Today's D Brief: Hypersonic arrest; Iran’s new nuke plant; Navy orders sub parts, finally; Marine email goof; And a bit more.
At least one of Russia’s top hypersonic missile scientists allegedly leaked secrets to China, according to Reuters, which cites “two people familiar with the case” in their reporting Wednesday.
His name is Alexander Shiplyuk, age 56, and he was in charge of Siberia's Khristianovich Institute of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics. Shiplyuk has been arrested by Russian authorities on charges of “handing over classified material at a scientific conference in China in 2017,” Reuters reports.
Speaking of hypersonic technology, the Brookings Institution just published a myth-busting editorial on Russia’s hypersonic missile program in response to Ukraine’s claims that it shot down at least a half dozen of Moscow’s Kinzhal missiles earlier this month using the U.S.-made Patriot air defense system. The five misconceptions tackled by the authors include: “Russian hypersonics are already here”; “Hypersonics cannot be intercepted”; “The United States is behind on hypersonics development”; “Hypersonics threaten strategic stability”; And “Arms control for hypersonics is useless.”
And in other emerging-tech news, Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite internet coverage allegedly now works while the hub stations are in motion—e.g., in the bed of a pickup truck somewhere in Ukraine. The company tweeted the development Tuesday in a short video you can see (on Twitter, of course) here.
Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin rang his Ukrainian counterpart Tuesday, two days before the next meeting of the U.S.-led Ukraine Defense Contact Group, which brings nearly 50 of Ukraine’s allies together to help meet the needs of its military after 15 months defending against a full-scale Russian military invasion. (Austin also met with his Czech counterpart, Jana Černochová, at the Pentagon Tuesday. Read over a short summary of that meeting, here.)
How does the Pentagon feel about Russia’s claim to have fully seized the destroyed Ukrainian city of Bakhmut? “Even if Russia has taken ground in Bakhmut, we do not assess that it is a strategic gain and that Russian forces have paid an incredibly high price, in terms of lives and capability,” Pentagon spokesman Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters Tuesday. “Meanwhile, our assessment is that Ukraine's defenses in the area surrounding Bakhmut remain very strong,” he added.
By the way: U.S. public support for continuing to arm Ukraine against Russia remains strong (at about half), but it has fallen slightly over the past few months, according to a new survey conducted in April by the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy. The Associated Press has details, here.
- “Head of Russian private army Wagner says more than 20,000 of his troops died in Bakhmut battle,” the Associated Press reported from Kyiv on Wednesday;
- “Swiss Back Sale of 25 Tanks to Germany to Support Ukraine Effort,” Bloomberg reported Wednesday;
- And in “Belgorod: Russia's Shoigu vows 'harsh response' after incursion into Russia,” the BBC reported Wednesday.
From Defense One
Arms Flow 30% Faster to Ukraine as US Relearns Cold-War Skills // Sam Skove: Logisticians are honing techniques invented to keep the Soviet Union from seizing Europe.
Tardy Training Jet Reveals Limits of Digital Design, Air Force Says // Audrey Decker: New GAO report says decade-late T-7A program will get later yet.
NRO, Awash in Satellites and Their Data, Hopes AI Can Help It Cope // Lauren C. Williams: Artificial intelligence and machine learning could help send information faster and simplify constellation management, said the agency’s director, Chris Scolese.
In Ukraine, USAID Created a Blueprint for Digital Citizenship. Now They’re Exporting It // Patrick Tucker: USAID aid will help as Putin attempts to “win an information war in the Global South,” Samantha Power says.
Why Isn’t the Pentagon Helping the International Court Prosecute Putin? // Ben Hodges, Wesley Clark, and Philip Breedlove: DOD’s concerns about “reciprocity” should not constrain U.S. efforts to help Ukraine pursue justice.
GEOINT Conference Wire 3: NRO on AI, DHS on Change Detection For Disasters // Lauren C. Williams: On Day 2, NRO Director discusses AI and machine learning.
Hurricane season is one week away, but Guam is already suffering. Typhoon Mawar has knocked out power to nearly everyone on the U.S. island, according to utility officials. The main airport was dealing with 100-plus mph winds by the evening, according to CNN. “There were no immediate reports of injuries. But the storm was so strong that it broke wind sensors and radar equipment that send meteorological data to the local Weather Service office—and brought the largest tree outside the building crashing down in the driveway,” the New York Times reported Wednesday from the island.
“If it makes landfall, Mawar could be the strongest storm to directly impact Guam—home to about 150,000 people, as well as several US military installations—since at least 1976, when Typhoon Pamela struck with sustained winds of 140 mph,” CNN reports, and adds a bit context: “Though Guam sits in the West Pacific Ocean—an area prone to the world’s strongest tropical cyclones—it is extremely rare for the island to be struck directly by a storm of this strength.”
National Guard officials have already activated 70 of their soldiers for recovery efforts in Guam, Brig. Gen. Jonathan Beddall, vice director of the National Guard Bureau Joint Operations Center, told reporters Tuesday afternoon. “We're also pushing personnel from [the National Guard Bureau] to Hawaii in preparation for operations in Guam, in the aftermath of the typhoon,” Beddall said.
