Today's D Brief: 200K Russian casualties in Ukraine; HIMARS to Europe; Phishing campaigns target NATO; USAF grounds KC-135s; And a bit more.

American and British officials say Russia has likely suffered as many as 200,000 casualties from its ongoing invasion of Ukraine. “This likely includes approximately 40-60,000 killed,” the British military said Friday. Perhaps most notably, “The Russian casualty rate has significantly increased since September 2022 when ‘partial mobilization’ was imposed,” the Brits say, and note, “This is almost certainly due to extremely rudimentary medical provision across much of the force.” The U.S. remarks came from Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, according to CNN reporting Thursday. 

Wagner convict-recruits and mercenaries allege heavy losses, too, with one of the members posting a video to social media Friday begging for ammunition—as hundreds of corpses of his supposed fellow mercenaries and convicts lie on the floor in the camera’s view. 

From the intelligence front, Russia has reportedly tried to send spies expelled from some European countries back to different European countries; but the ruse hasn’t worked, according to the Washington Post.

One Russian spy captured in Germany was tasked with sharing positions of HIMARS long-range artillery systems in Ukraine, according to Der Spiegel, reporting Friday. He’s believed to have been paid well, possibly in the six-figure range since that’s about how much cash was recovered from his person upon his arrest. 

The U.S. just approved the sale of 20 HIMARS long-range artillery systems to the Netherlands at a cost of about $670 million. News of the likely sale comes 10 days after the U.S. announced it will sell Poland 18 HIMARS and a slew of missiles, including the long-range ATACMs, at a cost of about $10 billion. Lawmakers could attempt to block the sales, but that’s not likely. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency has more on the probable Dutch sale, here. Details on the Polish deal can be found here

President Joe Biden plans to visit Poland next week, with meetings and events planned Tuesday in Warsaw. According to the White House, Biden plans to “deliver remarks ahead of the one year anniversary of Russia’s brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, addressing how the United States has rallied the world to support the people of Ukraine as they defend their freedom and democracy, and how we will continue to stand with the people of Ukraine for as long as it takes.” 

In a notable shift, “Russian forces have changed their tactics and are launching cruise missiles at night, instead of in the middle of day, in order to take Ukrainian air defense forces by surprise,” analysts at the Institute for the Study of War wrote in their latest assessment Thursday evening. That could help account for why Ukraine was seemingly less successful with missile intercepts Thursday, as we noted in yesterday’s newsletter. 

On the cyber front, Google says Russian phishing campaigns aimed at NATO members rose by more than 300% since the invasion began; Russia also increased its phishing campaigns targeting Ukrainians by 250% compared to the year before the invasion. The campaign seemed to feature “a strong focus on critical infrastructure, utilities and public services, and the media and information space,” Google said in a new report released Thursday. But despite that blitz, the effort seems to have achieved only “mixed results” so far. 

Russian cyber campaigns have three main goals, according to Google’s Threat Analysis Group: “Undermine the Ukrainian government”; “Fracture international support for Ukraine”; and “Maintain domestic support in Russia for the war.” According to TAG, “It is clear cyber will continue to play an integral role in future armed conflict, supplementing traditional forms of warfare.” Read the report in full, here

Additional reading: 

From Defense One

Defense One Radio, Ep. 117: Spies in the balloon? // By Ben Watson and Patrick Tucker: We review the latest ups and downs in the U.S.-China relationship, which has been shaken by allegations of spying via aerostat.

Fix Navy Infrastructure’s ‘Worst Problems’ First, Secretary Says // Caitlin M. Kenney: Carlos Del Toro orders up a 30-year roadmap for modernization.

Biden Says Objects Shot Down Over Weekend Likely Not Chinese Spy Craft // Patrick Tucker: White House wants to lead dialogue on “global norms” for unmanned flying objects.

Americans are Disturbingly ‘Ill-Informed and Naive’ on China, Navy’s Intel Chief Says  // Lauren C. Williams: Recent balloon incident brought some attention to the possible threat, but not enough, says Rear Adm. Michael Studeman.

Send Me Software, Not Hardware, Navy Infowar Leader Says // Lauren C. Williams: “Boxes of computers” aren’t so helpful aboard space-limited ships, Rear Adm. Doug Small said.

