Today's D Brief: China sends drone around Taiwan; HIMARS fail in the Pacific; Russian strikes kill 21 in Ukraine; New US hypersonic test coming soon?; And a bit more.

China’s military just deployed a few drones to harass Taiwan, along with the more typical ensemble of jets and navy ships flying and sailing close to the self-governing island that Beijing’s leaders claim as their own. 

More than three dozen Chinese aircraft buzzed the island as the sun rose Friday in what the Wall Street Journal calls “biggest deployment since China sent 91 aircraft and a dozen vessels to greet Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen the day after her return from a visit to the U.S. this month.”

One of the drones flew around the island, while the other went halfway before doubling back, according to maps provided by Taiwan’s military and shared on Twitter. For the record, Chinese combat drone flights near Taiwan have happened at least 16 times this calendar year—out of nearly 112 air and naval harassment operations Beijing has carried out since January; its reconnaissance drone flights near Taiwan have occurred 32 separate times over that same period. 

For a sense of how perpetual the harassment is: Chinese aircraft and ships have flown or sailed close to Taiwan on all but six of 118 days this year, according to Taiwan’s military. (Beijing took two days off in April, three in March, and one in February.) 

Half of the 38 aircraft deployed Friday “crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait or entered Taiwan’s southwest, southeast, and northeast ADIZ,” or air defense identification zone, which extends beyond a country’s borders for national security alerts, but remains legally international airspace, Taipei’s defense ministry said. 

Bigger picture: “Two years ago, it would have been a major political event if any Chinese warplane crossed the median line,” but now it happens almost every day, which shows China is “chipping away at [international] norms bit by bit,” Wen-ti Sung, a political scientist at Australian National University, told the Journal

Also: The U.S. Navy sent a sub-hunting P-8A Poseidon aircraft through the Taiwan Strait on Friday. “The aircraft’s transit of the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the United States’ commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the Navy’s Japan-based Seventh Fleet said in a statement, and emphasized, “By operating within the Taiwan Strait in accordance with international law, the United States upholds the navigational rights and freedoms of all nations.”

Another thing: The U.S. and Philippine militaries witnessed some of the limits of HIMARS long-range artillery use in a naval environment this week during joint drills in the South China Sea. The U.S. tried to sink a ship 12 miles away using half a dozen HIMARS rounds, but the artillery missed on all six attempts. The practice ship eventually sank after F-16 jets, A-130U gunships, and F-35 jet fighters all targeted it, the Journal reported separately on Wednesday from the Philippines. 

One reason it matters: The CEO of HIMARS-maker Lockheed Martin said in March that several unnamed countries in the Pacific have shown interest in acquiring the U.S.-made artillery system after its performance in Ukraine striking Russian ammo depots in occupied territory over the summer. 

New: China will soon begin experimenting with a bigger, more powerful cannon than any in the current Chinese or American arsenal, according to a now-deleted post on a clearinghouse for Chinese military contracts. Analyst Ma Xiu and strategist Peter W. Singer of New America recently spotted the post and unpacked its implications Thursday for Defense One

Involved: A 203mm, or 8-inch, artillery cannon. “That’s substantially larger than the PLA’s current 155mm (6-inch) guns,” Ma and Singer write. That diameter difference of just two inches “allows the 203mm cannon to fire roughly twice as heavy a projectile as a 155mm cannon…thus giv[ing] the PLA the ability to launch more explosive charge, at a longer distance, improving its ability to penetrate and destroy fortified targets deep in the enemy’s rear.” Continue reading, here

Related reading: 

From Defense One

Russian Warplanes Are ‘Trying to Dogfight’ US Jets Over Syria, General Says // Marcus Weisgerber: “Don’t take the bait,” the region’s top Air Force general warns pilots.

China's Secretive Quest for Heavier Artillery // Peter W. Singer and Ma Xiu: A now-deleted post reveals a research contract to test-fire 203mm shells, bigger than anything in the U.S. or Chinese arsenal.

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. On this day in 1944, the Nazi German navy attacked American and British units rehearsing for the Normandy landings in southwest England's Lyme Bay, killing 946 people. 

A new wave of nearly two dozen Russian cruise missile strikes killed at least 21 Ukrainians across the country on Friday, including a mother and her very young daughter as well as at least two other children, according to Reuters, Agence France-Presse, Voice of America, and Ukraine’s ambassador to Estonia.
The attacks began at around 4 a.m. local time, and involved Russian Tu-95 strategic aircraft launching 23 missiles from the relative safety of the Caspian Sea, according to Kyiv’s military, which claims it shot down 21 of those cruise missiles, “as well as two UAVs of the operational-tactical level.”
One of the targets was a nine-storey residential building in the central city of Uman, which Voice of America’s Ostap Yarysh described as “an important Jewish cultural center.” Nine other residential buildings in Uman were also struck by Russian missiles.
“The rubble is still being cleared,” President Volodymir Zelenskyy tweeted Friday, with a video of the scene at Uman. “There are already 13 dead,” he added. “Two of them are children that can’t be identified. The fate of their parents is unknown.”
Ukraine’s military chief says a counteroffensive is close to kicking off—that is, “As soon as there is God's will, the weather and a decision by commanders,” Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told reporters Friday. Reuters has a tiny bit more on that microdevelopment, here.
Additional reading: 

And lastly: The U.S. appears poised to try another test launch of its AGM-183A hypersonic missile sometime next week over the Pacific. Dutch astronomer Marco Langbroek flagged the navigational warning alert Thursday on Twitter. “The hazard areas are very similar to the hazard areas of the December 2022 and March 2023 ARRW tests, which is why I believe this might be another test of this missile,” Langbroek said, and shared an accompanying map to illustrate his point.
Read more: 

Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you next month (on Monday).