Today's D Brief: Drone attack on Iranian arms facility; War with China in 2025?; Germany rules out fighter jets to Kyiv; SecDef Austin to the Pacific; And a bit more.

Alleged Iranian arms production facilities appear to have been attacked Saturday night in the city of Isfahan, which is about a five-hour drive south of Tehran. The New York Times reported U.S. officials said Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency was behind the attack, which used drones to hit facilities believed to be involved in the production of medium-range ballistic missiles. 

Tehran’s foreign minister called it “a cowardly drone attack on a military site in central Iran.” But he said on Sunday it “will not impede Iran’s progress on its peaceful nuclear program.”

Three small quadcopters were used in the attack, according to the Wall Street Journal, which also reported Israel was behind the attack. The drones carried “bomblets” and one of them was shot down before attacking, Iranian officials said. 

The targeted site suggests the strike had more to do with Israel’s security than anything related to the Ukraine war, according to the Times. “It is not clear why Iran would build an ammunition production plant in the middle of a city of roughly two million people,” the Times wrote afterward. The city is also “home to both a large air base built for its fleet of American-made F-14 fighter jets and its Nuclear Fuel Research and Production Center,” the Associated Press reported Sunday. 

Ukraine war latest: President Volodymir Zelenskyy welcomed Denmark’s prime minister in the southern city of Mykolaiv on Monday. The two “visited the Mykolaiv Commercial Sea Port, where they saw oil storage tanks hit by Russian enemy missiles and drones, and a heating point equipped with a water purification and distribution unit under a project implemented with Danish assistance,” Reuters reported from Mykolaiv. 

Equipment watch: Germany’s chancellor says he’s ruled out sending fighter jets to Ukraine. Olaf Scholz said as much in an interview Sunday with the German newspaper Tagesspiegel. “The fact we've only just made a decision [on sending tanks] and the next debate is firing up in Germany, that just seems frivolous,” he said. Instead, he’s focused on getting those Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine safely and responsibly. The BBC has more, here

Get a wider sense of the defensive trenches and fortifications Russian forces have built inside Ukraine via an updated and interactive map produced by Brady Africk of the American Enterprise Institute. “In Russian-occupied parts of southern Ukraine, Russian forces fortified intersections along key roads and built layers of defenses across open fields,” he wrote in an explanatory thread on Twitter on Friday. And that’s not all: “Even inside Russian territory (Belgorod Oblast), fortifications were built a few miles from the border with Ukraine.” 

Rhetoric watch: Russia’s autocratic leader Vladimir Putin repeated his bogus claim that neo-Nazis were committing crimes in Ukraine, which Agence France-Presse reminded us is “an allegation Moscow has used to justify its military intervention—as the world marked Holocaust Remembrance Day” on Friday.

Additional reading: 

From Defense One

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Military Must Recruit More Women, Immigrants for the Future Force, Experts Say // Jennifer Hlad: At symposium on building the all-volunteer force of 2040, panelists push back on criticism of diversity initiatives.

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to this newsletter, you can do that here. On this humid and damp day in Washington back in 1835, 32-year-old painter Richard Lawrence brought two loaded pistols with him to the funeral of South Carolina Rep. Warren Davis at the U.S. Capitol. He'd planned to shoot and kill President Andrew Jackson, who passed close by at the end of the service—but Lawrence's two pistols both misfired, and Jackson himself began to beat Lawrence with the president's own cane as the mentally unwell painter was tackled to the ground by folks nearby, including Tennessee Rep. Davy Crockett. A jury later found Lawrence guilty by reason of insanity (perhaps toxicities in the paint went to his head), and he was institutionalized until his death about 26 years later, in 1861.

An American four-star general says his “gut” told him war with China could happen as soon as 2025. That’s according to NBC News, which obtained the general’s internal memo after it was distributed late last week (Friday), which happens to have been just a few days before the memo itself was dated (Feb. 1, which is Wednesday of this week), according to Reuters.
Who’s the four-star saying this? Air Force Gen. Mike Minihan of Air Mobility Command. He oversees about “50,000 service members and nearly 500 planes, and is responsible for transport and refueling,” NBC reports. “I hope I am wrong,” he wrote, and cautioned, “My gut tells me [we] will fight in 2025.” His memo instructs AMC commanders “to report all major efforts to prepare for the China fight to Minihan by Feb. 28,” according to NBC.
Why 2025? Because both the U.S. and Taiwan are holding presidential elections the year prior, and that could be an especially distracting time for U.S. officials.
For the record, Minihan’s “comments are not representative of the department’s view on China,” the Pentagon told NBC News. Still, Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said, “The National Defense Strategy makes clear that China is the pacing challenge for the Department of Defense and our focus remains on working alongside allies and partners to preserve a peaceful, free and open Indo-Pacific.”
‘Accelerate drone swarm tech, too.’ Minihan also ordered KC-135 Stratotanker troops to prepare for “delivering 100 off-the-shelf size and type UAVs from a single aircraft,” according to his memo. Continue reading at NBC News, here.
Related: The entire U.S. fleet of B-2 bombers is still grounded, a public affairs representative confirmed to The D Brief on Monday morning. The nuclear-capable heavy bombers were grounded in December after a mishap on the runway at Whiteman Air Force Base; the runway reopened before Christmas, but the planes have not returned to the air. Still, despite the stand down, the president could direct the B-2s to fly if needed, the 509th Bomb Wing said. 

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is traveling to the Pacific region this week, with stops planned for the Philippines and Korea. The visit is Austin’s sixth to the region since taking over as Pentagon chief, and his most recent since November, when he visited Cambodia for a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Atop Austin’s agenda: “interoperability” with allies since there’s been “a sharp uptick in destabilizing Chinese operational behavior,” the Defense Department said in a public release Sunday. “These include a major increase in dangerous air-to-air intercepts, as well as destabilizing [Chinese military] behavior including swarms of maritime militia vessels in contentious areas of the South China Sea,” the Pentagon said. 

  • State Secretary Antony Blinken is planning to visit China in early February. CNN and Politico previewed that trip here and here, respectively. 

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg is also in the region this week. He’s visiting Seoul today for meetings with Foreign Minister Park Jin, Minister of National Defence Lee Jong-Sup, and other senior officials, alliance officials said. Tweeting from Seoul, Stoltenberg said Monday, “We share values and concerns, including keeping pressure on Pyongyang to abandon its reckless missile and nuclear activities, and support for Ukraine.”
Reminder: Japan and South Korea joined G7 (and by extension, all 27 EU) members in sanctioning Russian industries and entities as a result of Moscow’s Ukraine invasion. Singapore, too, joined in those sanctions.
Stoltenberg travels to Tokyo on Tuesday, where he plans to meet with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and deliver an address at Keio University, just south of Tokyo Tower.
Related reading:  

And lastly today: America’s largest military shipbuilding company, HII, has hired Eric Chewning, former chief of staff to Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the Pentagon’s former head of industrial base policy. Chewning will now serve as HII’s executive vice president of strategy and development. Details at HII, here.