How the West May Have Helped Build China’s Spy Balloons // Peter W. Singer and Thomas Corbett: Beijing has long pursued aerostat technology, even enlisting French and American firms to help.

US Woos Other Nations for Military-AI Ethics Pact // Patrick Tucker: State Department and Pentagon officials hope to illuminate a contrast between the United States and China on AI.

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad and Caitlin Kenney. If you’re not already subscribed to this newsletter, you can do that here. On this day in 2011, Arab Spring protests swept across Libya in a “day of rage” inspired by the recent revolutions that toppled regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. 

The Pentagon’s new leave policy to cover travel for abortions will begin next month, officials announced Thursday. The changes involve paid travel expenses for service members who need to travel out of state to obtain an abortion, in case the procedure is illegal in the state where the personnel in question is stationed. This includes accompanying a dependent or a spouse, and also covers travel for fertility treatments. Troops also have “up to 20 weeks of pregnancy to notify their commanders of their pregnancy status,” the Pentagon said Thursday. Details here.
Alabama Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, election denier and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement Thursday that “the Biden administration chose to make the Department of Defense an abortion travel agency over a lethal fighting force. As I have repeatedly told the political leaders of this administration, taking this action jeopardizes congressional authorizations for our warfighters,” though he did not explain his position. “I am extremely disappointed the Biden administration chose once again to use our military to placate the radical left,” said the lawmaker who refused to certify the 2020 election without any supporting evidence.
His southern GOP colleague, Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee and a statesman who bucked Rogers and the far-right election deniers two years ago, said in his own statement Thursday that he’s “deeply troubled by the announcement that the Biden administration is considering the use of taxpayer dollars to assist in the performance of abortions. The Pentagon should be singularly focused on improving readiness and lethality, and there is no compelling argument or data that shows aiding abortions helps us complete that mission,” he said.  “Heavy-handed, far-left social policy has no place at the Department of Defense,” said Wicker, who vowed “to work with my colleagues to demand answers and accountability on this disastrous decision.”

The Navy just officially allowed unvaxxed deployments. U.S. Navy commanders can no longer use a sailor’s COVID-19 vaccination status to determine suitability for a deployment or operations, according to an administrative message posted Wednesday.
Background: Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro expressed his concern back in December that rescinding the Pentagon’s COVID-19 mandate would “create almost two classes of citizens in our services: those that can’t deploy and those that can deploy,” he said at the time. That mandate was indeed rescinded as a Democratic compromise with Republicans in order to pass the most recent annual defense policy bill.
However: When it comes to liberty, or “shore leave,” sailors could still face restrictions if the host nation has COVID-19 testing, quarantine, or vaccination requirements, Defense One’s Caitlin Kenney reports. It’s unclear how likely that could be since commanders are asked to provide limited information about the health status of its crew to the host country due to a sovereign immunity policy.

The U.S. Air Force grounded its KC-135 fleet, as well as RC-135s, as it inspects the planes for a problem that’s already been found in two dozen aircraft. The Air Force announced the grounding Feb. 15, and said that 90 planes had already been inspected and 66 were found to not have the faulty part.
"We're taking this action out of an abundance of caution, after consulting with our engineering experts," Col. Michael Kovalchek, Senior Materiel Leader with the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center's Legacy Tanker Division, said in the release.  
The problem concerns some of the planes’ tail pins, which Air Force Times reported could cause the aircraft’s tail to fall off during flight if they fail. The inspection required only lasts 30 minutes, officials said. 

RIP, two Tennessee National Guard pilots who perished Wednesday afternoon in a helicopter accident in Alabama. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Daniel Wadham, and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Danny Randolph were both killed when their UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter crashed during a training flight near Huntsville. Wadham was 39, and had been in the Army for 15 years. He leaves behind a wife and two children, ages 13 and 6, according to The Tennessean. Chief Randolph was a 13-year veteran of the Army, and was 40 years old when he died; he’s survived by his wife and daughter, The Tennessean reported separately on Thursday. 

Have a safe (extended) weekend, everyone. We’re off Monday for Presidents Day. So we’ll catch you again on Tuesday.