircraft carrier, a difficult maneuver that requires catching one of four wires on the carrier deck, while being ready to power up to resume flight in the event all the wires are missed. While C-2 flights, which are known as COD flights for Carrier Onboard Delivery, are routine, there is always the potential for accident. There could be pilot error, or a wire could break, or mechanical trouble. An investigation will determine what went wrong.
DEADLY YEAR: 7th Fleet has already had two fatal at-sea collisions involving the guided missile destroyers USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain in the Western Pacific this year, which claimed the lives 17 sailors dead and resulting in the firing of eight top Navy officers from their posts, including the commander of 7th Fleet. In addition, the cruiser Antietam ran aground and the Lake Champlain was hit by a fishing boat. And just last weekend, the destroyer Benfold was hit by a tug boat near Japan. As he has on previous occasions, look for Sen. John McCain and other lawmakers to cite this latest crash as another warning that the military is in the midst of a readiness crisis and is in desperate need of additional funding.
CONGRESS GIVITH, CONGRESS TAKETH AWAY: The latest mishap comes as Congress has begun the process of paring back the goals of the defense bill it just passed. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman, Sen. Thad Cochran, has made good on his promise to jumpstart the defense budget debate on Capitol Hill by releasing a $651 billion defense appropriations proposal.
The bill, which never went through the normal committee hearing and amendment process, contains less funding than the $700 billion National Defense Authorization Act passed last week by Congress and would pare back the number of aircraft, ships and troops that lawmakers have already authorized. By law, the NDAA must adhere to whatever defense appropriations bill that is passed and for now Cochran’s proposal serves as a marker for budget talks. “I am optimistic we will be able to write a final bill that supports a strong U.S. force structure and makes needed investments in readiness, shipbuilding programs, aircraft procurement, and missile defense,” Cochran said.
The Appropriations Committee’s “chairman’s mark” cuts 12 F-35 joint strike fighters, four Navy ships and 10,800 troops from the NDAA legislation spearheaded by McCain and Rep. Mac Thornberry. But it does still call for increases above what President Trump requested for the military this year. Here are some highlights from the bill:
- 78 Lockheed Martin F-35s and 24 Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets
- $21.8 billion for 10 new Navy ships, with two littoral combat ships instead of the three authorized in the NDAA.
- 8,500 more soldiers for the Army, including the Guard and reserve; increases in the NDAA for other services were nixed except for the Marine Corps, which would get 1,000 more Marines.
- $673 million for repairs to the USS John S. McCain and USS Fitzgerald destroyers.
- $4.5 billion in supplemental missile defense funding requested by the Trump administration.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE CAP: The big problem with Cochran’s appropriations bill is its $581 billion in base defense spending blows past Budget Control Act spending cap of $549 billion for 2018. Republicans need to strike a deal with Democrats to lift the cap by Dec. 8 when the current budget expires or pass another stopgap continuing resolution to buy more time for negotiations. So far, a deal has been elusive. Top Democrats on the Appropriations Committee called the new appropriations bill a step forward, but said they expect more non-defense funding and legislative help for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.
“The right way forward is to conclude a budget deal and then pass an omnibus as soon as possible that contains equal investments in both the military and America’s many critical domestic needs,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Appropriations Committee vice chairman, and Sen. Dick Durbin, the defense subcommittee chairman, said in a joint statement. "That must include the bipartisan Dream Act to which the president has already committed."
BREAKING — LIFE SENTENCE FOR RATKO: Former Bosnian Gen. Ratko Mladic has been sentenced to life in prison by the U.N.’s Yugoslav war crimes tribunal. The 75-year-old former Bosnian Serb military commander was convicted of “genocide and crimes against humanity” for atrocities during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, reports the AP. Mladic headed the Bosnian military during one of the worst atrocities of the war: the infamous Srebrenica massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in 1995, considered Europe’s worst mass killing since World War II.
Good Wednesday 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.
NOT HAPPENING TODAY: There are no scheduled events at the Pentagon today, as the building gets ready to observe its four-and-a-half day Thanksgiving weekend. By this afternoon, the building’s 17 miles of corridors will be largely empty. Please note that Daily on Defense will not be publishing tomorrow or Friday. Happy Thanksgiving and we’ll be back in action on Monday!
US AIRSTRIKE KILLS 100: U.S. Africa Command yesterday announced the latest airstrikes against suspected terrorists in Libya and Somalia. In one strike against an al-Shabaab camp about 125 miles northwest of the Somali capital of Mogadishu, the U.S. claims to have wiped out more than 100 enemy fighters. It’s a sign of the increasing focus on hitting terrorists wherever they gather, and the deeper involvement of the U.S. in Somalia, where the U.S. has about 500 troops, roughly the same number it has in Syria.
