Today's D Brief: Russia using 97% of its army for Ukraine, UK says; US support for Ukraine slips slightly; Iran missile program surging since 2018; And a bit more.
Russia is using an estimated 97% of its army for the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, Britain’s military chief Ben Wallace said Wednesday. He also said those Russian soldiers are experiencing “First World War levels of attrition” due to the tough resistance Ukraine’s defenders are putting up—with a great deal of support from partners like the U.K., the United States, and the European Union.
Moscow’s gains so far have “come at a huge cost to the Russian army,” Wallace told the BBC before heading into Wednesday’s defense ministerial at NATO headquarters in Brussels. “We now estimate 97% of the Russian army, the whole Russian army, is in Ukraine,” Wallace said.
Another British expert told the BBC he expects the war to last into at least 2024. “Russia is losing a lot of people and a lot of equipment and there is a real question about how far they can sustain an offensive for a long period,” Malcomb Chalmbers of the Royal United Services Institute told the BBC on Wednesday.
Meanwhile stateside, there’s been a slight erosion in U.S. support for arming Ukraine compared to three months into the Russian invasion. That’s according to a new survey from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. And in a way, that makes a good bit of sense—because the U.S. had not been arming Ukraine’s military before May 2022 at all like it has in the eight months leading up to late January, which is when the survey of more than a thousand people was conducted.
The good news for Kyiv: “Strong bipartisan support continues” among Americans, the survey’s authors write, with 84% of Democrats in favor of the U.S. playing “at least a minor role” in helping Ukraine defend itself compared to 70% of Republicans who feel the same way. Those numbers were 94% for Democrats, and 74% for the GOP back in May. (Just 24% of respondents said they think the U.S. shouldn’t be involved in helping Ukraine at all; that number was 19% in May.)
There’s also been a decline in support for sanctioning Russia even if it damages the U.S. economy; 55% of those polled in March favored that scenario. But that number dropped to 36% in January. Read over the rest of the findings, via AP, here.
By the way: U.S. officials have reportedly told the Ukrainians that U.S. support won’t last forever. That’s according to the Washington Post, reporting Monday.
Don’t look now, but Russia is sending balloons over Ukraine—possibly for reconnaissance, and possibly to exhaust air defense systems, Reuters reported Wednesday in a short writeup from the capital.
Ukraine’s defense minister is still hoping allies will send jets, even though his British counterpart poured cold water on the idea Wednesday in Belgium. Reuters has more from an interview with Oleksii Reznikov, here.
About that British perspective: “I don't think it's going to be in the next few months or even years that we are going to necessarily hand over fighter jets,” Wallace said Wednesday. “We have to plan not only for the fight at the moment, where we help Ukraine through seeing off Russia's illegal invasion, but we have to help Ukraine with its long-term resilience,” he said. And that’s one of the main reasons the U.S.-led Ukraine Contact Group met Tuesday in Brussels.
Iran arms to Ukraine? U.S. officials are considering sending Ukraine captured Iranian weapons that were allegedly shipped to proxies in the Middle East. The Wall Street Journal reported the “unprecedented step” on Tuesday—noting the haul consists of “more than 5,000 assault rifles, 1.6 million rounds of small arms ammunition, a small number of antitank missiles, and more than 7,000 proximity fuses.” The current obstacle appears to be finding a way to ship the weapons without violating a United Nations arms embargo. Story, here.
New: Russia falls in annual military power report. The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies just released its latest annual report on the world’s militaries known as the “Military Balance.” Moscow’s Ukraine invasion has led to “Significant losses to Russian military power, including some of its most modern equipment, particularly in its armored fighting vehicles,” the report’s authors write.
Other notable trends include an ongoing “transition of East European land inventories away from Soviet-era equipment,” and South Korea emerging as a “major defense supplier in Europe” after recent deals with Poland. And China’s latest “increase in military spending is its largest ever in absolute terms,” with Beijing’s modernisation prompting a regional arms race.
Big picture trends: “Soaring inflation saw global spending contract by 2.1% in real terms in 2022, the second consecutive year of real decline,” according to IISS. Relatedly, “European defense spending increased in real terms for the eighth consecutive year,” however, “the rate of growth has slowed markedly from 3.5% in 2021 to 0.8% in 2022, again because of inflation effects.” More where that came from over here.
