Today's D Brief: Drones barrage Kyiv; Israel, US vs. the world; One more hold; 2023 in review; And just a bit more.
For at least the second night in a row, dozens of Russian drones targeted the Ukrainian capital city of Kyiv, damaging apartment buildings and injuring at least two people, Reuters reported Friday.
The Ukrainian military says it shot down 24 of 28 drones launched overnight Thursday. Another 34 out of 35 Shahed-131/-136 drones were shot down overnight Wednesday, according to the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.
New: The Dutch say they’re sending Ukraine 18 F-16 fighter jets, though caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte did not specify when the exchange might take place. “Besides an export permit, a number of other criteria must also still be met before delivery can take place, including requirements for personnel and infrastructure,” he noted in his announcement Friday on social media.
FWIW: “Denmark, Norway and Belgium have also announced they will give F-16 jets to Ukraine, after the U.S. government approved sending them to defend against Russia as soon as pilot training is completed,” Reuters noted in its brief coverage of Rutte’s remarks.
Developing: U.S. widens counter-Russia sanctions. The White House on Friday announced new financial regulatory measures designed to cut certain covert sources of funding that wind up feeding Russia’s military industrial base. President Joe Biden is expected to formalize the new changes when he signs an executive order later Friday.
The order is intended to root out “cutouts and front companies” that Russia has created to circumvent prior U.S. and allied sanctions in response to Moscow’s Ukraine invasion, according to the White House. The new measures expand Washington’s ability to sanction banks and financial institutions who are found to have been involved in the flow of money to Russia’s defense industry.
With these expanded authorities, “We are sending an unmistakable message: anyone supporting Russia’s unlawful war effort is at risk of losing access to the U.S. financial system,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement Friday.
“The core to our strategy is denying Russia access to the international financial system, ensuring the costs to Russia’s economy continue to grow over time, and preventing Russia from accessing the equipment, materials, and technology it needs to fuel its aggression,” White House officials told reporters in a phone call Thursday.
Both Russia and Ukraine field an estimated 50,000 first-person-view suicide drones every month, according to Samuel Bendett of the Center for Naval Analysis. And next year, Ukraine reportedly hopes to produce one million FPV drones, effectively doubling Bendett’s assessment of current monthly production.
In response to the threat, Ukrainian software engineers have thrown themselves into learning everything from electronic warfare to soldering in order to build drone-detecting devices, Defense One’s Sam Skove reported Thursday. Many devices are cheap, costing less than $250 for handheld models, and upwards of $400 for more sophisticated stationary models. Read more, here.
Developing: Japan says it will send Patriot missiles to the U.S. “This could mean that Japan-made Patriot missiles may replenish the US' stockpile, while Washington sends US-made ones to Ukraine,” according to the BBC.
- “How pro-Russian 'yacht' propaganda influenced US debate over Ukraine aid,” the BBC reported separately this week after researchers investigated the work of a former U.S. Marine John Mark Dougan who now lives in Russia;
- “Rush of new defense deals with US shows Europe’s growing concern over Russia,” Politico reported Thursday;
- “Putin seizes control of Russia's biggest car dealership,” Reuters reported Friday;
- “Russia splashes $12 billion to keep aviation sector in the air,” Reuters reported Thursday;
- “More Drones, Fewer Parks. Ukrainians Urge Spending Shift as War Drags On,” the New York Times reported Friday from Kyiv;
- Learn how the “War in Ukraine Has China Cashing In,” thanks to separate Times reporting Thursday from inside China;
- And “Ukraine likely to ramp up sabotage inside Russia in the new year,” NBC News reported Friday, citing security analysts and former officials.
Welcome to this Friday 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 Brandenburg Gate in Berlin re-opened after almost 30 years, ending the division of East and West Germany.
The Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen have disrupted global maritime shipping with their Red Sea attacks, and rerouted ships are now overwhelming African ports, Reuters reported Friday from Cape Town, South Africa.
As ships scramble for new refueling locations, the alternate journey around southern Africa is adding as much as two weeks to transit, which is in turn raising oil prices and freight rates.
By the way: Houthi leader Abdulmalik on Wednesday vowed to attack “U.S. battleships, interests, and navigation” if the United States “escalates further” using air or naval strikes against Yemen or the Houthis. With some subtle snark, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War pointed out Thursday evening, “The U.S. Navy no longer operates battleships.”
Developing: Iran's paramilitary Quds Force is actively aiding the Houthis’ as the group attacks ships along the Red Sea with missiles and drones, regional security officials told the Wall Street Journal on Friday.
