Today's D Brief: Ukrainian F-16 training; China’s burgeoning rocket forces; N. Korean tests; Proposed pot waivers; And a bit more.

F-16 training for Ukrainian pilots is set to begin in August, President Volodymir Zelenskyy said Wednesday during a meeting with NATO officials on the final day of this year’s annual alliance summit in Lithuania. 

The last we’d heard, about a month ago, was that it’d probably take “months” before U.S. officials approve the training process. “Since the F-16 is manufactured in the United States, even allies must seek Washington’s permission to offer the jets and related training to other countries,” Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber reported from the Paris Air Show. 

“Part of this is identifying the training, who's going to do the training, where it's going to take place, a number of things in that regard,” a State Department official told Weisgerber. “We're working very hard to complete those things to get them in place.” Now it looks like they may have been more efficient at all that than they’d initially estimated. 

Germany says it’s sending more Patriot systems to Ukraine, Zelenskyy said separately on Wednesday. Other “long-term defense cooperation” agreements could be coming soon, he added, but did not elaborate. 

Australia says it’s sending 30 more Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicles to Ukraine, which brings their total to 120 so far, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Wednesday. 

Sweden signed defense cooperation agreements with Ukraine on Wednesday, too. The two countries are “United by shared colors, [and] united by shared values!” said Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov

Britain just put down £190m for more 155mm artillery shells from BAE. More 30mm cannon rounds and 5.56mm rifle rounds are expected in that deal as well, officials said Wednesday. 

And the British military just signed a £50-million contract for maintenance and training of Challenger 2 tanks that London has sent to Ukraine. Babcock International is the recipient of that one-year deal, which isn’t just limited to the Challenger tanks, and also links up officials from Rheinmetall, BAE Systems and more. Details, here

Developing: Britain’s defense chief says NATO leaders should be doing more to convince their publics that Ukraine is worth fighting for, Politico reported Wednesday from Vilnius. “Sometimes you have to persuade lawmakers on the Hill in America, you have to persuade doubting politicians in other countries that, you know, that is worth it, that it is worthwhile and that they are getting something for it,” Defense Minister Ben Wallace told reporters. “And whether you like it or not, that’s the reality of it.”

And with pointed remarks for U.S. lawmakers, Wallace said, “Sometimes you would hear grumbles not from the administration in the American system, but you would hear them from lawmakers on the Hill...There’s a slight word of caution here which is, whether you like it or not people want to see gratitude.” 

Public service announcement: Don’t click unknown attachments in your email. This week we learned of three different instances where suspected Russian hackers have deployed this method of phishing to gain access to computer networks inside Ukraine and among Ukraine’s allies. 

For more than a year, Storm-0978, a “cybercriminal group based out of Russia” targeted “defense and government entities in Europe and North America” with “Word documents, using lures related to the Ukrainian World Congress,” Microsoft announced Tuesday. 

The attacks were “first observed in the wild in May 2022,” and the latest campaign was detected just last month. The goal seemed to be to “steal credentials to be used in later targeted operations,” Microsoft said. Read near the bottom for network administrator recommendations, here

Other Russian Foreign Intelligence Service hackers lured Ukraine-based diplomats with an offer of a BMW in order to break into their computers, California-based Palo Alto Networks announced in a separate report on Wednesday. 

This campaign appears to have been an effort to mirror an actual email sent by a Polish diplomat this past April trying to sell a used BMW 5-series sedan in Kyiv. The hackers “likely first collected and observed this legitimate advertising flyer via one of the email’s recipients’ mail servers being compromised, or by some other intelligence operation,” then, “Upon seeing its value as a generic yet broadly appealing phishing lure, they repurposed it” just two weeks later on May 4, PAN reports. The key ingredient in this attack seems to have been delivered when users clicked a link in the document for “high quality photos” of the car.  

The Russians targeted “at least 22 of over 80 foreign missions located in Kyiv,” which Palo Alto Networks calls “a truly astonishing number for a clandestine operation” from Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, the SVR. 

