Today's D Brief: Ukraine’s coming counteroffensive; Navy plan draws ire; Allies want space defenses; China’s Antarctic base; And a bit more.
Ukraine’s military appears to be gearing up for a counteroffensive. “Patriot air defense systems have arrived in Ukraine,” the country’s defense minister Oleksii Reznikov announced Wednesday—about three months after Ukraine sent about 65 troops to Oklahoma’s Fort Sill to train on the systems. “Our air defenders have mastered them as fast as they could, and our partners have kept their word,” Reznikov tweeted Wednesday morning.
Germany sent the latest Patriot system to Kyiv to help Ukraine “defend itself against Russia’s indiscriminate missile attacks on civilians and infrastructure,” Germany’s Ambassador to the UK Miguel Berger tweeted. The system can engage enemy aircraft, ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles at a distance of about 60 miles and up to an altitude of about 18 miles.
But Russia has been increasingly using glide bombs to hit targets inside Ukraine. And Patriot systems aren’t known to be as effective against glide bombs, which are released by jets at a significant distance beyond the Patriot’s 60-mile range. Newsweek has a bit more about all that, reporting last week, here.
Also new: U.S.-provided Bradley Fighting Vehicles have arrived in Ukraine as well. Kyiv’s military tweeted an image of the systems painted in a new color scheme on Monday. A Pentagon official on Tuesday confirmed to The Drive that the vehicles had indeed arrived. The official wouldn’t say when they arrived or how many are now in Ukraine; more than 100 are expected. Read more, here.
Germany has also sent Ukraine its second of four medium-range IRIS-T air defense systems officials in Berlin pledged last year, according to Der Spiegel. The system has a range of about two dozen miles and altitude coverage about a dozen miles high. The first of those four arrived in October. Egypt has even reportedly “ceded” one of the units it was going to buy from Germany, Der Spiegel reported. Sweden has sent 12 IRIS-T launchers (the system has three main vehicular components—a launch pad, a radar, and a lead vehicle) to Germany for processing and shipping to Ukraine; but finding the other elements hasn’t proven terribly easy just yet.
Why won’t the U.S. send Ukraine long-range missiles like ATACMS, or jets like F-16s? The Pentagon’s top policy official offered some insight during an event Monday hosted by Foreign Policy. “We have prioritized what Ukraine needed most in that moment,” Colin Kahl said. The country’s needs are predominantly three-fold at the moment, he said: air defense, artillery, and mechanized, or armored forces. But U.S. support is “not unlimited,” he said. “We could spend all of [allocated funds] on F-16s and those aircraft would arrive 1.5 years from now,” he explained. “But those aircraft would be completely irrelevant to this spring and summer,” he said. “We have to make those hard choices,” he told the audience. Read more at FP, here.
Latest from the political front: Ukraine’s President Volodymir Zelenskyy finally spoke with U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy by phone Tuesday. Zelenskyy’s office says he thanked the speaker “for the unflagging bipartisan support of Ukraine from the United States Congress,” and told him the country badly needed “armored vehicles, long-range weapons, artillery, air defense and aircraft.”
Rewind: For months, McCarthy has walked an awkward line on Ukraine aid, simultaneously accusing the White House of being too slow to arm Ukraine while also vowing the U.S. would not aid Ukraine on an open-ended, “blank check” basis. The speaker is also hoping to appease far-right isolationist lawmakers like Florida’s Matt Gaetz, who opposes helping Ukraine to the point of introducing a “Ukraine fatigue” bill two months ago.
McCarthy hasn’t yet tweeted about the chat with Zelenskyy; but he has tweeted several other times since, including about his first trip abroad as House Speaker, which will take him to Israel. Zelenskyy said in March that he’s invited McCarthy to Ukraine to see the conflict for himself firsthand; but the speaker declined the offer, and told CNN, “I don’t have to go to Ukraine to understand where there’s a blank check or not.”
Coverage continues below the fold…
From Defense One
Navy Shipbuilding Plan Draws Lawmakers’ Ire Anew // Caitlin M. Kenney: Like last year’s, the long-range plan offers a three-option menu and fewer amphibs than Congress mandates.
Allies Want Space Defenses Too, US Official Says // Marcus Weisgerber: As friendly countries buy and develop their own satellites, they’re increasingly worried about protecting them, an Air Force leader said.
Space Symposium Conference Wire 2: New Capabilities, Threats // Audrey Decker: Day 2 of the Space Symposium brings news of advances at home and abroad
Could ‘Zero Trust’ Prevent Intelligence Leaks? // Lauren C. Williams: Army tech leaders say implementing the security guidelines would help keep secrets—and keep track of who knows them.
Why the Army & Navy Can't Get Lasers Across the 'Valley of Death' // Carten Cordell: A new GAO report details missing links in efforts to move directed-energy weapons from the lab to the field.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1995, Oklahoma City’s Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was bombed by white supremacist anti-government extremists Terry Nichols and Army veteran Timothy McVeigh, killing 168 people and injuring 680 others.
Latest in the ongoing Discord leaks saga: The 21-year-old Air National Guardsman accused of posting top-secret U.S. military documents was expected to return to court in Massachusetts on Wednesday. But that hearing has been postponed for about two weeks to allow more time for his defense attorneys to prepare their case. The Associated Press has the latest from Boston, here.
New: Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin announced a new 45-day review of “information security procedures,” according to a memo to the force (PDF) made public Tuesday. He’s also ordered all units to review their service members’ “need to know” classified information, and to ensure everyone with access to “Sensitive Compartmented Information” is well aware of the implications and responsibilities of that access.
