By Gregory Hellman | 05/19/2017 10:00 AM EDT
With Zach Montellaro, Connor O'Brien and Jacqueline Klimas
THE BUDGET WEEK AHEAD - GRANGER: PENTAGON UNLIKELY TO GET MORE THAN TRUMP REQUESTS, via our colleague Connor O'Brien: "House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Kay Granger said [Thursday] she doubts Congress can secure defense funding beyond President Donald Trump's $603 billion budget proposal.
"Speaking at a Bloomberg Government event, the Texas Republican said she'd prefer the higher $640 billion topline supported by House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) and Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), but acknowledged caps on defense spending make that figure hard to achieve.
"'If all things were equal, I'd agree with their number,' Granger said. 'But I don't see how we get there.'"
Thornberry later cautioned against "throwing numbers around" and the tradeoffs of a lower defense budget: "Remember, the $640 [billion] is the number for fiscal year '18 that we believe is required to begin to repair the damage that's been done on readiness and to...keep the president's promises," Thornberry said. "We're not talking numbers. We're talking about which capability you're willing to live without."
When the dust settles, expect incremental defense increases, with readiness eating up much of the proposed boost, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment's Katherine Blakely predicts.
"Right now, the Trump administration is walking into a political buzz saw with their budget in Congress," she said, arguing the budget caps and political controversies surrounding the president will undermine its attempts to secure a large military build-up this year.
The president plans to send his fiscal 2018 budget to Congress on Tuesday, White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney says, even though he'll be traveling through the Middle East and Europe on his first foreign trip.
- HALF OF TRUMP'S DEFENSE BUDGET INCREASE LIKELY TO GO FOR MANDATED PERSONNEL COSTS, also via Connor: "Roughly half of President Donald Trump's planned $17 billion defense increase will be dedicated to personnel and force structure requirements imposed by Congress, leaving less room in the administration's $603 billion proposal to boost big-ticket items...
"The proposal would increase the Pentagon's base budget by approximately $17 billion over the Obama administration's last projection. But according to a source who discussed the proposal, roughly half of that increase would be used to fund higher troop levels, a bigger military pay raise and the denial of certain cost saving measures - all mandated by Congress late last year in the National Defense Authorization Act.
"The practical effect, then, would be less money available to increase procurement of major weapons systems or fund other priorities.
"More broadly, fewer available dollars could make it difficult in the coming 2018 fiscal year to mark a departure from the Obama administration and make good on Trump's campaign pledge to rebuild the military."
- ARMY TO REQUEST FUNDING PLUS-UP, reports Defense News: "The Army's fiscal year 2018 budget request funds a 1,018,000 total force and prioritizes munitions stockpiles and modernization of armored brigade combat teams. ... Defense News has learned the Army's base budget request in 2018 will be $137.1 billion. The request in 2017, the last one of the Obama administration, funded the Army at $123.1 billion.
"The European Reassurance Initiative (ERI) funding in 2018 continues to rise from previous years, with a request for $4.8 billion. The Army's portion of that is roughly $3.2 million, according to a defense official."
- MORE TROOPS AND WEAPONS EXPECTED, reports The New York Times: "The White House released some details of two of the larger components of the 2018 budget it will send to Congress on Tuesday. Money it wants to spend on the military and a southern border wall will be part of a wish list that will serve as the opening bid in negotiations over funding the government next year...
"The biggest parcel of money in Mr. Trump's budget goes to the Defense Department, which would see a $52 billion increase if the president's wishes are granted. Some of the funds would go toward adding 56,000 troops, with nearly half of that going to the Army. Money is also allocated for training current troops.
"The president's also budget calls for a $19 billion investment in equipment, including 70 F-35 and 14 F/A-18 fighter jets. The Pentagon would increase funding for B-21 bombers by $2 billion and spend $4.6 billion to finish one aircraft carrier and begin a next-generation carrier."
But cuts are expected in State Department foreign military financing, with loan options looming, via Defense News.
And the proposal aims to balance the budget within 10 years while maintaining the more than $50 billion increase for the military - offset by cuts to non-defense discretionary spending- contained within Trump's earlier proposal, writes The Wall Street Journal.
HAPPY FRIDAY AND WELCOME TO MORNING DEFENSE, where we're always on the lookout for tips, pitches and feedback. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow on Twitter @greg_hellman,@morningdefense and @politicopro.
HAPPENING TODAY - TRUMP HEADS OVERSEAS: The president leaves Washington on his first foreign trip amid the continuing upheavals over Russia and its role in last year's presidential election and other issues now being investigated by the new Justice Department special counsel, Robert Mueller.
