Today's D Brief: The drone war is expanding in Ukraine; Russia evacuates more occupied regions; US border security extension; Midterm preview; And a bit more.
Ukraine is preparing for a “war of drones,” including drones that can kill other drones in the sky. “This is the next stage in the development of ideas,” the head of Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Development, 31-year-old Mikhail Fedorov, said in a lengthy interview published Monday by Forbes—and flagged on Twitter by Russia-watcher and drone enthusiast Sam Bendett of CNA.
Kyiv is racing to stand up its own “army of drones.” According to Fedorov, “Now there are contracts for 1,033 drones,” he told Forbes. “About 70% of them have already been received. The rest will be delivered by the end of the year.” Ukraine already uses “about 20 FlyEye [UAV systems] that are quite important for our artillery,” he said. And indeed, that was one of the primary uses for the systems early on—as we noted near the top of our most recent Defense One Radio podcast, which features an interview with Bendett and drone researcher Faine Greenwood.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine back in late February, “There has been a real professionalization of the use of commercial drones in both Ukrainian and Russian military forces,” Bendett said, and noted a meeting between Russian officials in early September on this very topic. One former Russian general even said publicly, “The quadcopter is now the symbol of modern warfare,” as Bendett explained. And so Russia’s defense industry is “starting to kind of turn around,” he said, “and churn out hundreds, perhaps 1000s of small UAVs, especially quadcopters” in the months ahead. Read more about that deliberate drone campaign from Moscow, here.
- Catch our full interview with Bendett and Greenwood on Spotify, iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.
“The future of war is a battle between drones—not soldiers,” said Ivan Tolchinsky, the Ukrainian-born CEO of a Latvian drone firm called Atlas Dynamics. The Kyiv Independent spoke to Tolchinsky in an interview published Monday. According to the 36-year-old CEO, “Atlas Dynamics has delivered over 200 small reconnaissance drones to Ukraine,” and they’re mostly being used for surveillance and artillery scouting. One of the bigger challenges for Atlas, however, is improving distance and flying time for their drones. But defeating Russian jamming has already been addressed by the company, according to Tolchinsky.
“We know exactly which electronic warfare systems Russia uses to intercept drone signals, so we made our vehicles more robust to their influence,” he told the Kyiv Independent. They’re also encrypted “so that no one can seize control of the drone or access its data if the drone crashes in enemy territory,” he said. Read on, here.
Battlefield latest: Russia is evacuating civilians from occupied southern Ukraine, along the eastern bank of the Dnipro river, Reuters reported Tuesday from Mykolaiv. “Russia had previously ordered civilians out of a pocket it controls on the west bank of the river, where Ukrainian forces have been advancing to capture the city of Kherson. Russian-installed officials said on Tuesday they were now extending that order to a 15-km (9-mile) buffer zone along the east bank as well.”
New: British intelligence is raising awareness of Russian jets and likely ballistic missiles staged inside Belarus in mid-October. “Imagery showed two MiG-31K FOXHOUND interceptor jets were almost certainly parked at Belarus’s Machulishchi Airfield on 17 October, with a large canister stored nearby within a protective earth berm,” the Defense Ministry tweeted Tuesday, with an annotated satellite image. “It is likely that the canister is associated with the AS-24 KILLJOY air launched ballistic missile, a large munition which the MiG-31K variant is adapted to carry.” That missile was first fielded in 2018, but hadn’t been spotted in Belarus until October.
What the Brits take away from this sighting: Moscow may be trying to provoke the West. “With a range of over 2000 km, basing KILLJOY in Belarus gives Russia little added advantage in terms of striking additional targets within Ukraine.” However, “It has likely carried out the deployment mainly to message to the West and to portray Belarus as increasingly complicit in the war.”
War crimes watch: The Washington Post just published a searchable database of more than 200 videos that could potentially be of use to war crime investigators probing developments inside Ukraine since Russia invaded eight months ago. The collection “continues to be updated, though at a slower pace than in the first months of the war, with the emphasis more recently on key events,” WaPo writes, and warns that, “graphic content is clearly marked.”
