Today's D Brief: Russia annexes Wagner; 'Miles' of obstacles in SE Ukraine; Stinger vets needed; F-35 deliveries on hold; And a bit more.
Russia’s military is reportedly taking control of the mutinous Wagner mercenary organization, including the group’s overseas operations in Africa and Syria, according to the Wall Street Journal, reporting Wednesday.
Russian authorities have also reportedly detained a top general, Sergey Surovikin, commander of the Aerospace Forces, over allegations he knew about but did not stop the Wagner “baby coup” last weekend, several outlets reported over the past 24 hours, including the Moscow Times, and the Financial Times.
Surovikin is the general that U.S. officials allege likely colluded with Wagner chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, according to the New York Times, reporting Tuesday. According to the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, “If Russian authorities did arrest Surovikin then the Kremlin will likely use Surovikin and his affiliates as scapegoats to publicly explain why the Russian military and Russian internal security apparatuses responded poorly to the rebellion and to justify a potential overhaul of the Russian military leadership.”
New: Russia’s occupying troops in southern Ukraine appear to have blocked a river and flooded approaches to the eastern city of Tokmak, which Ukrainian troops are eyeing as part of their ongoing counteroffensive. The Center for Journalistic Investigations was first to notice the evidently new obstacle, which Bellingcat assessed with a closer eye on Thursday.
“The makeshift dam lies within the defensive line wrapping around the city of Tokmak, which itself is behind several more defensive lines,” Bellingcat writes. “Since the dam’s construction in early May, the Tokmachka river has widened significantly to the east of the city, and flooded some fields nearest to the dam.” You can observe the flooding via satellite imagery, here.
Tokmak is surrounded by some “21 Miles of Obstacles” laid out by Russian forces in an elaborate defensive scheme described in painstaking detail Wednesday by the multimedia team at the New York Times. The report is one of the more impressive explainers we’ve seen so far in the 490 days of this ongoing invasion. We’d excerpt details here, but there are just so many that we recommend you take the entire report in—it’s a long one, but worth your time—at some point over the next few days.
Ok, boomers...no seriously, come back. Raytheon has called in retired engineers to teach its employees how to build the Stinger missiles heavily used by Ukraine’s military using blueprints drawn up during the Carter administration, Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber reports.
Background: The United States has sent nearly 2,000 of the heat-seeking missiles to Ukraine, which has used them to shoot down Russian aircraft. All of those missiles have come from U.S. military stockpiles. And the Biden administration said this week it will send even more Stingers to Ukraine.
When the U.S. Army placed an order for 1,700 Stingers in May 2022, the Pentagon said the missiles wouldn’t be delivered until 2026. Kremer said it will take about 30 months for Stingers to start rolling off of the production line largely because of the time it takes to set up the factory and train its employees.
Stinger's have “been out of production for 20 years, and all of a sudden in the first 48 hours [of the war], it's the star of the show and everybody wants more,” Wes Kremer, president of RTX’s Raytheon division, said in an interview last week at the Paris Air Show.
“We were bringing back retired employees that are in their 70s … to teach our new employees how to actually build a Stinger,” Kremer said. “We're pulling test equipment out of warehouses and blowing the spider webs off of them.”
What’s more, the electronics used in the missile are obsolete, RTX CEO Greg Hayes told Weisgerber. Read the rest, here.
- By the way: Go behind the scenes at the Paris Air Show with Weisgerber in our latest Defense One Radio podcast, featuring policy and equity analysts Roman Schweizer and Cai von Rumohr. They unpack the latest defense industry trends affecting European markets as well as prime U.S. defense contractors with chalets at this year’s Paris Air Show.
Developing: More arms for Poland and Norway. The U.S. is on the brink of closing two significant new arms export deals with European countries. That includes likely selling Poland an Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System at an estimated cost of $15 billion, according to the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency. The agreement would give Poland the second phase of a two-phase Patriot air defense system whose first portion was initially announced in 2018.
Poland would get 48 Patriot M903 Launch Stations as well as nearly 650 Patriot air defense missiles and lots of associated gear. “This proposed sale will support the foreign policy goals and national security objectives of the United States by improving the security of a NATO Ally that is a force for political stability and economic progress in Europe,” DSCA said Wednesday. Massachusetts-based Raytheon Corporation and Lockheed-Martin Missiles and Fire Control, out of Texas, are the principal contractors for that one.
The other deal would send nearly 600 Small Diameter Bombs to Norway at an estimated cost of $293 million. That sale is intended to support Oslo’s new F-35A fleet, thereby boosting the country’s “air and defense capabilities,” according to DSCA. Tucson’s Raytheon Missile Systems would handle the production; details here.
- “Sanctioned Russian Cargo Ships Made More Than 100 Stops at Turkish Ports,” the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday from Ankara;
- “As Russia teetered, the elite trembled, and some private jets left,” Reuters reported Wednesday from Moscow;
- “Wagner mutineers included Russian convicts freed to fight in Ukraine,” Reuters reported separately Wednesday from the former Soviet republic of Georgia;
- And don’t miss a profile of “The World’s Most Important App (For Now),” from Charlie Warzel, writing about the Telegram app for The Atlantic on Wednesday.
Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Kevin Baron. On this day in 2007, Apple released its first-ever iPhone at a base price of $499 in the U.S., which required a two-year contract with AT&T.
Parting shot: Outgoing Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger defended his Force Design 2030 plan from critics, speaking Wednesday on the sidelines of the Modern Day Marine Expo in one of his last interviews before he leaves his position and retires on July 10.
Context: Berger’s initial Force Design 2030 efforts prioritized decisions on major equipment before people because changing gear takes the longest time, Defense One’s Caitlin Kenney reports. With those equipment changes underway, the next commandant will be able to focus more on people and training, which Berger considers the most important part of Force Design.
“I have no regrets at all,” Berger said Wednesday. The danger of not changing the Marine Corps to prepare for future threats “was very clear, not just gut feel,” he said, noting that “every single exercise, every war game… the outcome in the future was not going to be good if we didn't make some kind of changes.” Read more from Kenney’s dispatch, here.
Deliveries of new F-35s are on hold until December and possibly as late as next April, Breaking Defense reported this week and Defense One’s Audrey Decker confirmed on Wednesday. That means Lockheed Martin will have to sit on 45 jets if the delay extends to December and 81 jets if it extends to April, as the company’s contract stipulates it must deliver nine planes per month with the tech upgrade.
Background: The Pentagon is updating several technologies in its fleet of F-35s, an effort known as Block 4, Decker reports. But before the fleet can receive the upgrades, the jets need a suite of hardware and software improvements, known as Technology Refresh 3, or TR-3, which is already one year behind schedule.
Despite the April warning, Lockheed said they still plan to deliver by December. Continue reading, here.
That’s it for us this week. We’ll be back again right after Independence Day.
So have a safe and fun holiday weekend, wherever you are! And we’ll see you again on Wednesday.