Today's D Brief: US adds 4 military sites in Philippines; New US arms to Ukraine?; Poverty floods Afghanistan; French seize weapons bound for Yemen; And a bit more.
Longer-range American weapons could soon be headed to Ukraine after a White House announcement expected Friday. That includes a new munition made jointly by Boeing and Swedish firm Saab and called the Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb, according to Reuters. The GLSDB has a range of 94 miles and can be launched from mobile artillery systems like HIMARS.
But the U.S. still isn’t interested in sending even longer range Army Tactical Missile System rockets, known as ATACMS—despite a growing number of recent public statements from Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi. “We need to give Ukraine ATACMS, long range missiles and advanced drones like the Grey Eagle and Reaper,” he said Sunday. “We should deliver these assets quickly to make an immediate difference on the battlefield,” he added, and emphasized, “In concert with our allies, this approach of ‘more, better, faster’ would give the Ukrainians a real shot at victory.”
New: U.S. drone maker General Atomics wants to sell Ukraine two Reaper MQ-9 drones for a dollar, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday—followed up by a public statement from GA’s CEO Linden Blue, as Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber flagged on Twitter. “Also worth noting that General Atomics is a private company that doesn't have to answer to shareholders and worry about its stock price.”
The drones typically sell for a couple million dollars each, but the sale would still have to be approved by the White House, according to the Journal. More, here.
A former Belgian military engineer has amassed a huge warehouse of Leopard 1 German-made tanks, and he’s trying to sell those as part of the wider European effort to arm Ukraine. The problem is he’s asking way too much money for the old Cold War-era armored vehicles, which were last upgraded in the late 1990s. Reuters has that incredible story, here.
- “U.S. curbs exports to Iranian firms for producing drones for Russia,” Reuters reported Tuesday;
- “US Army goes virtual to help Ukraine maintain weapons,” Defense News reported Tuesday;
- And don’t miss “How Russians Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the War,” via Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writing Wednesday in Foreign Affairs.
From Defense One
DOD to Favor Small-Business Contracts Over 'Best-in-Class' Awards // By Chris Riotta: Contracting officers will prioritize goals for small- and disadvantaged-business contracting over BIC objectives "if achievement of both goals is not possible."
Ukraine Proves U.S. Troops Need Quick Access to Commercial Technology // By Mike Bloomberg: Ukraine has held off Russia's attacks using a readily available mix of military and commercial technology. The United States is taking note.
We Don't Have the Missiles to Stop China. Time For Drone Swarms // Bryan Clark: Despite all the calls to boost production, the U.S. military will be short of key missiles for at least two years. It needs ways to win with what it has now.
New Institute Will Study How the Defense Department Manages Itself // Patrick Tucker: To “compete on a global stage,” DOD must get a handle on its management practices, Deputy Defense Secretary says.
Want More Innovation? Get Out of Your Office and Talk to People // Peter A. Newell: Advice from a former leader of the U.S. Army’s Rapid Equipping Force.
Welcome to this Thursday 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 day in 1954, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower informed Congress that the U.S. had developed a hydrogen bomb, and tested it more than a year prior—in November 1952. White House officials brought a video showing the detonation to Capitol Hill, where senators watched it during one of two viewings that day, and House lawmakers viewed it in separate showings the following day. America’s hydrogen advantage over the nuclear-armed Soviets would last only a year and about nine and a half months before Moscow successfully tested its own h-bomb.
Poverty and opium are taking over once again in Afghanistan. That’s according to the latest quarterly report to U.S. lawmakers from America’s watchdog for reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. This new report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction—the 58th of its kind for a war that ended abruptly about 18 months ago—was just published Thursday. Some of the findings include (emphasis added):
- An baseline estimate of “at least 22 anti-Taliban groups claim to operate in Afghanistan, though none have taken control of significant territory.”
- A “small number” of former Afghan national army and police “may have gone to fight on both sides of the Russia-Ukraine war.”
- “Afghanistan continues to face the highest levels of hunger in the world,” while an estimated two-thirds of the Afghan population, or 28.3 million people, are expected to “need life-saving humanitarian and protection assistance this year, up from 24.4 million in 2022 and 18.4 million at the beginning of 2021,” according to the United Nations.
- “97% of Afghans now live below the poverty line” after “Afghanistan’s real gross domestic product fell by an accumulated 30–35% between 2021 and 2022,” according to the World Bank.
- “Nearly all Afghan women above grade six are now barred from formal education,” including “girls who had reached puberty from primary schools,” and women can no longer study agriculture, civil engineering, journalism, and other university-level subjects the Taliban deemed “too difficult” for women.
