Today's D Brief: Oversight CODEL visits Poland, Romania; China sanctions Lockheed, Raytheon; Fentanyl deaths rising in DOD; And a bit more.

Ukraine oversight in progress: A bipartisan group of lawmakers recently traveled to Romania and Poland where they say they now have “a clear understanding of the various safeguards the U.S. government, in partnership with the Ukrainians and other nations, have put in place to ensure each article is accounted for and tracked to the frontline of the war.” 

Reminder: The U.S. has so far “committed $30 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden administration,” the Defense Department said in its latest drawdown of weapons for Ukraine nearly two weeks ago. 

The congressional delegation included House Armed Services Committee Chairman GOP Rep. Mike Rogers from Alabama, as well as California Democrat John Garamendi, New Jersey Democrat Donald Norcross, and Republicans Lisa McClain of Michigan, Georgia’s Andrew Clyde, New York’s Nicole Malliotakis, and Missouri’s Mark Alford.

The group visited the International Donation Collection Center, based in Poland; and they met with troops from the Department of Defense’s Security Assistance Group Ukraine. “We left that briefing confident in our ability to track U.S. equipment from the moment it leaves our possession and makes it into the hands of Ukrainian warfighters,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement Wednesday. “Our job of oversight is not done and we will continue to monitor U.S. equipment flowing into Ukraine,” they added.  

Another bipartisan group of lawmakers want to designate the Russian-based Wagner Group as a foreign terrorist organization. The delegation includes Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.; Ben Cardin, D-Md.; Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.; Thom Tillis, R-N.C.; Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. Together they’ve reintroduced legislation to increase the pressure on the mercenary group that plucked Russians from prisons and sent them to Ukraine to help Moscow’s decimated battle groups and infantry.

The White House recently designated Wagner as a Transnational Criminal Organization; but these lawmakers want to go farther. “The Wagner Group has been an accomplice in Putin’s barbaric invasion since the beginning,” said Sen. Whitehouse. “We know Wagner has committed mass atrocities in Ukraine and around the world, including launching campaigns of terror in West Africa and beyond,” Shaheed said. “Officially designating the Wager Group as a foreign terrorist organization will ramp up sanctions against its members and increase the tools available to hold them accountable,” Blumenthal said in his own statement. Read more, here

Battlefield latest: Russia launched 36 (mostly cruise) missiles at Ukrainian targets on Thursday, according to Ukraine’s military; and just 16 of those were shot down, which Reuters notes is “a lower rate than normal.” 

Happening Friday: The annual Munich Security Conference kicks off with a review of the latest Munich Security Report, which was released this week. The topline read: “The world’s liberal democracies are awakening to the challenges posed by autocratic revisionists, and have taken the first important steps to pushing back. But for liberal-democratic principles to prevail over the autocratic variants, democracies must revamp their vision of a desirable international order,” the report’s authors write.

One big warning: Ukraine’s Western allies are not representative of the entire globe. “The mere fact that many governments from Africa, Latin America, and Asia have not been willing to speak up against Russia’s aggression shows that powerful autocrats are not alone in their deep dissatisfaction with existing international norms and institutions—and that simply defending the status quo is not enough to effectively push back against autocratic revisionists,” according to the report. 

Additionally concerning: “China is spearheading a group of autocratic states intent on promoting their techno-authoritarian vision, while the transatlantic partners are only gradually converging on a shared vision of an open digital infrastructure,” the authors warn. 

There’s also a “new energy order” to take into account, and it “increasingly reflects geopolitical considerations rather than market logic.” This will require states “wean themselves off Russian oil and gas,” and try not to “simultaneously further increase their dependence on other autocracies, including China (for critical raw materials) and Qatar (for gas).” Read the rest, here

Additional reading: 

From Defense One

‘We Didn’t Have the Ships’ to Send ‘Best Option’ to Help Earthquake Victims, Commandant Says // Caitlin M. Kenney: Incident comes a year after maintenance problems delayed the 22nd MEU’s deployment to Europe.

The Risks of De-escalation // Bilal Y. Saab: At the wrong time and place, it can do more harm than good—as its Mideast track record shows.

Navy ‘Setting the Pace’ Among Services, Principal Cyber Advisor Says // Lauren C. Williams: Chris Cleary touts prototype tools and readies a new cyber plan.

Can a New Information-Security Approach Save the Navy $1B a Year? // Lauren C. Williams: The CIO touts his Cyber Ready plan for continuous vulnerability monitoring.

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 1960, the U.S. Navy’s submarine USS Triton began the world’s first submerged circumnavigation of the globe, which concluded almost exactly two months later. 

China just sanctioned two of America’s largest defense contractors, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, for the firms’ recent arms sales to Taiwan. “China also banned senior company executives from entering China or obtaining a work permit,” the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
If this sounds familiar, Beijing did much the same last February, Reuters reported at the time—and noted then that “On at least two previous occasions, China has announced sanctions against Lockheed and Raytheon, in 2019 and 2020, though Beijing has not explained what those sanctions entailed or how they were enforced.” Still, according to the Journal, these new “sanctions are expected to have a limited impact since American defense companies are broadly barred from making military sales to China.”
For what it’s worth, China doesn’t yet seem to have sanctioned Northrop Grumman or Boeing, both of whom have had arms-related contracts with Taiwan approved by the U.S. State Department going back to at least September. Read more, here.
Related reading: 

America’s Marines and sailors appear to be dying of drug overdoses at a higher rate than the Army and Air Force. That’s one concerning takeaway from the results of a recently-released congressional inquiry probing fentanyl-related deaths for each service over a four-year period spanning 2017 to 2021. Democratic Sen. Ed Markey from Massachusetts shared the data this week, and stressed, “Our military is not immune to the opioid epidemic.”
Among the findings: 322 active duty troops fatally overdosed from some drug use during that four-year window; 174 of those, or just over half, involved fentanyl. Broken down by service branch, the Army registered a modest decline in overdose deaths in the time—from 6.5 per 100,000 troops in 2017, to 6.1 in 2021. The Air Force had a modest rise from 2.5 per 100,000 to 2.9 in 2021. But the Marines and Navy registered the largest increases, rising from 2.6 per 100,000 in 2017 to 5.2; and the Navy rose from 3.2 to 5.7 in that same time. Read over the data for yourself (PDF), here

Lastly: The U.S. military has been a bit occupied lately fighting militants in Somalia, including two “collective self-defense” airstrikes against suspected al-Shabaab terrorists in two different locations, each about 250 miles north of the capital city of Mogadishu. The first of those two occurred last Friday and is believed to have killed about a dozen fighters approximately 45 km southwest of the town of Hobyo.
The second strike happened Wednesday and killed five suspected militants in a skirmish near the town of Bacadweyne, according to officials from U.S. Africa Command. “U.S. Africa Command and partner forces will continue to assess the results of this operation and will provide additional information as appropriate,” the officials said in a statement Thursday. “Specific details about the units involved and assets used will not be released in order to ensure operations security,” they added.
Somali officials say more than 200 Shabaab fighters have been killed in the past week. Those operations spanned at least three states—Galmudug, South West State, and Jubaland, Information Minister Daud Aweis said Wednesday.
And in a seemingly strange request, Aweis also asked Somalis to contribute one dollar each to help their country’s military as part of a “national defense and liberation program,” according to Turkey’s Anadolu Agency news. More here.