A second opinion: Some say Austin is going after the wrong thing. Defense One’s Patrick Tucker explores why.
New: The accused airman’s entire unit—the 102nd Intelligence Wing—has been shut down, and its “mission has been temporarily reassigned to other organizations within the Air Force,” AP and Air Force Times reported Tuesday. That unit is, of course, also under investigation by the service, and officials are tasked with finding “anything associated with this leak that could have gone wrong,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told lawmakers Tuesday.
Today on the Hill, U.S. lawmakers are expected to be briefed on the scale and scope of the leaked documents. Among their top concerns: “how the 21-year-old accused leaker got access to the records in the first place and what steps are being taken to prevent it from happening again,” according to Politico.
SecDef Austin said he thinks the age of the accused leaker is not the issue, he told reporters Wednesday during his visit to Sweden. “The vast majority of our military is young,” he said in Stockholm. “It’s not exceptional that young people are doing important things in our military. That’s really not the issue.”
The Washington Post’s latest secret revelations from those leaked documents include claims that Russia’s military has been trying for months to disrupt Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite system, which feeds the Ukrainian military internet in remote locations across their occupied country. The system Russia is allegedly using for this task is the Tobol electronic warfare system.
The Post also newly reported China has a high-altitude spy drone that travels at least three times the speed of sound, and Beijing is on the verge of deploying it for what’s believed to be the first time.
Update: The Kremlin appears to have lied about when Vladimir Putin visited occupied Ukraine, originally telling reporters it happened on Monday, April 17. But analysts at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War noted Tuesday evening that Putin was recorded “stat[ing] that Orthodox Easter holiday is ‘coming up’ in one of the videos, which suggests that his visit occurred prior to April 16. The Kremlin later edited the video to exclude Putin’s statement about the then-upcoming East holiday.”
- “South Korea's Yoon opens door for possible military aid to Ukraine,” Reuters reported Wednesday from Seoul;
- “US warns Russia not to touch American nuclear technology at Ukrainian nuclear plant,” CNN reported Tuesday;
- And “Brazil's Lula condemns invasion of Ukraine, touts peace initiative,” Reuters reported separately Tuesday from Brazil.
INDOPACOM commander won’t “guess” at a Taiwan-invasion date. Asked by House lawmakers about colleagues’ warnings about a Chinese invasion in coming years, Adm. John Aquilino declined to endorse any specific predictions. “I think everybody is guessing,” he said at a Tuesday hearing. Asked whether the threat is growing, the admiral responded, “The trends for the threat are in a wrong direction.”
Such warnings include a 2021 prediction by Aquilino’s INDOPACOM predecessor, now-retired Adm. Philip Davidson, who said China could move before 2027; last October’s statement by Adm. Mike Gilday, chief of naval operations, who said the U.S. must prepare for possible action before 2024; and January’s prediction by Gen. Mike Minihan, former deputy Indo-Pacific commander, of a possible U.S.-China war in 2025. The Financial Times has a bit more, here.
The Pentagon’s acquisition chief finally gets a deputy. On Tuesday, the Senate voted, 68-30, to confirm Radha Iyengar Plumb for the post of Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment. Nominated in June 2022, Plumb received a thumbs-up from the Senate Armed Services Committee in September. But Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, placed a hold on her nomination to press the Biden administration about a mine project in Alaska.
An economics Ph.D from Princeton who has worked at DOD, DOE, RAND, Google, and Facebook, Plumb has served since 2021 as the chief of staff to Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks.
U.S. charges 4 Americans, 3 Russians in disinformation case. A federal indictment unsealed on Tuesday adds the Americans and two of the Russians to a year-old case against Aleksandr Ionov, whom prosecutors say founded a Moscow-based, Kremlin-backed organization to covertly sow discord in U.S. society, spread Russian propaganda, and interfere illegally in U.S. elections.
AP reports: “The four Americans are all part of the African People’s Socialist Party and Uhuru Movement, which has locations in St. Petersburg, Florida, and St. Louis. Among those charged is Omali Yeshitela, chairman of the U.S.-based organization — which was raided by the FBI last summer when Ionov was originally charged.”
Charges: Yeshitela, Penny Joanne Hess, Jesse Nevel, and Augustus Romain Jr—along with the three Russians, who are currently in Russia—are charged with conspiracy to defraud the U.S.; the first three are also charged with impersonating agents of a foreign government. A bit more, here.
And lastly today: South of the border, Pegasus phone spyware is quite the drug. Mexico was the launch customer for the infamous Israeli spyware and became its most prolific user. After the government was repeatedly caught using Pegasus to violate its citizens’ rights, officials vowed to stop. They haven’t. Now the New York Times has a fascinating look at south-of-the-border use of the spyware, which “can infect your phone without any sign of intrusion and extract everything on it — every email, text message, photo, calendar appointment — while monitoring everything you do with it, in real time.” Read that, here.
Even farther south: China makes progress on an Antarctic base. The CSIS think tank scrutinized satellite photography and issued a report that finds “new support facilities, temporary buildings, a helicopter pad, and foundations for a larger main building at the 5,000 square meter (53,820 square feet) station,” as Reuters put it. The new station, on Inexpressible Island near the Ross Sea, “is expected to include an observatory with a satellite ground station, and should help China ‘fill in a major gap’ in its ability to access the continent.” CSIS estimates the station could be completed in 2024. Read, here.
NEXT STORY: Allies Want Space Defenses Too, US Official Says