Today's D Brief: More tanks for Ukraine; Zelenskky in the UK; China opens ICBM launcher gap with US; GOP vs. POTUS; And a bit more.
Ukraine’s president is visiting the United Kingdom on Wednesday in just his second trip outside war-torn Ukraine since the Russian military invaded 350 days ago. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tweeted a video of President Volodymir Zelenskyy stepping off his ride to meet the PM for a hug on the tarmac before heading over to 10 Downing Street for a closed-door chat.
The Brits are second behind the U.S. in terms of total military aid pledged to Ukraine since the Russians invaded, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. Zelenskyy repeated his request for fighter jets in remarks to British lawmakers Wednesday. You can watch the full 40-plus minute address, here.
New: The British military just announced it will expand its pilot training program to include Ukrainian troops. Reuters called it “a notable shift in support that could pave the way for other countries to send planes.”
Also new: Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands teamed up to send more than 100 refurbished Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine in the coming weeks and months. The gear will be pulled from current “industrial stocks,” according to Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren, who announced the moves Tuesday on Twitter. Berlin released a statement formalizing the decision, since Germany is the original manufacturer of those tanks.
Meanwhile across the pond, “Ukraine” garnered four mentions in President Joe Biden’s Tuesday evening State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress. “Inflation has been a global problem because the pandemic disrupted our supply chains and [Russian leader Vladimir] Putin’s unfair and brutal war in Ukraine disrupted energy supplies as well as food supplies, blocking all that grain in Ukraine,” Biden said.
“Putin’s invasion has been a test for the ages. A test for America. A test for the world,” the president said, calling it “A murderous assault, evoking images of death and destruction Europe suffered in World War II.” Zelenskyy tweeted his own thanks to Biden afterward, and said he’s thankful for the “solidarity of the entire [American] people. Our values are the same,” he said.
Today in Washington (technically in Virginia): NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is dropping by the Pentagon for a meeting with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. That’s expected sometime around 1:30 p.m. ET.
Developing: More than 1,400 personnel from NATO member nations and partners are either headed to Turkey to help with earthquake recovery efforts, or they’re already there, NATO said Tuesday. That includes workers from Sweden and Finland, nations Turkey has refused to let enter the NATO alliance because President Recep Erdogan insists the Nordic nations are supporting a Kurdish rebellion.
- “How to Forge Shells for Ukraine’s Artillery,” via the New York Times, reporting Tuesday from a munitions plant in northeastern Pennsylvania;
- “UN chief fears world is heading toward a wider war,” the Associated Press reported Monday from UN headquarters in New York City;
- “Russian army officer says he saw Ukrainian POWs tortured,” ABC News reported late last week;
- And “Dutch probe implicates Putin in 2014 downing of Malaysia passenger jet,” the Washington Post reported Wednesday.
From Defense One
CENTCOM Exercise Aims To Speed Up the Pace of War // Patrick Tucker: Using AI to handle boring administrative tasks helps enable faster targeting.
China Just Exposed the GOP’s Real Target: Biden // Kevin Baron: Less than a month into the new Congress, hopes for the return of adults-in-the-room Republicans atop national-security committees have popped like a balloon.
What Tanks in Ukraine Tell Us About America in the Pacific // John R. Deni: U.S. hopes that Europe can take care of itself appear to be farfetched.
Italy and Japan Are Deepening Military-Industrial Ties. The US Should Help // Dario Cristiani: Yes, even though they’re working on Europe’s new fighter jet.
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 this newsletter, you can do that here. On this day in 1942, the Japanese invaded Singapore, leading the large British military contingent there to surrender.
Armageddon alert: A nuclear missile “launcher gap”—not a missile gap—is opening between the U.S. and China, U.S. military officials said recently in an unclassified letter to lawmakers (PDF) that was made public on Tuesday.
The good news: “The number of intercontinental ballistic missiles in the active inventory of China has not exceeded the number of ICBM in the active inventory of the United States,” said Air Force Gen. Gen. Anthony Cotton, who commands America’s nuclear forces at the Nebraska-based Strategic Command.
The comparatively bad news: “The number of land-based fixed and mobile ICBM launchers in China exceeds the number of ICBM launchers in the United States,” Cotton wrote in the letter, which is dated 26 January.
Critical context: The “vast majority of PRC launchers in this total are currently empty (i.e., with no missiles and available warheads),” said nuclear scholar Ankit Panda of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writing Tuesday on Twitter. “STRATCOM was required to make this determination pursuant to a congressional reporting requirement; it's otherwise not a moment of inherent strategic significance,” he said.
Granted, “China will fill out these empty launchers in due time as its ongoing quantitative expansion continues,” Panda added. But, he cautioned, “Even when that does occur, China will be quantitatively inferior to the totality of the US nuclear force. An ICBM-on-ICBM force comparison obscures more than it reveals,” he said. Read much more on the subject from Panda’s recent work published just last month, here.
