U.S, India to ink new defense pact


With Connor O’Brien and Jacqueline Feldscher

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Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are heading to India to sign a new defense cooperation agreement while the national security adviser is continuing his unusual defense industry roadshow.

A U.N. treaty to ban nuclear weapons will enter into force now that 50 nations have ratified it, despite a U.S. appeal not to go there.

A new think tank report questions whether some of the talk of China’s military threat is hyped.

HAPPY MONDAY AND WELCOME TO MORNING DEFENSE, where we’re always on the lookout for tips, pitches and feedback. Email us at [email protected], and follow on Twitter @bryandbender, @morningdefense and @politicopro.

ADAM SMITH OUT FRONT: House Armed Services Chair Adam Smith on Thursday takes part in a fireside chat hosted by the Center for a New American Security just as the House and Senate launch final negotiations on the National Defense Authorization Act. Also likely to come up: what’s in store for the defense budget if Democrats win big at the polls next Tuesday.

‘NEVER GIVE UP HOPE’: With just over a week until Election Day, Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she’s still “optimistic” about the prospects for a pre-election coronavirus relief package, POLITICO’s Kelly Hooper reports.

“I never give up hope. I’m optimistic. We put pen to paper and had been writing the bill based on what we hope will be the outcome, what they said they would get back to us on,” Pelosi said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

But another major deal remains unlikely. Lawmakers are short on time and it’s unclear if Senate Republicans could even muster enough votes to pass another multitrillion-dollar stimulus package.

Related: Pelosi to run for speaker again if Democrats keep the House, via POLITICO.

ROPER TAKES YOUR QUESTIONS: Air Force acquisition chief Will Roper participates in a livestreamed Ask Me Anything at 2:30 p.m.

Some other virtual newsmaker events on tap for this week:

On Tuesday, top Pentagon leaders on 5G participate in a summit sponsored by the Potomac Officers Club, including Pentagon Director for 5G Joe Evans and Space Force Maj. Gen. Kimberly Crider, beginning at 8 a.m.

— Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. John Hyten and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. C.Q. Brown will participate in a two-day symposium on the future of high-tech warfare hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association and Texas A&M University.

— Chief of Space Operations Gen. John Raymond speaks at the National Defense University Foundation at 11 a.m.

— Army Gen. Gustave Perna, COO of Operation Warp Speed, provides an update on the search for a Covid-19 vaccine at the Heritage Foundation at 3 p.m.

On Wednesday, Brown and Army Gen. Steve Lyons, commander of U.S. Transportation Command, deliver keynotes at the Airlift/Tanker Association Convention beginning at 1:40 p.m. Check out the full agenda.

— Raymond and Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett will speak at the Space Foundation’s Space Symposium 365 at 1 p.m.

On Friday, Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen Wilson will be the featured speaker at the Air Force Association’s Airmen in the Fight series at 5:30 p.m.

ESPER, POMPEO TO INDIA: Esper and Pompeo left for India on Sunday to focus on finding new ways to work with New Delhi to counter China.

The two sides are expected to sign a pact to cooperate on satellite intelligence, The Wall Street Journal reported. They will also discuss enhancing other tools for military and diplomatic cooperation, the State Department reported in a fact sheet issued Sunday night.

Pompeo will also be traveling to Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia, which recently rebuffed a U.S. request to host spy planes, according to The Associated Press. The Pentagon has not yet released Esper’s travel schedule other than to report that he will visit other nations and return to Washington on Thursday.

O’BRIEN TO VISIT SHIPYARD, VEHICLE MAKER: Fresh off an unusual visit to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine, White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien announced on Sunday that his election-season industrial tour will continue with a visit to defense manufacturers and trade groups in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

The trip will include “meetings with trade groups and defense industry manufacturers – two critical sectors for keeping America strong and safe,” the NSC tweeted.

He will also “join @RepPeteStauber and @RepTomEmmer‘s staff for roundtable discussions on critical minerals and international trade before heading to @FincantieriUS in Marinette and @OshkoshDefense in Oshkosh to promote American defense capabilities.”

O’Brien has taken an unconventional interest in defense acquisition for a national security adviser, particularly playing a leading role in shaping the Navy’s forthcoming shipbuilding plan. He has also been criticized for the timing and locations of some recent travel to battleground states to tout Trump’s support for defense spending and jobs.

The trip also drew renewed criticism. “I can’t ever think of an NSA deciding travel to meet with trade groups was the right role for the coordinator of the president’s security policy, much less during a pandemic, much less a week from an election,” tweeted Heather Hurlbert of New America, a former White House and State Department official in the Clinton Administration.

YOU’RE FIRED! That’s what’s in store for several top-level Trump administration officials if President Donald Trump is re-elected, Axios reports, including Esper.

“Trump soured on Esper over the summer when the Defense secretary rebuffed the idea of sending active-duty military into the streets to deal with racial justice protests and distanced himself from the clearing of Lafayette Square for a photo op at St. John’s church,” according to the report, which also says FBI Director Christopher Wray and CIA Director Gina Haspel are on Trump’s “execution list.”

‘A RIGHTEOUS THUMB ON HISTORY’S SCALES’: When most of us weren’t looking, at least 50 countries ratified the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on Saturday, which means the pact will enter into force in 90 days.

