Today's D Brief: Hill drama delays aid debate; Russia’s new railroad; F-35’s many variants; Revolving door, quantified; And a bit more.

After the government-shutdown drama over the weekend and the removal of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday, Democratic lawmakers' efforts to secure more aid for Ukraine will wait at least another week as officials head home for a short recess as available funding dwindles, Defense One’s Caitlin Kenney reported Tuesday.

In the near term, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters Tuesday that they have “enough funding authorities to meet Ukraine's battlefield needs for just a little bit longer but we need Congress to act to ensure there is no disruption in our support, especially as the department seeks to replenish our stocks.”

However, there are no more funds in the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, the Pentagon’s comptroller Michael McCord said in a letter to Congressional leaders obtained by Defense One. The government uses the USAI to purchase weapons and equipment for Ukraine. 

Meanwhile, the Pentagon only has $1.6 billion left of the nearly $26 billion Congress previously authorized that it is using to replenish the weapons they’ve provided to Ukraine from their own stockpiles through the Presidential Drawdown Authority.

But there is still $5.4 billion to keep sending weapons to Ukraine through that PDA, which is more than they can currently replace. Singh said Tuesday they are asking Congress for more funds “because we do need to replenish our stocks as we continue to flow aid to Ukraine.”

The calls for continued aid to Ukraine comes as more Americans appear to be growing fatigued 19 months into the invasion. A recent poll found that 41 percent think the U.S. is “doing too much to support Ukraine,” up from one-third in February, ABC News reported Sept. 24. About half believe the support is just right or too little, down from 60 percent. Read on, here

Based on allegedly leaked documents from Russia’s Finance Ministry, the Kremlin appears to be “preparing for multiple further years of fighting in Ukraine,” the British military said Sunday. The documents point to a 68 percent increase in Moscow’s defense budget for 2024 compared to the year prior, bringing the total to 10.8 trillion rubles, or about $108 billion, which would be about a third of Russia’s total public spending for 2024. 

“It is highly likely that Russia can support this level of defense spending through 2024, but only at the expense of the wider economy,” the Brits said, and noted, “This follows public comments by Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on 27 September 2023, suggesting he was prepared for the conflict to continue into 2025.”

Russia is also building a new railroad line in occupied southern Ukraine, linking Donetsk and the destroyed city of Mariupol, Mark Krutov of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Wednesday on social media, with supporting satellite imagery. 

Why now? “A new railroad line will enable Russia to secure supplies for its southern front,” says Krutov. “The current line, which has not been fully functional since 2014, is too close to the front and cannot be safely renovated and used.” 

Bonus trivia: The major contractor, Promstroy, used convicts to build a major rail expansion project recently known as BAM-2. It’s also not currently facing any western sanctions, Krutov notes. 

Russia also apparently shot down one of its own advanced combat jets, a Sukhoi Su-35S Flanker M, as it flew over the Russian-occupied southern Ukrainian city of Tokmak last Thursday, the British military said Wednesday. “Although Russia has lost around 90 fixed wing aircraft since the start of the invasion, this is probably only the fifth loss of a Su-35S, Russia’s most advanced combat jet in widespread service,” the Brits said on social media. 

Tokmak sits about a dozen miles from the front lines, and the city “often hosts Russian headquarters commanding one of the most intensely contested sectors of the front line,” according to the UK Defense Ministry. 

What Ukraine needs is more artillery and ammunition, one soldier said on social media Wednesday amid a longer series of posts explaining Russian defensive fortifications. “Continuing offensive progress hinges on artillery ammo availability for advancing troops, as it's vital to suppress numerous enemy defenses and force their withdrawal,” he writes. “Additionally, the readiness of reserves to advance and take positions remains crucial.”

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed, you can sign up here. On this day in 2017, Nigerien and American Special Forces were ambushed by Islamic State militants outside the village of Tongo Tongo, in western Niger. Four Americans and four Nigeriens, along with one interpreter, perished in the attack; 10 others were wounded, including two U.S. soldiers. 

DOJ vs. fentanyl: The United States issued eight indictments and imposed more than two dozen sanctions against China-based companies and people involved in making and shipping the chemicals used to make fentanyl, Defense One’s Patrick Tucker reported Tuesday. 

Drug Enforcement Administration and Department of Homeland Security agents infiltrated the Chinese companies and posed as buyers for the chemicals inside the United States. The amount of the chemical in just one of the shipments from China to a fake U.S.-based buyer “would have been enough to manufacture more than 72 kilograms of fentanyl. That amount could be used to make more than 15 million fentanyl pills,” U.S. attorney general Merrick Garland told reporters Tuesday.

According to the indictments, the Chinese syndicate has established ties with two cartels operating out of Mexico and other parts of Central and South America. But officials stressed that the Chinese syndicate is also eager to send drugs directly into the United States and has used the U.S. mail system, which suggests that stopping chemicals on the southern border is only a partial solution. Continue reading, here

How many F-35 versions are there? Hint: more than 3. Various fixes and upgrades over the years—some related to the decision to start manufacturing the Lightning II before its design had been fully tested—means the Pentagon is now flying “at least 14 versions” of the combat jet, the Government Accountability Office reports. That increases the cost and complexity of maintenance and sustainability, and contributes to the jet’s poor readiness rates. D1’s Audrey Decker has more, here.

And lastly today, a revolving door status check: “Over 80 percent of four-star officers who retired after June 2018 went to work for the arms industry as board members, advisors, executives, consultants, lobbyists, or members of financial institutions that invest in the defense sector,” according to William Hartung and Dillon Fisher of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, which is based in Washington. 

Why bring it up? The revolving door “creates the appearance—and in some cases the reality—of conflicts of interest in the making of defense policy and in the shaping of the size and composition of the Pentagon budget,” Hartung and Fisher write. But the role of top military officials, like these four-star generals and admirals, “is particularly troubling,” they argue, “given their greater clout in the military and the government more broadly than most other revolving door hires. Their influence over policy and budget issues can tilt the scales towards a more militarized foreign policy.” Read the full report, here.