Today's D Brief: Russia’s biggest air attack; Red Sea timeline; Israel’s 3-front war; 4th ID’s DIY code; And a bit more

Russia this week launched its largest aerial attack on Ukraine since Moscow’s full-scale invasion began more than 670 days ago. At least two people were killed and nearly four dozen people in the capital city of Kyiv were injured in the Tuesday attacks, according to city officials, including Mayor Vitali Klitschko. Nearly three dozen were injured in Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv, according to officials there. 

Russia used at least 10 of its Kinzhal hypersonic air-launched ballistic missiles on Tuesday, and Ukraine’s air force said on social media that it shot down all 10. More than 60 other cruise missiles were also downed before hitting their target. 

“At least 70 missiles were shot down, [and] nearly 60 of them were intercepted in the Kyiv area,” Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskyy said on social media Tuesday, describing the incident as “Another attack by Russian savages.” He then rattled off the names of air defense systems provided by Ukraine’s allies (U.S.-made Patriots, Germany’s IRIS-T systems, and the joint U.S.-Norway National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, for example). “Each of these systems has already saved hundreds of lives,” he said. 

Early Monday morning, Russia unleashed its largest air attack of the war so far, using 36 Iranian-made Shahed-136/131 drones and over 120 missiles of different types, including five Kinzhal hypersonic missiles. Critical infrastructure and military facilities were targeted across much of the country, including Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv, Dnipro, Zaporizhzhia, Sumy, Cherkasy, and Mykolaiv oblasts. 

Ukraine says it shot down 27 Shaheds and 88 missiles, but not before several civilian targets were hit, including a maternity hospital, educational institutions, a shopping center, a commercial warehouse, and residential buildings in cities throughout Ukraine, according to the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War. Moscow’s “strike package…appears to be a culmination of several months of Russian experimentation with various drone and missile combinations and efforts to test Ukrainian air defenses,” ISW wrote Monday evening. 

An earlier large wave of Russian strikes Friday killed 39 Ukrainians and wounded at least 160 others across the country. Ukraine responded Saturday with missile and rocket strikes on the Russian city of Belgorod, which killed at least a dozen people and injured more than 100 others, according to Russia’s defense ministry. Speaking Monday, Russian leader Vladimir Putin vowed to “build up the strikes” against Ukraine in part to avenge the Belgorod attacks. 

Bigger picture: “The back-to-back assaults underscored how both Moscow and Kyiv remain willing to escalate a war that will most likely mark its two-year anniversary in February, despite Ukraine’s problems with securing Western funding, an increased sense of war fatigue in Russia and enormous casualties on both sides,” the New York Times wrote Saturday.

Update: Putin is leaning heavily on his defense industry to outpace Ukraine and its allies when it comes to resupplying his invasion. During a trip to visit wounded troops at a military hospital on Monday, he gloated to those attending, “The Ukrainian army expends 5,000–6,000 155-caliber shells there per day of combat operations, and the United States produces 14,000 per month. Per month!” 

“If you use 5,000 [shells] a day, then the supply depletes quite quickly; it is close to that now,” Putin said Monday, according to an official transcript. “And we are building up and will continue to, exponentially at that,” he added. Ukraine was “supplied with more than 400 tanks—450 or whatever it is. And in a year we will produce and overhaul 1,600,” the Russian leader said. “This is not a state secret,” he continued, and promised, “In fact, there will be probably more. It is like this almost across the board.”

Like Ukraine, said Putin, “We also want to end the conflict, as quickly as possible, but only on our terms. We have no desire to fight endlessly, but we are not going to cede our positions either.”

Putin also spoke at length about the Russian economy, which, along with “national unity,” he admitted is of paramount importance at the start of 2024—or almost two years into the Ukraine invasion that his planners initially thought would take only about a week. After rattling off GDP and unemployment statistics to a wounded soldier, Putin finished his public remarks Monday by assuring his audience, “Strange as it may seem, despite the fact that we are in a state of armed conflict, all the main indicators of the country’s viability and effectiveness have gone up. And this is probably the most important indicator of Russia’s situation” at the start of the year.  

In case you missed it: The Pentagon announced another $250 million in weapons for Ukraine last Wednesday. HIMARS long-range artillery rounds were included, along with more NASAMS munitions and 155mm artillery rounds. 

“It remains critical that Congress takes action as soon as possible in the new year on the President's national security supplemental request to ensure that our support for Ukraine can continue, and Ukraine is able to defend itself against Russia's ongoing attacks and consolidate and extend its battlefield gains,” the Defense Department noted in a statement. That request remains stalled in Congress as lawmakers continue struggling to compromise over border-related changes demanded by Republicans.

Update: Most of the more than dozen or so Leopard tanks Germany sent to Ukraine are now unusable due to a lack of spare parts. That’s according to Germany’s Der Spiegel reporting Tuesday.  

Developing: The UK is trying to send Ukraine two mine-hunting ships, but Turkey—as gatekeeper to the Black Sea—is blocking the transfer until Russia ends its ongoing invasion. Reuters has more from Ankara. 

