Today's D Brief: Ukraine's new 155mm supplier; Biden's Reserve authorization; F-35 delays; A grim U.S. milestone; And a bit more.
A surprising new supplier of 155mm ammunition for Ukraine. Contracting documents show that a $402 million U.S. Army order for the vital artillery shells is being filled out of Bulgaria, according to Defense One’s Sam Skove, who uncovered the contract. The February order called for deliveries to begin in March, just as Bulgarian officials were insisting that the country would not and indeed could not manufacture them.
“The hitherto unreported deal sheds light on how the United States has procured the coveted munition, how Bulgaria is delicately balancing its foreign policy, and how some small companies have unseated major defense giants amid the stresses of the Ukraine war,” Skove reports. Read the rest, here.
New, but purportedly not a big deal: POTUS just placed 3,000 Reserve troops on standby for Europe. President Joe Biden on Thursday notified lawmakers that he’s newly authorized up to 3,000 Selected Reserve troops, “of whom not more than 450 may be members of the Individual Ready Reserve,” to augment U.S. European Command for rotational deployments under Operation Atlantic Resolve, which has been active since Russia initially invaded Ukraine back in 2014.
Pentagon officials said this is not a plus-up of troops, but more of an administrative change that allows quicker access to more troops, if needed. For example, “[W]here we may have had someone from an active-component organization doing something, that job now under these authorities may be something that a reserve component unit may be able to do,” Army Lt. Gen. D.A. Sims, the Joint Staff J3 director of operations, told reporters Thursday.
“So you're now able to call on Guard or reserve forces to come support Atlantic Resolve, and as I just highlighted, be entitled to the same kind of benefits as their active duty counterparts,” he said.
For the record, “The units that may be employed in the future haven't been identified,” Sims said. “But again,” he stressed, “it's not additional forces; it's unlocking additional forces for use in support of this operation, if that makes sense.”
What’s going on with Russia’s generals and this week’s apparent infighting? The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War devoted almost their entire top to that very issue in Thursday evening’s analysis, just hours after a top two-star complained in leaked audio that he’d been removed for complaining about how Russian officials are administering the Ukraine war.
The view from Washington: The general’s “dismissal over the issue of Russian casualties and reported complaints about lack of force rotations further supports ISW’s assessment that Russian defenses in Ukraine are likely brittle.” Otherwise, Ukraine continues to inch along with its counteroffensive. Read more, here.
For your ears only: We reviewed some of the dominant takeaways from this week’s NATO summit in Lithuania, and our science and tech editor Patrick Tucker unpacked his recent trip to Indo-PACOM headquarters in our latest Defense One Radio podcast. Listen on Spotify, Apple, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Hats off to a trio of AP reporters for flagging several interrelated points on Thursday in the wake of Biden’s European trip this week vs. certain political considerations back here in the states.
“Putin’s already lost the war” in Ukraine, Biden said at his final press conference Thursday in Helsinki. He added, “Putin has a real problem—how does he move from here? What does he do? … There is no possibility of him winning the war in Ukraine. He’s already lost that war.”
Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, meanwhile, is hoping to capitalize on what he thinks is a kind of war fatigue, according to remarks made Wednesday on conservative radio. “Right now you have an open-ended, blank check” regarding Ukraine, he told Howie Carr. “There’s no clear objective for victory. And this is kind of dragging on and on,” DeSantis said.
And former President Donald Trump claimed Biden is “dragging us further toward World War III by sending cluster munitions to Ukraine,” according to a statement on his website Tuesday. Trump also defended Russia in a separate statement Thursday attacking DeSantis. “Those such as Mitt Romney and Ron DeSantis—very much alike—who insist on arrogantly treating Russia as deeply inferior to the other nations of the world, with no history or culture or pride, are not only ignorant and foolish, but their attitude makes it impossible to negotiate peace,” Trump said. Relatedly, in May, Trump claimed Biden has “cowered to NATO,” which he incorrectly claimed was “unilaterally fund[ed]” by Washington.
As AP notes, the U.S. is hosting NATO’s 75th anniversary summit next year. Yet it’s worth pointing out that—like the old James Carville adage about the economy and common sense—U.S. voters still don’t seem to care all that much when it comes to foreign policy. For example, “In a December 2022 AP-NORC poll asking Americans to name up to five problems they think are most important for the government to be working on, only about 2 in 10 (18%) named at least one foreign policy related issue other than immigration, compared with large majorities naming at least one economic or domestic issue.”
