POLITICO's Morning Defense: U.S. considers shooting down North Korean test missiles — Trump’s 'armada' is finally heading toward North Korea — In Saudi Arabia, Mattis backs a political solution to Yemen war

By Gregory Hellman | 04/19/2017 08:30 AM EDT

With Zach Montellaro, Jacqueline Klimas and Connor O'Brien

U.S. CONSIDERS DOWNING NORTH KOREAN MISSILES, reports The Guardian: "The U.S. military is considering shooting down North Korean missile tests as a show of strength to Pyongyang, two sources briefed on the planning have told the Guardian.

"Amid heightened tensions over North Korea's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, the Pentagon is looking for ways short of war to pressure the country into denuclearization, particularly if Pyongyang goes forward with a sixth nuclear test.

"The defense secretary, James Mattis, has briefed Congress on the option, but the military has not yet decided to intercept a test missile."

As Pence warns North Korea "the sword stands ready" in remarks from the USS Ronald Reagan stationed in Japan, via The Associated Press.

And fears of sabotage by the U.S. leave North Korea's missile program shaken, writes The New York Times.

But Trump won't share his approach to the North Korean regime, which he says "outplayed" past administration, reports POLITICO's Louis Nelson.

- WHILE THE U.S. AIRCRAFT CARRIER HAS BEEN HEADING THE OTHER WAY, via our colleague Jacqueline Klimas: "The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier that the Trump administration had said was steaming toward North Korea was actually conducting exercises off the coast of Australia, a U.S. defense official acknowledged Tuesday.

"The Navy announced April 9 that the USS Carl Vinson strike group, including the carrier and two guided missile destroyers, was ordered to 'sail north and report on station in the Western Pacific Ocean.'

"Following the Navy's announcement, a U.S. official told Reuters the deployment of the group of ships was a 'necessary' show of force because of North Korea's recent behavior, which included a failed missile test. President Donald Trump went on to say the U.S. was "sending an armada" to counter the North Korean threat.

"The move prompted a strong rebuke by North Korea, which told CNN in a statement that it would counter the 'reckless acts of aggression" with "whatever methods the US wants to take.'

"But a Navy photograph posted online Saturday showed the Carl Vinson in the Sunda Strait near Indonesia, providing the first clues that the ship was not where many had reported."

Pence says misstatements about the Vinson were not intentional, via POLITICO's Louis Nelson

IT'S WEDNESDAY AND WELCOME TO MORNING DEFENSE, where we're always on the lookout for tips, pitches and feedback. Email us at ghellman@politico.com, and follow on Twitter @greg_hellman, @morningdefense and @politicopro.

FOR YOUR RADAR - SASC TO HEAR FROM PACOM CHIEF: U.S. Pacific Command chief Adm. Harry Harris is set to testify at a Senate Armed Services hearing April 27 on PACOM and U.S. Forces Korea. A separate hearing with think tank experts on Tuesday examines U.S. policy and strategy in the Asia-Pacific.

MATTIS BACKS POLITICAL SOLUTION TO YEMEN WAR, reports UPI: "U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis began a weeklong tour of the Middle East in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, saying an end to Yemen's civil war must be politically brokered.

"En route to Riyadh, Mattis said, 'Our goal is for that crisis [in Yemen], that ongoing fight, be put in front of a U.N.-brokered negotiating team and try to resolve this politically as soon as possible. It has gone on for a long time.'

"The United Nations estimated that more than 10,000 people have died in the two-year civil war, which involves government troops backed by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia, and Houthi rebels supported by Iran."

The trip comes as Saudi Arabia loses a helicopter, reportedly shot down during military operations in Yemen as a result of friendly fire, Reuters writes.

- KINGDOM SEEKS 'MUSLIM NATO,' the WSJ adds: "A Saudi-led coalition force of 41 countries is now taking shape and has found a focus: protecting member nations against the threat from Islamic State as the militant group's strongholds in Iraq and Syria disintegrate.

"The coalition, sometimes referred to as the 'Muslim NATO,' is expected to have its first substantive meeting over the next few months in Riyadh when defense ministers from member states, from Morocco to Malaysia, will gather to agree on its structure and mission.

"However, these are Sunni-majority nations and absent from the alliance is Saudi Arabia's major rival in the Middle East, Shiite powerhouse Iran, which sees the grouping as a sectarian show of force."

CHINA'S XI TIGHTENS GRIP ON MILITARY, reports Reuters: "Chinese President Xi Jinping has announced a military restructure of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) to transform it into a leaner fighting force with improved joint operations capability, state media said.

"Centered around a new, condensed structure of 84 military units, the reshuffle builds on Xi's years-long efforts to modernize the PLA with greater emphasis on new capabilities including cyberspace, electronic and information warfare.

"As chair of the Central Military Commission, Xi is also commander-in-chief of China's armed forces."

- AS DOMESTIC CRITICS OF CHINA'S KOREA POLICY EMERGE, writes the NYT: "When China's best-known historian of the Korean War, Shen Zhihua, recently laid out his views on North Korea, astonishment rippled through the audience. China, he said with a bluntness that is rare here, had fundamentally botched its policy on the divided Korean Peninsula..."

