Situation Report

A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from Foreign Policy reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer, formerly Security Brief. Delivered Thursday.

FP’s Situation Report: Congress investigating U.S. intel mistakes in Crimea

SECDEF begins defending his budget; The combat rescue helo lives; and a bit more.

By Dan Lamothe

By Dan Lamothe

Vladimir Putin just upped the ante in his war of words with the United States. The Russian leader conducted an hour-long news conference on Tuesday, saying he saw no reason for his forces to intervene in Ukraine, but leaving open the possibility of military action if Russian-speaking Ukrainians are endangered. From the New York Times’ Steven Lee Myers, Ellen Barry and Alan Cowell, in a story datelined from Moscow: "Mr. Putin seemed eager to explain his motives in Ukraine. But he offered little about the strategic vision behind Russia’s actions, and gave no sense of immediate steps that could be taken to resolve the crisis. He also insisted that he did not want a military conflict in Ukraine. ‘I want you to understand me clearly,’ he said. ‘If we make such a decision, it will only be for the protection of Ukrainian citizens.’"

The United States is interfering in Ukraine like… what? More from the Times on Putin: "He flatly denied that Russian troops had occupied Crimea and said the United States government had interfered in Ukraine ‘from across the pond in America as if they were sitting in a laboratory and running experiments on rats, without any understanding of the consequences.’ Mr. Putin delivered a version of the crisis almost entirely at odds with the view held by most officials in Europe and the United States, as well as by many Ukrainians. He described anti-government protests in Kiev as an ‘orgy’ of radicals and nationalists, noting a swastika armband that he had glimpsed in images of the crowd. He also insisted that ousted President Viktor F. Yanukovych had never ordered security forces to shoot protesters, suggesting that snipers stationed on rooftops ‘may have been provocateurs from opposition parties.’" More here.

Meanwhile, Congress wants to know how U.S. intelligence sources got it wrong on Russia’s intentions for Crimea. The Wall Street Journal’s Siobhan Gorman reports that there is a split between how Pentagon intelligence sources and the CIA saw Russia’s military movements ahead of its occupation of Crimea. From her story: "House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Mich.) said in an interview Tuesday that his committee has begun a review to find out why intelligence analysts misread Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions. "We’ve started looking at what was missed in some of the [Russian] intentions piece," he said. He said the source of the problem appears to be more of an analytical issue than any inability by intelligence agencies to collect enough information on Russian plans."

The CIA is sticking to its guns. More from Gorman: "The CIA said its guidance has included assessments of possible Russian action. ‘Since the beginning of the political unrest in Ukraine, the CIA has regularly updated policymakers to ensure they have an accurate and timely picture of the unfolding crisis,’ said CIA spokesman Chris White. ‘These updates have included warnings of possible scenarios for a Russian military intervention in Ukraine.’ More here.

Meanwhile, in Crimea… The Ukrainians are worried the Russians are trying to bait them into a fight. From Askold Krushelnycky, writing for Foreign Policy from the peninsula: "Try to imagine the dilemma that faces Ihor, a Ukrainian naval officer from a base in Crimea that’s now surrounded by the Russian troops that are tightening their grip on the peninsula. (I’ve changed his identity because of the obvious risks to his personal safety.) ‘I’m afraid that the Russians are now waiting to see how we’ll react,’ he told me. ‘Whatever we do is high risk. If we fight back against them, chances are that Russian ethnic civilians will be killed or wounded, and Putin will use that as an excuse to push into southern and eastern Ukraine. But if we do nothing, they’ll take that as a sign of weakness and think they can do whatever they want without any opposition from us — which they’ll soon find is not the case at all.’ More here.

