Today's D Brief: Deadly Osprey crash; Drone developments; Trump’s authoritarian vows; NDAA talks underway; And a bit more.
Developing: One reported dead off Japan. A U.S. Air Force CV-22B went down off Okinawa around 3 p.m. local time on Wednesday, Japanese coast guard officials told reporters. At least one of the six to eight people aboard was killed, officials said; others’ conditions had not been released as of press time.
The Osprey belonged to the 353rd Special Operations Wing assigned to Yokota Air Base; it crashed “while performing a routine training mission off the shore of Yakushima Island,” U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command said in a statement.
Reuters reports “the aircraft's left engine appeared to be on fire as it approached an airport for an emergency landing, despite clear weather and light wind,” citing Japanese media.
Local leader: Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki told reporters Wednesday that he would ask the U.S. military to suspend Osprey flights in Japan, as it did in 2016 after other crashes. (AP)
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston and Audrey Decker. Like the newsletter? Share it with a friend or sign up here. On this day in 1947, the United Nations General Assembly approved a plan for the partition of Palestine into an Arab and Israeli state. Arab nations rejected the plan, and the following day, civil war erupted in Palestine. That conflict later escalated to become the 1948 Arab–Israeli War.
Russia’s leader continues to profess his goal of annexing Ukraine. Vladimir Putin believes its citizens should be part of one “Russian nation” and a wider “Russian world” including other non-East Slavic ethnicities in both modern Russia and the former territory of the Soviet Union and Russian Empire, according to the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.
Putin delivered that message again in a speech Tuesday at an event known as the World Russian People’s Council. By his way of thinking, current Russian citizens and “all other peoples who have lived and are living in [Russia]” make up Russia, which extends to “Russian compatriots” in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia.
Why it matters: “Putin’s articulation of a Russian nation (including Ukrainians and dominated by Moscow) reiterates longstanding Kremlin justifications for its invasion of Ukraine and aggression toward its neighbors,” ISW writes; “and Putin’s claim that ‘western Russophobia’ affects all the ethnicities in the Russian state is likely intended to rally support among Russian citizens who are not ethnically Russian for Putin’s war.”
Putin’s navy, meanwhile, announced new cruise missile strikes on Ukraine Wednesday. Kyiv says it shot down two of those three missiles, and an additional 21 Iranian-made drones from Russia. Reuters has a bit more on all that, here.
Developing: Russia has an apparent new drone boat in the works, according to Sam Bendett of CNA Corps, writing on social media this week. “It is equipped with grenade launchers and machine guns, and can potentially serve as an attacking USV, counter-Ukrainian USV drone, or an ISR or port defense platform,” Bendett notes.
Ukraine is also allegedly now using remote-controlled ground robots in its fight against Russian invaders.
And the Ukrainian military recently shared some clear images of FPV drones, which have seemingly taken over the conflict as front lines have largely frozen across occupied territory. Details via Facebook.
Ukraine reportedly struck a Russian aircraft factory 200 miles from the front lines over the weekend, according to the Telegraph. Russia’s Smolensk Aviation Factory was seen billowing smoke after an apparent retaliatory drone attack from Ukraine. Ukraine had previously targeted the factory in October.
- “Ukraine says spymaster's wife was poisoned,” Reuters reported Tuesday; the BBC has similar coverage, here;
- “Ukraine makes new push to defeat Russia’s electronic warfare,” CNN reported Wednesday;
- And “US, Norway Partner to Help Stressed Ukrainian Troops,” we learned from a Monday post over at AUSA.
Congressman to Pentagon: talk more about TikTok. Rep. Mike Gallagher, chairman of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, said that the national security and intelligence officials need to speak more publicly about the risks of Chinese influence in TikTok.
The U.S. needs “the Secretary of Defense and all the service secretaries talking very openly, honestly, candidly to the American people about the threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party and the People's Liberation Army and why they should care,” Gallagher told reporters Wednesday ahead of his committee’s hearing on China’s strategy to shape the information space.
“Renewed interest” in ban? Gallagher, who has been trying to ban TikTok, said there’s a “renewed interest” in Congress to take legislative action because of “antisemitic propaganda” on the app. He may have been referring to Osama bin Laden’s “Letter to America,” which trended a few weeks ago after a compilation of TikTok videos went viral on X. (Gallagher did not mention the social-media platform formerly known as Twitter, whose CEO’s recent endorsement of an antisemitic tweet has caused advertisers to flee.)
