Today's D Brief: Three die in Houthi attack; Lawmakers want Starlink answers; NY NG to patrol subway; Anti-drone rifle; And a bit more.

The Iran-backed Houthis killed three people in their first fatal missile attack on commercial shipping vessels off the coast of Yemen, U.S. officials from the Tampa-based Central Command announced Wednesday afternoon. At least four others onboard were injured, including three of whom were listed in critical condition in the hours immediately after the attack in the Gulf of Aden. Crew members were from the Philippines, Vietnam, and India. At least two of those killed were from the Philippines, according to CNN

Attacked: Barbados-flagged, Liberian-owned bulk carrier M/V True Confidence, which is a 600-foot cargo ship headed to Saudi Arabia from China carrying steel products and trucks. Location-tracking sensors showed it nearing the Bab el-Mandeb strait, at the mouth of the Red Sea, before the vessel abruptly changed direction and headed south when it was attacked, as historian Sal Mercogliano illustrated on social media. 

“The targeting operation came after the ship’s crew rejected warning messages from the Yemeni naval forces,” the Houthis said in a statement confirming the attack Wednesday. 

The surviving crew abandoned the ship, which was listed as on fire and adrift early Thursday. The Indian navy rescued all 20 crew members and three armed guards about 50 nautical miles off the coast of Aden, according to Reuters. Those crew are now receiving treatment in Djibouti. 

“This was the sad but inevitable consequence of the Houthis recklessly firing missiles at international shipping,” officials from the British embassy in Sana’a said Wednesday, and urged the Houthis to stop. 

Another ship was also struck with a Houthi anti-ship ballistic missile, and a third such missile was shot down by U.S. sailors on the nearby USS Carney (DDG 64), CENTCOM said Wednesday. U.S. forces in the region also destroyed two aerial drones before launch Wednesday evening, CENTCOM announced separately. 

Happening now: CENTCOM commander Army Gen. Michael Kurilla and Africa Command chief Marine Gen. Michael Langley are testifying at one of the first posture hearings of the 2025 budget season. That one began at 10 a.m. ET. Catch the hearing via the Senate Armed Services Committee’s livestream, here

This afternoon, the Pentagon’s top special operations official Christopher Maier is scheduled to speak at the Washington-based Atlantic Council. That will begin at 12:30 p.m. ET. Details and livestream, here.

Welcome to this Thursday 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 1941, one of the Nazis’ most decorated submarines of the Second World War, U-47, disappeared somewhere in the North Atlantic.

Ukraine’s military says it's not planning any big operations anytime soon, and instead promised more deliberate counter-offensives sometime later this year, ground forces commander Oleksandr Pavliuk said in televised remarks Wednesday, according to Reuters

The military is now more formally in its “dig in” phase of defensive operations, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday from occupied Donetsk. Russian forces seem to be hoping to notch more gains ahead of presidential elections later this month, and more broadly before additional military aid can trickle in from Ukraine’s European allies—since Republican lawmakers back stateside are blocking any additional timely help from the U.S.

New: AP poll: “4 in 10 U.S. adults want America to broadly take a “less active” role in solving global conflicts. Only about one-quarter think the U.S. should take a more active role, and about one-third say its current role is about right.” More details from AP:

  • “Republicans, at 53%, are roughly twice as likely as Democrats, at 25%, to say the country should have less active involvement abroad. About half (52%) of Democrats say the U.S.’s current position is ‘about right.’”
  • And “About half of Republicans and independents want the U.S. to take a less active role in the war between Ukraine and Russia, compared to only 18% of Democrats.”

Developing: House lawmakers want answers from Elon Musk’s SpaceX over allegations Russia is using Starlink terminals in occupied Ukraine. The Oversight Committee’s ranking member Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland and his Democratic colleague California Rep. Robert Garcia sent a letter this week to SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell requesting a briefing on the topic, the lawmakers said Wednesday. 

If confirmed, then it would appear SpaceX does “not have appropriate guardrails and policies in place” in accordance with U.S. sanctions and export controls, Raskin and Garcia warned. “Russian procurement of, use of, or interference with Starlink terminals has the potential to advance the goals of Russia’s illegal and brutally lethal invasion of Ukraine,” they emphasized.

ICYMI: Defense One’s Sam Skove was the first to report on evidence that Russia was using Starlink in Ukraine, here.

SpaceX has about two weeks to update Raskin and Garcia, who gave Shotwell until March 20 to assemble a presentation. Read their letter in full (PDF), here.

The International Criminal Court issued a warrant for the arrest of Russia’s long-range aviation commander and the former chief of its Black Sea Fleet for their role in attacking Ukraine’s electricity, heating, and water infrastructure beginning “at least 10 October 2022 until at least 9 March 2023,” according to the ICC’s Tuesday announcement. 

“The alleged strikes were directed against civilian objects, and for those installations that may have qualified as military objectives at the relevant time, the expected incidental civilian harm and damage would have been clearly excessive to the anticipated military advantage,” the court said. More, here.

New York’s National Guard will patrol the subway to help alleviate some passengers’ fears about possible violent attacks, Governor Kathy Hochul announced Wednesday. “Hochul said she would deploy 1,000 members of the State Police, the National Guard and the transportation authority to “conduct bag checks in the city’s busiest stations’,” starting yesterday, the New York Times reported Wednesday.

UK paratroopers get computerized rifle sights to down drones. The Ar Zone: “The 16th Air Assault Brigade Combat Team, the British Army's highest readiness unit, shared pictures of personnel training with the new SMASH X4 sights on social media.” The sights are meant to give the Paras a way to fight off the kind of small drones widely used in Russia’s war on Ukraine. Read on, here.

Pentagon seeking new chips for battlefield AI. D1’s Patrick Tucker reports on DARPA’s $78 million Optimum Processing Technology Inside Memory Arrays, or OPTIMA, program, which just gave a $18.6 million grant to EnCharge AI, a California company founded in 2022 by Princeton computer science professor Naveen Verma. More, here

New spy balloon found off Alaska? “The Defense Department is analyzing a balloon discovered by fishermen off the coast of Alaska last week to determine whether it was a spy balloon, a spokesperson told CNN. The balloon is currently at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska, said department spokesperson Sue Gough.” A bit more, here.

Today in Washington, a veritable who’s-who ensemble of top Pentagon leaders is gathering for the 15th Annual McAleese Defense Programs Conference

Guests and speakers include Army chief Gen. Randy George, National Guard chief Gen. Daniel Hokanson, Air Force chief Gen. David Allvin, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro, Comptroller Michael McCord, top weapons buyer Bill LaPlante, and others.

The conference began before 8 a.m. ET and runs past 5 p.m. Registration is required to view the livestream; details here. And visit Defense One for coverage of the speakers.

Lastly: Man who crashed his snowmobile into an Army helicopter is suing the government. Lawyers for Jeff Smith “argue that the crew of the Black Hawk helicopter that flew down from New York’s Fort Drum for night training was negligent for parking a camouflaged 64-foot (19.5-meter) aircraft on a rarely used airfield also used by snowmobilers. Smith also sued the owner of Albert Farms airfield in Worthington, Massachusetts — accusing them of both giving permission to snowmobilers to use the trail and the Blackhawk crew to land in the same area. He settled with the farm owner for an undisclosed sum.” Read on, here.