The D Brief: House NDAA markup; Army leaders reject drone branch, for now; Experimentation at Space Force; Support for two-state solution grows; And a bit more.

The D Brief: House NDAA markup; Army leaders reject drone branch, for now; Experimentation at Space Force; Support for two-state solution grows; And a bit more.

House lawmakers will spend much of the day deciding what goes in and what will get cut from its annual defense policy bill, known as the Fiscal Year 2025 National Defense Authorization Act. The bill totals $850 billion for the Defense Department in the year ahead. That includes a 19.5% pay raise for junior enlisted service members and 4.5% pay raise for all other service members. 

“There are nearly 700 amendments for us to work through today,” House Armed Services Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Alabama, said in a statement. “It is a good bill that will help revitalize the defense industrial base and build the ready, capable, and lethal fighting force we need to deter China and our other adversaries,” he said. 

Changing times: “Last year’s bill focused on getting the AUKUS agreement authorized,” said HASC Ranking Member Rep. Adam Smith, D-Washington, on the House floor Wednesday morning. “We are not going to be able to meet all of our national security needs on our own; that is simply not possible. The partners and alliances that we have across the country are crucial, and we need to do more to build and strengthen those partnerships so that we can meet our national security objectives and give us a more peaceful and prosperous world.”

“This mark is reflective of the battlefield changes that are occurring in real time on the Ukraine battlefield,” said HASC Tactical Air and Land Forces Chairman Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Virginia. “My mark establishes the Drone Corps as a basic branch of Army [more on that below]; it accelerates counter UAS capabilities; it affirms rapid technology advancement in UAS and counter UAS technologies; and seeks to elevate Army electronic warfare from organizational misalignment,” said Wittman. 

Wittman also flagged the so-called “Davidson window” as chief motivator for his desire to retain F-22 block 20 and F-15E aircraft in Wednesday’s bill. Indo-Pacific security expert Ankit Panda referenced that window in one of our latest podcast episodes on rising global defense spending, posted Friday. “The fatalism about 2027, and the ‘Davidson window’—named for the former commander of INDO-PACOM that sort of popularized this idea that China will go to war by 2027—I think that’s a great line if you’re, of course, in charge of INDO-PACOM and have short-term budgetary concerns and need Congress to sort of take an interest in the Indo-Pacific,” Panda said. 

“Because let’s face it, resourcing for the Indo-Pacific hasn’t necessarily been at the top of the U.S. agenda, despite the fact that the Biden administration has identified it as the priority theater,” he continued. “But more realistically, I think the decision to go to war over Taiwan remains highly contingent. And I think if you look at what Xi Jinping actually says pon the matter, he never rules out the possibility of unification through non-peaceful means; but it’s contingent onTaiwanese-American action,” said Panda. “It’s not sort of an automatic process. And so this fatalism about conflict, I think it actually undermines our ability to kind of think clearly and analytically.”

His advice for U.S. policymakers: “We need to make sure that we don’t we don’t spin ourselves into a position where war becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy with China,” Panda said. “And I think that is one of the things that I run into quite a bit in many of the conversations with meetings I have here in D.C.”

With an eye to China’s growing navy, HASC Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces Chairman Rep. Trent Kelly, R-Mississippi emphasized, “The mark supports 6 battle-force ships and investments into the shipyard industrial base.” In addition, “We fund a second Virginia-class submarine and the Columbia-class submarine, reinforcing our undersea dominance and providing critical strategic deterrence,” he said. 

For the latest in the day’s markup, Connor O’Brien of Politico is watching developments with his typical close eye, along with a series of caffeinated beverages. 

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson. Share your newsletter tips, reading recommendations, or feedback here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1856, 36-year-old South Carolina Rep. Preston Brooks waited for the Senate to adjoin before he entered the chambers with a metal-topped cane and assaulted 38-year-old Massachusetts Sen. Charles Sumner over Sumner’s disparaging remarks toward slaveholders three days prior. Less than a year later, the pro-slavery Brooks was dead from a respiratory infection at the age of 37. The abolitionist Sumner would remain in office for another 18 years before passing away at the age of 63. But Brooks’ violent attack 168 years ago today is still remembered by the Senate as a “breakdown of reasoned discourse” that helped propel the country toward its disastrous civil war less than five years later.

New: U.S. Army leaders rejected that House proposal to establish a new drone branch, Chief of Staff Gen. Randy George said in a statement Tuesday. Under Secretary Gabe Camarillo said essentially the same thing at an event in Washington on Friday, Defense One’s Sam Skove reports.

Background: The House’s tactical and land forces subcommittee made the proposal for the drone branch in the 2025 defense authorization bill. It would put drones on par with the 22 branches the service has now, such as artillery and armor.

Before leaping ahead with a new branch, ​​the service should first experiment with drones to establish how it wants to best use them across formations, Camarillo advised. 