- “Russia claims minor Ukraine progress, Kyiv readies offensive,” AP reported Wednesday from Kyiv;
- “EU debates 11 bln euro worth of trade curbs in new Russia sanctions,” Reuters reported Wednesday from Brussels;
- “EU port authorities detain three tankers linked to Russian oil trades,” Lloyd’s List maritime shipping news reported Wednesday;
- “Booming Oil Exports Boost U.S. Role as Global Price Maker,” the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday;
From Defense One
Gaming, Dating, Even Yacht-Buying Apps Endanger DOD Networks: Report // Edward Graham: Defense Department personnel are loading all sorts of unsanctioned apps onto their work phones, which “could pose operational and cybersecurity risks,” inspector general finds.
We Missed Social Media’s Dark Side. Let’s Be Smarter about the Metaverse // Price Floyd: Think hard about the national-security implications of immersive virtual worlds.
Marines Issue Warning on Amphib Fleet // Caitlin M. Kenney: The assistant commandant says 31 large amphibious warfare ships are needed to avoid risk.
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 2013, a nearly 60-foot long meteor entered the Earth’s atmosphere over southern Russia and burst in the air, causing a powerful blast wave that shook buildings and broke glass, contributing to the injuries of almost 1,500 people.
NORAD says it intercepted four Russian aircraft entering and operating within the Alaska Air Defense Identification Zone on Monday. The “Russian aircraft remained in international airspace and did not enter American or Canadian sovereign airspace,” NORAD said in a statement Tuesday, and emphasized its monitoring personnel “anticipated this Russian activity and, as a result of our planning, [were] prepared to intercept it.”
Involved: TU-95 BEAR-H bombers and SU-35 fighter aircraft. The U.S. sent two F-16s, two F-35As, one E-3 Sentry, and two KC-135 Stratotankers for the intercept mission.
Background: “Since Russia resumed out of area Long Range Aviation activity in 2007, NORAD has seen a yearly average of approximately six to seven intercepts of Russian military aircraft in the ADIZ,” said U.S. officials from NORAD. “These numbers have varied each year from as high as 15 to as low as zero,” they added.
And in case you were wondering, NORAD said it’s confident the Russian flights were unrelated to the three objects shot down over the edges of U.S. and Canadian territory over the weekend.
Eyes on the sky: The U.S. had been tracking that alleged Chinese spy balloon for almost a week before it crossed into American airspace, the Washington Post reported Tuesday. The balloon first lifted off from China’s Hainan Island and looked like it was headed to Guam before it turned and floated over Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, according to U.S. officials. Read more on the balloon’s meandering path to Montana and later to South Carolina, here.
- “Philippines, U.S. to hold biggest war games in years,” Reuters reported Wednesday from Manila;
- “Amid Tensions With U.S., China’s Top Diplomat Travels to a Wary Europe,” the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday;
- “The Pentagon Isn’t Ready for Spy Balloons of the Future,” former NATO commander U.S. Navy Adm. James Stavridis writes Wednesday in Bloomberg opinion.
The U.S. military in Syria says it shot down an alleged Iranian-made drone while it was attempting to surveil a coalition base known as Mission Support Site Conoco, in the northeastern part of the country, on Tuesday.
View two images of the small aircraft, shared on Twitter by U.S. officials at the Tampa-based Central Command, here.
Since the Trump administration left the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Tehran has vastly accelerated its ballistic missile program, according to a new report from Behnam Ben Taleblu of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Fine print: That nuclear deal did not address ballistic missiles, which Iran has launched or tested more than 220 times since signing the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA as it’s known, in July of that year. Indeed, Taleblu writes, “Between the JCPOA’s finalization in 2015 and May 2018, when the Trump administration left the accord, Iran tested at least 27 ballistic missiles.” And the remaining nearly 200 launches or tests occurred after Trump withdrew from the accord.
Where to go from here? Taleblu recommends a “Moratorium on Missile Upgrades”; a “Moratorium on Flight Tests and Engine/Motor Tests”; resurrecting a UN arms ban on Iran, which lapsed in 2020; he also says the White House should write an executive order sanctioning individuals involved in Iran’s missile program. Read over those and several other suggestions in FDD’s full report, here.
And lastly: Two nuclear policy officials from the Pentagon—Drew Walter and Richard Johnson—will be discussing the latest Nuclear Posture Review at about 1:15 p.m. ET in northern Virginia. They’ll be attending the 15th annual Nuclear Deterrence Summit, which is held at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington. Details and registration, here.