Today's D Brief: Europe plans a missile 'shield'; Musk's new fiscal fuss; North Korea's loud year; China's new congress; And a bit more.

More than a dozen NATO allies say they’ll build a united “European air and missile defense system,” after signing a letter of intent at alliance headquarters in Brussels on Thursday. The project is called the European Sky Shield Initiative, and it brings together military equipment plans across Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechia, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania, the United Kingdom—as well as Finland. 

The reason: Because of “ruthless and indiscriminate missile attacks by Russia in Ukraine, killing civilians and destroying critical infrastructure,” Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană said Thursday. The idea is to build “fully interoperable” and “seamlessly integrated” systems in a flexible, scalable, efficient, and cost-effective way, according to the alliance. It’s unclear just yet when the project is expected to be completed. 

New: Spain is sending four HAWK medium-range air defense systems to Ukraine, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday. That delivery follows several others from nations like Canada, France, and Germany, which we noted atop Thursday’s newsletter. 

And because of “the deteriorating security situation in the world,” the Dutch military says it’s reopening an airbase, in part to host training on the country’s new F-35 aircraft. “Due to the deteriorating security situation in the world, Defense has to practice more,” the Defense Ministry announced on Friday, and warned citizens, “As a result, the number of military flights is increasing.” 

The Netherlands closed three air bases 16 years ago, and as a result today, “All airbases are ‘full’ or almost full,” which is why the new “Reopening of De Peel Air Base helps to solve the lack of space at air bases,” the military said. 

SecDef Austin and the B9: U.S. military chief Lloyd Austin met with military leaders from several former Soviet republics, known collectively as the “Bucharest Nine,” at NATO headquarters in Belgium on Friday. The group was formed shortly after Russia initially invaded eastern Ukraine in 2014, and it includes Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia, and Romania. View a photo of the leaders standing shoulder to shoulder in Brussels, here.

New: The world’s richest man wants the Pentagon to pay for his satellite constellation that’s beaming internet to Ukraine’s military as the country fends off an eight-month-long Russian invasion, CNN reported Thursday. Musk tweeted Friday that the “operation has cost SpaceX $80 million and will exceed $100 million by the end of the year.”

The news comes as Musk is reportedly facing possible new legal action—including an alleged federal investigation—in the midst of his effort to back out of purchasing the social media firm Twitter. 

On the battlefield, Russian forces have advanced little over the past several days, according to the British military. However, they have achieved “tactical advances towards the center of the town of Bakhmut in Donetsk Oblast.” Meanwhile, “forces led by the private military company Wagner Group have achieved some localized gains in the Donbas: Wagner likely remains heavily involved in the Bakhmut fighting.” 

But panning out, Russia’s “overall operational design is undermined by the Ukrainian pressure against its northern and southern flanks, and by severe shortages of munitions and manpower,” the Brits say.

Don’t miss some remarkable AP reporting Thursday telling the difficult story of “How Moscow grabs Ukrainian kids and makes them Russians.”  

Related reading: 

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Civilians Will Choose the Marine Corps’ Future—and Soon // Paula Thornhill: And they will do it by selecting the next commandant and other four- and three-star generals.

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. And check out other Defense One newsletters here. On this day in 1962, the nearly two-week long Cuban Missile Crisis began. 

North Korea seems to really want the world’s attention, so it launched another ballistic missile as well as more than 500 artillery shells at a maritime buffer zone with South Korea—and the nuclear-armed state sent 10 planes on what Seoul called “menacing flights close to the inter-Korean border” on Friday. The artillery was launched from North Korea’s eastern and western coasts, with most (430) coming from various points along the latter, according to the Associated Press, citing military officials in Seoul. Targeting that buffer zone would be a violation of a 2018 agreement between the two Koreas intended to reduce the risks of escalation; and those 10 or so aircraft reportedly flew closer to the South Korean border than any time since 2017.
New: South Korea just “announced its first unilateral sanctions against Pyongyang in five years, blacklisting 15 North Korean individuals and 16 institutions in response to the North's evolving nuclear and missile threats,” Seoul’s Yonhap news agency reports. AP called the sanctions “largely symbolic,” since the North is already so isolated.
The South also conducted its own artillery drills for some 10 hours on Thursday; those drills were a reaction to several of the North’s weapon tests both this week and the last—including an alleged nuclear-capable cruise missile that Pyongyang said flew in figure eights before striking its target this week. The North also said this week that it has newly empowered “front line” units with the ability to launch tactical nuclear weapons should a conflict begin and dictator Kim Jong-un believe himself to be facing a possible “decapitation” strike from the South or its allies, including the U.S.
Zooming out: North Korea is on pace to almost double its previous annual record for missile launches, Ankit Panda of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace tweeted Thursday. Why all the launches and tests this year? One reason could be that the North thinks it’s unlikely to face additional sanctions as Russia’s Ukraine invasion has eroded any potential unity between Moscow and others at the United Nations Security Council.
Advice to U.S. policymakers: “It’s time to give up on trying to disarm North Korea,” Jeffrey Lewis of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in California writes in the op-ed pages of the New York Times. Lewis has been making this very point for several years (see here, here, and here, e.g.), though the Washington policy community has been going its own way, thinking it can draw up some plan that North Korea’s leadership will accept. But even with the Trump administration’s extraordinary bipolarity on the matter, nothing remotely close to Pyongyang’s “denuclearization” has happened.
“Kim Jong Un wants the same nuclear status as Israel,” Lewis argues, “and, before 1998, India—nuclear-armed but quiet about it.” So, what now? “Turning a blind eye to North Korea’s entry into the nuclear club will sting, but we are essentially already doing that: U.S. officials do little more than talk about how Mr. Kim’s nuclear program is unacceptable, as he builds bomb after bomb,” Lewis writes in the Times, and punctuates it with this sober advice, “It’s time to cut our losses, face reality, and take steps to reduce the risk of war on the Korean Peninsula.” Read the rest, here

And lastly: The Chinese military is likely to see “major changes” after the upcoming 20th Communist Party Congress meeting, which is formally set to begin on Sunday. So more than a half dozen experts from the Center for Strategic and International Studies have joined forces to publish a party preview with a particular emphasis on Beijing’s military. Brian Hart of CSIS teased some of the findings in a Twitter thread on Thursday, here.
See also: 

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