HERE WE GO AGAIN: With less than a week to go before the federal government's spending authority expires, there’s no talk of a shutdown this time. Instead it appears Congress is poised to pass another continuing resolution that would extend the current stopgap authority six weeks until March 22. A vote is expected next week, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell predicted there would be no repeat of the brinkmanship that led to last month’s three-day shutdown. “One of my favorite old Kentucky country sayings is ‘There’s no education in the second kick of a mule,’ so I think there’ll be a new level of seriousness here in trying to resolve these issues,” McConnell was quoted as saying by the Washington Post.
McConnell was speaking at the GOP’s annual retreat at the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., where Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis made a rare joint appearance. The pair warned that continuing use of short-term spending measures to fund the government was doing real harm to national security and military readiness.
“The secretaries were very clear in encouraging Congress to resolve the budget issues and to end continuing resolutions so they can manage their departments and more importantly, the world knows we are functioning and can do whatever needs to be done to protect the national security of the United States,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. “Nobody wants a government shutdown, but we also cannot continue to inflict the damage that CRs inflict on the military. We can’t keep doing that.”
THE REAL DEAL: Everyone agrees a fifth CR is just another Band-Aid, and that the real solution has to be a bipartisan two-year budget deal that will allow the Pentagon to plan beyond the next few months, and allow the start of new initiatives that are on hold under the restrictions that limit spending to last year’s levels and last year’s programs. That involves getting a deal with Democrats over raising the spending caps imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement yesterday negotiations over a cap deal “are going very well.”
TOO MUCH, TOO LATE? In his breakfast session with reporters this week, Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Gen. Paul Selva said once the Pentagon gets close to the halfway point in the fiscal year, which started Oct. 1, even if it gets its full budget, there simply isn’t time to spend the money wisely. And unless the budget extends into next year, it’s impossible to get the defense industry to commit to long-term projects.
“There’s a presumption that we can cram the acquisition programs into the remainder of the year,” Selva said at a Defense Writers Group session Tuesday. “Which means the industries that produce the things that we buy and consume are kind of in a three-point stance, ready to go, they’re waiting for the starter’s gun to sound so they can get to work. There is a point in the near future where they will not be able to finish the race.
“There’s also a presumption when you engage in a CR that when you finally pass the budget you will actually not have missed any real opportunities for investment, which is ludicrous,” Selva said. “If you get too far into the year you cannot recover. And our experience tells us four to six months is that point in the year where you’re past the point of no return, so units will not be able to recover the training that they have lost.”
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: After weeks of poring over a predecisional draft of the Trump administration's Nuclear Posture Review, we get to see the real thing this afternoon. Don’t expect any major changes from the draft version, which itself is fairly consistent with the past 70 years of U.S. nuclear policy. “This is a strategy that requires an investment in a credible nuclear deterrent with diverse capabilities. It will confirm the importance of the nuclear triad,” said Dana White, the Pentagon’s chief spokesperson. The U.S. under President Barack Obama embarked on a 30-year, $1.2 trillion plan to replace or modernize all three legs of the triad with new ballistic missile submarines, long-range stealth bombers and land-based ICBMs.
The biggest change is in tone. The draft no longer talks about reducing the role of nuclear weapons, and instead has some small, but in-your-face “adjustments” aimed directly at Russia. The biggest of which is a new low-yield warhead for a submarine-launched missile that is aimed at convincing Russia that it can’t threaten the U.S. or NATO with use of tactical nukes, without facing a counter strike from the U.S.
The NPR is yet another example of where the Trump administration is taking a tough line with Russia, even as the president’s critics accuse him of being too cozy with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. “Russia is not, will not be our friend,” said U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley at the GOP retreat yesterday. “With all of the talk with Russia and the role in our elections, one huge fact has been massively overlooked. That fact is in the last year this administration has been tougher on Russia than any American administration since Ronald Reagan,” Haley said.
