Today's D Brief: Tuberville backs down, again; Ukraine’s military commander, bugged; Laser-powered drones?; DOD’s ‘AI workers’; And a bit more.

After nearly a year of protest that accomplished seemingly very little, and which played out as an exhausted Marine Corps commandant suffered a heart attack, Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville surrendered another element of his procedural blockade on Tuesday, allowing the last 11 of 436 senior military officers to be awarded the promotions they earned months ago. He maintains his hold on top civilian promotions, including Ronald Keohane, tapped to be assistant secretary for manpower and reserve affairs.

Rewind: Starting in February, Tuberville began blocking top military promotions in protest of the Pentagon’s travel policies for troops seeking an abortion. But months of bipartisan complaints piled up until about two weeks ago when Tuberville relented on a majority of the holds—425, or all except generals and admirals seeking a fourth star (including one who already had his fourth star). On Tuesday, Tuberville released his hold on those final 11 promotions. 

The newly confirmed officers include:

  • Air Force Lt. Gen. Kevin Schneider, nominated to lead Pacific Air Forces;
  • Air Force Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, nominated as head of Air Combat Command;
  • Air Force Lt. Gen. Gregory Guillot, nominated to be lead U.S. Northern Command;
  • Air Force Lt. Gen. Timothy Haugh, nominated to be head of Cyber Command and the National Security Agency;
  • Air Force Lt. Gen. James Slife, nominated to be the service’s vice chief;
  • Army Lt. Gen. James Mingus, nominated as Army vice chief;
  • Navy Vice Adm. James Kilby, nominated as his service’s second-in-command; 
  • Navy Vice Adm. Stephen Koehler, nominated lead U.S. Pacific Fleet;
  • Navy Vice Adm. William Houston, nominated as director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program;
  • Space Force Lt. Gen. Michael Guetlein, nominated as Vice Chief of Space Operations;
  • And Space Force Lt. Gen. Stephen Whiting, nominated to lead Space Command. 

“Each of these leaders is highly qualified,” Armed Services Committee Chairman Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island said in a statement Tuesday. “They have dedicated their lives and careers to serving and defending our nation. They deserve our respect and gratitude,” he added. 

Tuberville courted additional controversy on Tuesday when he was asked about Donald Trump’s weekend remarks that echoed Adolf Hitler. The 2024 Republican front-runner again claimed immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country.” Tuberville said he shared Trump’s xenophobia, telling reporters including Andew Desiderio of Punchbowl, “I’m mad he wasn’t tougher than that. Because have you seen what’s happening at the border? We’re being overrun. They’re taking us over. So [I’m] a little bit disappointed it wasn’t tougher.”

By the way: With Republicans in control of the House, “2023 led to [the] fewest laws in decades,” Axios reported Monday. The New York Times has similar and more comprehensive coverage, reporting Tuesday here and here.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. Share your newsletter tips, reading recommendations, or feedback for the year ahead here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1989, the U.S. military invaded Panama to depose dictator Manuel Noriega.

Someone placed listening devices in an office of Ukraine’s top military commander, officials said Monday. A routine inspection unveiled the unspecified devices, which Ukraine’s military said were clearly for eavesdropping. 

It’s unclear how long the devices were in the offices of Valery Zaluzhny. But Ukrainian intelligence officials claimed Sunday evening that “the discovered device was in a nonworking state,” and “no means of accumulating information or means of remote transmission of audio recordings were found.” The Washington Post has a bit more, here.

ICYMI:Ukraine says wife of spymaster Budanov was poisoned,” Reuters reported in late November. 

Can a drone swarm be powered by a ground-based laser? DARPA is paying Raytheon $10 million to start working on “an airborne relay design to enable ‘webs’ capable of harvesting, transmitting and redirecting optical beams,” as a company release put it. It’s part of the agency’s Persistent Optical Wireless Energy Relay, or POWER, program, which aims to pass laser energy “from a ground-sourced laser through multiple airborne nodes and back down to a ground receiver.” D1’s Patrick Tucker has more.

The Army wants smaller command posts. But first it needs great software. If the war in Ukraine has taught the U.S. Army anything, it’s that command posts are too big and draw too much attention, writes D1’s Lauren C. Williams. A key to shrinking them, or even eliminating some of them, is better, more flexible software to connect the truly essential parts, and allow units to tailor command posts to mission and environment. Read on, here.

Who is an AI worker? The Pentagon doesn’t have a good definition, GAO says, and that is hindering its ability to understand whether it has enough of them with the right skills in the right jobs. More, here.

Bottleneck? Not us, says Northrop. Earlier this year, a U.S. Air Force official said Northrop Grumman’s ability to produce the advanced MESA radar was a key limiting factor to Boeing’s ability to deliver the E-7 Wedgetail planes that will be the service’s new command-and-control mainstay. But now Northrop officials say they’ll be able to triple production, making up to six of the “top hat” radars a year, which is enough to fill anticipated orders. D1’s Audrey Decker reports.

And lastly: We bid farewell to the Pentagon’s ​​Deputy Assistant Secretary for Middle East Policy, Dana Stroul. She’s stepping down as of today, and former Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro will take her place, the Pentagon announced Wednesday. 

Stroul’s replacement also spent time serving as Senior Advisor to the Special Envoy for Iran. And along with the ambassador posting, those gigs position Shapiro “exceptionally well to pick up right where Dana left off, and guide our policy approach in this critical region of the world,” Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Sasha Baker said in a statement Wednesday. 

Stroul’s exit follows a similar move by Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans, and Capabilities Mara Karlin, whose departure was announced last week. Karlin’s work has been picked up by Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Hemispheric Affairs Melissa Dalton.