Post-quake opportunism: The same hackers separately targeted Turkish officials using “a document that purported to be Turkish MFA guidance on humanitarian assistance pertaining to the Feb. 21, 2023, earthquake,” PAN adds. This attack was delivered using a PDF. Read over recommendations for embassy personnel abroad about halfway down PAN’s report, here

Additional reading: 

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston and Jennifer Hlad. Not subscribed yet? You can do that here. On this day in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation authorizing the Medal of Honor

The growth of China’s rocket forces suggest evolving strategy and doctrine, as laid out in unusual detail in a new report from Middlebury’s James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. 

Topline read: “The dramatic multiplication in missile forces, both in terms of those missiles capable of reaching the United States, and those missiles that offer China new capabilities in a regional war, have serious implications for the strategic balance in East Asia as well as the future direction of China’s nuclear posture,” writes author Decker Eveleth. More, here.

North Korea launched another one of its own ICBMs on Wednesday. The test came at the end of a meeting in Hawaii between Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley and top generals from South Korea and Japan, and just two days after Pyongyang officials complained about a U.S. spy plane flying over the North's exclusive economic zone, according to Seoul’s Yonhap news agency. 

The missile flew on an especially high and lofted trajectory for about 74 minutes before splashing down into the Sea of Japan, Tokyo’s Defense Ministry said in a statement. With an altitude of 6,000 km and a range of 1,000 km, this missile appears to have been in the air longer than any of North Korea’s prior ICBM launches, Japan's chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said. 

Expert reax: This test “could be part of the North's efforts to save face and retake the initiative after a failed launch of its first-ever spy satellite in May,” Yang Uk, a fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, told Reuters

By the way: The 70th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War is on July 27. Also next Tuesday, officials from the U.S., South Korea, and Japan are set to meet for the first time under the auspices of the newly-formed Nuclear Consultative Group, according to Yonhap. 

And for the first time since 1981, the U.S. plans to send a nuclear submarine to the Korean Peninsula soon. North Korea’s defense ministry, in its fairly typical tough talk, warned earlier this week that the sub’s arrival could “incite the worst crisis of nuclear conflict.”

Another thing to note: One of North Korea’s two known Towed Underwater Launch Platforms was just submerged again, researcher Dave Schmerler noticed in satellite imagery on Tuesday. “I don't necessarily think this is a signature that the North is about to conduct an [submarine-launched ballistic missile] test from its west coast, since the TULP sat there with little to no activity for such a long time, and there are other possible explanations for it being moved,” he wrote on Twitter. However, he added, “considering their recent developments in large diameter solid fuel missiles, and the series of large diameter SLBMs seen in past parades, I can't say its out of the realm of possibility either.” 

India is expected to buy three submarines and 26 Rafale jets from France for an undisclosed price, Reuters reported Wednesday—one day before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Paris as President Emmanuel Macron's guest of honor for Bastille Day celebrations. 

Context: “The aging fleet of India's Russian-made platforms, Moscow’s inability to perform maintenance work, and delays in India's indigenous manufacturing plans for parallel platforms have necessitated the two new defence deals,” Reuters writes, citing defense officials from both nations. 

Worth noting: F-18s underperformed. “The marine version of Dassualt's Rafale jets, intended for India's first indigenous aircraft carrier commissioned in August 2022, outperformed the American SuperhornetF18s [sic] in tests last year for Indian requirements,” Reuters reports. Read more, here

From the region: 

And lastly: U.S. Army Vice Chief Gen. Randy George is on Capitol Hill today for his hearing to be the next Army chief. A few of the topics he’s sure to face questions about include recruiting challenges, logistics and training in Europe (for the Ukrainian military, e.g.), the service’s multidomain plan known as “Army 2030,” and plans to create long-range missiles for possible future conflict in the Pacific. 

Watch that hearing live before the Senate Armed Services Committee, here.

Proposed: pot waivers. Speaking of recruiting and Congress, a bipartisan group of lawmakers are pushing to relax the Pentagon’s policies on marijuana use. D1’s Lauren Williams reports, here

NDAA in trouble? NYT: “Hard-right House Republicans are pushing to use the yearly bill that sets the United States military budget and policy as an opportunity to pick fights with the Biden administration over abortion, race and transgender issues, imperiling its passage and the decades-old bipartisan consensus in Congress around backing the Pentagon.”