- See also one more “war crimes tracker” published recently and maintained by journalists at Frontline and the Associated Press. That, too, is searchable by type, location, and more. Details, here.
ICYMI: Kremlin officials now accuse the British navy of attacking the Nord Stream pipeline in international waters of the Black Sea between Germany and Denmark back in September. The allegation was first made public by Russia’s Defense Ministry on Saturday, though no evidence was presented to back up the claim, as Reuters noted, reporting from London over the weekend. Russia made the allegation on the same day its Black Sea Fleet seems to have come under some sort of possible naval drone attack in occupied Crimea, presumably from Ukrainian forces.
According to the Brits, “This invented story [about attacking Nord Stream] says more about arguments going on inside the Russian government than it does about the West,” the UK defense ministry said Saturday. Kremlin spokesman Dmetri Peskov again delivered the accusation on Tuesday in Moscow, claiming “There is evidence that Britain is involved in sabotage.” But Peskov did not elaborate, other than saying, “Such actions cannot be left unnoticed just like that. Of course, we will consider further steps; it is impossible to act otherwise.”
Update: Hungary and Turkey are the only NATO members that have not ratified Finland and Sweden’s bids to join the Russia-focused alliance. Twenty-eight other nations’ lawmakers have approved the expansion, with Slovakia the most recent to advance the requested accessions. Finland Prime Minister Sanna Marin on Tuesday encouraged Hungary and Turkey to get moving, telling reporters in Helsinki, “All eyes are now on Hungary and Turkey. We are waiting for these countries to ratify our applications. I think it would be important that this would happen preferably sooner than later.”
- “Ukrainians grapple with power outages as winter approaches,” AP reported Tuesday from Kyiv;
- “US sending satellite antennas to Ukraine after Musk’s Starlink U-turn,” C4ISRNet reported Monday off the latest round of U.S. military aid to Ukraine, announced late last week;
- “The Ukraine War Will End With Negotiations: Now Is Not the Time for Talks, but America Must Lay the Groundwork,” argues Emma Ashford of the Stimson Center, writing in Foreign Affairs on Monday;
- See also, “Why American Power Endures: The U.S.-Led Order Isn’t in Decline,” from Princeton University’s G. John Ikenberry, writing in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs;
- And from Russian state-run media, “Wikimedia fined for refusing to delete false information on Russia’s operation in Ukraine,” TASS reported Tuesday from Moscow.
From Defense One
US, Allies Rush Anti-Drone Equipment to Ukraine, Conduct On-Site Weapons Tracking // Patrick Tucker: A defense official also said the United States has no reason to think military aid to Ukraine is going missing.
Defense One Radio, Ep. 111: Drones in Russia's Ukraine war, and elsewhere. // Ben Watson: We focus on the latest developments in unmanned aerial systems, from the front lines to a conference in Washington.
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 1800, John Adams became the first U.S. president to live in the White House. “May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof,” he wrote to his wife the following day.
Border security deployments, continued. The Pentagon will keep sending National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border for another year, Military Times reported Friday. That means the mission at America’s southern border has been extended into its fourth year.
The number of authorized troops is capped at 2,500; though 2,708 National Guard troops were deployed there in late October, Meghann Myers reported. More here.
GWOT’s oldest remaining prisoner was released last week. A 75-year-old businessman who was held in the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for nearly 20 years but never charged with a crime has been released and is now in Pakistan, the New York Times reported Oct. 29.
Saifullah Paracha was the U.S. military’s oldest prisoner of the war on terror, and is a former legal resident of New York. He was captured in July 2003, when he lived in Karachi, Pakistan, and held in Bagram, Afghanistan, before being moved to Guantánamo after a heart attack, writes Carol Rosenberg. Paracha was suspected of being an Al Qaeda sympathizer and considered “too dangerous to release” until last year, but “military prosecutors never sought to put him on trial,” Rosenberg reported.
And lastly today: We’re one week from midterm elections here in the states. So we’ve rounded up nearly two dozen recent reports related to election security, democracy, misinformation, time-tested rhetorical tricks, foreign influence (there doesn’t seem to be that much this time), fearmongering (always plenty of that), and even “zombie” newspapers.