Fortunately, the latest weather models don’t forecast a nasty hurricane season for the U.S. in 2023. “Colorado State University does a forecast every year in the beginning of April, and I think it was the 13th this year,” Beddall explained. “It came out that there's like 13 named storms, [which is] one or two below the traditional average,” he said. However, the CSU forecasters last year predicted an “above average” hurricane season, “And we only saw one storm, which was the devastating hurricane that hit Florida.”
And as the summer approaches and temperatures rise, the wildfire season will settle in as well. Canada is already dealing with more than 80 wildfires in Alberta; smoke from that system has prompted air-quality alerts in several northern regions of the U.S., including Colorado, Utah, Montana, and Idaho. Beddall said he Guard officials “expect wildfires to ravage this summer, [and] we can only predict that the number of Guard soldiers called to action nationwide will also grow as the seasons unfold.”
Already more than 350 National Guard members have been activated for wildfire-response efforts in California and Colorado, Beddall said. And the Guard is using emerging technologies more than ever before. For example, “Instead of waiting until a fire grows to a certain size, before you begin bringing state assets to the fire, in the case of MAFS”—the Modular Airborne Firefighting System—which is an “across-state asset into the flight, they begin using the retardant earlier in the in the fire. Fifteen years ago, if you had a fire, depending on where it was, they might just let it burn. Nowadays, that's not necessarily the case,” he said.
The growing use of drones is also relatively new, Beddall said; and those are perhaps most widely used by the Guard for “fire-mapping, so that the decision to where to attack next on a large fire is a little bit more data-informed as opposed to haphazard.”
Keep up with the latest: Read more about today’s storm sweeping around Guam via the Weather Channel.
Iran is building an underground nuclear plant deep enough to withstand U.S. bunker-busters, AP reports, citing experts and new satellite imagery. The facility in the Zagros Mountains in central Iran, which Tehran says will replace an above-ground enrichment plant, is likely between 80 and 100 meters deep, judging by the piles of excavated dirt analyzed by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.
That’s deeper than the purported 60-meter reach of the U.S. Air Force’s GBU-57 bomb. “U.S. officials reportedly have discussed using two such bombs in succession to ensure a site is destroyed. It is not clear that such a one-two punch would damage a facility as deep as the one at Natanz,” AP writes.
Iran has been enriching uranium to ever-higher purity since Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 agreement that limited enrichment to relatively low levels. Yet completion of such a facility “would be a nightmare scenario that risks igniting a new escalatory spiral,” warned Kelsey Davenport, the director of nonproliferation policy at the Washington-based Arms Control Association. “Given how close Iran is to a bomb, it has very little room to ratchet up its program without tripping U.S. and Israeli red lines. So at this point, any further escalation increases the risk of conflict.” That’s from AP, which has more, here.
Cyber mistake affects almost 40,000 Marines. A U.S. Marine who apparently didn’t pay close enough attention to their yearly cyber security training accidentally emailed the personal information of 39,000 people to about 250 Defense Travel System administrators earlier this month, Task & Purpose reported Tuesday.
The unencrypted email included full names, email addresses, residential and mailing addresses, bank account and routing numbers, and more, according to a I Marine Expeditionary Force spokesperson. Most of the affected Marines, sailors, and DOD civilians are assigned to I MEF.
Though Marine officials stressed that it was not a hack, and the email’s recipients were asked to delete it, the commanding officer of CLR 17 contacted the people who may have been affected.
The Navy has awarded a $1 billion contract for Virginia-class submarine parts that has been delayed for more than a year due to a dispute between the service and two key shipbuilders. Defense One first reported earlier this month that the parties had settled their lengthy dispute, paving the way for the new contract to start working on two new submarines.
The background: The Navy was at odds with General Dynamics Electric Boat and HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding over who should pay for damages if a Tomahawk cruise missile accidentally explodes, damaging or destroying the $3-plus-billion submarine. The Navy had for years indemnified the two shipyards against such a disaster, then decided to stop—and in 2022 ceased to order parts for new subs.
We don’t know the terms of the agreement that has gotten things moving again, but all sides seem to be mollified. “This contract modification sends a crucial demand signal to the submarine industrial base, enabling our suppliers to invest in the capacity and materials needed to increase production volume,” GDEB President Kevin Graney said in a statement.
Passing it on. Within hours of the Navy awarding the $1.08 billion contract to Electric Boat, the company sent a $305 million contract to its partner Newport News Shipbuilding. “These funds are critically important to stabilizing and providing predictability to the thousands of suppliers across the country who support the Virginia-class program,” Jason Ward, NNS vice president of Virginia-class submarine construction, said in an emailed statement.
Why it matters: Pentagon officials see submarines and their ability to move stealthily underwater as being a key weapon, particularly in the Pacific. The Biden administration brokered the AUKUS pact with Australia and the United Kingdom that will lead to Camberra buying up to five Virginia-class submarines.
Hometown lawmaker: “By delivering this funding, the Navy is sending a strong signal to the industrial base to increase capacity while also ensuring we make good on the AUKUS security agreement and sustain our required force structure,” Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., said in a statement.
And lastly, today in DC:
- 10 a.m.: Space Operations Command’s Lt. Gen. Stephen Whiting speaks at a virtual Schriever Spacepower Series event.
- 2 p.m. Assistant Defense Secretary for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict Mara Karlin testifies at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on "Modernizing U.S. Arms Exports and a Stronger AUKUS.”