Related reading: 

Welcome to the New Year, and to this Tuesday 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 history: Operation Bolo. Because late-1966 U.S. rules of engagement forbade attacks on North Vietnamese aircraft on the ground, the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing devised a plan to lure enemy North Vietnamese MiGs into the air by rigging F-4 fighters to mimic vulnerable bombers. The mission of Jan. 2, 1967, downed seven MiG-21s—about half of the enemy’s operational force—with no U.S. Air Force losses.

Israel’s military is now fighting a war on three fronts: ​​Syria, Lebanon, and the Gaza Strip, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday after Israeli military strikes hit militants inside Syria over the weekend. 

Iran-linked militant attacks on Red Sea shipping and U.S. forces in the Middle East continued over the holiday break. Below is a reverse-chronological timeline of some of the most notable events. 

Dec. 31: Armed men traveling in four Iranian-backed Houthi small boats attacked the container ship Maersk Hangzhou using “crew-served” weapons and small arms as they tried to board the container ship Sunday morning. They got as close as 20 meters from the ship. U.S. helicopters from the USS Eisenhower and Gravely responded, and while issuing verbal calls to the small boats, the small boats fired upon the U.S. helicopters with the same crew served weapons and small arms as before. “The U.S. Navy helicopters returned fire in self-defense, sinking three of the four small boats, and killing the crews,” CENTCOM said. The fourth boat fled the scene.

Dec. 30: Late Saturday, the Maersk Hangzhou was struck by a missile while transiting the Southern Red Sea. The USS Gravely and USS Laboon responded, and the Gravely’s crew shot down two anti-ship ballistic missiles fired from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen toward the ships. CENTCOM said this episode “the 23rd illegal attack by the Houthis on international shipping since Nov. 19.”

Dec. 30: Israel seems to have carried out multiple predawn airstrikes in Syria, killing at least four Hezbollah militants near the Iraqi border. The U.S. typically claims such strikes, if it was involved; however, the U.S. denied any involvement, as the Associated Press reported Saturday.

Dec. 29: Alabama GOP Rep. Mike Rogers released a statement denigrating the president, saying, “President Biden’s perceived weakness by our enemies is leading to escalating attacks against our servicemembers and lawful commercial shipping. These attacks will continue until these terrorists understand that their actions will have severe consequences.” 

Dec. 28: Crew of the USS Mason shot down one drone and one anti-ship ballistic missile in the Southern Red Sea.

Dec. 26: Sailors aboard the USS Laboon, along with F/A-18 Super Hornets from the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group, shot down twelve one-way attack drones, three anti-ship ballistic missiles, and two land-attack cruise missiles in the Southern Red Sea that were fired by the Houthis over a 10-hour period.

Dec. 25: The U.S. carried out airstrikes against Kataib Hezbollah terrorist group targets in Iraq, “destroy[ing] the targeted facilities and likely kill[ing] a number of Kataib Hezbollah militants,” CENTCOM said. By this date, Iraq militias claimed attacks against U.S. forces inside Iraq and Syria more than 120 times since October 18, according to the Washington Institute. (Since the U.S. retaliatory strikes on Christmas Day, the same militias have claimed an additional 12 attacks on U.S. forces in the region.) 

Dec. 23: Two Houthi anti-ship ballistic missiles were fired into international shipping lanes in the Southern Red Sea.

Dec. 23: Crew on board the USS Laboon shot down four unmanned aerial drones originating from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen that were inbound to the Laboon.

Dec. 23: M/V Blaamanen, a Norwegian-flagged, owned, and operated chemical/oil tanker, reported a near miss of a Houthi one-way attack drone with no injuries or damage.

Dec. 23: M/V Saibaba, a Gabon-owned, Indian-flagged crude oil tanker, reported that it was hit by a one-way attack drone with no injuries reported.

4th ID cooks up DIY software. The U.S. Army’s 4th Combat Aviation Brigade recently coded up a tool to help its aviators keep track of the myriad bits of data that keep their helicopters running. Now the commander of the 4th Infantry Division is working to spread this kind of do-it-yourself data processing throughout his division.

By taking “existing tools that are free and on the market and then writing just a little bit of code,” the 4th CAB produced a new tool that “scrapes information out of the program record and lets us see it in a more clear way,” said 4th ID commander Maj. Gen. David Doyle. D1’s Lauren C. Williams has more, here.

Lastly: Crime in the U.S. declined last year, “according to new FBI data that contradicts a widespread national perception that law-breaking and violence are on the rise,” NBC News reported.

Every category of major crime except auto theft is down, according to criminologist Jeff Asher, who analyzed the FBI numbers.

Surprised? You’re not alone. A Gallup poll released this month found that 77% of Americans believe crime rates are worsening, which isn’t true. “I think we’ve been conditioned, and we have no way of countering the idea” that crime is rising,” Asher said. “It’s just an overwhelming number of news media stories and viral videos — I have to believe that social media is playing a role.” Read on, here.