Some of the big questions looming over Election Day include:
- Who will control the House and the Senate?
- Will Republicans in the lower chamber quash potential ongoing work from the committee investigating the January 6 insurrection?
- How will GOP lawmakers influence the future of U.S. military aid to Ukraine in the months ahead?
- If House control flips, how many administration officials will face impeachment in the lower chamber?
Here are a few of the election-related headlines that caught our attention over the past few weeks, presented chronologically:
- “Voters See Democracy in Peril, but Saving It Isn’t a Priority,” the New York Times reported Oct. 18;
- “Many remain critical of state of US democracy: AP-NORC poll,” via the Associated Press, reporting Oct. 19.
- “Pro-Trump conspiracy theorists hound election officials out of office,” Reuters reported on Oct. 19;
- Former Vice President Mike “Pence warns of ‘unprincipled populists,’ ‘Putin apologists,’” AP reported on Oct. 19 after a speech Pence delivered at the Heritage Foundation conservative think tank in Washington;
- “Election deniers could make deep changes to Arizona voting,” AP reported Oct. 20;
- Bellingcat and Europe’s Lighthouse Reports examined how conspiracy theories among Dutch farmers made their way to Tucker Carlson's show, via Eliot Higgins of Bellingcat on Oct. 20;
- “5 media literacy tips to avoid election misinformation,” via the Poynter Institute, writing Oct. 21;
- “How Vaccine Skeptics Took Over the Republican Party,” via New York Magazine, writing on Oct. 21;
- “For Trump’s Backers in Congress, ‘Devil Terms’ Help Rally Voters,” via the New York Times, reporting Oct. 22;
- “Their America Is Vanishing. Like Trump, They Insist They Were Cheated,” the New York Times reported from Texas on Oct. 22;
- “False election claims overwhelm local efforts to push back,” AP reported Oct. 23 from New Mexico;
- “Top Arizona election official refers more cases of potential voter intimidation to law enforcement,” NBC News reported Oct. 24;
- “How ‘Stop the Steal’ Became ‘Watch the Polls,’” via Time, reporting Oct. 24;
- “Most Candidates Who Think 2020 Was Rigged Are Probably Going To Win In November,” ABC News reported Oct. 25;
- “Two in five U.S. voters worry about intimidation at polls,” Reuters reported on Oct. 26;
- “A sprawling pro-China propaganda campaign is targeting U.S. midterms, researchers warn,” NBC News reported on Oct. 26;
- “Migrant Caravans Are Preparing To Flood The US Border Ahead Of Midterms, Senior Guatemalan Official Warns,” Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller reported Oct. 26;
- “The Impeachment of Joe Biden: And possibly Kamala Harris, and Merrick Garland, and Alejandro Mayorkas, and Antony Blinken,” via The Atlantic on Oct. 26;
- “The Art of Hitting Disinformation Where It Lives: Combating fake news with facts doesn't work because humans are wired for emotion. It's time for more creative tactics,” via WIRED, reporting Oct. 28;
- “Officials brace for unprecedented efforts to disrupt 2022 vote,” Axios reported Oct. 28;
- “Top US cyber official says there’s no ‘specific’ threat to elections, but is concerned about harassment and intimidation,” CNN reported Sunday;
- “Don’t blame ‘both sides.’ The right is driving political violence,” historian Max Boot wrote in the Washington Post on Sunday;
- “Elon Musk, right-wing figures push misinformation about Pelosi attack,” WaPo reported separately on Sunday; the New York Times had similar coverage on Monday;
- “‘Absolutely no evidence:’ Police, FBI affidavit debunk salacious conspiracy about Pelosi attack pushed by conservatives,” CNN reported Monday;
- “Company Backed by J.D. Vance Gives Platform for Russian Propaganda,” the New York Times reported Monday;
- “Right-wing 'zombie' papers attack Illinois Democrats ahead of elections,” via NPR, reporting Monday;
- And “Here's how Oregon handles election security, and why voter fraud is vanishingly rare,” via NBC News affiliate KGW8 out of Portland.