Many ships have turned their trackers off so that open-source folks can’t get a clear picture of Red Sea transit. However, “Tracking information gathered by a surveillance vessel controlled by Iran’s paramilitary forces in the Red Sea is passed to the Houthis, who have used it to attack commercial vessels passing through the Bab el-Mandeb strait in recent days, according to the officials.”
Is Israel winning in its war against Hamas? It’s hard to tell, NBC News reported Thursday, noting, “Israel says it has degraded 10 out of 24 Hamas battalions and killed thousands of fighters. But Hamas is still fighting and its top leaders are still alive.”
Israel has managed to push over a million Palestinians into a tiny corner of Gaza, as the Washington Post reported in a special feature Friday. And Israel “routinely used one of its biggest and most destructive bombs in areas it designated safe for civilians” during the first six weeks of the war, as the New York Times reported Thursday.
Israel’s allegations that Hamas used Gaza’s largest hospital as a command and control center do not seem to stand up to scrutiny, as the Washington Post reported separately on Thursday.
Israel and the U.S. vs. the world, continued: Should the Palestinians have the right to self-determination? The U.S. and Israel this week said no. But 172 other nations disagreed, according to a vote Tuesday at the United Nations.
- “Gaza death toll exceeds 20,000 as Israel expands ground war against Hamas,” the Associated Press reported Friday;
- “How Netanyahu’s Right-Wing Critics See Israel’s Future,” the New Yorker wrote this week after speaking with former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon;
- And the latest: “Israel indicates it’s widening military operation in Gaza ahead of expected UN Security Council vote,” CNN reported Friday.
U.S. defense budget standoff delays Army’s artillery-targeting upgrade. An Army team is set to start prototyping a targeting system that will replace the current manpower-intensive system that relies on spreadsheets and PowerPoint with automated systems that collate data and present options. But as with hundreds of other new-start programs across the military, they can’t move out until Congress passes a 2024 budget. D1’s Lauren C. Williams explains, here.
One more hold: A (white) GOP senator is blocking the promotion of a (white) USAF colonel who urged his peers to talk about racism and its effects on the military. In 2020, Col. Benjamin Jonsson published an oped in Air Force Times in which he noted that his fellow colonels grew defensive and evasive when the subjects of racism and discrimination were brought up. When Sen. Eric Schmitt was asked why he placed the hold, the Missouri Republican said in a statement, “I cannot in good faith allow the confirmation of individuals who advance this divisive DEI ideology.” D1’s Audrey Decker has a bit more, here.
Army tests long-range quantum radio communication. Startup Rydberg Technologies says it has achieved the world's first long-range radio communication with an atomic quantum receiver, a breakthrough that could greatly help new jam- or hacker-proof communications. D1’s Patrick Tucker explains how, here.
And lastly this year, we reviewed our last 12 months of interviews from the Defense One Radio podcast, and gathered several of the more memorable exchanges into our final, year-end episode, which was just released Thursday.
Topics discussed include Israel’s war in Gaza, Army efforts to prepare for possible conflict with China, the war in Yemen, the summer blockbuster “Oppenheimer,” FISA section 702, and a lot more. Listen to Defense One Radio on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.
We also want to end the year with a few shout-outs to others who have done exceptional work explaining or bringing to life some difficult subjects in national security over these past 12 months. That includes a superb multimedia feature focused on a key facet of the war in Ukraine published in late June by the New York Times entitled, “21 Miles of Obstacles.”
One of our favorite books this year came from Michael Knights of the Washington Institute, “25 Days to Aden,” all about the opening days of the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
We had a few favorite podcast episodes in 2023, including this one from the American Alpine Club about a base-jumping accident in Rifle, Colorado, featuring U.S. Air Force veteran Derek Demyanek. We also learned a lot about “The Barbary Corsairs” from the BBC’s “In Our Time” podcast. And we finally got around to listening to Yale historian Tim Snyder’s archived lectures on the history of Ukraine.
Other memorable works in 2023 include the occasionally unsettling New York Times documentary about U.S. veterans reflecting back on America’s war on terror, “The Army We Had.” The feature film “Oppenheimer,” of course, was also recommended viewing. (We haven’t yet seen “Napoleon,” but plan to.) And in the world of gaming, “Assassin's Creed Mirage” has been a welcome addition to the series, due in large part to its highly detailed model of ninth-century Baghdad.
What reporting, films, books, movies, or games did you especially enjoy this year? Feel free to let us know over the Christmas break. We won’t be back with this newsletter again until January 2, so you have plenty of time.
Have a great rest of the year, everyone. Stay safe, and we’ll see you again in January!