Trump's trip includes stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel, Belgium and Italy. A major speech on Islam in Saudi Arabia and his participation in the NATO summit in Brussels and the G-7 Summit in Sicily are expected to highlight the trip.
At his first stop in Saudi Arabia, Trump will attend a summit of Muslim nations, aimed at solidifying a coalition of Arab states open to cooperation with Israel in an alliance against Iran, writes The Wall Street Journal.
The stop follows the intervention by Jared Kushner, the president's adviser and son-in-law, to seal a $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia in advance of the trip, adds the NYT.
And, along the way during the next week, five things to watch on the Trump trip, via POLITICO's Michael Crowley.
- 'MAJOR' ISIS UPDATE AT PENTAGON: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joe Dunford update reporters at a press briefing on the fight against the Islamic State.
The president told NBC's Lester Holt in an interview at the White House last week that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and 'my generals' would hold a "major" press conference to "inform the public and the world how well we've done against ISIS."
- ALSO TODAY, A HASC SUBCOMMITTEE TALKS SPACE POSTURE: The House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee hears from defense officials on the "Fiscal Year 2018 priorities and posture of the national security space enterprise."
MORNING D TRIVIA: Today's trivia question comes from one of last week's winners, Mark Kustra. In what famous battle did a single corps of Napoleon's army defeat the heart of the Prussian Army, while Napoleon separately engaged with a larger force? Who was the corps' commander and what famous future strategic thinker was captured in the battle?
The first person to email the correct answer to Morning D (email@example.com) wins a mention in Monday's edition.
TOP DOCS - THORNBERRY UNVEILS ACQUISITION REFORM BILL, reports Connor: The House Armed Services chairman Thursday released a draft acquisition reform bill, aimed at soliciting comments before the committee marks up the National Defense Authorization Act next month.
Speaking to reporters, Thornberry described the legislation, which is more modest than previous rounds of acquisition reform, as nonetheless a significant overhaul of the way the Pentagon does business.
"This year, we're not as much going for the bright shiny objects - the aircraft carriers and fighters," Thornberry said. "We're going for the other things that may not be as glamorous but are tremendously important, tremendously costly for the Department of Defense."
TRUMP SHIFTS STORY ON COMEY FIRING, writes POLITICO's Cristiano Lima: "President Donald Trump on Thursday said he fired FBI Director James Comey in part because of his 'poor, poor performance' during recent testimony before lawmakers on Capitol Hill, as he shifted his explanation of the much-criticized decision.
"The president had previously taken sole ownership of the decision to fire Comey, telling NBC he would have done so regardless of the Justice Department's position. But on Thursday, he said the ex-FBI chief's performance before Congress helped prompt a memo by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein laying out criticisms of Comey's tenure."
And calls the appointment of a special counsel a "witch hunt," while accusing former President Barack Obama's administration and the campaign of his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, of committing "illegal acts," adds our colleague Louis Nelson.
Trump also dismissed a report he had urged Comey to shut down the FBI's investigation into his former national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, and asserted in a press conference there was "no collusion" between Russia and his campaign, via POLITICO's Nolan D. McCaskill.
But advisers urge Trump to lawyer-up, although the president has not yet made a decision to do so, writes the NYT.
Meanwhile, Comey's testimony might be in jeopardy, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) warned, via our colleague Austin Wright.
And Flynn is not cooperating with the Senate Intelligence Committee in their investigation, Chairman Richard Burr says.
- LIEBERMAN EMERGES AS FRONT-RUNNER TO LEAD THE FBI, report POLITICO's Josh Dawsey, Kenneth P. Vogel and Michael Crowley: "Joe Lieberman, the former Democratic vice-presidential nominee, is the front-runner to be named FBI director, according to several White House officials and advisers.
"Senior administration officials have told others in the last 12 hours that Trump is expected to pick Lieberman to replace FBI director James Comey, who was abruptly fired by Trump last week."
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SENATE PANEL AUTHORIZES NEW COAST GUARD ICEBREAKERS, via your Morning D correspondent: The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee voted to authorize three new icebreakers for the Coast Guard. The measure now awaits full Senate consideration.
- BUT THE COAST GUARD WANTS CUTTERS TOO, Jacqueline writes: "The commandant of the Coast Guard made the case to Congress today for more money, including funds to prioritize buying a new ice breaker and a new fleet of inland cutters.
"Adm. Paul Zukunft said the Coast Guard's 35 inland cutters, which patrol rivers that facilitate more than $4 trillion in economic activity annually, are an average of more than 50 years old and have long needed to be replaced. Repeatedly, spending on them has taken a backseat to other acquisition priorities like the national security cutter, fast response cutter and offshore patrol cutter.
