The D Brief: Germany, France pledge more aid; 4 Russian aircraft downed?; Patriot under attack; SOCOM vs. McNamara; And a bit more...

The German government announced its largest weapons package yet for Ukraine over the weekend. The latest batch totals nearly $3 billion in arms and makes Germany the second-largest military aid supplier to Ukraine, behind the United States. 

From Berlin: 30 Leopard-1 A5 tanks, 20 Marder armored personnel carriers, 200 reconnaissance drones, four more Iris-T anti-aircraft systems (and some more equipment and parts for that system), and a bit more

Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskyy dropped by Berlin to express his thanks this weekend. It was his first visit to the country since Russia launched its full-scale invasion nearly 15 months ago. 

“Germany is a reliable ally! Together we are bringing peace closer!” Zelenskyy tweeted in gratitude Sunday. And German Chancellor Olaf Scholz took to Twitter to thank Zelenskyy for his visit, writing Sunday, “Russia’s brutal war of aggression against your country has been raging for the last 444 days. We will provide you with humanitarian, political and financial support, as well as weapons, for as long as necessary.”

Does Ukraine have enough weapons from allies yet for its next offensive? “A few more visits, and it will be sufficient,” Zelenskyy said to reporters in Berlin. That operation seeks only to reclaim “territories illegitimately conquered according to our constitution, within the framework of our legitimate borders, which are recognized worldwide,” he said, according to the New York Times. “We have neither time nor strength for anything else. Nor do we have any weapons left with which to do so.”

What does an end to the war look like for Olaf Scholz? “Russia has to withdraw its troops,” he said Sunday. “Without that, it won’t work.”

Zelensky also visited Paris, where French President Emanuel Macron “pledged additional military aid for Ukraine on Sunday, including light tanks, armored vehicles, training for soldiers and other assistance,” AP reported. France aims to train about 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers on French soil this year and nearly 4,000 more in Poland as part of Europe’s wider effort. A bit more, here.

And Zelenskyy also visited Rome on Saturday, where he met with Pope Francis and Italy’s new Premier Giorgia Meloni and President Sergio Mattarella. Despite some concerns about Italy’s government tilting right in recent months, Mattarella told Zelenskyy “we are fully at your side,” and Meloni promised to stand by Kyiv “for as long as necessary” in the face of Russia’s “brutal and unjust aggression.” 

At the Vatican, Zelenskyy gave the Pope a bulletproof vest used by a Ukrainian soldier that had later been painted with an image of Mary. He also thanked the pontiff for his public efforts to mediate between Moscow and Kyiv; but he later reportedly told Italian TV, “With all respect to the pope, the thing is that we don't need mediators between Ukraine and the aggressor who has occupied our territories, but an action plan for a just peace in Ukraine.”

Astonishingly bad day for Russian military aviation: Four aircraft were reportedly shot down Saturday over Russia’s Bryansk region, which borders northeastern Ukraine. State-run TASS confirmed two of the four alleged crashes, but did not provide a cause aside from an “engine fire” inside the Mi-8 helicopter. 

Update: That U.S.-made Patriot air defense system that shot down a Russian hypersonic missile on May 4 over Kyiv? U.S. officials told CNN on Friday that the hypersonic missile was targeting the Patriot system itself—and failed spectacularly. 

The Patriot’s radar system attracted the attention of Russian missileers, as The Drive suggested may happen back in December. But fortunately for Kyiv, “The Ukrainian air defenders fired multiple missiles from the Patriot at different angles to intercept the Russian missile, demonstrating how quickly they have become adept at using the powerful system,” a U.S. official told CNN. 

Russia alleges Ukraine used newly provided British Storm Shadow missiles to destroy two industrial sites in occupied Ukrainian Luhansk, according to Reuters reporting in a shorty Saturday. It’s possible, but so far unclear if the British missiles were indeed used; at least one Russian blogger suggested instead that Ukraine’s Hrim-2 missiles were responsible. The outlet New Voice of Ukraine has a little bit more on that allegation, here.

Two Russian commanders were killed this weekend near the destroyed city of Bakhmut, Russia’s Defense Ministry confirmed Sunday. The deceased included “Commander Vyacheslav Makarov of the 4th Motorized Rifle Brigade and Deputy Commander Yevgeny Brovko from a separate unit,” according to Reuters

Trend-watching: Russian officials said late last week they believe Ukraine’s long anticipated counteroffensive operations have already begun. Ukrainian officials said only defensive operations are underway; and U.S. officials told CNN much of what we’ve seen over the last few days have been merely “shaping” operations for the wider offensive still to come. More after the jump...

From Defense One

DOD Managers Need a New Approach. SOCOM Can Lead the Way // Dan Folliard: The Pentagon's McNamara-era philosophy is woefully insufficient to a world that changes daily. U.S. Special Operations Command is working to craft a better one.

Want a DOD Contract? There'll Be an App for That // Carten Cordell: To reverse plummeting rates of small-business contracting, the Pentagon is working up software to make it easier to follow the rules.

Fill the Job of National Cyber Director, Lawmakers Urge Biden // Chris Riotta: The previous director left nearly three months ago, just before the administration released its national cyber strategy.

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1957, the British tested their first hydrogen bomb over the Pacific in an operation called Grapple 1.

Global South monitoring: The U.S. accused South Africa of arming Russia by sending a sanctioned cargo ship loaded with artillery to Russia this past December, according to Washington’s Ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety, speaking to reporters Thursday in Pretoria. “The presence of the ship, the Lady R, had seemed curious at the time and raised questions from some local politicians,” according to the BBC

The Financial Times reconstructed the known details of the ship’s voyage, and discovered that its crew appears to have turned off the transponder briefly just southeast of Cape Town. It then traveled up the eastern coast of Africa, through the Suez Canal, and back to its origin point in Novorossiysk, in legitimate Russian territory southeast of Ukrainian Crimea, on Feb. 23. (The Associated Press on Thursday said it “independently verified” Ambassador Bridety’s allegation.) 

South Africa’s Foreign Ministry responded by proclaiming its “utter displeasure” over the allegations. It also said Brigety’s claims “undermine the spirit of cooperation and partnership” between the U.S. and South Africa. NBC News, noted, however, that South African officials did not directly deny the claims. Read more, here

Relatedly, Russia continues using Iranian-made “kamikaze” drones to target Ukraine, including nearly two dozen of the Shahed series overnight Friday. Ukraine’s military said it shot down 18 of the 22 launched; but at least one hit an facility in Khmelnytsky Oblast.

Back stateside, Russia sent six aircraft into Alaska’s Air Defense Identification Zone Thursday, U.S. officials from North American Aerospace Defense Command announced Saturday. That included two each of Russia’s Tu-95 bombers, Il-78 tankers and Su-35 fighter jets. “Russian aircraft remained in international airspace and did not enter American or Canadian sovereign airspace,” NORAD said. It also noted U.S. military exercises were happening in Alaska at the time of the incident. “This Russian activity in the North American ADIZ occurs regularly and is not seen as a threat,” said NORAD. 

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