Today's D Brief: More US arms to Ukraine; Black Sea blockade breaker?; China greets Biden with Taiwan incursions; And a bit more.

The United States is sending another $100 million in weapons to Ukraine, and more is certainly on the way. That’s because lawmakers authorized a new $40 billion aid package for Kyiv that passed the House last week, and finally advanced, 86-11, in the Senate Thursday. 

This new batch of arms will include 18 155 mm howitzers, 18 vehicles to tow the howitzers, three AN/TPQ-36 counter-artillery radars, and other smaller parts, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters Thursday. “Capabilities in this package are tailored to meet critical Ukrainian needs for today’s fight as Russian forces continue their offensive in eastern Ukraine,” Kirby said in a statement. (By the way: Kirby will soon leave the Pentagon for a new gig at the White House press shop, the Washington Post reports.)

About that $40 billion legislation: “the President does intend to sign the bill while he's on the road so that he can sign it expeditiously,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters Thursday as he followed the president to South Korea for his first trip to the Pacific region as POTUS. “And then the next Presidential Drawdown will be teed up shortly following his signature,” said Sullivan; there have been 10 such drawdowns since August. “And for that, we are grateful to the bipartisan backing that we've gotten from the Congress, who stepped up and did this in a timely fashion.”

Lawmakers lined up to release statements explaining their support for the $40 billion bill. 

  • “It is in our best interest to support Ukraine now, making it less likely our sons and daughters will have to fight a war against Russian aggression later,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.
  • “Democracies will stand firm against tyrants,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.
  • “Americans are united in our support of the Ukrainian people, and it’s critical we continue to send a message of strength and hope as we back the fight for global democracy,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
  • “This emergency aid will help Ukraine withstand the next brutal phase of this war and prevent Putin from spreading his malevolent war into other nations,” said Sen. Dick Durban, D-Ill.

Developing: The U.S. wants to send Ukraine anti-ship missiles to help break Russia’s Black Sea blockade that’s intensifying global food shortages. These could include Boeing’s Harpoon missile or the Naval Strike Missile produced by Raytheon and Kongsberg; the latter would be a comparatively easier lift, since it can be launched from the coast, and because Norway has ready supplies, Reuters reported Thursday. 

New: Russia’s flying fewer sorties over Ukraine, Pentagon officials said Thursday. Russian warplanes had often flown between 200 and 300 for several weeks—until the conclusion of the Azovstal factory standoff in Mariupol. On Thursday, a defense official said, “We’ve seen the Russia sortie count decrease to about 140 over the course of the last 24 hours.” Cloud coverage has been an issue; but the fall of Mariupol would seem to be the biggest influence on that reduced count. Russian airstrikes continue “on and near Kharkiv,” and “in the Donbas as again the fighting continues there,” according to the Pentagon official.

Russia is consolidating wrecked units as it suffers apparent manpower shortages, analysts from the Institute for the Study of War write in their Thursday-evening assessment. These actions would seem to be influencing units as far away as the Kremlin’s Pacific and Northern Fleets, according to Ukraine’s military. (More on presumed Russian manpower shortages below.) 

Russia is also newly operating in smaller, company-sized units in the Donbas, “achieving smaller objectives to try to get a more piecemeal approach to progress,” a U.S. defense official said Thursday. “It’s easier to support a company-sized element in the field than a whole battalion element.  It's just more practical.” 

The view from Warsaw: “The war is not going to end in the near future,” Polish intelligence officials said in an unusually frank Friday assessment of the Ukrainian battlefield—and of Europe’s outlook. “Today, it is apparent that there are circles in the West that care about Russia's interests even in the face of war and seek a return to economic cooperation even at the expense of Ukraine,” Warsaw officials warn. “A naive approach to Russian imperialism will bear very bad fruit in the future,” they said Friday. “Russia must be stopped, Russian imperialism will not stop by itself.”

White House POV: “We’re prepared for the long haul,” NSA Sullivan said Thursday. “And we've been saying now for weeks and months this could go on for a long time. And our allies and partners understand that very well…And, in fact, the Republic of Korea and Japan have stepped up in really significant ways to support this effort.”

“Vladimir Putin bet that Western unity would crack,” Sullivan said. “I think he has been surprised by the clarity and resolve of the response of the free world.”

About the worsening global food shortage: The Economist just devoted its entire magazine to the topic, with a chilling cover photo you have to observe closely to notice what’s not quite right. 

Even Putin’s top aides are expecting “global hunger” by the end of the year, according to economist Elina Ribakova of the Institute of International Finance, citing Moscow-based Kommersant news. Ribakova explains what a likely 27 May Russian default could mean, and why Kyiv “needs money now” in an IIF podcast from Monday, here.

Meanwhile in Moscow, Russian lawmakers may soon greenlight citizens over 40 joining the military, as well as foreigners over the age of 30, according to Reuters, reporting Friday. One Western analyst said Moscow is running low on infantry; Russian lawmakers said the new bill would accelerate recruiting of “civilian medics, engineers and operations and communications specialists.” 

