Today's D Brief: Russian missiles pound Ukraine; Berlin, Seoul step up for Kyiv; UAV attack in Jordan revised?; CH-53E missing in California; And a bit more.
Russia’s military unleashed a barrage of missiles across half a dozen regions in Ukraine on Wednesday, with apartment blocks destroyed and people still buried beneath rubble in cities like Mykolaiv as well as locations in Kharkiv and Lviv, President Volodymir Zelenskyy said Wednesday. At least four people were killed and 38 others injured in the capital of Kyiv, according to CNN.
More than 60 different munitions were used, including “strike UAVs, cruise, ballistic and anti-aircraft guided missiles,” Ukraine’s military said on Facebook. Twenty-nine of those missiles and 15 drones were shot down before reaching their target, according to the general staff. It appears as though Russian ballistic missiles and S-300 anti-aircraft guided missiles were the main projectiles that made it through Ukrainian air defenses.
With possible additional U.S. aid to Ukraine frozen by Republicans in Congress, former President Trump’s first national security advisor, retired Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, predicts “cascading conflicts even more costly than the interconnected wars in Ukraine and across the Middle East” if the U.S. abandons Ukraine’s defense.
“The abandonment of Kyiv would be a gift to the Moscow–Tehran–Beijing–Pyongyang axis of aggressors,” McMaster warned in a statement released Monday. “Allies and partners would lose trust in America as those aggressors are emboldened,” he added, and stressed, “It is past time for Congress to make the right choice.”
After attending a Pentagon briefing for lawmakers on Monday, Michigan Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin explained that a lack of continued U.S. support would leave Russia “able to strike Ukraine’s cities with ballistic missiles, destroying its economy, damaging critical infrastructure like energy plants, and raising worldwide food prices as Ukraine is unable to export grain that feeds millions around the globe.”
“Russia could break through the current front lines and capture more territory, subjecting more of Ukraine’s people to the same horrific crimes that took place at the start of the war,” she said. “Ukrainian refugees, fleeing bombardment and the cruelty of Russian forces, would leave in massive numbers, creating new strains for our European allies,” she continued.
“The irony is that there is a bipartisan agreement, negotiated in the Senate, that would send help to Ukraine, as well as Taiwan & Israel, & secure our own border,” Slotkin wrote on social media. “I hope the Senate considers it & I hope Speaker Johnson changes course & brings it to the House floor for a vote. If not, historians may remember this as the moment when America gave up on defending democracy. When our political polarization got so bad that we abandoned the principles our grandparents fought for.”
Some critics of that supplemental bill deride it for helping fund Ukraine’s defense, alleging that all the nearly $60 billion planned would wind up as essentially a handout. However, as with previous U.S. military aid to Ukraine—see here, here, here, and here, e.g.—most of that $60 billion would in fact stay inside the U.S., Politico reported Tuesday.
One possible (longshot) alternative: “There is a way for Joe Biden to rush aid to Ukraine without Congressional approval,” Simon Shuster of Time explained on social media Tuesday. “He can grant emergency licenses and share blueprints for Ukraine to produce NATO weapons for itself. Zelenskyy has been asking him for that at least since September.” Read more from Shuster’s recent report, “Inside Ukraine’s Plan to Arm Itself,” here.
New this week: Other allies like Germany and South Korea are stepping up to support its defense against Russia. “German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall stated on February 5 that it plans to send tens of thousands of 155mm artillery shells, dozens of Marder infantry fighting vehicles, 25 Leopard 1A5 tanks, and an unspecified number of Skynex air defense systems to Ukraine in 2024,” the Institute for the Study of War wrote Tuesday evening. And “South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) stated on February 6 that it plans to sign a contract with ammunition producer Poongsan in 2024 to mass produce 155mm shells that have an extended range of 60 kilometers,” according to ISW.
- “Biden's border chaos can be controlled and the time is now,” argued Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford, arguing Monday for Fox;
- “A Russian Bank Account May Offer Clues to a North Korean Arms Deal,” the New York Times reported Tuesday.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. 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 1999, Prince Abdullah was crowned King of Jordan upon the death of his father, King Hussein.
U.S. officials said last week a “mix-up” recognizing drones contributed to the deaths of three American soldiers at a remote base in Jordan. The soldiers there reportedly did not deploy counter-drone defenses against the exploding drone because they mistook it for an U.S. drone that was returning at the same time, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Update: Now defense officials say U.S. forces likely didn’t detect the deadly drone at all. And, in any case, the military outpost, known as Tower 22, didn’t have counter-drone defenses capable of shooting it down, according to the Washington Post.
None of this is an official narrative of the attack just yet, however. In addition, it’s possible that the enemy drone wasn’t seen because of “its low flight path,” an official told the Post. But perhaps more importantly, Tower 22 “was not outfitted with weapons that can ‘kill’ aerial threats like drones,” the Post reports.
For the record: “There have been 146 [U.S. military] casualties in Iraq, Syria, and Jordan since Oct. 18,” Pentagon spokesman Army Maj. Pete Nguyen said in a statement Tuesday. “Of those 146 casualties, three were killed in action, two sustained very serious injuries, nine had serious injuries, and 132 had non-serious injuries,” he added.