“We see [drones] as integrated into our formation, not some separate piece. And I think we need that kind of flexibility,” George told senators Tuesday in Washington. 

Expert reax: “Drones have been treated mostly as elements of troop formations for surveillance, but the idea of drones as an important element of [indirect fire] should drive ground forces to rethink their role as being more like artillery,” Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, told Skove. Read on, here. 

Elsewhere in the Army: After years of smaller experiments, the service is rolling out its broad vision for digital engineering—and preparing to try it on some of its biggest programs, Defense One’s Lauren C. Williams reports.

In short, the plans were drawn up to replace pen-and-paper designs with computer-based ones, promising faster design, cheaper simulation, easier changes, smoother upgrades, better maintenance, and more, Williams writes. 

It also designates six programs as initial testbeds: the XM-30 Mechanized Infantry Combat Vehicle; Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft; Integrated Fires Mission Command; Joint Targeting Integrated Command and Control Suite; Program Executive Office Aviation Logistics Data Analysis Lab (Black Hawk, Apache, Chinook); and the M113 Armored Personnel Carrier, which has digital twins that “apply broadly to the ground vehicle fleet.” More, here. 

New: The Space Force is expanding a model for its units that puts operations and sustainment under one roof and is taking it to two new missions: missile warning and space domain awareness. 

The prototype model puts operations, acquisition, and sustainment for certain missions under single team leaders, a model that’s different from the current structure of the service, which splits these into different commands, Defense One’s Audrey Decker reported Tuesday. 

Panning out: The stand-up of these new units comes as the Air Force and Space Force have begun rolling out a slew of changes to restructure how the department deploys forces, in an effort to increase readiness and prepare for a potential conflict with China, Decker writes. More, here. 

Additional reading: 

Israel is a little more isolated on the world stage following the coordinated announcement Wednesday by the leaders of Norway, Spain, and Ireland to recognize Palestine as a state effective next Tuesday, May 28. 

What this could mean: “The territorial demarcation between the state of Palestine and the state of Israel should be based on the pre-1967 borders, with Jerusalem as the capital of both states, and without prejudice to a final settlement on borders, including the use of land swaps,” Norway’s Støre said. Ireland is of a similar mind about the dividing line, with Foreign Minister Tánaiste Micheal Martin advocating for “a two-state solution based on 1967 borders, with the State of Israel, and an independent, democratic, contiguous, sovereign, and viable State of Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security and mutual recognition, with Jerusalem serving as the future capital of both states,” he said Wednesday.  

Oslo: “In the midst of a war, with tens of thousands killed and injured, we must keep alive the only alternative that offers a political solution for Israelis and Palestinians alike: Two states, living side by side, in peace and security,” Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said Wednesday. “This could ultimately make it possible to resume the process towards achieving a two-state solution and give it renewed momentum,” he added. 

Madrid: “We hope that our recognition and our reasons contribute to other western countries following this path,” Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told lawmakers Wednesday. “The time has come to move from words to action—for peace, justice and coherence,” he said. 

More than 140 out of 193 United Nations member states already recognize Palestine as a state, including Russia, China, and India. The list also includes nine European countries: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Sweden.

The U.S. position: Wait a little longer. Biden administration officials have said they favor Palestinian statehood eventually, “but only as a result of negotiations with Israel, a position it shares with European powers including France and Germany,” Reuters writes.

The official Israeli reaction? Anger. “Today’s decision sends a message to the Palestinians and the world: Terrorism pays,” Foreign Minister Israel Katz wrote on social media. “The Irish-Norwegian folly does not deter us,” he continued. “We are determined to achieve our goals: restoring security to our citizens, dismantling Hamas, and bringing the hostages home,” he said. 

The Norwegian perspective: “Since the Oslo Accords of roughly 30 years ago, Norway and many other countries have pursued a strategy in which recognition would follow a peace agreement. This has not been successful,” the country’s prime and foreign ministers said Wednesday. “Neither the Palestinian nor the Israeli people can live their lives in security,” said Prime Minister Støre. “That is why we need to think differently and act accordingly. We can no longer wait for the conflict to be resolved before we recognise the state of Palestine.” Related reading: 

And ICYMI: The Iran-backed Houthi terrorists in Yemen attacked an oil tanker in the Red Sea with an anti-ship ballistic missile just after midnight Saturday morning. The vessel was the M/T Wind, a Panamanian-flagged, Greek-owned and operated tanker bound for China from Russia, according to U.S. defense officials at Central Command. 

The missile strike caused a temporary loss of propulsion and steering. But the crew was able to restore both, and the vessel “resumed its course under its own power,” CENTCOM said. 

The Houthis tried to attack again the following day, launching another anti-ship ballistic missile at an unspecified ship in the Gulf of Aden late Saturday. Fortunately, “There were no injuries or damages reported by U.S., coalition, or merchant vessels,” CENTCOM said separately.

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