The other strikes announced yesterday were against ISIS in Libya. No casualty estimate was provided.
MORE REMAINS FOUND: U.S. military and FBI investigators reconstructing the events of the Oct. 4 attack in Niger have found additional human remains, which have been identified a belonging to Sgt. La David Johnson, one of four U.S. troops killed in the ambush. A Pentagon official says the bone fragments were found at the site where Johnson’s body was recovered two days after the attack.
The investigation is not expected to be completed until early next year. So far Pentagon officials have refused to confirm reports from locals that Johnson’s body was found with his hands bound, which could indicate he was captured alive.
IRANIAN INFLUENCE IN IRAQ: The Institute for the Study of War is warning that Iran is consolidating military control in Kirkuk, noting that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi has appointed an Iranian-friendly commander to lead a new “Kirkuk Operations Command.” “The new commander will likely provide a durable conduit for Iran’s proxies to retain military strength in Kirkuk,” concludes an analysis by the group. “Abadi’s decision reflects a concession to Iran’s proxies and a recognition that he cannot constrain them.”
MARINES INVESTIGATED: An investigation is underway involving Snapchat videos that show Marines yelling racial slurs, according to a report Tuesday. Officials confirmed to Marine Corps Times that Marines are featured in the videos, which were posted to Twitter on Nov. 18 by a black activist and teacher from New Jersey. "Is this commonplace," he wrote with @USMC tagged.
“We can confirm some of the individuals portrayed in the videos are U.S. Marines,” III Marine Expeditionary Force said in a statement. “The actions depicted in the videos are not in keeping with the high standard of conduct to which we hold all our Marines. We will thoroughly investigate the matter and take appropriate action based on the results of the investigation.”
T-38 FLIGHTS SUSPENDED: Laughlin Air Force Base has suspended all of its T-38 Talon flights through the Thanksgiving weekend following the deadly crash of one of its T-38s on Monday. One pilot was killed and another was rushed to the hospital after a T-38 trainer crashed Monday afternoon about 14 miles northwest of the base.
“Our community has suffered the irreplaceable loss of one of our pilots,” Col. Charlie Velino, 47th Flying Training Wing commander, said in an Air Force statement. “The immediate concern is to provide support and love to his family, friends and colleagues.
SERVICE MEMBERS ON TRUMP TRIP UNDER INVESTIGATION: Three service members working for the White House Communications Agency have been reassigned from their jobs amid an investigation into alleged improper contact with foreign women during Trump's tour through Asia this month, a report Tuesday said.
The service members allegedly broke curfew while in Vietnam, according to the Washington Post.
BOLTON’S TAKE: Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton is urging the Trump administration to simply ignore a new investigation into possible war crimes in Afghanistan, something that could implicate U.S. troops. Bolton argues in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that the U.S. never signed onto the International Criminal Court, and therefore the Trump administration should be free to ignore ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda's initiation of a probe into possible Afghanistan war crimes.
"The Trump administration should not respond to Ms. Bensouda in any way that acknowledges the ICC's legitimacy," he wrote. "Even merely contesting its jurisdiction risks drawing the U.S. deeper into the quicksand."
TRANSGENDER BAN BLOCKED, AGAIN: The Trump Justice Department is so far 0-2 in its defense of the president’s effort to roll back open transgender military service. A federal judge in Maryland issued a second order on Tuesday blocking Trump from implementing his transgender ban. The preliminary injunction in the Stone v. Trump case was granted to a group of active-duty transgender troops who sued Trump and top military officials in August. In October, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., also ordered a preliminary injunction in the Doe v. Trump lawsuit, dealing the Justice Department its first courtroom setback.
For now, the injunctions bar the Pentagon and Coast Guard from implementing or enforcing Trump’s August order that gender reassignment surgeries be discontinued and transgender recruiting be abandoned. “This preliminary injunction shall remain in effect until such time, if ever, that [it] is rescinded or modified by further order of this court,” District Court Judge Marvin Garbis wrote in the order Tuesday.
THE FIGHT ISN’T OVER: The Justice Department has just appealed the preliminary injunction in the Doe v. Trump lawsuit, the first of four federal suits. “Despite rulings from two federal judges that Trump’s transgender military ban is unconstitutional, the Trump administration is digging in its heels,” said Shannon Minter, legal adviser for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which is handling the case. The DOJ has argued that the suit is premature and should be dismissed because the Pentagon and Coast Guard have not yet finalized a new transgender policy and plaintiffs have not been injured. For now, the military is still operating under the Obama administration policy allowing open service and last week footed the bill for a gender reassignment surgery.
