Today's D Brief: EU launches Ukraine training mission; Iranian missiles to Moscow?; China at a turning point; Midterms preview; And a bit more.

The EU digs in for two years, with Putin squarely in its sights. The European Union just approved its first-ever military training mission to help Ukraine resist the ongoing invasion from Vladimir Putin’s Russian military. It could be up and running in a matter of weeks, and it’s intended to last for at least 24 months. 

The new element will be headquartered in Brussels, and will be led by French Navy Vice Adm. Hervé Bléjean. His team will have an initial two-year mandate, and will operate on a budget of €106,700,000. The ostensible goal is “to contribute to enhancing the military capability of Ukraine’s Armed Forces to effectively conduct military operations, in order to allow Ukraine to defend its territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders, effectively exercise its sovereignty and protect civilians,” the EU Council said in a statement Monday.

“The mission’s purpose is to train around 15,000 troops to start with—maybe more, but the first objective is to train 15,000 troops,” said the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, on Monday. If everything goes according to plan, the training mission will be operational by mid-November. The bloc also set aside another tranche of €500 million for Ukraine’s military, through the European Peace Facility, which raises the bloc’s contributions to Kyiv’s military to over €3 billion so far. 

The EU also just approved a €2 billion financial assistance package to Ukraine, and “More will follow by the end of the year,” said EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday. 

“I want to say clearly: supporting Ukraine remains our first priority,” Borrell said Monday. “Putin is losing politically and morally. In spite of that, he continues the escalation, including [with] indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets across the whole of Ukraine,” as happened Monday and again on Tuesday with apparent Iranian-sourced “kamikaze” drones. 

The latest from Ukraine’s drone wars: Kyiv’s forces say they’ve attached a mini-gun to one of the sturdier, more expensive off-the-shelf drones in the hopes of stopping a few of those Iran-supplied Shahed-136 models that have been destroying Ukraine’s electricity infrastructure. Here’s a 34-second video purporting to illustrate as much. 

So, are the drones really from Iran? The Kremlin’s spokesman insisted Tuesday that the answer is no; but Russian officials are hardly credible at this point. Iranian officials, too, insist they are not involved—including Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian’s denial over the weekend, according to CNN’s reporting. As for the EU, “We are following very closely this use of drones,” Borrell said Monday, and stressed, “We are gathering evidence and we will be ready to react with the tools at our disposal…If all the necessary evidence is gathered—and there is already a lot—naturally I don't think there will be any problem on the part of the member states” to penalize Iranian officials in some way, perhaps by additional sanctions. 

New: Iran will soon send Russia ballistic missiles as well as more drones, according to Reuters in an exclusive Tuesday citing two senior Iranian officials and two Iranian diplomats. 

Update: The world’s richest man on Monday rescinded his public request that the Pentagon pay for his satellite constellation, Starlink, which is beaming internet down to the Ukrainian military, among thousands of users in the invaded country.

Developing: Both the EU and the Pentagon are reportedly looking for ways to help Elon Musk fund Starlink, which Musk said Friday has cost $80 million to date, and could be as much as $20 million each month. “To be precise, 25,300 terminals were sent to Ukraine, but, at present, only 10,630 are paying for service,” Musk tweeted Monday. He also replied to Politico’s Monday reporting about alleged Pentagon funding by writing, “SpaceX has already withdrawn its request.” (But Musk said he’ll soon add a “donate” option for anyone interested in pitching in.)

A second opinion: According to Dmitri Alperovitch, writing Friday, “The main issue with the [Elon Musk] Starlink controversy is not payment. Clearly SpaceX should get paid for the service they are providing—they are not a charity. The key issue is the alleged geofencing on the frontlines, which is impacting Ukrainian counteroffensives.”

Back stateside, Estonia’s defense chief, Hanno Pevkur, is dropping by the Pentagon for a visit with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in the afternoon. Pevkur is expected around 2:30 p.m. ET. 

Related reading:

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Commercial Planes, Ships Would Play Large Role in Pacific War, TRANSCOM Head Says // Marcus Weisgerber: Last year's massive Afghanistan evacuation could be a trial for how the military moves troops and equipment around the future battlefield.

When China Pushes, Push Back, Admiral Says // Jennifer Hlad: Seventh Fleet commander says the U.S. needs to continue freedom of navigation patrols in the Pacific.

L3Harris Wants To Add Drone Data Streams To Night Vision Goggles //  Lauren C. Williams: Improving image quality and broadening the amount of data feeds available are priorities for future versions.

Welcome to this Tuesday 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 1851, a book called “The Whale” was published in London by an American author named Herman Melville. 

