Today's D Brief: Tanks arrive in Ukraine; Army, AF wishlists; Self-flying F-16s; 160 promotions on hold; And a bit more.

About a half dozen of Britain’s Challenger 2 tanks have arrived in Ukraine, and Kyiv’s military chief decided to take one for a spin and posted the video to social media afterward. “These fantastic machines will soon begin their combat missions,” said Oleksii Reznikov on Twitter Tuesday. 

By the way: 18 Leopard tanks ​​and 40 Marder infantry fighting vehicles from Germany recently arrived in Ukraine, Berlin’s Defense Ministry announced Monday. “This time [German] deliveries were faster than promised by many other countries,” Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anušauskas wrote on Twitter. 

“Along with Sweden and Portugal, we promised to supply enough tanks for a battlegroup,” said German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius. “To keep this promise, Germany supplied four more tanks than originally promised,” he said. “You can count on us!”

What might lie ahead: Ukrainian officials have been talking for weeks about a desired counteroffensive to push Russian invaders back, however incrementally, across the pre-invasion borders from 2014; that includes the Crimean peninsula, which seems like a very tall order at this stage. For Kyiv, “The offensives launched in the next few months will be heartbreakingly bloody, and may not be the final blow that destroys the Russian Army in Ukraine,” former Australian army general Mick Ryan warned in an explanatory thread on Twitter Monday. 

“But, if the west holds its nerve, and the Ukrainians steadfastly apply their fighting power against the Russians while taking back large swathes of their land, the offensives may be the beginning of the end of this war,” he said. 

Tactical update: Russian forces are reportedly using drones to drop tear gas on Ukrainian troops, then dropping grenades on the scattering forces down below. 

Russian troops are building new trenches along roads leading into occupied Ukrainian Crimea. Brady Africk of the American Enterprise Institute dropped another short video on Monday to illustrate the location of these new fortifications, via Twitter, here

Russia’s Wagner convict-and-mercenary group is running into problems burying its dead, the New York Times reported Sunday from the southern region of Krasnodar, which is east of Ukrainian Crimea. For example, “After a local mayor asked the burials to be stopped due to the publicity, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the Wagner founder, threatened to stack corpses in his home.” 

Moscow’s Foreign Ministry shared a provocative and misleading video on Twitter Monday alleging Ukrainians scared a woman and child with gunshots on a road somewhere in Ukraine—but the video was actually filmed inside Russia, as Eliot Higgins of Bellingcat and others pointed out on the social media site. Russia’s Foreign Ministry later deleted the tweet without acknowledging their allegation was a lie. 

Additional reading: 

From Defense One

How Self-Flying F-16s Will Enable Future Fighter Drones // Patrick Tucker: The Air Force’s Venom project aims to use test data to train an AI engine that can be widely used.

Air Force Wishlist: Accelerate E-7 Production, Extend F-15EX Range, Buy New Radars for F-16s // Audrey Decker: The service’s “unfunded priorities” list also includes $1.2 billion for 21 military construction projects.

Army Wishlist: Tank Upgrades, Augmented Reality  // Sam Skove: Service has $1.93 billion worth of priority items not included in its official budget request.

Seapower Chairman Wants Answers on Amphib Fleet Funding // Caitlin M. Kenney: Sen. Tim Kaine also said he expects the Navy’s 30-year-shipbuilding plan this week.

Defense Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense Business Brief: All eyes on Austin, Milley budget testimony; MAG/L3Harris win Army surveillance contract; Questionable hypersonic test; and more.

The New F-35A Engine Would Be a Win-Win-Win-Win // John Venable: The fuel savings alone would please taxpayers, environmentalists, the Pentagon and the industrial base.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed to this newsletter, you can do that here. On this day in 1979, a nuclear reactor at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island suffered a coolant leak, which overheated the core and led to a partial meltdown of the facility. To this day, it remains “the most serious accident in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant operating history,” according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin is on Capitol Hill talking about the military’s latest budget request with lawmakers of the Senate Armed Services Committee. This is the second time in less than a week that Austin has been called to explain the Defense Department’s $842 billion budget request for fiscal year 2024. Austin, Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley, and Pentagon Comptroller Mike McCord spoke with House Appropriators on the same subject this past Thursday; both joined Austin Tuesday morning; and they will all be back on the Hill taking budget questions from House Armed Services Committee lawmakers Wednesday morning, too.
Austin called it a “strategy-driven budget” drawn up with China clearly in mind. “The [People’s Republic of China] is our pacing challenge, and we’re driving hard to meet it,” Austin said. That’s why the military is asking for $9.1 billion to be spent specifically on activities in the Indo-Pacific region, known as the Pacific Deterrence Initiative; some of that is intended to help bolster U.S. forces in Hawaii and Guam. Money for several new submarines are also included, as well as “major investments” in hypersonic missile technology, Austin said.
Russia remains an “acute threat,” and North Korea and Iran are described as “persistent threats.” But “our network of allied partners” around the world will help the U.S. deter threats from those three countries, Austin said. “The Philippines has agreed to nearly double the number of sites where we cooperate together [and] Japan committed to double its defense spending,” he said. “And through the historic AUKUS partnership, we’ll work with our Australian and British allies to build game-changing defense advantages that will deter aggression and boost our defense industrial capacity.”
“The PRC remains our number one, long-term geo-strategic challenge,” Milley told lawmakers. “But again, war with China is neither inevitable, nor imminent,” he said. Milley also repeated his warning that Iran could develop a nuclear weapon in a very short period of time, possibly as little as a few months.
“There is nothing more expensive than fighting a war,” Milley warned. “Preparing for war will deter war, and that is our goal…in order to deter great power war,” the general said.  Watch the rest of that hearing over on DVIDS, here.
Related reading: 

Another thing: Enough with the wish lists to lawmakers, Pentagon says. According to Roll Call’s John Donnelly, “The Pentagon opposes—for the first time—legal requirements that the brass send Congress annual wish lists requesting money for projects that didn’t make it into the budget. Hawks love the lists, but critics say the practice bloats the defense budget.” Details, here

In other Pentagon news, more than a hundred military promotions are stalled by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., who placed the hold in February because he disagrees with new Defense Department policies that help troops travel for reproductive care if they serve in states that heavily restrict abortion. Tuberville, an election denier, serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Nearly 160 promotions were on hold as of Monday, according to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who called on Tuberville’s GOP colleagues to press him to lift the hold. The hold also covers the handful of civilians whose nominations for top Defense Department jobs remain in limbo.
Some 40 percent of women in uniform serve in states that have imposed or plan to impose bans or severe restrictions to abortion services, according to a RAND report.
Also: the Senate may soon repeal two decades-old authorizations of military force. On Monday, The Hill reports: “Senators voted 65-28 to end debate on the measure to repeal the 1991 authorization for the U.S. invasion of Kuwait and the 2002 AUMF that paved the way for the Iraq War the following March.” A final vote could happen as early as today, Schumer said. Read, here.
Still in force: The 2001 AUMF that authorizes overseas operations to kill descendents of al-Qaeda; which means U.S. counterterrorism operations in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Niger, and other places (largely in Africa) will continue apace. 

Happening Wednesday: Watch interviews with the Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman and Space Force Lt. Gen. DeAnna Burt in Defense One’s State of the Space Force virtual event.
Register here for the livestream; and stay tuned for the “State of the Joint Force,” featuring an exclusive interview with Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, on Friday.