From the region: More Houthi terrorism off the Yemeni coast. The Iran-backed Houthis attacked two more commercial ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden on Tuesday—and the attacks occurred multiple times from the early morning through the late afternoon, according to U.S. defense officials.
Three different anti-ship ballistic missiles targeted the bulk carrier MV Star Nasia, and one of the missiles impacted “near the ship causing minor damage but no injuries,” Central Command officials said Tuesday.
Almost 12 hours later, another missile landed near the ship, but caused no damage. Two hours after that, the U.S. Navy shot down a third anti-ship ballistic missile apparently targeting the Star Nasia, which continued on its journey. According to CENTCOM, “The remaining three ASBMs were likely targeting MV Morning Tide, a Barbados-flagged, UK-owned cargo ship operating in the Southern Red Sea.” Those missiles landed near the ship, but did not disrupt or damage anything, CENTCOM said.
After more than 120 days of fighting, Hamas officials pitched a 135-day truce with Israel, but it faces an incredibly uphill battle since it calls for the Israeli military to withdraw from Gaza. Reuters has more.
By the way: Israel has already essentially rejected the deal, according to CNN, and officials believe as many as 50 hostages held by Hamas may already be dead, as the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.
The Israeli military just released more photos of tunnels built beneath Gaza as Jerusalem’s war with Hamas continues through its 124th consecutive day.
Saudi Arabia says it won’t talk to the Israelis until they agree to an “independent Palestinian state [that] is recognized on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, and that the Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip stops and all Israeli occupation forces withdraw from the Gaza Strip.” That was the message Riyadh’s foreign ministry sent the world Tuesday as diplomats struggled to draft a peace plan that could be agreeable to both Hamas and Israel’s far-right Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Developing: A military helicopter carrying five Marines is missing. The CH-53E Super Stallion was flying to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada when it was “reported overdue,” the Marine Corps told Defense One’s Audrey Decker.
Latest: The 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing is working with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department and the Civil Air Patrol on search and rescue efforts, the Marines said.
As you may recall, the Pentagon’s entire fleet of V-22 Ospreys has been grounded since early December, shortly after a deadly crash of an Air Force CV-22 off Japan. Officials now believe they know what caused that crash, but they are keeping mum on what it is, the Associated Press reports, noting that the Pentagon is working on how to return Ospreys to the sky, safely.
Turns out, the Navy’s version of the tiltrotor aircraft, which like the others, can take off and land like a helicopter but fly like a plane, was already “experiencing serious issues that limited its ability to fully perform its assigned missions” before that late November crash, The War Zone’s Howard Altman reported Tuesday.
The CMV-22B was “not operationally suitable” because of subsystem failures, the Pentagon’s Office of the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation said in its fiscal year 2023 report. Read more, here.
USAF vs. China, think tank edition. Academics recently ran a wargame to see how the U.S. Air Force’s robot wingman concept, which they call combat collaborative aircraft, would fare in a fight with China, Defense One’s Audrey Decker reported Tuesday. The test involved blue air teams using a mix of drone aircraft as “sensors, decoys, jammers, and weapons launchers to ‘disrupt and stimulate’ China’s integrated air defense system, ‘locate its critical nodes, and begin to attrit threats to support crewed aircraft operations,” Decker writes.
The findings? The Air Force must still determine how best to balance cost and capability, the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies said. Read on, here.
And lastly: Is the U.S. Army truly serious about punishing misbehaving senior officers? The question has resurfaced this week with an update to the story of Army Lt. Col. Jacob J. Sweatland, who was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor in September 2022 after trying to recover a secret camera he’d hidden inside a dressing room at a PacSun clothing store in California. A teenage girl had found the camera and notified authorities. Sweatland tried to retrieve it two days later, and when he was confronted by police, initially tried to run away, as Task and Purpose reported Tuesday.
At the time, Sweatland was chair of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. For the record, “Sweatland initially faced charges in civilian court, but the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s office dismissed charges against him so that the Army could adjudicate the case,” T&P writes.
Sweatland’s punishment was meted out at a court-martial in Fort Knox two weeks ago: He was reprimanded and will avoid jail time after pleading guilty to “indecent visual recording and one specification of conduct unbecoming an officer under Articles 120c and 133 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice,” a spokesman for U.S. Army Cadet Command told T&P. On the civilian side, California criminals who violate what’s known as “hidden camera laws” can face up to six months in jail and a thousand-dollar fine.
Why bring this up? “The case underscores how poorly the U.S. military prosecutes sexual assault cases,” one expert and veteran said. The “slap on the wrist of a reprimand,” said Lt. Col. Rachel VanLandingham, a former judge advocate and law professor at Southwestern Law School, “it’s worse than him not being court-martialed at all,” she said.
The issue was even flagged as an obstacle to the Army’s recruiting slump, as Secretary Christine Wormuth complained to reporters 10 days after Sweatland was arrested. Read more at Task & Purpose, here.