Today's D Brief: Black Sea drama; DepSecDef wants better AI protection; Austin splits with chiefs over UCMJ reform; China’s infowar; And a bit more.
It’s getting cheeky in the Black Sea today, where Russia’s military claims it fired warning shots at and air-dropped explosives close to a nearby British Royal Navy vessel. The incident occurred around noon local time south of Sevastopol, near Cape Fiolent on Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
But the Brits say the Russians aren’t being truthful. And the UK Ministry of Defense tweeted this morning, “No warning shots have been fired at HMS Defender…We believe the Russians were undertaking a gunnery exercise in the Black Sea and provided the maritime community with prior-warning of their activity. No shots were directed at HMS Defender and we do not recognise the claim that bombs were dropped in her path.” And despite those denials, “[T]his is still being seen as a provocative act by Russia,” Deborah Haynes of the UK’s Sky News reports.
Curious sidebar about the HMS Defender: It was the scene of a recent signing ceremony between Ukrainian and British naval officials linking the two nations “and their industrial partners.” More on that from the British MoD, here.
One reason all this matters: The Kremlin seems to be exhibiting dangerously protective behavior around territory it seized by force seven years ago. Recall, of course, that Russia invaded Ukraine and illegally annexed Crimea in 2014; dozens of Russian officials and entities have since been hit with a raft of related U.S. and European sanctions—with little apparent effect on the Kremlin’s attitude toward the strategically located peninsula.
Worth noting: Two NATO ships—the Defender and a Dutch Navy frigate—“recently had their automatic identification system (AIS) signals falsified for some reason a few days ago near Crimea,” Russian analyst Rob Lee notes in a robust Twitter thread on this and related encounters with the Russkies. USNI News has a bit more on the AIS episode, here.
By the way: NATO just ended nearly two weeks of drills last week in the Baltic Sea. Fifteen NATO nations, along with Finland and Sweden, teamed up for that one, called BALTOPS.
And the U.S. will be exercising with a whole lot of friends in the Black Sea next week. That one’s called Sea Breeze 2021, and it’s co-hosted by the Ukrainian Navy, which Russia is fiercely opposed to — as evidenced perhaps most flagrantly in late 2018 when it rammed and seized three Ukrainian ships in the Kerch Strait.
Involved in Sea Breeze 2021: “32 countries from six continents providing 5,000 troops, 32 ships, 40 aircraft, and 18 special operations and dive teams,” the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet says.
The full list of participants includes Albania, Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, France, Georgia, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Morocco, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Senegal, Spain, South Korea, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey, the UAE, the UK, and, of course, the U.S. and Ukraine. More here.
From Defense One
Austin: I Support Taking Military Sex Crime Prosecutions Away From Chain of Command // Tara Copp: Defense secretary breaks with Joint Chiefs after they warn that Sen. Gillibrand’s leading UCMJ reform bill goes too far.
US Needs to Defend Its Artificial Intelligence Better, Says Pentagon No. 2 // Patrick Tucker: AI safety is often overlooked in the private sector, but Deputy Secretary Kathleen Hicks wants the Defense Department to lead a cultural change.
Lockheed CEO Urges Pentagon to Enshrine COVID-Era’s Bigger Upfront Payments // Marcus Weisgerber: The policy was created to shore up pandemic-weakened supply chains.
Defense Digital Service Director Violated Policy by Using Signal App, IG Says // Mila Jasper: Evidence suggests outgoing DDS Director Brett Goldstein also encouraged subordinates to use the encrypted messaging app.
Biden’s Defense Budget Will Worry America’s Indo-Pacific Allies // Ashley Townshend: Spending to boost the U.S. military's future edge comes at the expense of addressing today's shortfalls in capacity and warfighting effectiveness.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1942, the Allies captured Germany’s latest fighter plane when a Luftwaffe pilot accidentally landed his FockeWulf Fw 190 at a British airfield.
SecDef breaks with service chiefs over UCMJ bill. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced late on Tuesday that he will support congressional efforts to remove the prosecution of sexual assaults and other crimes from the military chain of command, Defense One’s Tara Copp reports.
Austin’s announcement “revealed a split between the military brass and its civilian leadership that was made more evident just hours before, when letters emerged from Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and each of the service branch heads to the Senate Armed Services Committee’s top Republican, in which they cautioned that a proposed measure to change the military’s justice system extensively goes too far—and that even a bill limited only to sex crimes could have unintended consequences on their ability to maintain discipline in the ranks.” More, here.
Austin and Milley are on the Hill today to testify about the military’s annual budget to lawmakers with the House Armed Services Committee. That began at 10 a.m. ET, and you can catch it live on YouTube, here.
Related reading: Missy Ryan of the Washington Post profiled Chairman Milley — with a keen eye on the tightrope he walked as the entire military transitioned from one president to a considerably different commander-in-chief — in a long-ish read published Tuesday evening.
Also today, Army Future Command’s Gen. John Murray headlines day three of our virtual Defense One Tech Summit. He’ll sit down with Defense One’s Patrick Tucker at 1:30 p.m. If you haven’t registered for your spot, you can do that here.
CENTCOM’s Gen. Frank McKenzie is prepared to explain how “non-military factors, such as environmentally sustainable public utilities, advance U.S. security interests in the Middle East” during an event today hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. That, too, begins at 1:30 p.m. Details at CSIS, here.
At 2 p.m., three top military cyber officials will discuss ransomware attacks before lawmakers with the Senate Armed Services’ Cyber Subcommittee.
And just before 3 p.m., Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks is speaking at this year’s virtual 2021 Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference. Details here.
DepSecDef: We must do a better job of protecting our AI tools. “AI safety broadly refers to making sure that artificial intelligence programs don’t wind up causing problems, no matter whether they were based on corrupted or incomplete data, were poorly designed, or were hacked by attackers,” explains Defense One’s Patrick Tucker, who interviewed Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks earlier this week at the Defense One Tech Summit. “AI safety is often seen as an afterthought as companies rush to build, sell, and adopt machine learning tools. But the Department of Defense is obligated to put a little more attention into the issue, Hicks said.” Read on, here.
And lastly: This week in information wars, reporters at ProPublica and the New York Times watched more than 3,000 videos as part of a detailed look at China’s online influence campaign to change global opinion over its human rights abuses in far-western Xinjiang province.
Why it matters: “Most of the clips carry no logos or other signs that they are official propaganda,” six different reporters write in the introduction. “But taken together, the videos begin to reveal clues of broader coordination — such as the English subtitles in clips posted to YouTube and other Western platforms.” Dive in here.