The treaty, which was finalized in June 2017, has been opposed by the world’s nuclear weapons powers, especially the United States, which last week appealed to nations to withdraw in order to prevent it from taking effect, arguing that it would undermine national security and weaken previous efforts to control nuclear proliferation, including the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

“Although we recognize your sovereign right to ratify or accede to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, we believe that you have made a strategic error and should withdraw your instrument of ratification or accession,” the U.S. urged.

It didn’t work. “This historic treaty is the first comprehensive prohibition of nuclear weapons, placing them alongside biological weapons and chemical weapons as illegitimate tools of war under international law,” hailed the Union of Concerned Scientists over the weekend.

The pact was pushed by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts.

“What follows now depends on many factors,” said Greg Mello, executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group, a nuclear disarmament organization in New Mexico, “but the Treaty, now about to enter into force, is a righteous thumb on history’s scales. It makes a sea-change in nuclear affairs.”

‘UNSTOPPABLE COLOSSUS?’ The push to dramatically expand the size of the Navy, not to mention the very foundation of the National Defense Strategy, are driven by China’s military buildup, including the expansion of its own navy.

Think tank discussions of the growing military threat posed by Beijing are almost endless, but few seriously question the orthodoxy that its pursuit of anti-access area denial capabilities, such as missiles and submarines, will be game-changing. Could it all be just a little hyped?

Defense Priorities, a think tank dedicated to reducing military intervention, is out with a new study on China’s maritime capabilities that raises such a prospect.

“A combination of factors — including geography, the capabilities of other regional states, technological questions, and Beijing’s own dubious procurement choices — work to dampen China’s maritime potential,” writes Senior Fellow Michael Sweeney in “Assessing Chinese Maritime Power.” “Particular areas of weakness in China’s maritime capabilities include in the domain of undersea warfare, amphibious lift, and aerial refueling capabilities.”

After a more dispassionate and objective analysis, “the picture that emerges is less an unstoppable colossus and more a powerful, but uneven force, with important capability gaps, in part reliant on a potentially lethal, but unproven concept (A2/AD) to help secure its littoral waters.”

“China may have the capabilities to secure dominance out to the first island chain at some point in the future,” the study adds, “but it will have a hard time extending that into complete naval hegemony over the Western Pacific. And there also remains the possibility Chinese capabilities could stagnate or regress.”

Related: O’Brien calls out China on illegal fishing and harassment of vessels, via The White House.

And: As U.S. military moves into Palau, China watches intently, via Breaking Defense.

MEALS AND MEDITATION: Defense company CEOs say adjustments they have made during the pandemic, from relying more on technology to more active efforts to support employees’ mental and physical health, are likely here to stay, our colleague Jacqueline Feldscher reports.

SAIC has offered its working parents access to online tutoring, reported Amy Benson, SAIC’s vice president of government affairs. When it comes to the well-being of the workforce, that includes allowing time for meditation or mindfulness during the workday, said Karl Hutter, CEO of Click Bond, a parts supplier for aerospace and shipbuilding manufacturers.

Maintaining a company’s culture is another priority for executives, who don’t know when they’ll be able to gather large groups again for morale-building events. Tory Bruno, the CEO of rocket builder United Launch Alliance, has tried to replicate such gatherings as a BBQ or watching a space launch, for example, by buying employees meals to pick up from local small businesses.

“There’s not going to be a going back to normal,” Hutter said.

ISRAEL OPENS DOOR TO UAE F-35s: Israel on Friday said it would allow the U.S. to sell “certain weapons” to the United Arab Emirates, helping to pave the way for the Gulf Arab nation to buy F-35 fighter jets, which has been a concern for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Feldscher and Lara Seligman report.

The agreement, reached by Esper and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the Pentagon, did not specifically mention the advanced Lockheed Martin jet, but it does remove objections to the sale of high-tech weapons to the Gulf Arab nation.

“The prime minister and defense minister both agree that since the U.S. is upgrading Israel’s military capability and is maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge, Israel will not oppose the sale of these systems to the UAE,” according to a statement from the Israeli government.

FOR YOUR RADAR: Major defense firms report their third quarter earnings this week with Raytheon Technologies on Tuesday and General Dynamics and Boeing on Wednesday.

— At least 18 dead in suicide attack in Kabul tied to Islamic State: The Guardian

— Navy identifies aircrew in South Alabama crash: U.S. Navy

— Analysis: U.S. confirms senior al Qaeda leader killed in Afghan raid: Long War Journal

— Guantanamo population isn’t growing, and prison shows no signs of closing: The Hill

— Our secret Taliban air force: The Washington Post

— Trump administration slams Turkey for test-firing Russia air defense system: The Associated Press

— Armenia, Azerbaijan agree to ceasefire after talks in Washington: The Wall Street Journal

— Cluster bombs used in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: Human Rights Watch

— Lobbying firm cuts ties with Turkey under pressure: POLITICO Pro

— Long-awaited Medal of Honor for Iraq soldier delayed in Senate: The Washington Post

— The politicization of the State Department is nearly complete: The Atlantic

— Far-right groups are behind most U.S. terrorist attacks, report finds: The New York Times

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