The key for Russia “is whether recruiting efforts bear fruit and whether another 150,000 to 180,000 troops can be brought into its standing army,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “Given the need for training, new recruits wouldn’t arrive on the battlefield until close to the end of the year,” which runs up near Mark Galeotti’s prediction that September could be our next major inflection point in the conflict.

According to the British military, Russian commanders “are under pressure to demonstrably achieve operational objectives” following a recent wave of alleged firings in the army and navy. “This means that Russia will probably redistribute their forces swiftly without adequate preparation, which risks further force attrition.”

FWIW: A Russian senator went on state TV Thursday to offer a new explanation for why Ukraine is performing so well against the Russians: Because it’s made up of “Russian soldiers and officers with exactly our mentality,” as the BBC’s Francis Scarr flagged in a video on Twitter. Quipped U.S. journalist Michael Weiss in reply: “From ‘Nazis’ to ‘just like us’ in three short months.” (And the former Russian commander who uncharacteristically cautioned viewers against cheering Russian soldiers to their apparent demise in Ukraine? He’s since changed his tone after making international headlines this week.)

Twitter just launched a new Russia-focused “crisis misinformation policy” to correct the record when false information is shared about the war in Ukraine. What will change? “To reduce potential harm, as soon as we have evidence that a claim may be misleading, we won’t amplify or recommend content that is covered by this policy across Twitter—including in the Home timeline, Search, and Explore,” the company said in an announcement Thursday. Twitter will also “prioritize adding warning notices to highly visible Tweets and Tweets from high profile accounts, such as state-affiliated media accounts, verified, official government accounts.”

“While this first iteration is focused on international armed conflict, starting with the war in Ukraine, we plan to update and expand the policy to include additional forms of crisis,” similar to how the firm responded “during other global crises, such as in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and India.” More here.

Additional reading: 

From Defense One

Biden’s Asia Trip is ‘Proof’ That US Can Focus On Two Fronts At Once, Officials Argue // Tara Copp and Jacqueline Feldscher: His first presidential Pacific crossing aims to convince wary leaders that Washington is not losing focus on China.

The New Air Force Ones Are Late, So the Old Planes Need More Cash, Official Says // Marcus Weisgerber: Air Force acquisition chief cites 2- to 3-year delay, which Boeing blames on subcontractor and supply problems.

Alabama’s Tuberville Calls on ‘Sore Loser’ Coloradoans to Give Up Space Command HQ // Jacqueline Feldscher: Colorado politicians, however, are not giving up.

Nuclear vs. Conventional Spending? We Don’t Have that Luxury  // Eric S. Edelman and Franklin Miller: The call to boost one at the expense of the other is wrong.

The Pentagon Is Closing in on 'Ethical' AI Implementation  // Lauren C. Williams: The Defense Department released guidance for using AI responsibly last year.

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1989, Chinese officials declared martial law in the face of growing pro-democracy protests in the capital city, and began sending as many as 250,000 troops to quell unrest in Beijing ahead of what would later come to be known as the Tiananmen Square massacre.

China is practicing attacking Japan’s early warning aircraft, according to satellite imagery taken over the Middle Kingdom and assessed by Nikkei Asia on Friday. Japan’s E-767 AWACS is the platform spotted in the imagery, according to former U.S. Navy submariner Thomas Shugart, who helped with the analysis. “I looked around to see what AWACS is of that size and shape and has two engines, and there is one: the E-767, which is operated only by the Japan Air Self-Defense Force,” said Shugart.
Why it matters: This would appear to be the first time China has been observed seemingly preparing for a Japanese attack; it has destroyed mock U.S. aircraft and equipment—like a carrier, e.g.—for some time already.
China just sent 14 aircraft into Taiwan’s air identification zone Friday, the same day POTUS46 arrived in the region. That’s double the number of aircraft it sent on Thursday; it sent four on Wednesday; and just one the day before that, according to Taipei’s defense ministry.
From the region: 2 Secret Service employees being sent home from South Korea ahead of Biden's arrival after alleged incident: Sources,” ABC News reported Friday. 

Canada just banned Huawei and ZTE products from its 5G networks. Telecom companies that have installed the Chinese-made gear must rip it out, the government ordered after a years-long security review,  the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday from Ottawa.
More to come? “The government intends to implement these measures as part of a broader agenda to promote the security of Canada’s telecommunications networks and in consultation with industry,” the Ottawa government said in a statement Thursday. 

And lastly this week: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has “paused” a new anti-disinformation effort after what DHS officials called a deliberate disinformation campaign by GOP leaders and right-wing pundits who labeled the internal advisory board “Orwellian.” Read about it at the New York Times, here; and the Washington Post has more, here.
Sound familiar? Defense One’s Patrick Tucker called it nearly a month ago.

Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!