The D Brief: New frigate’s woes; F-35’s shrinking test fleet; Wicker’s spending plan; China’s takeover efforts; And a bit more.

The U.S. Navy’s new frigate will be three years late and cost $22 billion, according to a revised assessment from the Government Accountability Office published Wednesday. 

Neither is exactly a surprise. Navy officials disclosed the delay to Congress a few months ago, and the price tag is mostly a matter of arithmetic given current estimates. 

But the Constellation class was supposed to be different. “For example, to reduce the risk of design and technology problems, [the Navy] chose to use many technologies that had already been proven on other ships,” GAO writes. “However, the Navy undercut this approach by starting construction on the first frigate before finishing its design, among other missteps. Due to ongoing major design challenges, construction on the first ship is at a standstill.”

The new frigate is also overweight, limiting its ability to handle the unknown upgrades of the future, GAO says. USNI News explores this here.

Throwback Thursday: The Constellation program is intended to fill the “low end” role in the U.S. fleet, replacing the disappointing Littoral Combat Ships. The LCS, in turn, was meant to replace the wildly successful Oliver Hazard Perry class of guided missile frigates, whose lead ship was noted by the Washington Post in 1978 with the headline “Destroyer Built on Time, Under Budget.”

Update: The F-35 Lightning II that crashed this week in New Mexico was one of very few developmental aircraft, Defense One’s Audrey Decker reported Wednesday. That crash now exacerbates a shortage that in the past has led to program delays, she writes.

“The aircraft was a test jet equipped with Technology Refresh 2,” which is a hardware and software package for the aircraft, defense contractor Lockheed Martin said in a statement after the incident. The firm is already strapped for testing capacity as it tries to finish a new hardware and software package for the jet, called Technology Refresh 3.

The F-35 that crashed Tuesday was being flown from Fort Worth, Texas, to Edwards Air Force Base in California “for additional test equipment modification,” Lockheed said Wednesday. Social media posts show the aircraft taking off from the airfield and crashing soon after into a hill, but the cause of the crash is unknown at this time. Read more, here. 

Developing: Another U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone appears to have been shot down in Yemen, the Associated Press reports, citing social media content posted Wednesday by the Iran-backed Houthi terrorists in Sana’a. 

The $30 million aircraft was allegedly downed while flying over Yemen’s inland Ma’rib province, according to a Houthi spokesman, who claimed it was the sixth such Reaper fallen prey to Houthi air defenses. 

According to a U.S. defense official speaking to AP, “the U.S. Air Force has not lost any aircraft operating within U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility.” AP also notes, “The CIA also is believed to have flown Reaper drones over Yemen,” but the agency has yet to respond to a request for comment. Continue reading, here. 

Additional reading: 

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. 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 1868, U.S. Gen. John Logan designated May 30 as a memorial day “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

Wicker’s big (spending) idea: If America wants to deter China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, it needs to spend an additional $55 billion on its defense industry, according to Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, in a new 52-page blueprint (PDF) that he says “puts us on a wartime footing immediately.” He released his plan—described as an “investment strategy”—ahead of Senate budget negotiations set to begin in about two weeks. 

Early outlook: His plan blows past spending caps insisted by his fellow Republicans in a debt-limit deal forged by then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy one year ago. The latest budget request by the White House sticks to that agreement, with a one percent increase in defense spending that puts the final request at $850 billion for defense in fiscal year 2025. The big problem is those caps reportedly don’t keep pace with the rate of inflation, which defense hawks like Wicker argue would leave the military with less funding than the year prior. As a result, he’s calling for at least $950 billion in funding for U.S. defense. It’s unclear just yet how much support Wicker has for breaking those spending caps, which he described to the Associated Press as “a hill to climb” ahead of the upcoming negotiations on Capitol Hill.  

“In short, the overall mission tasking assigned to the U.S. military has grown significantly since the early 1980s, but the capacity of the armed forces has shrunk precipitously,” says Wicker, who retired from the Air Force Reserve as a lieutenant colonel in 2003. “The clearest examples of this phenomenon are in the U.S. Navy fleet and the U.S. Air Force aircraft fleets,” since “both failed to procure enough ships and aircraft to replace those retiring.”

