Today's D Brief: F-16s cleared for Ukraine; US-Japan-S.Korea summit; Spies target space firms; Deadly days in Tripoli; And a bit more.

The United States just authorized its European allies to transfer F-16s to Ukraine, which paves the way for Kyiv’s pilots to begin training as soon as this month, U.S. officials said Thursday. However, because of a months-long training process, no one expects Ukraine to be able to use any of these F-16s against Russian forces until at least next calendar year. 

Reminder: “A coalition of 11 Western countries — the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and the United Kingdom — pledged in July to train Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16s,” the Associated Press reports. U.S. President Joe Biden first authorized the training program back in May. 

This new announcement from Washington won’t affect the situation on the ground inside Ukraine anytime soon; it’s more of a formality for oversight of U.S. weapons sales, especially since Denmark has said it won’t transfer any of its F-16s to Ukraine until it receives F-35 fighter jets, which aren’t expected until at least October 1. 

For what it’s worth, “American officials have said that Ukraine has identified only eight combat pilots who speak English well enough to start training,” the New York Times reports. “That is fewer than necessary for a single squadron. About 20 others are being sent to Britain this month to learn English.”

Developing: Another apparent Ukrainian drone was allegedly shot down over Moscow on Friday. It then hit a building in the city’s financial center, Reuters reports. No one was reportedly injured in the incident, according to Russian officials. Russia-watcher Rob Lee compiled a few of the videos posted to Telegram that seem to illustrate the overnight attack; you can review those, here.

New: U.S. officials think Russia has lost as many as 120,000 troops during its Ukraine invasion, and Ukraine is believed to have lost at least 70,000, according to the New York Times, reporting Friday. Injuries run as high as 180,000 for Moscow and 120,000 for Kyiv, according to U.S. estimates. 

Worth noting: “Ukraine has around 500,000 troops, including active-duty, reserve and paramilitary troops,” the Times reports. “By contrast, Russia has almost triple that number, with 1,330,000 active-duty, reserve and paramilitary troops — most of the latter from the Wagner Group.”

New: U.S. intelligence officials don’t think Ukraine can reach one of its counteroffensive goals this summer, which is to reach the southeastern city of Melitopol. “[T]hat, should it prove correct, would mean Kyiv won’t fulfill its principal objective of severing Russia’s land bridge to Crimea in this year’s push,” the Washington Post reported Thursday. 

The White House was asked about this possible likelihood Friday. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan responded circuitously, telling reporters, “[O]ver the course of the past two years, there have been a lot of analyses of how this war would unfold coming from a lot of quarters. And we've seen numerous changes in those analyses over time as [it’s a] dynamic battlefield. Battlefield conditions change. So what we have said, from multiple podiums and multiple briefings remains the same, which is we're doing everything we can to support Ukraine and its counter offensive. We're not going to handicap the outcome.”

Russia tried to disrupt the “weapons pipeline” that runs through Poland en route to Ukraine, Polish officials told the Washington Post this week. Russia tried to use social media to enlist others to do their bidding, according to officials in Warsaw. But that’s not all: “Recruits had been tasked to carry out arson attacks and an assassination,” the Post reports, citing Polish intelligence. Story, here

New: The U.S. just sanctioned four Russian officers in the FSB (successor to the KGB) for their alleged involvement in the poisoning of opposition politician Aleksey Navalny on August 20, 2020. “These individuals collaborated to surveil Navalny ahead of the attack, break into his hotel room and apply the chemical weapon to his personal belongings, and they attempted to erase any evidence of their operation following the attack,” the Treasury Department said in a statement Thursday. 

By the way: All four of the newly sanctioned were first identified by investigative journalist Christo Grozev of Bellingcat. One of them—Konstantin Kudryavtsev—even inadvertently confessed in a phone call with Navalny that the officer on the other end of the line thought was one of his FSB supervisors. 

Additional reading: 

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 here. On this day in 1914, Lucy Dorothy Ozarin was born in Brooklyn, New York. She would become a doctor after graduating from the New York Medical College in 1937. But she’s often remembered as one of the first female psychiatrists to serve in the U.S. Navy, where she obtained the rank of lieutenant commander. She eventually passed away in 2017 at the age of 103. 

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio are visiting President Joe Biden today at Camp David for what the White House is calling a Trilateral Summit. “In keeping with the time honored tradition of hosting significant consequential diplomatic meetings at Camp David, this summit signifies a new era of trilateral cooperation for the U.S., Japan and the ROK,” the White House’s Sullivan told reporters Friday at Camp David.

What’s new? Because of “North Korean provocations,” the three countries will begin “a multi-year [military] exercise plan,” which includes “deeper coordination and integration on ballistic missile defense and improving information sharing and crisis communication and the policy coordination that goes along with responding to contingencies in the Indo-Pacific,” Sullivan explained. 

New “economic and energy security initiatives” will begin soon, too, “including an early warning mechanism for supply chain disruptions,” said Sullivan. The three leaders will also soon “announce new regional initiatives to build partner capacity throughout the Indo-Pacific including in the maritime security domain, which will ensure that our cooperation benefits not just the people of our three countries, but the people of the entire region.”

“We will meet annually at the leader level, and at every significant level of our government, and the work between those meetings will set out further substantive progress,” Sullivan said. 

And in case you’re curious, the meeting is very “explicitly not the beginning of a mini-NATO,” said Sullivan. “This partnership is not against anyone, it is for something. It is for a vision of the Indo-Pacific that is free, open, secure and prosperous.”

China, of course, hates the idea, AP reports.

U.S. space companies are being targeted by Russian and Chinese spies intent on stealing technology and discovering vulnerabilities, intelligence officials warn. On Friday morning, a new advisory was issued by the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, the F.B.I. and the Air Force. The foreign spies’ targets include space firms, their employees, and the contractors that serve those companies; their methods include breaking into computer networks, placing moles inside companies, and infiltrating supply chains, officials said. More from Reuters, here.

Meanwhile, younger space startups are struggling. Lacking orders and investment, many are slashing their workforces, Reuters reported earlier this week. “While more established players like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin spend billions on new, bigger rockets, rocket startup Astra Space (ASTR.O), satellite imagery firm Planet Labs (PL.N) and privately held engine maker Ursa Major recently laid off workers to cut costs. Those struggles follow the April bankruptcy filing by satellite launch firm Virgin Orbit, which was owned by billionaire Richard Branson.” More, here.

Several days of fighting in Libya’s capital have left at least 45 dead in the worst outbreak of violence this year. The clashes between rival militias “erupted late on Monday between militiamen from the 444 brigade and the Special Deterrence Force, and continued into Tuesday evening. Tensions flared after Mahmoud Hamza, a senior commander of the 444 brigade, was allegedly detained by the rival group at an airport in Tripoli, according to local media reports” cited by AP, here.

Also: The U.S. military killed five alleged al-Shabaab fighters this week after an airstrike “near Cali Heele, approximately 244 kilometers North East of Mogadishu” on Tuesday, U.S. Africa Command said Thursday. “The airstrike was in support of Somali National Army forces who were engaged by the terrorist organization,” AFRICOM said. 

Lastly today: two years after the fall of Kabul, thousands of Afghans are still waiting for U.S. visas. AP reporters talked to refugees in Pakistan and officials in Washington and produced this chronicle of their limbo.

A recent report from SIGAR put it this way: “Bureaucratic dysfunction and understaffing have undermined U.S. promises that these individuals would be protected in a timely manner, putting many thousands of Afghan allies at high risk.” Have a safe weekend, and we’ll see you on Monday.