Mattis wrote the preface for the document but won’t be on hand for the big reveal. That will fall to Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who will be joined at a 2:30 Pentagon briefing by Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon. And for die-hard nuclear policy wonks, that briefing will be followed by an in-the-weeds session for reporters featuring Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood, Acting Assistant Secretary of State Anita Friedt and Acting Undersecretary for Nuclear Security and National Nuclear Security Administration Administrator Steve Erhart.
MATTIS’ CELL BAN CALCULUS: The roughly 23,000 people who work at the Pentagon can be assured their concerns will be factored into a final decision by Mattis on whether to ban cell phones in the building, the Pentagon’s White said. But they should not expect that to be the deciding factor. “With respect to the workforce, the secretary’s primary interest is to ensure that we are all safe and that we are all secure. Operational security is his priority,” White said. “So all of those things will be considered in his calculus but you have to understand that the secretary sees everything in that prism of 'How do I protect the civilians, the service members, their families,' and so that’s how he will make his decision.”
White provided the first official confirmation that a ban is under consideration as part of a military-wide review of personal electronic devices, but she gave no estimate of when it could be completed. New restrictions on cell phones could create a headache for a workforce that depends on the devices to stay in touch with family and the outside world. But the review of devices, especially those that use global positioning systems to collect user data, is not only confined to the Pentagon. She said Mattis is looking at new restrictions across the Defense Department. “It’s about electronics, GPS-enabled electronics. You have to also consider the fact that we have been attacked, bases have been attacked,” she said. “Information is power and our adversaries have used information to plan attacks against us.” White said there was no estimate on when Mattis might complete his review.
MISSILE TEST LESSONS: The military failed to shoot down an intermediate-range ballistic missile with its the Standard Missile-3 Block IIA interceptor this week, but the test launch was not a complete loss, White said during a Pentagon briefing. “It did not meet our objectives, but we learn something all the time with these tests and we’ve learned something from this one,” she said. Officials did not immediately acknowledge the missed intercept on the day of the launch off of Hawaii. A day later, Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves, director of the Missile Defense Agency, said the agency was “disappointed” by the failure. But he also pointed to the test as a learning experience, saying the valuable test data will be used to improve the missile defense system.
While still in development, the new SM-3 variant could be used to shoot down enemy missiles with regional ranges and provide a protective umbrella for areas such as the Western Pacific, where U.S. bases and allies such as Japan are threatened by North Korea. The Wednesday test was the first such missile shootdown test involving the interceptor launched from the land-based Aegis Ashore missile defense system, as well as the first time both ground and space-based sensors were used in an Aegis launch, according to MDA spokesman Mark Wright.
THORNBERRY: MISSILE DEFENSE ‘NOT FOOLPROOF’: The SM-3 Block IIA tested this week may someday be a key defense system for U.S. forces and allies, but it is not what the military is counting on to protect American cities from an attack by Kim Jong Un. “The primary system that would be used to protect against a North Korean ICBM [launched at the] continental United States would be the ground-based interceptors which are located in Fort Greely, Alaska, as well as down in California, that would be the system. That was not the missile that was tested a couple of days ago,” Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, Joint Staff director. But the failed intercept still prompted reporters to question Thornberry, the HASC chairman, about the reliability of the U.S. missile defense system.
“I am reasonably confident that we have a significant missile defense capability that will be effective most of the time, the vast majority of the time. That doesn’t mean it’s foolproof,” Thornberry told reporters at the retreat. The U.S. missile defense system consists of the ground-based interceptors for ICBMs traveling in the outer atmosphere as well as the short-range and regional systems such as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, and Aegis. Thornberry said the effectiveness of the systems depends on the threat. “If it’s a lone intercept that we have advanced warning of in some way it’s an easier target than if you don’t have advance warning or if you have more than one missile coming at the same time,” he said.
