Today’s D Brief: Navy to Scrap Burned Ship; Robot Battle Buddies; Defeat-ISIS Chief Leaves; Mapping China’s Talent Net; and a Bit More.
Bye-bye, Bonhomme. The Navy will retire its amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) nearly five months after a fire devastated the ship pierside in San Diego. The Wasp-class ship — coded LHD for “landing helicopter dock” — was essentially a light aircraft carrier built to bear more than 1,800 sailors and Marines and an array of helicopters and landing craft to an amphibious landing. Now those servicemembers will be routed to units and vessels elsewhere, Navy officials said in a call with reporters Monday.
The official word: “Following an extensive material assessment in which various courses of action were considered and evaluated, we came to the conclusion that it is not fiscally responsible to restore her,” said Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite in a statement.
Cost to scrap: $30 million, and the job will take about nine months to a year to complete. The ship cost $750 million when it was commissioned 22 years ago — about $1.2 billion today, according to CNN.
The cost to keep would have been somewhere between $2.5 and $3.2 billion for renovations “that could take as long as five to seven years,” ABC News reported.
For the record, the Navy no longer builds Wasp-class ships. Instead, the service has switched to the newer America class, which can carry F-35Bs and costs about $4.1 billion each, according to CNN. The first (USS America, aka LHA-6) launched in 2014; the second (USS Tripoli) was commissioned in July. The third, USS Bougainville (LHA-8), isn’t expected to be delivered until 2024.
New Pacific chief coming soon? Navy Adm. John Aquilino is expected to be nominated to lead the U.S. military’s Indo-Pacific combatant command, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. He’s already the Navy’s point man in the region, currently serving as the commander of Pacific Fleet forces.
About Aquilino: He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1984, and piloted F-14s and F/A-18s for several years before eventually taking higher-profile roles at, e.g., the Joint Staff and as operations director for Pacific Fleet. (Here’s video of a 2015 interview with Defense One’s Bradley Peniston.) After a short stint as commander of the Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet in 2018, Aquilino bounced back to USPACFLT and to his current commanding gig.
Indo-PACOM challenges ahead include “securing the funding and resources necessary to fulfill defense strategies emphasizing a focus on major powers such as Russia and China over the Middle East,” the Journal writes.
Russia just decided to make things in the Pacific more complicated, apparently deploying a “400km-range S-300V4 air defense system to the disputed Kuril islands, specifically designed to counter ballistic missiles,” naval-watcher Rob Lee noticed out of Moscow and Russian military press on Monday. “From the Kurils [the S-300V4 system] can possibly strike targets over Japan’s Hokkaido,” Lee tweeted.
Context: Russia’s announcement comes “a little more than a month after Shinzo Abe stepped down” as Japanese Prime Minister, Lee wrote in a subsequent tweet. “Negotiations with Russia over the Kuril islands was an important component of Abe’s foreign policy, and this deployment/exercise is a rare provocative move in the Kurils for Russia.”
FWIW: “Russia said in October it planned to deploy the missile system on the islands for the first time,” Reuters reports, “but that the move would be part of military drills and not for combat duty.” A bit more here.
Apropos of nothing: Fear of anti-missile tech from the Pacific (with a generous helping of bumbling spies) drives the story of the holiday film “Home Alone 3,” the last in the franchise that was released in theaters — 23 years ago this month.
From Defense One
Soldiers Don’t Trust Robot Battle Buddies. Can Virtual Training Fix That? // Patrick Tucker: Allowing soldiers to train their robot wingmen in game environments could be the key to human-machine teaming.
Mapping China’s Sprawling Efforts to Recruit Scientists // Emily Weinstein: Beijing’s high-profile Thousand Talents Program is a tiny piece of a broad national strategy to build military and economic advantage.
Are AI Professionals Actually Unwilling to Work for the Pentagon? // Margarita Konaev and Catherine Aiken: A CSET survey finds a more nuanced situation than public perception might indicate.
Trump Is Leaving Biden a Mess in Afghanistan // Jim Golby, The Atlantic: The departing president neither embraced nor fully repudiated America’s mission.
Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1913, the Ford Motor Company introduced the assembly line, reducing the time to build cars from 12 hours to about an hour and a half.
The UAE may be funding Russian mercenaries in Libya, the Pentagon’s IG says. Some 2,000 fighters hired by the Wagner Group are in-country, according to the most recent quarterly report on counterterrorism efforts in Africa by the Defense Department’s inspector general. It’s not entirely clear who’s funding the mercenaries, but the report says the Defense Intelligence Agency has “assessed that the United Arab Emirates may provide some financing for the group’s operations.” Read the report, here. Read more from Foreign Policy, which spotted the development, here.
Meanwhile: 29 human-rights groups are protesting the Trump administration’s plans, announced last month, to sell some $23 billion in fighter jets and other arms to UAE. Al Jazeera, here.
ICYMI: What’s to fear about the Wagner Group? Defense One Radio dived into that earlier this year. Listen, here.
The Pentagon’s Defeat ISIS group director resigned Monday, the Pentagon said in a statement, multiple outlets including CNN, The Hill and Fox News reported in the evening.
Chris Maier is the departing official, and he led the group since it began just two months into Trump’s tenure — just months before the fall of ISIS-held cities Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria. His responsibilities will now be absorbed by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict “and the regionally focused staffs of the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy,” CNN reported.
Why that matters: “The two offices are currently being led by Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Anthony Tata, individuals perceived as Trump loyalists who have been promoted in the wake of the recent purge,” CNN writes. “Cohen-Watnick was made the top Pentagon civilian overseeing intelligence, as well as continuing to serve as the acting assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict.” More here.
Another resignation for POTUS45: Scott Atlas formally resigned from his post as Trump’s special adviser on COVID-19, he tweeted Monday evening. More on his controversial tenure from NPR, here.
The Taliban are really rooting for President-elect Joe Biden to execute a full withdrawal from Afghanistan, like outgoing POTUS45 has reportedly prioritized on his way out the door. That’s according to the Taliban’s Arabic-language magazine, which the group posts online and which terrorism scholar Cole Bunzel read through and tweeted out an excerpt on Monday.
By the way: Biden received his first intelligence briefing on Monday, AP reported.
Hats off to the Coast Guard, which rescued a man barely hanging on to his capsized boat about 90 miles off the Florida coast on Sunday. He’d been stranded at sea for two days. NBC News has the story, here.
Lastly today: Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley is speaking at an online event hosted by the Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon. That gets started at 11 a.m. ET. Register for the webcast at Brookings, here.