The D Brief: $2.6b for Ukraine; Navy’s drone vision; Saudi-Iran meeting; and a bit more...

There’s a new anti-drone weapon in the latest military aid package for Ukraine: “10 mobile c-UAS laser-guided rocket systems.” As Defense One’s Sam Skove reports, the announcement follows a January competition held by the U.S. Army to find a system to fight off the Shahed-136 suicide drones that Russia has used to damage Ukraine’s power grid. It’s not yet clear whose system is going to Ukraine, but Invariant Systems competed in the contest, as did SAIC. The latter’s entry is built around BAE’s APKWS laser-guided rockets. 

Each APKWS costs roughly $30,000, which is about 50% more than the price tag for one Iranian-made Shahed—but far less than the half-million-dollar air-defense missiles that Ukraine has occasionally used to counter Russian drone strikes. Read on, here.

Overall, the $2.6 billion package includes about $500 billion in arms and gear that can be drawn from Pentagon stocks, with the balance going to future orders that will likely take months or even years to deliver. The Tuesday announcement takes total U.S. aid to Ukraine—delivered and pledged—past $35 billion. The Washington Post has more, here.

Related reading

One day after joining NATO, Finland preps for a record-breaking air exercise. The newest alliance member will join the U.S., Germany, and others for Air Defender 2023, a 10-day exercise in June that will also see the U.S. Air National Guard’s largest-ever trans-Atlantic deployment. More than 100 ANG aircraft—A-10s, F-15Cs, F-35s, upgraded F-16s, KC-46s, and more—will make the trip. 

Rapid practice. The exercise will test the ANG’s “ability to rapidly deploy and rapidly employ” forces—as it might do if the Ukraine war spreads to NATO, said ANG director Lt. Gen. Michael Loh. Audrey Decker has more, here.

From Defense One

US Sending Experimental Anti-Drone Weapons to Ukraine // Sam Skove: SAIC is among contenders for a crash Army effort to help the country down Iranian-made drones.

Navy Expands Unmanned Operations to 4th Fleet // Caitlin M. Kenney: U.S. Southern Command’s naval component will follow 5th Fleet into heavy-duty experimentation with drones.

The Navy Wants Drones to Counter China’s Gray-Zonr Moves // Patrick Tucker: CNO says the upcoming 4th Fleet experiments will provide a lot of relevant lessons for an eventual move into Indo-Pacific operations.

NATO Plans Record Air Exercise as Finland Joins Alliance // Audrey Decker: Air Defender 2023 exercise will include 100 U.S. aircraft, 2,000 troops, in “largest transatlantic movement” the Air National Guard has ever done.

Sea-Air-Space Conference Wire 3: The Next Drone-Using Fleet // Caitlin M. Kenney: Day 2 of the Navy League conference brought word that 4th Fleet will join 5th Fleet as a focus of the Navy's experiments with unmanned craft.

Satellite Ground Stations Are Vulnerable, US Warns // Audrey Decker: The Space Development Agency is beefing up satellite constellations—but keeping an eye on terrestrial attacks.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Jennifer Hlad and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 2009, North Korea attempted to put a satellite into orbit—by launching a rocket over Japan. The incident drew condemnation and a U.S. Security Council meeting.

Drones were big news at the Sea-Air-Space conference. On Day 2 of the big Navy League show outside Washington, D.C., Adm. Mike Gilday, chief of naval operations, announced the next fleet to start using naval drones in real-world operations. It will be 4th Fleet—aka the naval component of U.S. Southern Command—which will put uncrewed air and surface craft to work hunting drug smugglers and the like. 

The Navy’s 5th Fleet has been pioneering drone ops in the Middle East—but unlike that fleet’s drone-centric Task Force 59, 4th Fleet is to incorporate unmanned craft throughout its existing table of organization. Caitlin M. Kenney reports, here.

Next stop, the South China Sea? Navy leaders also foresee drones being used in the western Pacific—7th Fleet’s AOR—to counter China’s gray-zone activities. In particular, they expect uncrewed craft to help counter the three types of Chinese vessels operating there: naval warships, coast guard vessels, and the maritime militia whose boats often operate as unmarked fishing vessels. Patrick Tucker has more, here.

Japan will help some other countries beef up their defenses by offering financial assistance, despite “rules that forbid using international aid for military purposes,” CNN reported Wednesday from Tokyo. A Japanese newspaper reported that the first countries to receive that aid will be the Philippines, Malaysia, Bangladesh, and Fiji. 

The money will not be used “to buy lethal weapons that recipient countries could use in conflicts with other nations,” Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said. For instance, the Philippines wants radars to monitor China in the South China Sea. 

The move comes as Japan is doubling its defense budget, building up its military, and making changes to policies that previously have prohibited striking other countries. 

The top diplomats for rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran will meet in Beijing on Thursday, the first such meeting in seven years. The two countries last month agreed to a deal—brokered by China—in which they would re-open embassies and meet in Beijing for further discussions, Reuters reported. China’s role in the agreement “shook up dynamics in the Middle East,” according to Reuters. 

“The era of the United States’ involvement in this region is over,” an Iranian official told the news service “The regional countries are capable of preserving security and stability in the Middle East without Washington’s interference.” 

And ICYMI: U.S. forces killed an ISIS senior leader in Syria on Tuesday, U.S. Central Command said in a news release. Khalid ‘Aydd Ahmad-al-Jabouri was “responsible for planning ISIS attacks in Türkiye and Europe and developed the leadership structure for ISIS in Türkiye,” according to CENTCOM, which added that his death “will temporarily disrupt the organization’s ability to plot external attacks.” Al-Jabouri was killed in a “unilateral strike” that U.S. officials said did not harm any civilians.