Today's D Brief: Ukraine on US armor; Russian hijinks over Syria; N.Korea tests; Sub repair delay; And a bit more.
Ukraine’s military is praising the survivability of U.S.-made Bradley Fighting Vehicles after several have come under attack during Ukraine’s counteroffensive to retake land occupied by Russian forces. Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar shared three photos of the incident on Telegram Thursday, including the crew of the Bradley and the vehicle itself, which she says, “received a direct missile hit in the tower and caught fire.”
Fortunately, “The crew evacuated safely,” and “took the armored vehicle to a safe position and extinguished the fire,” Maliar says. The Bradley “helps to save the most valuable thing—the lives of military personnel. And steel can always be restored.” Indeed, it’s “already under repair,” she added.
NATO defense chiefs gathered today in Brussels for the 13th meeting of the U.S.-led Ukraine Defense Contact Group. “Our commitment to Ukraine is enduring, and this Contact Group remains united and determined,” Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin told the group at the top of Thursday’s meeting.
“[I]t's become increasingly clear that Ukraine needs a force that is interoperable with our militaries,” Austin said. “So today, we'll hear from the U.S. EUCOM Commander, General Cavoli, and several of our colleagues on future training plans and our work on in-theater sustainment.”
Ukraine’s allies, meanwhile, are trying to find ways to reassure Kyiv of their long term support—but they’re trying to do so without changing any of the fundamental dynamics within the NATO alliance. That’s because letting Ukraine into NATO now would immediately draw the alliance into a war with Russia, which pretty much everyone is looking to avoid.
“We must ensure that when this war ends, there are credible arrangements in place for Ukraine's security, so that history cannot repeat itself,” NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday. Reuters has a bit more on that, here.
- “Ukraine to get more Leopard-2 tanks from Western partners,” Reuters reported Thursday from Berlin;
- “Poland Says ‘Nie’ to Another Nordic NATO Chief, Splitting Alliance,” the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday;
- See also “The Shoulder-Fired [Starstreak] Missile Making a Comeback” in Ukraine, also via the Journal, reporting Thursday;
- And don’t miss, “Why Putin Will Never Agree to De-escalate,” from Maxim Samorukov of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, writing Tuesday in Foreign Policy.
Join us for day two of the Defense One Tech Summit, either in-person at the Ronald Reagan Building in downtown D.C., or virtually online. It’s live now, so check today’s agenda and drop by.
Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1944, the Task Force 52 landed Marines on Saipan, marking the war’s first amphibious assault of a relatively large and well-defended land mass in the Central Pacific.
China’s Communist leader Xi Jinping turned 70 today, so Xi’s “no limits” friend from Russia, Vladimir Putin, sent him a birthday message applauding the “comprehensive partnership” between the two countries. “Under your leadership, the People's Republic of China achieved impressive successes: the economy is showing steady growth, the well-being of citizens is increasing, and Beijing's position in the world is strengthening,” the Russian leader said.
“It is difficult to overestimate the effort that you have made over many years to strengthen our comprehensive partnership and the strategic interaction between our countries,” Putin added. (Putin turns 71 in October.)
But Xi seems to have the upper hand “as Russia becomes increasingly reliant on China, while China takes a more measured approach to Moscow and seeks to win back some European support,” the New York Times reported Thursday.
The reality seems to be that “The notion of a ‘no limits’ partnership remains rhetorical for now,” three analysts wrote Wednesday for the Atlantic Council. They teamed up to unpack “six trends that have defined the two countries’ relations since the invasion of Ukraine.”
Taiwan’s leaders are paying close attention to that “no limits” friendship. Foreign Minister Joseph Wu traveled to the Czech Republic Wednesday to warn “that the two authoritarian forces are collaborating with each other, trading ever more with each other, and feeding more into the hunger for expansion.”
Referring to Putin’s Ukraine invasion, Wu said in Prague “It will be the same or even worse if war is to break out in the Taiwan Strait, where roughly half of the world's container ships sail through and more than 90 percent of the most advanced computer or semiconductor chips are produced.” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has more, here.
Bigger picture consideration: China is “not yet ready or willing to go to war with the United States,” say David Sacks of the Council on Foreign Relations and Ivan Kanapathy, former Deputy Senior Director for Asia at the National Security Council, writing Thursday in Foreign Affairs.
Beijing’s military “is still several years away from achieving the capability to take Taiwan by force,” they argue. And according to their read of events, that suggests “China’s increasingly aggressive maneuvers near U.S. and Taiwanese ships and aircraft should therefore not be seen as attempts to provide a pretext for escalation. Instead, they are designed to establish new norms to govern China’s claimed waters and to prompt the U.S. military to surrender the global commons inside the first island chain, which stretches from Japan through Taiwan to the Philippines. The United States cannot give in to this bullying, and should continue to operate where international law allows.” Read the rest, here.