Why Crimea could make Afghanistan complicated. Even with all the hand-wringing over Russia’s recent moves, some officials in the Pentagon are quietly calling for restraint, noting Putin’s control over a key road out of Afghanistan. From the Christian Science Monitor’s Anna Mulrine: "While calls mount on Capitol Hill to robustly punish Russia for its incursion into Crimea, some officials in the back halls of the Pentagon are privately pushing for restraint. That’s because senior U.S. military officials are well aware that a key supply line in and out of Afghanistan runs through Russia. That supply line, known as the Northern Distribution Network, or NDN, brings food, water, and building materials that keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan fed and America’s longest war going. Negotiating the NDN was a labor-intensive endeavor, and the Pentagon does not want to lose it, particularly as the spring fighting season in Afghanistan is set to begin soon. ‘It’s been a heck of a process and of course we’re always looking out for any disruptions to it," says a senior defense official. ‘Political problems with Russia is certainly one of them.’" More here.

Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of Situation Report. I’m Dan Lamothe, and I’m filling in for Gordon Lubold after sitting through several hours of budget briefings at the Pentagon on Tuesday. If you’d like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send him a note at and he’ll stick you on. And if you like what you see, tell a friend.  If you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease, because if you see somethingwe hope you’ll say something — to Situation Report. One more thing: please follow me at @DanLamothe and Gordon at @glubold for delightful wit and national security analysis. You can also always reach me at Much obliged.

Speaking of the budget, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel begins defending his during a 9:30 a.m. Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill today. And the rollout of the Defense Department’s 2015 fiscal plan yesterday made it clear the Pentagon is choosing machinery over manpower. From my story for FP: "The Army is cutting thousands of soldiers from its force while fielding new vehicles to replace the Humvee and upgrading tanks and helicopters. The Air Force is shedding thousands of airmen as it buys new, stealthy F-35 fighter jets and plans for its next-generation long-range bomber. And the Marine Corps is shrinking by thousands of personnel as it prepares to buy not only more F-35s, but a next-generation heavy lift helicopter and an amphibious vehicle that will swim from Navy ships to shore carrying combat troops. It’s the new normal for the U.S. military, in which machinery trumps manpower when preparing budgets. With belt-tightening across Washington, the Pentagon wants to cut manpower and benefits for personnel along with select acquisition programs in order to retain as much as they can in new weapons, planes, and vehicles, senior defense officials said Tuesday. The comments came as they unveiled the Defense Department’s new, controversial $495.6 billion base budget for fiscal 2015."

The budget was rolled out along with the Quadrennial Defense Review plan, which lays out the Pentagon’s strategy for the future. And already, it’s taking shots from the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel prepares for budget testimony before Congress this week. More from my story: "Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Cal.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, decried the effort on Tuesday, saying President Obama’s decision to cut the defense budget at a time when Russia and China are expanding their militaries is problematic, even if Congress called for mandatory budget cuts to drive down the national debt. ‘In an effort to control debt, the only spending the President has truly agreed to cut has been those funds dedicated to national security: $1.2 trillion in defense cuts during his time in office,’ McKeon said. ‘While we cut nearly one fifth of our defense resources, Russia and China are arming at an alarming rate — Russia’s military spending is up roughly 30 percent and China’s has more than doubled in recent years.’" Read the rest here.

Expect Hagel to get an earful about more than just that, however. The Pentagon has an additional $26 billion "wish list" in which it would like to buy additional aircraft and hardware in fiscal 2015. It is part of the Obama administration’s "Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative," a separate funding mechanism that also is under fire on Capitol Hill. From Defense News’ John T. Bennett: "Fiscal hawks in both chambers are zeroing in on the $58 billion government-wide wish list, including the DoD’s $26 billion chunk of it. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., fired a shot across the White House’s bow, criticizing Obama’s wish list and signaling the Pentagon won’t get everything – or maybe anything – on its list. ‘It is important to remember that it is the Congress, not the White House, that holds the ‘power of the purse’ and will decide where to cut, where to sustain, and where to invest tax dollars to the most benefit of the American people," Rogers said. More here.

Meanwhile, the China military is expanding its budget… again. The New York Times reports today that China will bump its military budget up by 12.2 percent. That, on top of 10.7 percent jump in 2013. From Edward Wong’s story: "Dennis J. Blasko, a former military attaché at the American Embassy in Beijing and a retired Army officer, said the 2014 Chinese military budget ‘won’t break the bank, but it says to the troops, ‘Thank you for your service, you are important to us, we support you … A significant portion likely will be used for more pay raises… You may recall hearing some talk about how P.L.A. officers should be paid more than civil servants.’" More here.