Similarly, “In the 2022 midterm election, just 2% of voters named foreign policy as the single most important issue facing the country when asked to choose from a list of nine issues,” AP writes.
New, but never really in doubt: The House GOP’s far-right caucus failed Thursday to advance bills to limit or completely stop U.S. involvement in Ukraine.
Bipartisan rejection: “Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) put forth one amendment to strike $300 million in Ukraine funding that failed 89-341, with 130 Republicans joining all Democrats in voting against it,” The Hill reported after the early evening votes. “Another proposal from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), which would have prohibited all security assistance for Ukraine, similarly failed 70-358 on the House floor, with 149 Republicans opposing it.”
South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson was particularly emphatic in his support for Ukraine. “We know this is a worldwide war that we’re in of authoritarians versus democracies,” he said. “This is not a war we chose; war criminal [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is the person who started the war.” Other Republicans were similarly supportive. Continue reading, here.
- “Canada unfreezes talks with Turkey on export controls after NATO move,” Reuters reported Thursday;
- “Erdogan Says Putin Agreed to Grain Deal Extension,” Agence France-Presse reported Friday;
- “Zelensky’s angry tweet on NATO membership nearly backfired,” the Washington Post reported Thursday from Indonesia;
- “Ukraine's spymaster comes out of the shadows,” Reuters reported Friday from Kyiv;
- “Wagner head Prigozhin rejected offer to join Russia's army - Putin,” the BBC reported Friday;
- And “Putin, Pentagon shed some light on Wagner mercenary group’s fate,” NBC News reported Friday.
Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you haven’t subscribed to this newsletter yet, you can do that quickly here. On this day in 1798, America’s second President John Adams signed the Sedition Act into law. As Harvard historian Jill Lepore writes, “depending on your point of view,” Adams signed the bill “either so that he could have anyone who disagreed with him thrown in jail or so that he could protect the country from dangerous anarchists.” The law expired in March 1801, one day before Adams’s chief rival and Vice President Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated as the country’s third president, limiting Adams to just one term in office.
Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin says Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s hold on hundreds of senior military nominees and promotions is a “national security issue” as well as “a readiness issue. And, we shouldn’t kid ourselves,” Austin told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in an interview Thursday. “I think any member of the Senate Armed Services Committee knows that.”
Austin spoke with Tuberville Thursday to discuss the holds and how they’re affecting readiness and adding “uncertainty in the force,” Pentagon spokesman Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said. “This conversation also follows a call initiated by Secretary Austin earlier this year, as well as ongoing engagement at the staff level,” he said. “The two did agree to speak again next week.”
For what it’s worth, Defense One staff have heard anecdotally that some military officials are having to delay retirement because there isn’t anyone to replace them due to Tuberville’s hold.
The Pentagon is refusing to accept new F-35s off the production line until their upgraded computers can run current software, D1’s Audrey Decker reports from Edwards Air Force Base in California, where she talked with leaders of the 461st Flight Test Squadron, the lead developmental flight test unit for the aircraft. The hold itself isn’t new; but Decker reports that it might be lifted before all the bugs are worked out of the new TR-3 hardware and software. “Although we cannot provide the metrics involved due to security concerns, at a minimum TR-3 must meet TR-2 equivalency before it can be accepted for operational use,” JPO spokesperson Russ Goemaere said in a statement. More details, here.
The year’s first six months set a new record for mass killings in the United States, AP reports. All but one involved guns; the death toll was 140 people.
AP defines “mass killing” as an occurrence when four or more people are slain, not including the assailant, within a 24-hour period. Mass killings since 2006 are tracked in a database maintained by AP, USA Today, Northeastern University.
The grim milestone topped the old record of 27, set last year. “We used to say there were two to three dozen a year,” James Alan Fox, a criminology professor at Northeastern University. “The fact that there’s 28 in half a year is a staggering statistic.”
And yet: murder overall in the United States appears to be declining. Last month, The Atlantic looked at preliminary data from 90 cities and found an “astonishing” drop. “Explaining the trend is much more difficult than describing it. The cause of the Great Crime Decline of the 1990s, when murder fell 37 percent over six years, is still not fully understood, so any explanations of the current trend must remain in the hypothesis phase for now,” wrote Jeff Asher.
Stay safe this weekend, and we’ll see you on Monday.