TRUMP LEAVES FOR ASIA: President Trump will depart Friday for the longest overseas trip of his presidency, hopping around several Asian countries as tensions increase on the Korean Peninsula.
“We have one problem. That’s called North Korea,” Trump told Fox News’ Laura Ingraham in an interview that aired last night. “I must tell you North Korea’s a thing that I think we will solve and if we don’t solve it, it’s not going to be very pleasant for them. It’s not going to be very pleasant for anybody.”
Trump’s solution is still a bit of a mystery. As Sarah Westwood reports this morning, he has openly contradicted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about the role diplomacy should play in dealing with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un. Last month, the president told Tillerson to stop “wasting his time” by conducting outreach to Pyongyang after Tillerson said lines of communication exist between the administration and the Kim regime.
And Trump has labored to leave North Korea with the impression that military strikes remain on the table, quipping to reporters on Oct. 5 that a relaxed dinner with his generals could symbolize a “calm before the storm.” National security adviser H.R. McMaster shed little light on whether Trump would soften his rhetoric when he travels to the region. “The president will use whatever language he wants to use, obviously,” McMaster told reporters Thursday. “I don’t think the president really modulates his language. Have you noticed?”
FIRST STOP: Trump will first fly to Hawaii, where he’ll land at Hickam Air Force Base and participate in a briefing with U.S. Pacific Command officials. He will then tour the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, according to the White House. Then it’s off to Japan, China, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines.
BOMBER FLIGHT: And as Trump prepares to head to the region, two U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers, along with Japanese and South Korean fighter jets, participated in a sequenced bilateral mission near the Korean Peninsula on Thursday.
The B-1 bombers took off from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam and flew with the Japanese and Korean jets over South Korea as part of the planned exercise. The “continuous bomber presence mission” had been scheduled ahead of time and was “not in response to any current event,” Air Force spokesperson Capt. Candice Dillitte said, according to CNN.
North Korea reacted in typical flowery form. “The gangster-like US imperialists are ceaselessly resorting to their frantic nuclear threat and blackmail to stifle the DPRK with nukes at any cost,” a post from Korean Central News Agency, the state-run media outlet, said. “On Thursday they let a formation of B-1B nuclear strategic bombers stationed at the Anderson [sic] Air Force Base on Guam stealthily fly into South Korea again to stage a surprise nuclear strike drill targeting the DPRK.” B-1B bombers, however, are not nuclear-capable.
PREPARING FOR TESTS? CNN reports this morning that, based on an intelligence report from South Korean officials, Pyongyang may be preparing to carry out another nuclear or missile test. The report cites “active movement of vehicles around a missile research institute in Pyongyang,” which leads South Korea’s spy agency to believe another test is imminent.
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service “predicts that North Korea will continue to carry out additional nuclear tests and push for the development of miniaturized, diversified nuclear warheads.”
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.
BREAKING THIS MORNING: The Syrian army announced on Friday that it has liberated the long-contested eastern city of Deir el-Zour from the Islamic State group — a largely symbolic victory in the military’s fight to capture remaining ISIS strongholds in the oil-rich province along the border with Iraq, the AP reports.
In a statement, the military said it is in full control of the city, after a weeks-long campaign carried out with allied forces. It said army units were removing booby traps and mines left behind by the extremist group in the city. Deir el-Zour has been part government-held, part ISIS-held part for nearly three years.
FLEET FALLOUT: The Navy’s top leader is worried that some sailors throughout the fleet might not be competent enough to drive their ships, following an investigation into a pair of “preventable,” lethal collisions. “I’m concerned enough that I support these ready-for-sea assessments,” Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, told reporters Thursday after discussing the results of a Fleet Comprehensive Review. “We’re going to get a solid baseline of that readiness and proficiency.”
Those assessments are underway following a series of accidents in the Navy’s Japan-based 7th Fleet, including two destroyer collisions this summer that resulted in the deaths of 17 sailors. The accidents point to various ways the Navy is “overstretched [and] overextended,” Richardson said, including lack of training in crucial positions.
In the case of the USS John S. McCain, an accident that claimed the lives of 10 sailors, “insufficient knowledge and proficiency of the ship’s steering system” was a key factor in the collision. The sailor tasked with operating the relevant controls couldn’t execute the task, but the lack of knowledge wasn’t limited to one person. “The commander wasn’t any help in that regard,” Richardson said.
As a result of four mishaps, all in the Western Pacific over the past year, Richardson has directed a series of fixes aimed at improving training and culture throughout the force. You can download and read the report here.
OK, NO MORE INDUSTRY GUYS: Trump’s choice for the top civilian post in the Army continues a troubling trend of staffing the Pentagon with defense industry executives, Sen. John McCain said yesterday during Mark Esper’s confirmation hearing.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t reiterate my concerns about the number of nominees from defense industry filling out the leadership ranks at the Department of Defense,” McCain said. McCain directed that criticism specifically at Raytheon vice president Esper, who, if confirmed, would move from one of the top defense American defense contractors to serve as secretary of the Army under Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. McCain has complained that populating Pentagon leadership with executives could put “the fox … back into the henhouse.”
Esper, who has pledged to recuse himself from all matters related to his former company, sought to blunt that criticism by touting his career as an Army officer.
ISIS CLAIMS: The Islamic State has made its first official comment on the New York City attack, calling Sayfullo Saipov “a Soldier of the caliphate,” according to SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors terror networks. SITE’s director, Rita Katz, tweeted that the claim in the terror group’s Naba magazine didn’t indicate any coordination with Saipov, but said he had been inspired.