Thornberry and other defense hawks in Congress are hoping to pour more funding into the effort through the National Defense Authorization Act and what could be an upcoming omnibus spending bill. “Both [would] increase the numbers of missile defense capabilities of existing systems and also put a lot more money and effort into building advanced missile defense systems that will be even more effective,” Thornberry said.
PYONGYANG REACTS TO SOTU: The North Korean government accused the Trump administration of being a “billionaires’ club” pushing a “policy of racism” while increasing inequality and denying citizens healthcare and a free press on Wednesday.
The attacks were published in a report titled the "White Paper on Human Rights Violation in the U.S. in 2017," released by the Institute of International Studies in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, alleging that human rights conditions have deteriorated since Trump’s inauguration.
“Racial discrimination and misanthropy are serious maladies inherent to the social system of the U.S., and they have been aggravated since Trump took office,” the paper stated.
RUSSIA MOCKS U.S. PILOTS: Russia on Thursday made fun U.S. complaints about unsafe aerial encounters between their respective aircraft, and said U.S. pilots can solve the problem by staying away from Russia's border.
"The Aerospace Force will continue to maintain the reliable protection of Russian airspace,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a Thursday statement carried by state-run media. “Should American pilots, knowing this fact, fall into depression or succumb to any phobias, we advise the U.S. side to exclude these flight routes near Russia’s borders in the future, or return to the negotiating table and agree on their rules.”
That retort followed American complaints that a Russian fighter jet passed within five feet of a U.S. reconnaissance plane “flying in international airspace over the Black Sea” on Monday. The incident prompted rebukes from the Pentagon and U.S. diplomats.
NO DEADLINE MISSED: U.S. officials have not missed a deadline to impose new sanctions on Russian defense and intelligence industries, the State Department maintained Thursday.
“January 29 was the start date for this,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters. “It was not a deadline to impose new sanctions on Russia.”
Some Democratic lawmakers have accused Trump’s administration of ignoring the law after Monday came and went without new sanctions announcements against Russia. Nauert countered that U.S. experts are engaged in the “tedious” process of “comb[ing] through a heck of a lot of transactions” worldwide.
“It was the first day under which we had the authority under [federal law] to impose sanctions if we made the determination that some sanctionable activity had taken place,” Nauert said of the Monday start date. “There is currently no end date to that authority.”
THE OTHER BIG REVEAL: While Mattis won’t be on hand for the rollout of his nuclear posture review, he will preside at the other big reveal, the unveiling of the official portrait of his predecessor Ash Carter. The painting will hang in the Secretary of Defense corridor on the third floor E-Ring, but today’s ceremony will be held in the Pentagon Auditorium, deep in the bowels of the building. You can watch the live stream at www.defense.gov/live.
Or just take a stroll down memory lane, and recall when Carter gave NBC late night host Seth Meyers a tour of the Pentagon and the two gazed upon a mock portrait hanging in the very same corridor. It was a rare moment of mirth in the otherwise sober Carter era at the Pentagon. The portrait shows up about 4:30 in.
AP: US says Syria may be using new weapons to deliver chemicals
New York Times: White House Wants Pentagon to Offer More Options on North Korea
Reuters: No. 3 U.S. diplomat quits in latest departure under Trump
Wall Street Journal: South Korea Sees Olympics More Secure With North Korea in Than Out
USNI News: NSA Chief Adm. Mike Rogers Expected to Retire this Spring; Leaves Complicated Legacy
New York Times: As Strongmen Steamroll Their Opponents, U.S. Is Silent
Defense Tech: Army to Test First Robotic Combat Vehicle by 2021
Defense News: What we know about the secret Silent Barker space program
Foreign Policy: There’s No Happy Ending for Rex Tillerson
Defense One: Trump’s National-Security Strategy Is Focused on Great Powers. He Isn’t.
