Today's D Brief: Germany's big guns to Ukraine; Drone war, expanding; Desperation in Moscow; Swarm chases human; And a bit more.

Germany is sending seven howitzers to Ukraine, Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht announced Friday during a visit to Slovakia. That means seven of Berlin’s Panzerhaubitzen 2000 systems—with a range of 25 miles—are headed east. And that’s “on top of five such artillery systems the Netherlands had already pledged,” according to Reuters, reporting from the Sliac Air Base in central Slovakia. Howitzer training for Ukraine’s troops is expected to begin next week.

Sliac AB currently hosts Patriot missile defense units, which Lambrecht visited Friday along with her Slovak and Dutch counterparts. See photos of that visit, via the German Defense Ministry, here

U.S. President Joe Biden called up Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Thursday. The two “underscored their commitment to continue holding Russia accountable for its brutal actions in Ukraine,” and Biden “welcomed Germany’s provision of security assistance and recent pledge of additional humanitarian aid,” according to the White House

The drone war in Ukraine is about to escalate. U.S.-provided Switchblade drones have been spotted on the battlefield, including this one allegedly recovered by Russian-backed forces near Kharkiv. In early April, the U.S. vowed to send hundreds of Switchblades to Kyiv in the coming weeks. The White House also promised Puma drones, and counter-drone systems—as well as naval drones and the mysterious “Phoenix Ghost Tactical Unmanned Aerial System.” 

Review the lessons of drone-assisted warfare from the invasion so far in our latest Defense One Radio podcast, featuring UAV researchers Faine Greenwood and Sam Bendett from CNA. Will the Russian military finally adopt Chinese-made DJI drones, as the Kremlin seemed to indicate just a few years ago? Bendett and Greenwood break down what they understand from recent imagery gathered inside Ukraine, here.

Yet again, Russian-backed forces advanced very little over the past 24 hours, according to the Institute for the Study of War, which describes the movements as “ineffectual offensive operations in southern Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Luhansk oblasts.” As for what could lie ahead, “Ukrainian forces may be able to build their ongoing counterattacks and successful repulse of Russian attacks,” ISW writes. And those attacks are occuring “along the Izyum axis into a wider counteroffensive to retake Russian-occupied territory in Kharkiv Oblast.” Read on, here.

A bit more below the fold…

From Defense One

NCOs: America Has Them, China Wants Them, Russia is Struggling Without Them // Caitlin M. Kenney: Non-commissioned officers, long the “backbone” of the U.S. military, are proving even more crucial on modern battlefields.

China Likely to Use ‘Nuclear Coercion’ in Bid to Take Taiwan by 2027, STRATCOM Chief Says // Patrick Tucker: Adm. Richard urged Congress to restore funding for a ship-based nuclear missile.

Defense One Radio, Ep. 99: The role of drones in Russia’s Ukraine invasion // Ben Watson: Two drone researchers explain some of the lessons we’ve learned about drone-assisted warfare after almost three months of war in Ukraine.

'Decimated' By Trump, State Dept. Is Falling Short of Some Key Biden Goals // Eric Katz: The department is rebuilding, looking to fill vacancies and budget shortfalls.

Don’t Overinflate the Pentagon Budget // William D. Hartung and Ben Freeman: There are plenty of perennial problems draining the military’s coffers that need attention.

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1941, the U.S.-made fighter-bomber, the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, completed its first flight near the now-decommissioned Mitchel Air Force Base, in southern New York. It would take another two years of testing before the aircraft would formally enter the Second World War. Americans would go on to build more Thunderbolts—almost 16,000—than any other U.S. aircraft in the war. 

Remember the sinking of Russia’s Black Sea flagship, Moskva? The U.S. passed intelligence on that vessel to the Ukrainians ahead of its sinking, NBC News reported Thursday. Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby confirmed the story Friday, according to the Associated Press.
Kirby’s caveat: “We were not involved in the Ukrainians’ decision to strike the ship or in the operation they carried out,” he said in a statement. “We had no prior knowledge of Ukraine’s intent to target the ship.” Read on, here.
Panning out: Russia is still desperate for some sort of “symbolic” victory ahead of May 9, the British military said Friday. “This effort has come at personnel, equipment, and munitions cost to Russia,” the British Ministry of Defense said in its latest update. As Ukrainian forces continue to resist an apparent assault at the Azovstal factory in Mariupol, the Brits expect “Russian losses will continue to build and frustrate their [wider] operational plans in southern Donbas.”
Polish officials are flagging an apparent new spate of Russian propaganda alleging Poland’s military is about to attack Ukraine, officials in Warsaw said Friday. “Lies about plans to annex western Ukraine are also used by Russian propaganda to intimidate Poles,” according to Warsaw’s National Security Department.
Pro-Russian propagandists have also falsified Polish military documents “to provoke hostility between Poland and Ukraine, as well as to depreciate Poland's image in the eyes of international opinion,” Polish officials said in a statement, and emphasized, “The various plots used to denigrate Poland suggest that we are dealing with a coordinated campaign against Poland, which has direct ties to Russia's war against Ukraine.” More here.
Additional reading:

The U.S. Senate approved White House-nominated ambassadors for South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, and Norway in voice votes Thursday.
But more than 50 other key diplomatic gigs are still vacant, including America’s ambassadors to Ukraine, the U.K., Saudi Arabia, the UAE, India, Niger, Denmark, and Afghanistan. There’s also a vacancy for the Bahamas, for which your D Brief-ers would like to self-nominate. (Thank you very much for your support in filling this role that’s been formally vacant since Nov. 2011.)

Lastly this week: Watch as a swarm of 10 Chinese quadcopters fly through a dense forest while chasing a human. That bit of prima facie dystopia comes to us via researchers at Zheijang University, who just published their work in Science Robotics.
No time for a research article (with multiple videos)? Read over TechCrunch’s coverage of the swarm from Wednesday, here. (And hat tip to Samuel Bendett of CNA.)

And happy Mother’s Day to the special ones in your lives. Have a safe weekend, and we’ll see you again on Monday!