Overnight Defense

Defense & National Security — US, allies begin exercises over North Korean threats

In this photo provided by the South Korea Defense Ministry, the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, center, participates in a joint anti-submarine drill among South Korea, the United States and Japan in waters off South Korea’s eastern coast in South Korea on Sept. 30, 2022. (South Korea Defense Ministry via AP, File)

The United States, South Korea and Japan have begun ballistic missile defense exercises in the Sea of Japan in response to a series of North Korean missile launches this week. 

We’ll share the details of that, plus the latest on a panel’s recommendations for changing military bases’ names, European fears over nuclear conflict and the ISIS leader killed in Syria.

This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.

Countries begin ballistic missile defense exercises 

The USS Ronald Reagan strike group, two Japanese destroyers and one South Korean destroyer arrived east of the Korean peninsula on Oct. 5 for a new joint exercise meant to “send a clear message of allied unity between our nations and enhance the interoperability of our collective forces,” Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder told reporters Thursday. 

Earlier: The new trilateral exercise comes days after the U.S. military and South Korean forces held joint missile drills in response to North Korea launching an intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan.   

North Korea fired two more ballistic missiles into the ocean earlier on Thursday and suggested that the launch was in response to the U.S. moving the Navy strike group near its waters. The missile launch was Pyongyang’s sixth in 12 days.

Strong condemnation: Ryder said the United States strongly condemns the launch, which he called an “irresponsible act” that violates numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions. 

North Korea “is urged to immediately cease actions that … escalate military tensions, destabilize the region and endanger the peace and security of innocent people,” Ryder said.   

Raised alarms: That test and the others around it have raised alarms over the isolated nation’s growing nuclear capabilities and fears it may soon conduct its first nuclear test since 2017.   

As part of its saber rattling, Pyongyang’s military also flew a dozen warplanes — including fighter jets and four bombers — near the border with the South on Thursday, prompting a response from Seoul, which sent up 30 of its own fighter jets. 

No comment: Ryder said that while it’s clear North Korea is testing its missile program and “looking to adapt,” he would not say if the U.S. is preparing a further response to North Korea provocations. 

“We do assess that, that North Korea has been making preparations. If and when they do conduct a nuclear test, I’m not going to speculate,” he said. 

Read the full story here 

Pentagon OKs changing military base names

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has given the go ahead to alter some 1,111 military items related to the Confederacy, according to a new memo released Thursday.  

Following a final report from the Naming Commission — which last month put forward its suggestions to rename or remove the more than 1,100 items that fall under the purview of the Defense Department (DOD) — Austin has concurred with all of the commission’s recommendations “and is committed to implementing them as soon as possible,” press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said in a statement. 

What kicked it all off: At the heart of the effort were nine Army bases currently honoring Confederate generals. The commission offered alternative titles for those bases earlier this summer

“The installations and facilities that our Department operates are more than vital national security assets. They are also powerful public symbols of our military, and of course, they are the places where our Service members and their families work and live,” Austin said in the memo. “The names of these installations and facilities should inspire all those who call them home, fully reflect the history and the values of the United States, and commemorate the best of the republic that we are all sworn to protect.” 

A long effort: The effort comes after 18 months of work by the Naming Commission, including “extensive consultations with experts, historians, and the communities rooted in the bases in question.” 

The plan will remove from the U.S. military names, symbols, displays, monuments and paraphernalia that honor or commemorate the Confederate or any person who served with the Confederacy.   

When will it happen? The Pentagon chief has directed DOD leaders and the military services to begin implementation in December following a 90-day waiting period, as mandated in last year’s annual defense authorization bill, according to the statement.  

Altogether, it will cost the Pentagon an estimated $62.5 million to implement the recommendations from the final report, according to the commission.    

Read more here 

Fears in Europe grow over Putin nuke threats 

Nuclear experts are warning that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threats to deploy a nuclear weapon in Ukraine has put the world at its most dangerous precipice of nuclear confrontation since the Cold War.   

  • “The nuclear risk, is it as bad as during the Cold War? The answer is yes,” said Alexander Kmentt, director for disarmament, arms control and nonproliferation with the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 
  • “In the Cold War we had essentially two nuclear interests trying to deter one another. We have several potential nuclear flashpoints now. … The latest iteration of those risks, issued by Russia, are just completely beyond the pale.”  

A different perspective: While U.S. officials have stressed they have yet to see Russian movements pointing to a nuclear escalation, Austrian officials provide a unique perspective on Putin’s Russia given the distinct space the country occupies.   

While Austria is a member of the European Union and party to the sanctions placed on Russia, it has not provided any military support to Ukraine and the country is constitutionally bound to its position of neutrality. 

This, in part, has prevented it from joining NATO even as traditionally neutral Finland and Sweden are on the brink of ascension to the organization.   

Read that story here 

US FORCES KILL ISIS OFFICIAL

An Islamic State weapons smuggler was killed by U.S. forces Wednesday in a helicopter raid in northeast Syria, the Pentagon announced Thursday.   

Who was targeted?: U.S. Central Command forces targeted ISIS official Rakkan Wahid al-Shammri, conducting the raid near the Syrian city of Qamishli, the Defense Department’s combatant command said in a statement.   

Al-Shammri, who was killed in the raid, was “known to facilitate the smuggling of weapons and fighters to support ISIS operations,” according to CENTCOM.   

An associate of al-Shammri was injured, according to the release, but no other injuries or deaths were reported, and no U.S. equipment was damaged or lost. 

Read the full story here 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Center for Strategic and International Studies will host a discussion on “The current state of affairs in Afghanistan,” with Fawzia Koofi, Afghan parliamentary lawmaker, at 2 p.m.   

WHAT WE’RE READING

That’s it for today! Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!

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