GITMO CROSSED OFF: Trump on Thursday backed away from his proposal to send the Manhattan terrorist suspect to Guantanamo Bay, and said justice might be delivered to the suspect more quickly in the United States. “Would love to send the NYC terrorist to Guantanamo but statistically that process takes much longer than going through the Federal system … There is also something appropriate about keeping him in the home of the horrible crime he committed. Should move fast. DEATH PENALTY!” Trump tweeted Thursday morning.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters on Wednesday afternoon that Trump would consider designating Saipov as an “enemy combatant,” but said his earlier comment about sending him to the island prison was not intended to be serious. “I believe he was addressing his frustration with the lengthy process that often comes with a case like this,” Sanders told reporters at the White House.
INVESTIGATING REFUGEES: The Department of Justice has “hundreds” of ongoing terrorism-related investigations into people who came to the U.S. as refugees, according to the nation’s top cop.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the comment early Thursday during remarks from New York City about national security. Sessions argued the manpower and resources that go into preventing terror attacks, both at home and abroad, are strained by the inability of the Trump administration to fully carry out the president’s executive order travel ban.
NO CYBER LEADER: Trump doesn’t yet have an official in place who is responsible for leading the nation’s cyberdefenses, according to his incoming undersecretary of defense for intelligence. “It’s difficult to address who that is,” Joseph Kernan told the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing Thursday. “I would say there’s lots of activities going on, but it’s not focused under one person that I’m aware of.”
That ambiguity frustrated lawmakers in both parties, following years of high-profile cyberattacks against private and government entities by adversarial regimes. Kernan, a retired Navy SEAL admiral, couldn’t identify the point person for cyber defenses even within the Defense Department.
“I think right now it’s a collective responsibility,” he told Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. “I certainly have a responsibility for cyber in the intelligence realm.”
DON’T FORGET THE NDAA: Along with everything else going on, conferees from the House and Senate are still working toward finalizing the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2018. Rep. Adam. Smith, ranking member on House Armed Services, gave Politico’s Connor O’Brien a 50/50 chance that negotiations wrap up today.
Defense News: How a Pentagon research project convinced Vladimir Putin of a coming biowar
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Army Times: Senate won’t accept billion dollar failures from Army secretary nominee
Daily Beast: 7 Myths That Are Helping ISIS Rise From the Grave
Defense One: How Robots Will Help the U.S. Navy Avoid Future Collisions
Foreign Policy: Here Comes the Trump Pentagon — Finally
Roll Call: Ahead of Asia Trip, White House Gives North Korea a Reprieve
UPI: BAE receives $40M from Lockheed for sensor technology
FRIDAY | NOV. 3
2:30 p.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. China’s 19th party congress and its implications for China and the United States. wilsoncenter.org
MONDAY | NOV. 6
9 a.m. 1000 Massachusetts Ave. NW. How do you solve a problem like North Korea? cato.org
11 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Allies under the shadow: Thailand, the Philippines, and the state of U.S. alliances in Southeast Asia. csis.org
TUESDAY | NOV. 7
8 a.m. 11790 Sunrise Valley Dr. How Washington Works – Navigating the DOD course. ndia.org
8 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Global Security Forum 2017 with Sen. John McCain; James Clapper, former director of national intelligence; and William Lynn, CEO of Leonardo North America and DRS Technologies. csis.org
10 a.m. Rayburn 2172. Democracy and governance in the Middle East and North Africa. foreignaffairs.house.gov
2 p.m. Rayburn 2172. Joint subcommittee hearing on whether Russia is a counterterrorism partner or is fanning the flames. foreignaffairs.house.gov
WEDNESDAY | NOV. 8
9:30 a.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. The Trump administration and the future of the ROK-U.S. alliance with Sen. Cory Gardner. heritage.org
10 a.m. Dirksen 342. Nomination of Kirstjen M. Nielsen to be secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. hsgac.senate.gov
2:30 p.m. 1789 Massachusetts Ave. NW. A strategy for a brighter future in Libya: Redefining America’s role. aei.org
3 p.m. 1030 15th St. NW. The civilian elements of the new U.S. strategy in Afghanistan with Ahmad Nader Nadery, chairman of Afghanistan’s civil service commission. atlanticcouncil.org
4 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. A book talk with Nathalie Nguyen about America’s forgotten allies, the soldiers of the Republic of Vietnam. csis.org
THURSDAY | NOV. 9
7 a.m. 901 Massachusetts Ave. NW. The 5th Annual Defense One Summit with Gen. Stephen Wilson, Air Force vice chief of staff; Rep. Elise Stefanik; and former Ambassador Wendy Sherman. defenseone.com
8 a.m. 2401 M St. N.W. Defense Writers Group breakfast with Sen. James Inhofe. centermediasecurity.org
10 a.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. N.W. Turkey, Europe and the U.S.: New challenges and changing dynamics. brookings.edu
10:30 a.m. Rayburn 2212. Lt. Gen. Chris Nowland, deputy Air Force chief of staff for operations; Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, Naval Air Forces commander; Lt. Gen. Steven Rudder, deputy Marine Corps commandant for aviation; and Maj. Gen. William Gayler, commander of the Army Aviation Center of Excellence testify on aviation readiness. armedservices.house.gov
12 p.m. 1201 Pennsylvania Ave. Mounting challenges to U.S. naval power: A book discussion with “Seablindness” author Seth Cropsey and Rep. Mike Gallagher. hudson.org
2 p.m. 1789 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Japanese internationalism in an era of upheaval. aei.org