Surprise! The Air Force’s combat rescue helicopter program is back from the dead. The biggest curveball of the day for reporters and defense officials at the Pentagon appeared to be the Air Force’s late-breaking announcement that it will award a contract for its next-generation combat rescue helicopter, despite it not being included in the budget. Many had left the program for dead, and criticized the Air Force for killing it. Halfway through the Air Force’s budget briefing, however, Maj. Gen. James Martin told reporters he’d just received word the program would continue, after all. Air Force Secretary Deborah James, in a news release the service posted Tuesday: "Over the last 10 years, the Air Force has discussed upgrading the platform that performs this sacred mission for all DOD personnel who go into harm’s way. This mission is part of the military ethos, and the Air Force is committed to keeping it." More here.

The helo decision is a big win for Sikorsky. From Defense News’ Aaron Mehta: "Sikorsky’s price bid was expected to expire at the end of March, but a company official said the service has asked the firm to extend and update its pricing through the end of June, with the expectation that a contract will be awarded in that time period. ‘Sikorsky and our teammate Lockheed Martin thank the U. S. Air Force for enabling us to build a modern and affordable combat rescue helicopter that will replace the service’s rapidly aging HH-60G Pave Hawk fleet,’ a Sikorsky spokesman said in a statement. ‘We are honored to be part of the sacred mission of leaving no combatant of the U.S. armed forces or its allies behind on the battlefield.’ More here.

Duncan Hunter analyzes the defense budget. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R.-Calif.), a member of the HASC and reserve Marine officer, penned an opinion piece on the Pentagon spending for Defense One. A key point from it: "Those who think America spends too much for national defense are mistaken, just as those who think that larger defense budget numbers translate into strong security. In attempting to strike a balance in recognition of today’s fiscal realities, the Department of Defense unveiled its fiscal year 2015 budget proposal on Tuesday, consisting of both high and low points. Ultimately, it’s the duty of Congress, empowered by the Constitution, to create the defense budget, but the Pentagon’s blueprint does offer some guidance that Congress would be wrong to overlook."

More from Hunter: "One recommendation worth consideration is the reduction in littoral combat ship purchases, from 52 ships to 32 ships. A cutback in the LCS would in fact produce considerable cost savings. But the significance of procuring 20 fewer ships signals a potential change in prioritization, whereby attention can be directed to alternate assets that are capable of operating more regularly in all regions. Building the naval fleet around LCS has never made any sense and cutting the LCS inventory by 20 ships will prevent overreliance on a shallow-water vessel. There are other upsides, including some outside-the-box thinking on the Navy’s cruiser fleet, added investments in cyber security and a modest but needed increase in special operations forces. All of these decisions and more are sure to be discussed in the coming weeks and months as Congress moves ahead with its work.  While there are many aspects of the defense budget proposal that have been rightly declared dead on arrival, it will be important to separate the good from the bad and establish a defense budget that is singularly focused on protecting America’s security interests within the confines of a new budget environment." Read the rest here.

What’s up with all the pilot selfies? Politico’s Phil Ewing (@philewing) tipped me off to a photo of a pilot with the Royal Danish Air Force taking a "selfie" photograph while launching a missile in an F-16. The Aviationist blog says selfies are somewhat common among fighter pilots these days, but this one is a bit extra special due to the air-to-air missile roaring in the background, over the pilot’s right shoulder. Check it out here.

Dan Lamothe is an award-winning military journalist and war correspondent. He has written for Marine Corps Times and the Military Times newspaper chain since 2008, traveling the world and writing extensively about the Afghanistan war both from Washington and the war zone. He also has reported from Norway, Spain, Germany, the Republic of Georgia and while underway with the U.S. Navy. Among his scoops, Lamothe reported exclusively in 2010 that the Marine Corps had recommended that Marine Cpl. Dakota Meyer receive the Medal of Honor. This year, he was part of a team of journalists that exposed senior Marine Corps leaders' questionable involvement in legal cases, and then covering it up. A Pentagon investigation is underway in those cases. Twitter: @DanLamothe

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