Today's D Brief: More strikes inside Russia; Pentagon altered HIMARS sent to Ukraine; US voter support for Ukraine flags; US, SDF BFFs again; And a bit more.
Two more apparent strikes inside Russia are raising questions about Moscow’s air defense systems after an airport and an industrial plant were hit by suspected Ukrainian drones Tuesday, about 24 hours after two Russian air bases that host nuclear bomber planes were attacked by exploding Cold War-era drones on Monday.
For the record, no one has taken responsibility for the suspected Ukrainian strikes inside Russia. But a senior official told the New York Times on Monday “at least one of the strikes was made with the help of special forces close to the base who helped guide the drones to the target.” It’s too soon to know much yet about the Tuesday incidents, which involved “an airfield in Kursk, which ignited oil, and the Slava plant in Bryansk,” according to Russia-watcher Rob Lee, who shared purported video of the latest developments on Twitter.
Notable: The U.S. military allegedly customized its long-range artillery systems so Ukraine can’t use them to attack Russia, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday, citing anonymous U.S. officials. That’s for all 20 of the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System launchers, or HIMARS, that the Pentagon has shared with Ukraine this year. The systems have been especially useful preparing for Ukrainian counteroffensives in the east and the south this fall, destroying depots and supply points with much greater accuracy than Ukraine’s available artillery.
What’s new: “[T]he Pentagon has modified the launchers so they can’t fire long-range missiles, including the U.S.’s Army Tactical Missile System rockets, or ATACMS, which have a range of nearly 200 miles,” the Journal’s Michael Gordon and Gordon Lubold write.
And that follows news of a recent $431 million deal stateside to produce more HIMARS rounds, which was announced Friday and involves officials from the Army’s Redstone arsenal in Alabama.
Also new: The U.S. Army is planning “a dramatic increase in conventional artillery ammunition production,” Doug Bush, the service’s assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, told Defense News this weekend. Officials are expecting to produce around 20,000 155mm artillery rounds each month by the spring; that’s a step up from the current 14,000 per month estimate; but Army officials think they can jump to 40,000 each month by 2025. With these new goals, “If this war goes three or four years, we’ll be in a position to just vastly outproduce the Russians all by ourselves,” Bush said. “And if you combine that with our allies, then we’re just dwarfing their capability. They won’t be able to keep up.”
One wonk’s POV: “The situation with artillery ammo is probably a larger constraint on the Russian military than Ukraine’s, and one of the driving factors behind the retrenchment adopted after Kharkiv, in an effort to conserve ammo use,” said Michael Kofman of CNA, writing on Twitter Tuesday. Coverage continues below; but first…
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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. On this day in 1917, the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Jacob Jones (DD-61) was sunk by a German U-boat while traveling from France to Ireland. A team of British divers found the vessel about 400 feet below the ocean’s surface this past summer. The New York Times wrote about the find in August, here.
Ukraine’s military says it shot down 61 Russian cruise missiles on Monday. That’s out of 70 alleged Kh-101, Kh-555, Kh-22, Kh-59, Kh-31P, and Caliber missiles targeting “critical and civilian infrastructure” as well as “residential buildings in Vinnytsia, Kyiv, Mykolaiv, Odesa, and other oblasts,” including Zaporizhzhia and Kharkiv. Four Ukrainians died from the missiles that were not shot down, President Volodymir Zelenskyy said in his evening address Monday.
Several missiles still hit their targets, and about half of residents around Kyiv are without electricity. More widely, the BBC reports, “The country is now seeing snow and sub-zero temperatures in many regions, and millions are without electricity and running water. There are fears that a number of people may die of hypothermia.”
Moldovan police reportedly found new missile fragments in the north of the country, close to its border with Ukraine, on Monday. “This once again proves that Russian missile terror poses a huge threat not only to the security of Ukraine, but also to the security of neighbouring countries,” a spokesman for Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement afterward. A similar incident occurred in late October; fortunately no one was injured in either instance.