ANOTHER NOMINEE: The White House yesterday announced Trump’s intention to nominate Phyllis Bayer to be assistant secretary of the Navy for installations, energy and the environment. She was most recently chief of staff in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness.
MORE NORTH KOREA SANCTIONS: The Trump administration announced a new round of sanctions against North Korea on Tuesday, targeting various trade and business enterprises inside the already isolated nation in order to turn up pressure on leader Kim Jong Un to abandon his nuclear weapons program.
"As North Korea continues to threaten international peace and security, we are steadfast in our determination to maximize economic pressure to isolate it from outside sources of trade and revenue while exposing its evasive tactics," Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement.
The newest sanctions will impact "companies that have engaged in trade with North Korea cumulatively worth hundreds of millions of dollars" as well as shipping and transportation vessels, according to the agency.
TRUMP AND PUTIN TALK: Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone for more than an hour yesterday about issues ranging from terrorism to Ukraine, the White House said in a statement. The two leaders stressed the need "to peacefully resolve the Syrian civil war, end the humanitarian crisis, allow displaced Syrians to return home, and ensure the stability of a unified Syria free of malign intervention and terrorist safe havens," the White House said.
Trump gave his own readout to reporters, just before boarding Marine One. “We had a great call,” the president said. “We're talking about peace in Syria — very important. We're talking about North Korea. We had a call that lasted almost an hour and a half … we're talking very strongly about bringing peace for Syria. We're talking about very strongly about North Korea and Ukraine.”
Trump's phone call with Putin came shortly after Syrian President Bashar Assad visited Russia. Trump and his top aides have frequently criticized Russia for its continued support of the Assad regime in the face of chemical weapons attacks on civilians.
SKY PENIS VIDEO: You knew it was only a matter of time. YouTube user "Sickest shot" posted video on Tuesday of naval aviators drawing a penis in the sky over Washington state last Thursday. The Navy apologized Friday, a day after images were posted to social media showing the aviators flying an EA-18G Growler over Okanogan County.
In the video, which contains explicit language, people can be heard marveling at the image before they realize what it is.
"Oh my God, this is tight."
"Think how fast he's probably going."
"All gas, no brakes."
New York Times: Restoring North Korea to Terrorism Blacklist Dims Hopes for Talks
Washington Post: Afghan leaders in Helmand criticize U.S. airstrikes on Taliban drug labs
Defense News: Space for a Space Corps? Congress lays groundwork for controversial plan
Washington Post: The Pentagon’s hurricane relief effort in Puerto Rico is nearly over, but these missions remain
Air Force Times: ‘Going to break this force’: Air Force warns cuts, manning woes could hurt war zone fight
War on the Rocks: Crisis in Foggy Bottom: What Rex Tillerson Can Really Learn From Alexander Haig
USNI News: U.S. Plans to Expand Naval Engagements in Southeast Asia Using Littoral Combat Ships, EPFs.
Daily Beast: North Korea Is Terrible, but Terrorist? Here’s What’s Behind the Trump Strategy.
USA Today: In the war of insults, here's North Korea's latest jab at Trump
Stars and Stripes: Vandals strike vehicles, homes affiliated with the US military on Okinawa
Defense Tech: The F-22 Mission in Afghanistan: Overkill or Realistic Training?
Foreign Policy: Army Looks To Replace $6 Billion Battlefield Network After Finding It Vulnerable
Defense One: It Takes a Nuclear Weapons Lab to Find a Nuclear Weapons Lab
MONDAY | NOV. 27
1 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Private Sector Engagement in Afghanistan. csis.org
4 p.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. A book discussion of “Moscow 1956: The Silenced Spring” with author Kathleen Smith. wilsoncenter.org
TUESDAY | NOV. 28
7:30 a.m. 901 Massachusetts Ave. NW. 54th Annual AOC International Symposium and Convention. crows.org
11 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Address by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson: "The U.S. And Europe: Strengthening Western Alliances." wilsoncenter.org
1 p.m. 1152 15th St. NW. Quantum technology: What every national security professional needs to know. cnas.org
WEDNESDAY | NOV. 29
7 a.m. 901 Massachusetts Ave. NW. 54th Annual AOC International Symposium and Convention. crows.org
9 a.m. 1030 15th St. NW. A coming storm? Shaping a Balkan future in an era of uncertainty. atlanticcouncil.org
12 p.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. Digital World War: Islamists, Extremists, and the Fight for Cyber Supremacy with Haroon Ullah, chief strategy officer at the Broadcasting Board of Governors. heritage.org
3:30 p.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Book launch of “King of Spies: The Dark Reign of America’s Spymaster in Korea.” wilsoncenter.org
6:30 p.m. 529 14th St. NW. 4th Estate dinner and ambassador series Q&A with Iraqi Ambassador Fareed Yasseen. press.org