"'Eventually you have to air out your dirty laundry, and this is the time to do that. ... The time to replace them has arrived,' he told the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee."
WAR REPORT - U.S.-LED COALITION HITS ASSAD-ALIGNED FORCES, Jacqueline reports: "The U.S.-led coalition has hit forces aligned with the Assad regime in southern Syria, the Pentagon confirmed Thursday.
"The airstrikes occurred near At Tanf.
"The pro-regime forces had advanced 'well inside' an established deconfliction zone and 'posed a threat to U.S. and partner forces,' said Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis. And the forces aligned with Assad did not respond to warning shots, a coalition aircraft show of force or attempts by the Russians to halt their advance on U.S. and partner troops that preceded the airstrike, he said."
The airstrike was at least the third time in recent months the U.S. military has attacked forces loyal to Assad, adds the NYT.
- TURKEY AIMS TO OUST TRUMP'S COUNTER-ISIS ENVOY, writes The Washington Post: "Turkey's foreign minister on Thursday called on the Trump administration to replace its envoy to the anti-Islamic State coalition - the latest sign of Turkish frustration with the U.S. war strategy in Syria amid mounting tensions between the two NATO allies.
"Turkey has forcefully protested the Trump administration's decision to arm a Syrian Kurdish force for an assault on the Islamic State-held city of Raqqa. Turkey regards the force as an arm of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which Ankara and Washington have both listed as a terrorist group.
"In an interview with Turkish broadcaster NTV, the foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, accused U.S. envoy Brett McGurk of 'providing support' for the PKK and the Syrian Kurdish force, known as the YPG."
And vows to retaliate against Syrian Kurds, without consulting the U.S., if it feels threatened, Reuters adds.
CHINA OFFERS OLIVE BRANCH ON SOUTH KOREA, writes Reuters: "China wants to put ties with South Korea back on a "normal track", President Xi Jinping said on Friday, but Beijing also urged Seoul to respect its concerns and resolve tensions over the deployment of a U.S. anti-missile system that it opposes.
"Relations between Beijing and Seoul, strained by disagreement over South Korea's hosting of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, have taken on a more conciliatory tone with the election earlier this month of President Moon Jae-in.
"Xi told Moon's representative Lee Hae-chan on Friday that his visit showed the importance the new South Korean leader attached to relations with Beijing."
But tensions continue to roil in the Pacific, as two Chinese SU-30 aircraft carried out what the U.S. military described on Thursday as an "unprofessional" intercept of a U.S. aircraft designed to detect radiation, Reuters adds.
INDUSTRY INTEL - DoD OPENS ITS LABS, writes Jacqueline: Some of the Defense Department's innovators gathered in the Pentagon courtyard Thursday afternoon to show off about 80 exhibits demonstrating the latest technology to hit the field, including many areas where new technology is booming in medical care, cybersecurity and space.
Several of the exhibits focused on augmented reality, including one from the Army's Strategic Capability Office that will allow soldiers to navigate without a compass through a helmet-mounted augmented reality display. And the Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command had a nanosatellite on display that could be fitted for a variety of tasks from communications to surveillance and reconnaissance.
MAKING MOVES - MATTIS TAPS THREE FOR KEY PENTAGON CIVILIAN POSTS, via Jacqueline: "Defense Secretary Jim Mattis today tapped three people to serve in key Pentagon civilian posts.
"Stephen Kitay will serve as the deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy. A retired Air Force officer, he had been as a staffer on the House Armed Services Committee.
"Sergio de la Pena will be the deputy assistant secretary of defense for western hemisphere affairs. The retired Army colonel has been the CEO of de la Pena Consulting, which fostered relationships between U.S. businesses and governments in Latin America.
"And Vayl Oxford will be director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which works to counter weapons of mass destruction. A West Point graduate, Oxford had been the national security executive policy adviser at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory."
- Swedish prosecutor drops a rape investigation of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange: AP
- Two months after Trump tapped Boeing executive Patrick Shanahan to deputy defense secretary, the White House still has not sent his formal nomination to the Senate: Defense News
- Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford says NATO should be prepared to move quickly to deploy more troops to Afghanistan: USA Today
- European leaders fear Trump's political chaos is undermining U.S. power: The Washington Post
- NATO is considering reviving its Arctic and Atlantic Command: WSJ
- A prototype for the "Iron Man" suit that U.S. Special Operations has been developing is expected to be completed by the end of 2018: Defense News
- The Pentagon stalls the pathway to citizenship for foreign-born recruits looking to serve in the military: Stars and Stripes
- United Airlines charges a soldier returning from Afghanistan $200 for an overweight bag: Military Times
- CBS Sports signs a 10-year extension to air the Army-Navy game: CBS Sports
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