Today's D Brief: Russian military withdrawal in Kherson; Ukraine air defense, in review; Kyiv wants counter-drone gear; RoK pulls missile from ocean floor; And a bit more.

New: Russia’s military chief just ordered a retreat from the occupied Ukrainian city of Kherson, with troops instructed to form a defensive line on the left bank of the Dnipro river, in southern Ukraine. That’s according to state-run media, RIA Novosti, reporting Wednesday.  

A military withdrawal from Kherson has been rumored for weeks, but official Kremlin-linked outlets like RIA and TASS had only acknowledged civilian withdrawals. Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces seem to be continuing their fairly productive counteroffensive, which began around early September, to retake occupied territory—including Kherson, the first major Ukrainian city (and the only provincial capital) to fall to the Russians after their long-denied invasion began in late February. 

Wonk reax: “Abandoning the right-bank was the obvious move after [Ukraine’s] Kharkiv offensive demonstrated Russia's manpower weaknesses,” Rob Lee tweeted after the order from Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Lee called the progress around Kherson a “Very impressive and hard fought victory for Ukraine.” From his perspective, “The big question now is whether Russia can withdraw without taking heavy equipment and personnel losses. Ukraine has every incentive to make this withdrawal as chaotic and costly as possible,” he added. 

Wonk reax #2: “Most of the evidence still points to a phased [Russian] withdrawal from Kherson to avoid being cutoff,” tweeted Michael Kofman of the Washington-based research group CNA. “This may result in a complete retreat from the right side of the river,” he added, but Ukraine’s military is “also renewing pressure on [Russian] positions and probing a thinning out line.”

Developing: A top Russian occupation official has allegedly been killed in some kind of car crash; however, RIA updated that rumor to note that his death is not yet official. Reuters has more.

It’ll probably be a year before Russia can fully repair its key bridge to occupied Crimea. The bridge suffered significant damage from an apparent truck bomb explosion on October 8. The British military estimated the bridge could be repaired and back to full capacity as early as September 2023. Currently, “One track is open, but rail transport remains restricted,” the British said Wednesday on Twitter. Damage to the bridge “disrupted Russian logistics supplies for Crimea and southern Ukraine, reducing Russia’s ability to move military equipment and troops into the area by rail or road.”

Panning out, “The damage to the bridge, the recent attack on the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, and the probable withdrawal from Kherson all complicate the Russian government’s ability to paint a picture of military success,” the Brits say. 

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg visited the United Kingdom on Wednesday, meeting with new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and top diplomat James Cleverly, as well as defense chief Ben Wallace. Stoltenberg will “also visit a British military facility training Ukrainian soldiers,” alliance officials said in a preview

Next: Stoltenberg is off to Italy on Thursday to visit the new prime minister and defense chief, Giorgia Meloni and Guido Crosetto, respectively. He’ll also keynote NATO’s Cyber Defence Pledge Conference, which is a two-day event starting Thursday in Rome. 

The State Department just approved the sale of missiles to Belgium, including AIM-120C-8 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles for F-16s and F-35s. The costs come in at about $380 million, with Tucson-based Raytheon Missile Systems acting as the principal contractor. The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency has more details, here

Speaking of weapons, an Iranian drone used by Russia and recovered from Ukraine was reportedly made in February 2022 and featured 76 parts from 14 different American companies. That’s according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, reporting in a video this week from Ukraine. 

Get smart on Ukrainian air defense needs via a new report from the UK’s Royal United Services Institute. Their quick advice? “The West must avoid complacency about the need to urgently bolster Ukrainian air-defence capacity.” That, they argue, is because Ukraine’s existing surface-to-air missile systems and their dwindling inventories have kept Russia from “employ[ing] the potentially heavy and efficient aerial firepower of its fixed-wing bomber and multi-role fighter fleets to bombard Ukrainian strategic targets and frontline positions from medium altitude, as it did in Syria.”

Also in that report: Recommendations for fending off Iranian-made Shahed-136 “kamikaze” drones, which have pummeled Ukraine’s electricity grid in large numbers. Ideas include “large numbers of additional man-portable air-defence systems and radar-guided anti-aircraft guns,” as well as “compact radar and/or laser ranging and sighting systems to allow numerous existing anti-aircraft guns to be much more accurate and effective” against the Shaheds. Read over the report in full (PDF), here

Related reading: 

From Defense One

The Army’s Distributed Command Posts of the Future Will Need More than Videochats // Lauren C. Williams: Structuring data is key to the service’s visions of Pacific-spanning operations and AI-enabled decision tools.

Army Special Ops Is Changing Psyops Training to Reflect Ukraine War // Elizabeth Howe: Even as some operators chafe at rules that keep them out of the fight, they are keenly interested in how Ukrainians are applying their U.S. training.

Ukraine Calls for More Anti-Drone Gear as Air-Defense Missiles Arrive // Patrick Tucker: NASAMS are now operational in Ukraine, but a new potential threat looms.

More Than 100 C-130s Are Down, Likely Because Mechanics Scratched Their Propellers, Air Force Says // Marcus Weisgerber: The standard practice of inscribing serial numbers during inspections turns out to be counterproductive.

Welcome to this Wednesday 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 1979, a U.S. military analyst at Fort Ritchie, Md., inadvertently put command posts worldwide on edge when he loaded training materials into shared computer systems, but forgot to switch the monitoring systems to “test” mode. White House national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski received a call at 3 in the morning relaying the apparent Russian missile attack, which seemed to show 250 Soviet missiles inbound—then that number quickly grew to 2,200 missiles. According to former CIA Director Robert Gates, “Brzezinski had not awakened his wife, reckoning that everyone would be dead in half an hour.” Fortunately, just one minute before Brzezinski was going to inform the president, technicians realized the error when they noticed other warning systems did not show a single missile flying through the sky, much less the all-out, world-ending attack portrayed in those training materials. 

North Korea launched at least one ballistic missile Wednesday. It reached an altitude of 50 kilometers and flew 250 kilometers before splashing into the sea, Reuters reported from Seoul.
South Korea also found debris from the launch of a Soviet-era missile that was launched last week in what South Korean officials called a “clearly deliberate, intentional provocation.”
The North’s record number of recent missile launches—80 last week alone—show that UN sanctions don’t seem to be working, Reuters reported in a separate analysis. “Any way you look at it, it underscores how poorly sanctions have performed and are likely to perform in the future,” one expert told the news agency.
Meanwhile, South Korea’s former leader has returned two dogs that were gifted to him by North Korea’s Kim Jong-un in 2018 to the custody of the state, Yonhap reports. The dogs were supposed to be returned to South Korea’s Presidential Archive after Moon’s retirement.  

Tomorrow: U.S. President Joe Biden heads to Egypt on Thursday for an annual UN meeting on climate change known as COP27, which is shorthand for the 27th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. NPR reports one main goal of this year’s conference is helping finance developing countries and their struggle against extreme weather.
See some of the effects for yourself: The New York Times assembled a photo collection of what it calls “The Climate Crisis in Pictures.”
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