Today's D Brief: Houthis attack ships; Ukraine aid, running out; Seoul’s space successes; CV-22 crash update; And a bit more.

The U.S. Navy responded to four attacks on three commercial vessels sailing through the southern Red Sea on Sunday. The civilian ships dispatched distress calls after ballistic missiles struck two British-owned cargo ships, Unity Explorer and bulk carrier Number 9, and the Japanese-owned bulk carrier Sophie II. 

The attacks spanned about eight hours, and involved anti-ship ballistic missiles “fired from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen,” according to officials from the U.S. military’s Tampa-based Central Command, which operates in the Middle East. 

A U.S. destroyer also shot down three drones during this eight-hour window. Sailors aboard the USS Carney downed two approaching UAVs around noon and another closer to 5 p.m. local time.

How it began: Unity Explorer was first targeted around 9 a.m., and hit at about 12:30 p.m., resulting in minor damage to the vessel. M/V Number 9 was hit at 3:30 p.m. and reported only minor damage. Sophie II was hit about an hour later but reported “no significant damage,” according to CENTCOM.   

Recall, of course, that the Houthis have been supported by Iran for many years. CENTCOM officials said they “have every reason to believe that these attacks, while launched by the Houthis in Yemen, are fully enabled by Iran.” 

The Houthis claimed just two of the attacks, which they say was intended to hurt Israel and “prevent Israeli ships from navigating the Red Sea (and Gulf of Aden) until the Israeli aggression against our steadfast brothers in the Gaza Strip stops,” according to a statement on social media Sunday.

The Houthis also vow to do it again, warning “all Israeli ships or those associated with Israelis that they will become a legitimate target” if they travel off the Yemeni coast.

FWIW: SecDef on the Israeli-Hamas war. “A two-state solution remains the only viable way out of this tragic conflict that has ever been proposed,” Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin said Friday at an event in California. “And without a horizon of hope, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will remain an engine of instability, and insecurity, and human suffering.”

For your eyes only: Here’s a pretty good photo of an Iranian-made drone flying near the Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier and photographed by airborne CENTCOM forces recently. 

And for what it’s worth, defense stocks have been soaring since conflict erupted in Israel two months ago. “Shares of General Dynamics have gained 14% since Hamas militants’ Oct. 7 attacks on Israel and Israel’s subsequent military campaign in Gaza,” the Wall Street Journal reported this weekend. Similarly, “RTX has rallied 18% and Lockheed Martin has risen 12%, outperforming the S&P 500 over the same period.”

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. Like the newsletter? Share it with a friend or sign up here. On this day in 1918, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to attend World War I peace talks in Versailles. He was the first U.S. president to travel to Europe while in office.

The U.S. is nearly out of money to help Ukraine fight off Russian invaders, White House budget chief Shalanda Young warned House Speaker Mike Johnson and other leading lawmakers in a letter this weekend. “I want to be clear: without congressional action, by the end of the year we will run out of resources to procure more weapons and equipment for Ukraine and to provide equipment from U.S. military stocks,” Young wrote. 

“There is no magical pot of funding available to meet this moment,” she continued, and added, “We are out of money — and nearly out of time.” Reuters and the Associated Press have a tiny bit more.

Update: Speaker Johnson is now a “Surprise Champion of More Ukraine Aid,” the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday. “Those close to Johnson say his concern for Ukraine is sincere, and he is more conservative hawk than isolationist,” the Journal writes. After all, “His district in Louisiana has a heavy military presence, as home to both Barksdale Air Force Base and Fort Johnson.” But how he can work with, or around far-right Republicans in the House remains to be seen. 

“When you get informed on Ukraine, you get a different opinion on it,” Republican Sen. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma told the Journal, suggesting that as speaker, Johnson has more access to high-level intelligence now than he’d had months ago when, for example, Johnson voted against the $40 billion Ukraine aid package when it was brought to the House in May 2022. “Knowledge is key,” Mullin said of Johnson’s change of mind. (Both lawmakers voted to overturn 2020 U.S. election results, citing false claims of fraud.)

Romanian Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu is dropping by the Pentagon Monday for talks with SecDef Austin. For a sense of some of the ideas on Austin’s mind, consider the following from his Friday speech at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum in California: 

“Order does not preserve itself, and security does not flower on its own—the world built by American leadership can only be maintained by American leadership,” Austin said. “From Russia to China, from Hamas to Iran, our rivals and foes want to divide and weaken the United States—and to split us off from our allies and partners,” he warned. 

“Over the long sweep of American history, the cost of courage has always been dwarfed by the cost of cowardice,” Austin continued. “The world will only become more dangerous if tyrants and terrorists believe that they can get away with wholesale aggression and mass slaughter, and America will only become less secure if dictators believe that they can wipe a democracy off the map.” 

Window into war: A Ukrainian soldier shed some light on a particularly harrowing corner of the southern frontlines on the east bank of the Dnipro river after corresponding with the BBC over the weekend. “His account, sent via a messaging app, speaks of troop boats blown out of the water, inexperienced reinforcements and a feeling of abandonment by Ukraine's military commanders. It highlights growing tensions as Ukraine's defence against Russia's invasion grinds to the end of another year.” Read on, here

Update: “Currently, Russia occupies a total of 17.48% of Ukraine,” according to the social media account War Mapper, which says Russia expanded its occupied Ukrainian territory by 4 km² in the month of November, which is allegedly “the smallest net change in control over a single month since the February 2022 invasion.” 

Panning out: “Russian forces have been trying to regain the theater-level initiative in Ukraine since at least mid-November by conducting several simultaneous offensive operations in the areas where Ukrainian forces have transitioned to chiefly defensive actions,” the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War wrote on Friday. 

Additional reading: 

Update: Japanese and U.S. dive teams located the bodies of five additional crew members from the original crew of eight aboard a CV-22 Osprey when it crashed in the waters near Yakushima, Japan, on November 29, U.S. Air Force officials said in a statement Sunday. Divers also found the main fuselage of the aircraft wreckage 

In the South China Sea, the WSJ reports on the tiny Philippines island of Thitu, whose 250 inhabitants are fending off increasingly assertive Chinese vessels. 

Elsewhere in the Philippines, a “massive” manhunt targets at least two Islamic State bombers who killed four in the country’s south on Sunday. (Reuters)

South Korea’s big space weekend. The country’s first spy satellite reached orbit on Friday atop a SpaceX Falcon X rocket launched from Vandenberg AFB, California. Then on Monday, the country launched a rocket developed by its state-run Agency for Defense Development, carrying a satellite produced by Hanwha Systems.

Reuters: “The ministry hailed the launch as achieving a milestone just after Pyongyang launched its first military spy satellite, which the United States and its allies have condemned for using missile technology contravening U.N. security resolution.”

Developing: South Korea wants to buy $271 million in F-35 weapons, including 39 AIM-120C-8 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles, 86 Mk-84 General Purpose (GP) 2000-lb bombs for the GBU-31v1 JDAM, and lots more tail kits and associated components, according to the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency. Details, here

And lastly: Today in Washington, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Christopher Grady is scheduled to speak about the challenges posed by China in an afternoon event hosted by the Atlantic Council. Details and livestream, here.