Today's D Brief: Ukraine’s drone-boat attack; US troops on private ships?; Marines’ stopgap guidance; 1/4 of DOD cyber jobs are vacant; And a bit more.
Ukrainian forces attacked a Russian warship with a naval drone boat Friday in the relatively distant Black Sea port city of Novorossiysk, which is about a three-hour drive south of the Kerch Bridge, at the eastern edge of Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Crimean peninsula.
The target was Russia’s landing ship, Olenegorsky Gornyak. And after the apparent impact, which you can see in unverified videos posted Friday on social media (moments before impact, here; and afterward, here), the ship seems to have begun listing sharply port side.
A Ukrainian intelligence “source” told Reuters a “sea drone carrying 450 kilograms of TNT” inflicted the damage early Friday morning. (A similar statement was delivered to the Associated Press, too.) Russia’s military claimed it thwarted an apparent boat attack on the vessel in Novorossiysk, and did not mention any damage to the ship. The New York Times has more on the port itself, which is “one of Russia’s largest by volume and among the biggest in Europe,” here.
Bigger picture: “Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has 279 vessels, including 52 warships,” AP reports. “So far, Ukrainian attacks have destroyed at least two: the Saratov landing ship, which sank in the occupied port city of Berdyansk early on in the war, and the fleet’s flagship, the Moskva, which also sank early in the war” back in April 2022.
Hours earlier, Ukraine seems also to have targeted Crimea with about a dozen drones, all of which were either shot down or electronically jammed before hitting their targets, according state-run media TASS and Russian occupation authorities on the peninsula.
Review Russian military jamming equipment in use across occupied Ukraine via a Thursday evening battlefield dispatch from the BBC. It’s an especially notable report because Russia’s military did not use its jamming capabilities as widely as expected during the initial weeks of its full-scale invasion. But that seems to have changed, the BBC reports. For example, “Instead of using large equipment that can be easily spotted and destroyed, it is now increasingly relying on smaller, more mobile devices.”
In pictures: Get a deeper understanding of the so-called “land bridge” Russia has seized by invading southern Ukraine thanks to a new presentation published Thursday by the Wall Street Journal’s graphics team. You’ll also see maps displaying the likely range of potential U.S.-provided long-range missiles Ukraine has been asking for but that President Joe Biden has so far been reluctant to authorize.
Former New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie made a surprise visit to Kyiv, President Volodymir Zelenskyy tweeted Friday. “[I]t is very important that Mr. Christie began his visit to Ukraine with a visit to Bucha to see with his own eyes the threat to freedom and to everyone in the world posed by Russian aggression,” Zelenskyy said, and added, “I thanked all Americans, each and every one, for their vital support.”
- “US and Western officials fear Putin unlikely to change course in Ukraine before 2024 election,” CNN reported Friday;
- “From pariah to peacemaker: Saudi Arabia’s bid to become Ukraine war middleman,” Politico reported Friday;
- And “China to send special envoy to Jeddah for Ukraine talks,” Reuters reported Friday from Beijing.
Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston and Caitlin M. Kenney. If you haven’t subscribed to this newsletter yet, you can do that here. On this day in 1914, Great Britain declared war on Germany, which had refused to move its troops out of Belgium, touching off the conflict that would become known as the Great War, and then World War I.
Developing: The Pentagon is considering putting armed troops on commercial ships transiting the Hormuz Strait, on Iran’s doorstep. A U.S. official confirmed that U.S. Marines and sailors are preparing to serve as security teams on commercial ships that request protection from Iranian forces, which have moved aggressively against shipping in recent months. The Associated Press first reported the proposal on Thursday.
If Defense Department leaders approve the proposal, the military would make available teams of about 20 armed Marines and sailors to embark upon commercial vessels as they move near and through the strait. Just how many teams will be deployed depends on how many the shipping industry asks for, the official said.
The embarked troops would be part of a “layered defense,” the official said, along with the other ships, aircraft, and unmanned systems that are currently in the region on patrol or headed that way, including ships from the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard. Marines from the 26th MEU traveled ahead to begin training before the ARG/MEU arrives, the official said.
The proposal is not an “escalatory measure,” the official said, but rather a response to Iranian attacks, such as a July 5 incident in which Iranian naval vessels fired on two tankers.
Unable to send formal guidance, acting Marine commandant sends a letter instead. Gen. Eric Smith’s ascension to the Corps’ top job is on hold—along with more than 300 other senior leaders, thanks to a GOP senator—so he can’t release true “planning guidance” to his Marines. So on Thursday released a four-page letter titled “Guidance to the force.”
The letter, which Smith called a stopgap measure and “intentionally broad,” outlines five “warfighting priorities”: continuing Force Design modernization efforts, working closely with the Navy, remaining focused on the service’s requirement for 31 amphibious ships, improving quality of life for Marines and their families, and making it easier for Marines to transition between active duty and the reserves. D1’s Caitlin Kenney has a bit more, here.
Supply chains have “stabilized,” but certain parts remain hard to get, says the CEO of Leonardo DRS, a major mid-tier supplier of systems and weapons components. In particular, the company finds itself competing for electronic parts against the automotive and consumer-electronics industry, Bill Lynn tells D1’s Marcus Weisgerber. Lynn also lays out some of Leonardo’s next moves, here.
One-quarter of the Pentagon’s cyber jobs are vacant. There’s now a plan to fix that. The plan, dated July 13 but publicly released Aug. 3, calls for establishing a pilot apprenticeship program for “employment exchanges with private companies” as part of an overall effort that includes 22 objectives and 38 initiatives. Others include identifying a solid group of organizations with exceptional cyber talent to work with, improving recruiting tactics, and leaning into remote work and flexible scheduling.
Background: The Defense Department has long struggled with maintaining its cyber workforce, which consists of about 75,000 civilians, 25,000 troops, and about 75,000 contractors. The civilians are the main challenge, as it's harder for DOD to attract and keep them, Mark Gorak, the principal director for resources and analysis for the Pentagon's chief information officer, told reporters Thursday. Read on, here.
New: Two U.S. sailors were arrested recently on allegations of spying for China. Involved: Sailor Jinchao Wei, aka Patrick Wei, age 22; and Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, aka Thomas Zhao, age 26. Wei was arrested Wednesday “on espionage charges as he arrived for work at Naval Base San Diego, the homeport of the Pacific Fleet,” the Justice Department said Thursday. Zhao was stationed at the Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme; it’s unclear precisely when he was arrested.
“The charges appear to reflect the Chinese government’s deep interest in the Navy’s Pacific Fleet and other aspects of the American military’s operations in that region, part of a broader effort by China to steal American corporate and national security secrets,” the New York Times noted. The Associated Press has a bit more on the cases, here.
Meanwhile, China is exhorting its citizens back home to try to spot spies. Reuters: “China should encourage its citizens to join counter-espionage work, including creating channels for individuals to report suspicious activity as well as commending and rewarding them, the state security ministry said on Tuesday.” Read on, here.
And apropos of nothing, we end this week with a few notable examples of wartime deception:
- From @WW2Airfields comes a terrific thread about “Boeing Wonderland,” the fake 3-D town that the aircraft manufacturer built atop its B-29 factory in Washington state.
- The Pacific theater also saw a ship disguise itself as an island. This was the Dutch minesweeper Crijnssen, the lone survivor of its four-ship squadron at the Battle of Java Sea. Good pics here, too.
Have a safe weekend, and we’ll see you on Monday.