China’s desired military future: Better, faster, stronger. Xi Jinping opened the Chinese Communist Party’s congress meeting Sunday with a call for more rapid military development, the Associated Press reported from Beijing. “We will work faster to modernize military theory, personnel, and weapons. We will enhance the military’s strategic capabilities,” Xi said in a speech that also included several references to his slogan of the “rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” The military must “safeguard China’s dignity and core interests,” he said.
Xi is expected to secure his third five-year term during the congress meeting, a break from the tradition of previous leaders bowing out after two terms. BBC News has more on “How Xi Jinping made himself unchallengeable,” noting that he overhauled the country’s military structure in 2015.
New data: China is using U.S. technology to fill gaps in its hypersonic and advanced missile programs, despite the fact that many of the beneficiaries of this technology are on the U.S. exports blacklist, the Washington Post reported Monday. In addition, some of the products have reportedly come from American companies that have received Pentagon money to help with innovation.
Meanwhile from Beijing: Connectivity or surveillance? China is rolling out thousands of 5G base stations across the Xinjiang region, purportedly to improve digital connectivity far-western region. But, Radio Free Asia reports, experts believe the government may have ulterior motives: enhanced digital surveillance of Uyghurs.
Back in the U.S., Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., added $10 billion in military aid for Taiwan to the annual defense authorization bill, Defense News reports. The Senate is not expected to vote on the NDAA until after the November elections.
From the region: 

U.S. midterm preview: Election denier edition. The “vast majority” of Republicans running for state and federal offices have questioned the 2020 election results, according to a new multimedia analysis from the New York Times. At least 370 out of more than 550 candidates the Times reviewed have questioned Donald Trump’s defeat, and “most are still doing it,” eight different reporters for the Times wrote late last week. 
This is particularly notable because together these candidates “represent a growing consensus in the Republican Party, and a potential threat to American democracy,” according to the Times and anyone who has been watching the GOP writ large over the past six years.
Read more:Voters See Democracy in Peril, but Saving It Isn’t a Priority,” the Times reported separately on Tuesday; view the associated polling/survey data here.
Update: There are no major foreign cyber threats to this upcoming election, America’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency announced last week (PDF). But CISA did just release a new training video for “Non-Confrontational Techniques for Election Workers,” since physical threats to the election still persist this cycle.

  • By the way: It’s cybersecurity awareness month. So don’t click on weird links (which for us have been increasingly arriving via text message to our phones. But anyway…) CISA has tips for you and your family, here.  

For your ears only: Defense One contributor Peter Singer of New America has a new podcast called “LikeWar,” which is also the title of a nonfiction book he published in 2018. According to Singer’s terse tease, it’s a show “about how politics, tech, and conflict all collided on social media, from the rise of ISIS to January 6.” Listen here, or wherever you get your podcasts.
ICYMI:Jan. 6 panel: Trump ordered large-scale U.S. troop withdrawals after election,” Axios reported late last week concerning exits from Afghanistan and Somalia. 

And lastly: Since 2015, more than 500 retired U.S. military personnel have taken lucrative jobs working for foreign governments like the Saudis, Craig Whitlock and Nate Jones report for the Washington Post, culminating a two-year legal battle with the Pentagon to obtain records. And the records show a perhaps surprising number of generals and admirals have been working on behalf of nations and leaders known for human rights abuses and political repression—some of whom appear to have not obtained official approval for their work abroad.
Several have earned seven-figure salaries in their roles, and most worked for Middle Eastern monarchies like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and others. (None have worked for China, North Korea, Iran, Cuba or Venezuela; and just one worked for Russia.)
Examples include Marine Gen. James L. Jones, Army Gen. Keith Alexander, Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Air Force Gen. Charles Wald, Army Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero, Marine Maj. Gen. Arnold Punaro, Air Force Brig. Gen. John Doucette, and many others.
One reason it matters: “[M]any military retirees take foreign jobs or gifts without notifying the U.S. government at all,” Whitlock and Jones write, and “The armed forces and the State Department have no mechanism to identify such cases.” That would seem to suggest to those interested in cashing in that “Unless rulebreakers come to public attention—as did [Mike] Flynn [with Russia]—or someone reports them, they have no reason to fear getting in trouble.”
Another reason to shine a light on the issue: According to the U.S. district judge who approved the release of some of these records in September, “the public has a right to know if high-ranking military leaders are taking advantage of their stations—or might be perceived to be doing so—to create employment opportunities with foreign governments in retirement.” Check out the rest of this #LongRead, here.
Related reporting:State Dept Is Quietly Approving Former Servicemembers’ Work for Foreign Interests. That's a Problem,” via Julienne McClure of the Project On Government Oversight, reporting Tuesday as well.