Advice to U.S. policymakers: Don’t panic, writes Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution in a new report published Thursday. “These are troubling and often tragic times around the world,” O’Hanlon admits. “But it remains an era of great-power peace. With vigilance and wisdom—and with resoluteness in defense of core interests, combined with restraint in the development of any new allies as well as in crisis management—the United States and its allies have a very good chance of keeping it that way.” Read his full response to the Xi-Putin dynamic, here.
- “EU cuts 5 Chinese firms from sanctions list after Beijing vows to stop flow of military goods to Russia,” the South China Morning Post reported Thursday from discussion in Brussels; Bloomberg has similar (though paywalled) coverage, here;
- And “China's economy slows in May, more stimulus expected,” Reuters reported Thursday from Beijing.
Russian pilots are up to aerial hijinks again, leading the U.S. to dispatch F-22s to the Mideast from Langley AFB, the commander of Air Forces Central Command said Wednesday. “We brought them here due to increasingly unsafe and unprofessional behavior by Russian aircraft in the region and they’ve already flown missions over Syria,” Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich said after the Defense One Tech Summit.
Added an AFCENT spokesperson: “Since 2019, Russian aircraft have violated established air protocols, and we’ve seen an increase over the past several weeks. While the unprofessional and unsafe behavior varies from day to day and pilot to pilot, compared to behavior a year ago, Russian pilots have become significantly more unprofessional and unsafe in their attempts to challenge Coalition enduring defeat-Da’esh operations. Previously, Russian military leadership in Syria had been willing to comply with agreed upon deconfliction protocols.” More, here.
North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea off its east coast on Thursday as part of a promised response to U.S. military live-fire exercises with South Korea—the “first of its kind in six years,” Seoul’s Yonhap news agency reports. “More than 610 military assets were mobilized for the drills, including F-35A fighters and K9 self-propelled howitzers from the South Korean side, and F-16 fighter jets and Gray Eagle drones from the U.S. side,” according to Yonhap.
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is in Tokyo visiting with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts. “[T]he three discussed North Korea's missile programme and confirmed that they would work closely together to get Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons,” Reuters reported, citing Japan’s readout of that meeting.
Update: It’ll be 2026 before the damaged attack submarine USS Connecticut is back in service, Bloomberg reports. The protracted absence of the Seawolf-class boat that crashed into a seamount in October 2021 is due less to the severity of the damage or even the (tiny, by Pentagon standards) $80 million price tag than to the limits of America’s public shipyards, Bloomberg writes.
It’s hardly a new problem. Four years ago, analyst Craig Hooper wrote in Defense One: “The U.S. Navy’s four public shipyards are overwhelmed. Budget documents show that their workload exceeds their capacity by 117 to 153 percent — that is, there’s too much to get done and too few dry docks to do it.”
The situation is not helped by chronic delays in getting parts to yards when ships come in for work. Last year, the Navy reported that half of parts are late to sub-repair job, and that they were working to fix that by 2026. Read on, here.
And lastly: A U.S. Marine was just arrested for firebombing a California Planned Parenthood clinic with a Molotov cocktail in mid-March 2022. No one was injured in the attack; but the facility was forced to close for several hours the following day.
Involved: 23-year-old Chance Brandon, who is an active-duty Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton, Calif., which is about an hour south of the clinic in Costa Mesa. He was arrested Wednesday morning “without incident,” along with an accomplice—Tibet Ergul, 21, and also from California (though not in the U.S. military).
“Security videos described in the affidavit show that two men wearing hooded sweatshirts and face masks approached the Planned Parenthood facility at approximately 1 a.m. the day of the attack,” the Justice Department said Wednesday. The two then “ignited a device, and threw the flaming device at the front door of the building.” The two now face charges of “using an explosive or fire to damage real property affecting interstate commerce,” which carries a maximum of 20 years in prison. More here.
Meanwhile in New York City, a 24-year-old Marine veteran was indicted by a grand jury Wednesday for the choking death of 30-year-old Jordan Neely on the subway in early May. Neely was a “a former Michael Jackson impersonator who struggled in recent years with homelessness and mental illness,” the Associated Press reported after the indictment Wednesday; however, he began engaging in “somewhat aggressive speech,” according to a witness, who filmed a portion of the deadly encounter.
Rewind: “Neely was shouting at passengers and begging for money when Penny pinned him to the floor of the moving subway car with the help of two other riders,” AP recounts. The now-indicted Daniel “Penny, a former U.S. Marine, then held Neely in a chokehold that lasted more than three minutes.” When first responders reached him, he was unconscious; but he was declared dead upon arriving to a nearby hospital.
According to one of Penny’s lawyers, “We’re confident that when a trial jury is tasked with weighing the evidence, they will find Daniel Penny’s actions on that train were fully justified.” NBC News has a bit more, here.
NEXT STORY: With War Next Door, Poland Wants More from NATO