Moldova is struggling to meet its energy needs after outages from Russian missile attacks inside Ukraine—especially since Moldova ordinarily imports an estimated 20% of its energy from Ukraine while deriving about 70% from the Russian-controlled region of Transnistria. Romania just started piping natural gas to Moldova to help ease the pain during the coming winter, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty reported over the weekend: “The 43-kilometer pipeline, unveiled in 2014 to reduce dependence on supplies from Russia, has not been used until now.” Ukraine’s president noted the energy crunch in neighboring Moldova, reminding his audience Monday evening that “This once again proves that Russia's ability to carry out such massive terrorist attacks is a threat not only to Ukraine, but also to our entire region.”
New: Zelenskyy traveled to the war-torn region of Donetsk on Tuesday to visit troops and mark the official formation of Kyiv’s armed forces going back to 1991. Zelenskyy hoped to juice morale among troops, and brought a message of hope to the occupied oblast, which Russian forces have inhabited for nearly a decade since their covert invasion in Feb. 2014. “I want to thank you for this resilience and strength. You are an outpost of our independence,” he told service members Tuesday in Donetsk, and added optimistically, “I believe that we will meet in our Ukrainian Donetsk, Luhansk, and I am sure that we will also meet in Crimea.”
Developing: Changing winds in the U.S.? After nearly a month of American officials publicly encouraging Ukrainian peace talks, including perhaps most prominently Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley, recent survey results seem to reflect some fatigue among U.S. voters when it comes to support for Ukraine. That’s according to the Chicago Council, whose topline finding Monday declared, “Americans are now closely divided on whether Washington should support Ukraine ‘as long as it takes’ (48%, down from 58% in July 2022) or whether Washington should urge Ukraine to settle for peace as soon as possible (47%, up from 38% in July).” Researchers presented their findings this week after polling just over a thousand people during a three-day period beginning 18 November.
The partisan breakdown: “six in 10 Democrats (61%) continue to favor supporting Ukraine even at cost to the United States, [which is] down from seven in 10 last July (69%),” according to the new report. But Republican sentiment appears to have changed most dramatically, with just 33% now backing U.S. support for Ukraine “for as long as it takes,” compared to 50% in July.
Now, “a majority of Republicans favor pushing Ukraine to settle for peace to reduce costs to American households,” with 63% of GOP voters pushing for that settlement, which is an almost 20-percentage point rise from July when 46% of Republicans said they felt that way.
Worth noting: Voter support for U.S. economic and military aid to Ukraine “is still solid,” the survey’s authors write. And as before, no majorities are interested in sending U.S. troops inside Ukraine to defend against the Russian military. Read over the full report, which has a margin of error at +/- 3.1 percentage points, here.
The careful view from Finland: “We would be in trouble without the United States,” said Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin Friday at a think tank in Sydney, Australia. “I must be brutally honest with you, Europe isn't strong enough right now,” she said. While the U.S. has given a lot to Ukraine already, “We have to make sure that we are building those capabilities when it comes to European defense, European defense industry,” Marin said Friday in an echo of a similar message of self-reliance in the face of Chinese semiconductor industrial dominance shared in mid-November.
- “Ukraine transparency push shouldn’t derail funding, HASC chair says,” Defense News reported Saturday;
- “Putin Grips Economy Tighter to Supply Russian War Machine,” the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday;
- And see also the Pentagon’s readout of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s call with his Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksii Reznikov, on Monday, wherein air defense needs dominated Austin’s concerns.
Israeli system headed to the states? Lockheed Martin and Israeli weapons maker Rafael have signed an agreement for the U.S. company to work on developing “a high-powered laser interception system” called Iron Beam, the Times of Israel reported Monday. Iron Beam works with other systems, like Iron Dome; Lockheed will make a version for the U.S. market.
And lastly: It’s game on again for the (ongoing) war on ISIS in Syria, as the U.S.-backed Kurds announced a resumption of joint operations, which had been suspended briefly last week. Reuters reported the halt Friday, and the resumption Monday. Read the latest from the wire service, here.