Air Force Times: 13 hypoxia-like events in one week led to T-6 fleet grounding
FRIDAY | FEB. 2
2 p.m. Pentagon River Entrance. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis welcomes Ukrainian Minister of Defence Stepan Poltorak to the Pentagon
MONDAY | FEB. 5
8 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Taking Stock of Mexico's Security Landscape. wilsoncenter.org
10 a.m. 2121 Eye St. NW. Rep. Michael McCaul delivers the “State of National Security Address” at the George Washington University Center for Cyber and Homeland Security. homeland.house.gov
2 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Enhanced Deterrence in the North: A 21st Century European Engagement Strategy with retired Gen. Philip Breedlove, former Supreme Allied Commander Europe, and retired Adm. Mark Ferguson.
2 p.m. 1779 Massachusetts Avenue NW. The Demise of America’s First Missile Defense System and the Rise of Strategic Arms Limitation. carnegieendowment.org
TUESDAY | FEB. 6
9 a.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Russia’s Cyber Operations in Ukraine and Beyond with Rep. Will Hurd. atlanticcouncil.org
9:30 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Russia’s Post-Authoritarian Future: A Conversation with Ksenia Sobchak. csis.org
10 a.m. Rayburn 2172. U.S. Cyber Diplomacy in an Era of Growing Threats. foreignaffairs.house.gov
10 a.m. Rayburn 2118. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testify on the National Defense Strategy and the Nuclear Posture Review. armedservices.house.gov
10 a.m. Dirksen 419. The Administration's South Asia Strategy on Afghanistan with John Sullivan, deputy secretary of state. foreign.senate.gov
10 a.m. House Visitor Center 210. Ensuring Effective and Reliable Alerts and Warnings. homeland.house.gov
2 p.m. Rayburn 2172. Subcommittee Hearing on Syria: Which Way Forward? foreignaffairs.house.gov
2 p.m. Rayburn 2200. Subcommittee Hearing on U.S.-Pakistan Relations: Reassessing Priorities Amid Continued Challenges. foreignaffairs.house.gov
2:30 p.m. Dirksen 562. Subcommittee Hearing on Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Ways of Funding Government: Exploring the Cost to Taxpayers of Spending Uncertainty caused by Governing through Continuing Resolutions, Giant Omnibus Spending Bills, and Shutdown Crises. hsgac.senate.gov
WEDNESDAY | FEB. 7
9 a.m. Rayburn 2118. Subcommittee on Senior Leader Misconduct: Prevention and Accountability with the vice chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force, as well as the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps. armedservices.house.gov
10 a.m. 1957 E St. NW. International Cybersecurity Leaders Forum: The U.S.-Ukraine Cybersecurity Partnership with Rep. Brendan Boyle. gwu.edu
12:15 p.m. 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW. How to Interpret Nuclear Crises: From Kargil to North Korea. stimson.org
3:30 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. The Rise and Fall of the ABM Treaty: Missile Defense and the U.S.-Russia Relationship. csis.org
3:30 p.m. Russell 222. Subcommittee hearing on Army Modernization. armed-services.senate.gov
THURSDAY | FEB. 8
7 a.m. 2101 Wilson Blvd. S&ET Executive Breakfast. ndia.org
1:30 p.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Next steps for the Army: A conversation with Under Secretary Ryan McCarthy. brookings.edu
4:30 p.m. 1779 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Cyber Mercenaries: States and Hackers. carnegieendownment.org
5:15 p.m. 1030 15th St. NW. War Powers and Military Force with John Yoo, former deputy assistant U.S. attorney general. atlanticcouncil.org
FRIDAY | FEB. 9
10 a.m. 740 15th St. NW. 'Ultimate Deal' or Ultimate Demise? Palestinian-Israeli Peace Under Trump. newamerica.org
11:30 a.m. Syrian Impasse: America Between Turkey and the Kurds. defenddemocracy.org
12 noon. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Preventive Engagement: How America Can Avoid War, Stay Strong, and Keep the Peace. wilsoncenter.org
3:50 p.m. 740 15th St. NW. Book discussion of “Directorate S: America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan” with author Steve Coll. newamerica.org