The chairman remained unconcerned about angering young voters over a potential TikTok ban. “The national security concerns cannot be dismissed because we're worried about angering 17- and 18-year-olds,” he said.
Reminder: Artificial intelligence applications continue to evolve and improve while we humans sleep unproductively. The latest example of this apparent truism comes from developers at PikaLabs, which unveiled a prompt system for generating videos that you can view on social media, here.
The animation possibilities, in particular, seem to be endless and somewhat frightening for content creators in Hollywood and beyond. Read more at Pika, here.
NDAA conference underway: Lawmakers have begun meeting to hammer out the two defense policy bills drawn up by the Republican-led House and the Democrat-led Senate.
“Everyone here appreciates that we have a divided government,” said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, who was among the 147 Republicans who voted against certifying the 2020 election results, despite an overwhelming lack of supporting evidence.
However, he added, “compromise means we both have to swallow some things that we may not like.” For example, “the House bill includes several provisions to require accountability from this administration and to end the woke policies being forced on our servicemembers by left-wing bureaucrats,” Rogers said Wednesday. Still, he added, “I am sure the Senate feels equally as passionate about provisions in their bill that we don’t like. But I am optimistic we will find a reasonable compromise that both chambers can support.”
Stay tuned for more from Capitol Hill, where House and Senate leaders want to finalize a compromise bill later this week, according to Politico.
A Marine’s humble reminder. On Christmas Eve three years ago, then-Vice President Mike Pence was under such intense pressure from then-President Donald Trump to bail on the VP’s upcoming duty to certify the 2020 election results that Pence wrote in his official notes, “Not feeling like I should attend electoral count. Too many questions, too many doubts, too hurtful to my friend. Therefore I'm not going to participate in certification of election.”
But Pence’s son, who is a Marine officer, told him that night before Christmas, “Dad, you took the same oath I took—an oath to support and defend the Constitution.” According to ABC News, reporting Monday, “That's when Pence decided he would be at the Capitol on Jan. 6 after all.”
This new detail has been made public four months before the Justice Department’s 2020 election interference trial goes to court. It’s just one of five major trials that Republican front-runner Donald Trump is facing in the months leading up to the 2024 general election.
Should Trump succeed where he failed last election, he’s promised to pursue several authoritarian policies—ordering the military to put down public protests, putting millions of immigrants in camps, and weaponizing the Justice Department to punish his political enemies, e.g.—that overlap with fascists and dictators of the recent past, as media and press watchdog Dan Froomkin noted recently. Indeed, for these reasons and more, editors at the British Economist magazine warned just two weeks ago that “Donald Trump poses the biggest danger to the world in 2024.”
By the way: About 38% of Americans incline toward authoritarianism, too, telling pollsters in late August that they think “Because things have gotten so far off track in this country, we need a leader who is willing to break some rules if that’s what it takes to set things right.”
But notably, 59% say they disagree, according to the Washington-based Public Religion Research Institute’s annual American Values Survey. There are lots more fairly predictable splits on related questions in PRRI’s data—including 33% of Republicans who say “true American patriots may have to resort to violence to save the country” compared to 13% of Democrats who feel similarly—and you can review that data for yourself over here.
- “Trump’s Dire Words Raise New Fears About His Authoritarian Bent,” via the New York Times, reporting eight days ago;
- “‘Openly authoritarian campaign’: Trump’s threats of revenge fuel alarm,” the Guardian reported November 22;
- “Why Trump's authoritarian language about 'vermin' matters,” via NPR, reporting in mid-November;
- And “Trump’s ramped-up rhetoric raises new concerns about violence and authoritarianism,” PBS NewsHour reported November 13.
Lastly today, and just in time for Christmas, there’s a new video game that hones in on some minute details in a sometimes-overlooked corner of the First World War. It’s a strategy game called “Last Train Home,” that portrays a legion of Czechoslovak soldiers “desperately trying to make their way home amidst the chaos of civil war,” according to the developers.
The game explores some moral ambiguities of combat, including whether to help or harm someone asking you to take his family members to a doctor, the New York Times reports. One of the creators spoke with the paper to describe how they tried to balance gameplay with historical accuracy, here.