The D Brief: Finland joins NATO; Bakhmut fighting intensifies; China v. Russia; Sea-Air-Space news; and a bit more...

NATO’s border with Russia doubled on Monday, as alliance officials welcomed Finland into the now 31-member group in a ceremony in Brussels. The country’s accession has been relatively quick—Helsinki formally applied for membership just last May—and would likely have been even quicker if not for Turkey’s temporary hold. (Ankara is still stalling Sweden’s application.)

Compatible militaries. The swiftness of the move reflects not only the wartime urgency that brought it about, but also the relatively small amount of work necessary to integrate Finnish armed forces with those of its new allies. Finland and fellow NATO applicant Sweden worked closely with Western armed forces during their decades of official non-alignment.

Russia vows “countermeasures.” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said Monday that his country will strengthen its military capacity in its western and northwestern regions, state-owned news agency RIA reported (via Reuters).

Putin’s blowback. This latest NATO expansion is a direct reaction to Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, which he called a reaction to NATO expansion. CBS News: “The Nordic nations, including Finland, had shown little interest in becoming NATO members until Russia expanded its war in Ukraine. Though Finland had acted as a close NATO partner for many years, it was officially non-aligned. The West's refusal to send troops into non-NATO member Ukraine to help it defend itself, however, laid bare the risks of non-alliance. 

“‘If Ukraine had been part of NATO before the war, there would have been no war,’ Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in May last year.” Read on, here.

Fighting intensifies around Bakhmut. Troops provided by the Wagner mercenary group have reportedly pressed into the crossroads city in eastern Ukraine, even raising a Russian flag there, the group’s CEO said. But Yevgeny Prigozhin confirmed that Ukrainian forces still hold western parts of the city. (Wall Street Journal)

Russia extends trenches, defenses in Crimea. In possible anticipation of a Ukrainian attempt to take back the Black Sea peninsula that Russia seized in 2014, Russia forces are digging miles of trenches and installing hundreds of concrete barriers. The Washington Post explores the defenses using satellite imagery, here.

Ukrainian officials outline plan for reinstalling control of Crimea. Read that, here.

From Defense One

China Is Eating Russia’s Lunch in the Defense Market // Thomas Corbett, Peter W. Singer: The script has flipped in the countries’ traditional defense-industrial relationship.

Navy Wants Simulators That Measure Learning, Not Just Reps // Lauren C. Williams: The service’s LVC leader says more sophisticated data-capture methods are on the way.

Sea-Air-Space Conference Wire 2: Drones and Their Antidotes // Marcus Weisgerber: Unmanned craft are big on Day 1 of the Navy's League's annual conference.

Defense One Radio, Ep. 122: Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley // Kevin Baron: Milley spoke with Defense One Executive Editor Kevin Baron on the Ukraine war, China, Taiwan, Mexico, and more.

Can F-35 Engine Plan Get Foreign OK? // Audrey Decker: The U.S. Air Force decided to upgrade the existing engine instead of pursuing a new adaptive engine, and will likely talk to partners about the change later this year.

Defense Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense Business Brief: ChatGPT's thoughts on industry, Big NNSA contract; JLTV protest, and a bit more.

Insitu’s New Shipboard Drone Launches and Catches Other Drones // Marcus Weisgerber: The FLARS quadcopter nabs larger fixed-wing Integrators in flight and lowers them to the deck.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Jennifer Hlad and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed to this newsletter, you can do that here. On this day in 1949, 12 European and North American nations signed the North Atlantic Treaty, bringing NATO into being.

The Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space conference continues today just outside of Washington, D.C.; a walk around the conference floor will reveal drones, drones, and more drones, Defense One Global Business Editor Marcus Weisgerber reports. Other stories of note from the conference’s first day: 

  • The U.S. Navy is working on training simulations that will ensure sailors become proficient in specific skills, rather than sims that just put them through various scenarios. The goal is to “design a system that gives us the data capture and storage necessary to find individual operator performance on both the aircrew side and within our folks on ships as well,” said Rear Adm. Andrew Loiselle, who leads the Air Warfare Division of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. Read the full story by Defense One’s Lauren C. Williams, here.
  • The Pentagon still needs to talk to its international partners about the plan for the future of the F-35 engine, and put the plan up for a vote, Defense One’s Audrey Decker reports. The Air Force wants to upgrade the existing engine, rather than pursue a new, adaptive engine, and the Pentagon has asked Congress to fund that engine upgrade for the entire fleet. International partners “are aware of the costs and what their cost share would be,” but the discussion is likely to take place this fall, F-35 Program Executive Officer Lt. Gen. Michael Schmidt told Decker. 
  • And the Navy is using its Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group to test some tech that was developed through Project Overmatch, C4ISRNET reported. The testing “is in full swing right now,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said at the conference, Colin Demarest writes. 

Feds see little evidence of planning for violent protest over Trump’s indictment, CNN reports. Having largely ignored the online signs of insurrectionist planning for the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, the FBI and Homeland Security are paying more attention this time. “We’re definitely not ruling anything out and staying vigilant,” one official told CNN. “But we don’t see any active specific, credible plotting.”

But: Current and former US national security and law enforcement officials interviewed by CNN “are wary that far-right extremists are now more likely to use encrypted communications to plan their next move, rather than public message boards.” Read on, here.

Speaker of the House Rep. Kevin McCarthy will meet with Taiwan’s president this week in California, amid Chinese threats that such a meeting would lead to “serious confrontation” and “serious repercussions.” Tsai Ing-wen, who is flying back through the United States after official stops in Guatemala and Belize, is to meet the California Republican at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library near Los Angeles, the BBC reported

As you may recall, China did not react very well to a visit to Taiwan from then-House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi in August. The meeting between Tsai and McCarthy inside the United States was viewed “as a compromise to avoid inflaming tensions with China,” according to the BBC.

Next steps? McCarthy followed through this year on a promise to establish a select committee on China. He has also vowed to lead a congressional delegation to Taiwan, following in the footsteps of his predecessor. (In 2021, McCarthy sought to overturn U.S. election results.)

The visit comes amid reports that China is now keeping at least one nuclear submarine at sea all the time. Reuters has an analysis on what that means to the U.S. and its allies, here

Lastly today: Rep. Norma Torres, D-Calif., along with 17 other members of Congress, is asking the House Committee on Appropriations to provide “robust and predictable funding” to all military criminal investigative organizations, as well as additional money to the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division. In a letter reviewed by Defense One, Torres and the other members of Congress note systemic problems illustrated by the investigations into the murders of U.S. Army specialists Vanessa Guillen and Enrique Roman Martinez. Roman Martinez was beheaded while on a camping trip with other soldiers in the North Carolina Outer Banks in 2020; “his family discovered his murder from news reports instead of the Army,” and no arrests have been made, according to the letter. Roman Martinez was one of Torres’ constituents. 

“We recognize that funding is not the only problem facing the MCIOs, but without adequate and stable funding, the MCIOs will continue to struggle to achieve their critical mission,” wrote the group of Democratic representatives.