"'Judging by the current situation, North Korea is China's latent enemy and South Korea could be China's friend,' Mr. Shen said, according to a transcript he published online. 'We must see clearly that China and North Korea are no longer brothers in arms, and in the short term there's no possibility of an improvement in Chinese-North Korean relations.'"

GAO: DELAY LCS BUY, reports Jacqueline: "The Government Accountability Office has recommended the Navy delay procuring its new frigate until fiscal 2019 to avoid risk and uncertainty in development and acquisition, according to a report out today.

"The Navy intends to ask Congress this year to approve a block buy of 12 frigates, based on the Littoral Combat Ship with minor modifications, and award the contract for the lead ship in fiscal 2018. But the GAO found the Navy doesn't have enough knowledge about the ship design, cost or capability to embark on the potential $9 billion program and urged Congress to delay it until at least fiscal 2019."

AIR FORCE: A NEW CR WOULD THREATEN NUCLEAR MODERNIZATION, via Defense News: "The U.S. Air Force's nuclear programs, including those for its new bomber and next-generation intercontinental ballistic missiles, would take a massive hit if Congress doesn't pass a budget this year, a top service official said."

"Lawmakers have until April 28 to either pass new spending bills or extend the current continuing resolution, which would keep weapons programs running at the same funding levels as 2016 and prevent any new ones from starting. But with time running out, the services are already preparing to seek 'anomalies' - special permission from Congress that would allow programs to move around the CR's restrictions.

"For Air Force acquisition, the impact would be deeply felt, especially in the realm of nuclear modernization."

INDUSTRY INTEL - AIR FORCE NEARS PICK ON F-35 EJECTION SEAT, reports Defense News: "The U.S. Air Force is nearing a decision on whether to ease weight restrictions on the F-35A caused by issues with its pilot escape system, but if the aircraft's Martin-Baker ejection seat meets requirements, the service will likely abandon plans to qualify a second seat, the Air Force's top uniformed acquisition official told Defense News in an exclusive interview.

"The Air Force has prohibited pilots weighing less than 136 pounds from flying the F-35A since 2015, when it was discovered that lightweight operators were at high risk of serious, potentially fatal neck injuries upon ejecting from the aircraft. Martin-Baker - a U.K. firm that manufacturers the F-35's US16E ejection seat - and Rockwell Collins, which makes the helmet, spent more than a year fixing and retesting their products to ensure they meet requirements."

- PENTAGON MAKES DIUx AWARDS, Jacqueline writes: "The Pentagon awarded 13 agreements in the first half of this fiscal year through the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental program, an effort to reach out to innovative hotbeds that was launched by former Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

"Driving innovation and building relationships with nontraditional defense companies were top priorities for Carter, but the fate of the programs he set up was unclear under the new Trump administration."

TOP DOC - SENATORS URGE TRUMP TO TAP IG'S, via your Morning D correspondent: "The leaders of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee are urging President Donald Trump in a letter today to fill the inspector general vacancy at the Pentagon and other agencies."

"In addition to the IG opening at the Defense Department, the president has yet to nominate IGs at nine other agencies for the Senate to consider, including the CIA and NSA, Chairman Ron Johnson and ranking Democrat Claire McCaskill wrote, along with 10 colleagues."

SPEED READ

- More U.S. Marines are headed to Afghanistan to battle Taliban gains: Marine Times

- The Marine commander in Australia says the U.S. remains committed to a security pivot towards Asia: Reuters

- An emerging House plan to make service members buy into their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits stirs up veterans' advocates: Military Times

- The Trump administration, while skeptical, tells Congress Iran is complying with the nuclear deal: WSJ

- On Russia, Trump and his top national security aides seem to be at odds: The Washington Post

- Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly tells congressional critics to change immigration enforcement laws or "shut up:" POLITICO

- French police thwart a terrorist attack days before national elections: AP

- ISIS gunmen kill a police officer near St. Catherine's Monastery in Egypt: NYT

- The military is not saying how much damage the "mother of all bombs" did in Afghanistan: NYT

- A Navy officer is charged with hazing and maltreatment: The Virginian Pilot

- The Air Force scrambles jets to intercept a pair of Russian bombers flying near Alaska: Fox News

- A missing Chinese billionaire has previously undisclosed ties to the People's Liberation Army: WSJ

- The additional powers won by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will allow him to become more involved in weapons programs: Defense News

- Criminal pardons for Army veteran Hector Barajas-Varela and two other deported veterans provide them hope that they can return to the U.S.: Stars and Stripes

- Japanese officials detect a banned pollutant in water running under a Marine base on Okinawa: Stars and Stripes

- White House: Trump's call to Erdogan wasn't an endorsement of Turkey's referendum results: POLITICO

To view online:
http://www.politico.com/tipsheets/morning-defense/2017/04/us-considers-shooting-down-north-korean-test-missiles-219850

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