Republican lawmakers seized on the report to justify new investments in America’s nuclear weapons programs, and just in time for annual military posture hearings and budget debates this spring. “This should serve as a wake-up call for the United States,” insisted Reps. Mike Rogers of Alabama and Doug Lamborn of Colorado; Sens. Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Deb Fischer from Nebraska also signed the statement released Tuesday. “It is not an understatement to say that the Chinese nuclear modernization program is advancing faster than most believed possible,” they continued. “We have no time to waste in adjusting our nuclear force posture to deter both Russia and China. This will have to mean higher numbers and new capabilities.”
Chinese surveillance balloon latest: U.S. officials briefed allies and partners from 40 different countries about the known-knowns of that alleged spy balloon on Monday and Tuesday, according to the Washington Post. The intel-sharing brief involved nearly 150 diplomats from the more than three dozen nations, which were all told the balloon was a military asset and not a weather monitoring station, as Beijing’s foreign ministry said on Friday.
China’s balloon surveillance program is believed to be based out of its southern Hainan province; and the balloons have gathered intelligence over or near Japan, India, Vietnam, Taiwan, and the Philippines, U.S. officials told the Post separately on Tuesday.
Also: The Pentagon says China’s military chief refused to take a secure call from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin shortly after the U.S. shot down that Chinese surveillance balloon off the South Carolina coast on Saturday. “We believe in the importance of maintaining open lines of communication between the United States and the [People’s Republic of China] in order to responsibly manage the relationship,” Pentagon spokesman Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement Tuesday.
“Lines between our militaries are particularly important in moments like this,” he said. “Unfortunately, the PRC has declined our request. Our commitment to open lines of communication will continue.”
Today on Capitol Hill: The House Oversight Committee is probing alleged bias on social media in a hearing that began at 10 a.m. It’s just “part one” of a GOP-led effort to uncover what they allege is “Twitter's Role in Suppressing the [Hunter] Biden Laptop Story,” which was a talking point Republicans hoped would sink Joe Biden’s candidacy late in the 2020 race.
Three former Twitter employees, including two from the firm’s legal department, are fielding questions from the House lawmakers, including the majority conservative wing pushing what The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer called a “right to post” whatever Republicans want to say on social media, regardless of its accuracy. For these lawmakers, “You have a right to free speech as long as you are saying what conservatives want you to say,” Serwer explained just two months ago.
House lawmakers tasked with military oversight are looking into the “State of the Defense Industrial Base” this morning too. That hearing before the House Armed Services Committee began at 11 a.m., and features Eric Fanning of the Aerospace Industries Association; David Norquist of the National Defense Industrial Association; and Matthew Paxton, president of the Shipbuilders Council of America. Catch that one live, here.
And this afternoon, U.S. special operations forces’ role in “great power competition” will be the focus of a HASC subcommittee hearing that begins at 3 p.m. Seth Jones of the Center for Strategic and International Studies is slated to speak for that one, as is retired Army Lt. Gen. Charles Cleveland, the former chief of Army Special Operations Command. National Defense University Professor David Ucko is also expected to attend. Details and livestream, here.
Lastly: America's top military officer in the Middle East dropped by Baghdad on Tuesday and Wednesday. The visit to Iraq's capital came as part of Army Gen. Michael Kurilla's multi-country trip to the region this week, U.S. officials at the Tampa-based Central Command said Wednesday. Kurilla met with Prime Minister al-Sudani and the commander of Joint Operations Command for Iraq, Lt. Gen. Qais Al-Muhammadawi Al-Abbasi. Kurilla also met with the top officials still running the ongoing war against ISIS terrorists.
“Territorially, ISIS is defeated and incapable of holding large swaths of land,” Kurilla said in a statement. "However, ISIS remains a threat and its vile ideology remains uncontained and unconstrained. ISIS continues to represent a threat to not only Iraq and Syria, but to the stability and security of the region. Therefore, we must continue the fight against ISIS alongside our partners.”
In case you missed it: Russia is believed to have about $10 billion invested in Iraq, mostly in oil projects. But Iraqi officials want to stay on good financial terms with Moscow, despite sanctions for its Ukraine invasion. So Baghdad is sending its top diplomat to Washington this week to iron that out, and hopefully “protect Iraqi banks and central banks from sanctions,” as Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein said Monday when his Russian counterpart visited the capital. Tiny bit more from Reuters, here.
From the region:
- “Iraq Revalues Currency Weeks After Replacing Central Bank’s Head,” Bloomberg reported Tuesday; al-Monitor has more that’s not behind a paywall, here;
- “Iraqi oil flows resume to Turkey, Azeri exports still stopped,” Reuters reported Tuesday in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that hit the region on Monday;
- And “Archaeologists find 5,000-year-old tavern, including food remains, in Iraq,” CNN reported last week.