- SIGAR reminds us that “Afghanistan is the only country in the world where women and girls are not allowed to attend secondary schools and universities,” and “No Muslim country or Islamic organization has expressed support for the Taliban’s ban.”
- “Opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan tripled to $1.4 billion (32% increase) between 2021 to 2022, despite the Taliban’s April 3, 2022, ban.” Relatedly, “Afghanistan continues to provide 80% of the global [opium] supply through various cross-national networks.” Read more from the full report, here.
- “U.S. arms left in Afghanistan are turning up in a different conflict” in Indian-controlled Kashmir, NBC News reported Monday from the Kashmir region;
- “The Taliban requires all mannequins' heads be covered or cut off. Eerie storefront photos offer a glimpse of Afghanistan's new reality,” Business Insider reported Monday;
- “Afghanistan intelligence official brags about ordering attacks that killed hundreds of civilians,” Fox reported Wednesday from Afghanistan’s Tolo News;
- And take a look at “What’s behind the Pakistani Taliban’s insurgency?” via an Associated Press explainer published this week as well.
Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin just departed the Philippines after having secured four new sites to host U.S. troops for partner training and regional disaster response. The new sites, which will be built up and developed more in the coming months, bring the number of U.S. bases in the Philippines to nine.
“The US hasn't said where the new bases are, but three of them could be on Luzon, an island on the northern edge of the Philippines, the only large piece of land close to Taiwan—if you don't count China,” the BBC reports.
Developing the new locations and turning them into military bases “will make our alliance stronger and more resilient, and will accelerate modernization of our combined military capabilities,” the Defense Department said in a statement Wednesday. Already, the “United States has allocated over $82 million toward infrastructure investments at the existing five sites under the EDCA, and is proud that these investments are supporting economic growth and job creation in local Philippine communities,” the Pentagon added.
“It is not about permanent basing, but it is a big deal. It’s a really big deal,” said Austin in a press conference Wednesday.
North Korea cited Austin’s own words in a typically fiery retort to the defense secretary’s announcement this week of increased U.S.-South Korean military drills in 2023. Pyongyang’s foreign ministry said the drills and stepped up U.S.-RoK collaboration has pushed dynamics on the peninsula to an “extreme red line,” making the area a “more critical war zone.”
The North “will take the toughest reaction to any military attempt of the U.S. on the principle of 'nuke for nuke and an all-out confrontation for an all-out confrontation!'” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement Wednesday. Meanwhile, Pyongyang “is not interested in any contact or dialogue with the U.S. as long as it pursues its hostile policy and confrontational line,” state-run KCNA reported, according to Josh Smith of Reuters.
From the region:
- “Democratic senator urges Apple, Google to kick TikTok out of app stores,” Reuters reported Thursday from Capitol Hill;
- “Leaders of Self-Driving-Truck Firm [TuSimple] Face Espionage Concerns Over China Ties,” the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.
This afternoon, President Biden has planned to have lunch with Jordanian King Abdullah II and Amman’s Crown Prince Hussein. According to the White House, “They will reaffirm the close, enduring nature of the friendship between the United States and Jordan, and the President will thank His Majesty for his close partnership and the role he and Jordan play as a force for stability in the Middle East.”
French special forces intercepted a boat full of alleged Iranian-supplied weapons bound for Yemen about two weeks ago in the Gulf of Oman, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. U.S. officials at Central Command said “more than 3,000 assault rifles, 578,000 rounds of ammunition, and 23 advanced anti-tank guided missiles were recovered” in the operation, which was coordinated with the U.S. Navy.
“The seizure is one of four significant illicit cargo interdictions over the past two months that have prevented more than 5,000 weapons and 1.6 million rounds of ammunition from reaching Yemen,” CENTCOM said in its statement. Read more, here; or view supporting imagery, here.
Also: Yemeni forces seized “100 unmanned aerial vehicle engines bound for Houthi militants,” according to a separate statement from CENTCOM Wednesday. The seizure reportedly occurred about a week ago, on 23 January, when a truck ostensibly carrying clothing encountered a crossing point in Yemen’s eastern al-Mahra province.
Lastly: Take a deep dive into the U.S. Navy’s marine mammal program, and what scientists have learned from dolphins over the life of that program, via the New York Times’ Emily Anthes. The program, which involves training bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions to find underwater mines, “recover submerged objects and intercept rogue swimmers,” is more than 60 years old but is likely to be phased out in the “coming decades,” writes Anthes.
Of note: “Older dolphins age a lot like older people,” according to a veterinary epidemiologist who worked for the program, and some of the research that’s being done now—including on dolphins who have brain lesions similar to humans with Alzheimer’s—could help other animals as well as people.