That’s partly why Wicker wants to increase defense spending to 5% of GDP, up from around 3% currently, according to his “21st Century Peace Through Strength” blueprint, whose title references a Reagan-era military buildup that saw the U.S. produce four attack submarines each year. “Indeed, the core of our military equipment still largely dates back to the 1980s: Los Angeles- and Ohio-class submarines, ATACMS, Abrams and Bradley vehicles, F-15s and F-16s are just a few examples,” writes Wicker, who started his political career in 1980 after four years as an active duty Air Force officer. 

Rewind: “In the 1980s, the Reagan buildup sought to restore a margin of superiority over the Soviet Union and by spending nearly 6% of GDP for over five years, created a military that maintained deterrence against Moscow and performed admirably when called to respond to aggression in the Gulf War and elsewhere in the decades after,” Wicker says. Similarly, he argues, “This defense buildup would set up the U.S. military for sustained success over the next two to three decades, as the Reagan-era buildup did in the 1980s.” 

Wicker’s team isolated at least 19 “focus areas” to emphasize with the extra money, including “surging support” for Taiwan and the Philippines, adding at least $7 billion to accelerate the country’s munitions industrial base, boosting counter-drone systems at bases both stateside and abroad, buying at least 340 more fighter aircraft by 2030, cranking out three attack submarines per year, bolstering America’s shipyard capacity, and more. 

Worth noting: Wicker’s home state of Mississippi hosts Ingalls Shipbuilding, which produces warships for the Navy. Relatedly, he’s calling for an additional $20 billion over the next five years so the U.S. can crank out three Arleigh Burke-class destroyers annually. “In time, these industrial base investments should produce a core shipbuilding industry that can annually produce three large surface combatants, three attack submarines, and four frigates per year,” Wicker is convinced. 

“I think that the fact that we’re in a new Cold War is self-evident,” the senator told AP. Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, which is the last time the U.S. spent 5% of its GDP on defense,  “nobody took a chance against the United States because we were powerful enough to keep the peace,” said Wicker, adding, “We are simply not anywhere near that right now.”

Read an overview of his investment blueprint, here; or check out the full 52-page report (PDF) here.

Learn a bit more about China’s planned effort to take over Taiwan without firing a shot: Beijing’s leaders aren’t just trying to intimidate Taiwan militarily, they’re also working harder than ever before to make Taiwan’s leadership appear corrupt, public institutions look fragile, and the military seem weak in order to undermine public confidence in the government. The goal is essentially to achieve annexation without having to resort to a full military invasion, Defense One’s Patrick Tucker reported Wednesday off a new analysis from Booz Allen Hamilton.

“By crafting narratives that portray the government as either corrupt, incompetent, or both, the PRC seeks to destabilize Taiwan’s political environment…The success of this tactic hinges on the PRC’s ability to play on and worsen citizens’ existing concerns, thereby deepening divisions within Taiwanese society,” the report says.

“You need to control the systems on which information resides, the context in which we discuss information, but then also how this affects, at the end, how we make decisions,” one researcher told Tucker. “So that is what these information operations are trying to do is try to affect decision making,” they said. China would greatly prefer to take over Taiwan without resorting to military violence, the analyst said. But first it must create the appearance of superiority—not just militarily, but in virtually all other spheres of human activity. One way they can do that is an accumulation of so-called zero-days, essentially cyber attacks for which no defense exists, to cripple essential services and even the military. Continue reading, here. 

Lastly today: U.S. authorities have charged a Chinese citizen with taking drone photographs this past January at a Virginia shipyard where nuclear subs are built, WIRED reported Thursday. “The case is such a rarity that it appears to be the first known prosecution under a World War II–era law that bans photographing vital military installations using aircraft, showing how new technologies are leading to fresh national security and First Amendment issues,” WIRED’s Jordan Pearson writes. 

The drone got stuck in a tree, which led to the unusual discovery of classified images on the aircraft’s memory card featuring imagery of the Newport News Shipyard and BAE Systems property.

For what it’s worth, “According to a filing from US prosecutors, both parties wish to end the case in a plea agreement,” Pearson writes. Read on, here.

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