Today's D Brief: Secretive airstrip near Yemen; USAF chief Allvin, in conversation; Russia-North Korea cargo flights continue; Is this the end for towed howitzers?; And a bit more.

Someone is building a nearly two-mile airstrip on a Yemeni island at the entrance to the Gulf of Aden, the Associated Press reported Thursday with supporting satellite imagery. Such a long runway (at 1.86 miles) “can accommodate attack, surveillance and transport aircraft, even some of the heaviest bombers,” AP’s Jon Gambrell writes. 

Location: The island of Abd al Kuri, which is officially part of Yemen but is actually closer to the Horn of Africa than Yemen. It’s an exceptionally rocky and dry place that almost resembles southern Afghanistan, if Afghanistan had access to the ocean. 

“No country has publicly claimed the construction taking place” on the island, but someone appears to have spelled out “I LOVE UAE” with piles of dirt next to the runway, Gambrell reports. 

For the record, UAE officials did not deny they are responsible. Instead, they told AP, “any presence of the UAE on Socotra island is based on humanitarian grounds that is carried out in cooperation with the Yemeni government and local authorities.” Read more, here

New: Saudi Arabia’s al-Arabiya state-run news spoke with U.S. Navy Capt. Marvin Scott, the air wing commander onboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, which is operating near the Red Sea. Frankly, he did not say a whole lot, aside from a few vague assertions that he believes the Houthis’ ability to conduct offensive actions has been degraded over the past several weeks. 

The U.S. military says it destroyed four “long-range” aerial drones launched by the Houthis at a U.S. Navy ship in the Red Sea in the early morning hours on Wednesday. The U.S. officials did not specify what ship was targeted in the apparent attacks, which did not damage any military or commercial vessels in the region, according to Central Command

Developing: The Houthis’ naval terrorism campaign is “likely to exacerbate the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen,” according to a report published late last month by the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization. “If the crisis continues, it will accelerate the already increased shipping costs, occasion further delivery delays, or even to a complete suspension of trade routes and closure Yemeni Ports,” the report’s authors warn. 

“Any disruption or blockage of these routes will hamper the delivery of assistance, exacerbating food insecurity among the already vulnerable population,” they continue, and advise “Immediate efforts to de-escalate tensions…to mitigat[e] the expected negative impact on Yemenis.” 

“​​This crisis, if not attended to, threatens to reverse the gains we have made in restoring livelihoods of Yemenis since the start of the conflict eight years ago,” FAO’s official representative in Yemen, Hussein Gadain, said in a statement. Read more, here

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Patrick Tucker. 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 1979, a partial nuclear meltdown began at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in Pennsylvania. “Its aftermath brought about sweeping changes involving emergency response planning, reactor operator training, human factors engineering, radiation protection, and many other areas of nuclear power plant operations,” according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The Associated Press remembers the day, here.

A large Russian cargo plane, one of the world’s largest, landed in North Korea one week ago. The same plane, a Russian 224th Flight Unit State Airlines Antonov An-124 cargo plane (tail number RA-82030), was “previously accused of delivering DPRK ballistic missiles for use against Ukraine,” NK News reported Wednesday after analyzing flight tracking data. 

“It appeared to have been in North Korea, likely Pyongyang, for several hours,” NK News reports. “Tracking data shows it departed Vladivostok around 2:30 a.m. KST before quickly shutting off its location transponder.”

Worth noting: “The plane does not appear to have broadcast its location during [an] alleged November flight, raising questions over why it did so during part of last week’s flight.” Read on, here

Developing: Turkey may soon become the largest seller of artillery shells to the U.S., Bloomberg reported Wednesday. One obstacle? “Turkish state companies don’t have enough 155mm shells to export, [so] instead apparently [the] Pentagon is utilising Turkish private companies to expedite the production,” journalist Ragıp Soylu reports. 

Russia’s autocratic leader said Wednesday he will not order an attack on NATO members, and he predicted incoming F-16s for Ukraine will not change the balance inside Russian-occupied Ukraine. 

“Are we planning to fight NATO? This is nonsense,” Putin told Russian pilots on Wednesday, according to a Kremlin transcript. “We have no aggressive intentions with regard to these states,” he said. “It is therefore complete nonsense when they claim that we can attack some other countries, including Poland, the Baltics and they are scaring the Czech Republic, too.”

Regarding the F-16s, “This will not change the situation on the battlefield,” he said, and promised, “We will destroy their aircraft just like we are now destroying their tanks, armoured vehicles and other equipment, including multiple launch rocket systems.”

But Putin incorrectly blamed NATO for 2014 protests in Ukraine that immediately preceded Russia’s invasion and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. “It was they who unleashed the war in 2014,” he alleged to his captive audience. “They procrastinated for eight years and eventually forced us to defend our interests and our people in a different way. This is all,” he added. 

Putin also spoke by phone about African security issues with the leaders of the Mali and Niger coups this week. Those talks included counterterrorism plans for the months ahead, Mali’s junta chief said on social media Wednesday. 

You may recall that coup leaders in Niger agreed to strengthen military ties with Russia in January. That apparently involves ending military co-operation with the United States and telling them to leave the country. Niger’s Gen. Abdourahamane Tiani, head of the military regime, said in his call with Putin, the two discussed “projects for multi-sector and global strategic cooperation,” according to Agence France-Presse, reporting Tuesday. 

ICYMI: The head of AFRICOM has testified that Russia's lies helped persuade Niger to eject U.S. troops, as Defense One’s Patrick Tucker reported one week ago. And Russian military actors went to both Niger and Mali very close to the coup dates in both countries, Tucker reported exclusively in September. 

Additional reading: 

The U.S. Army’s towed howitzers, many of which have been sent to Ukraine, are becoming increasingly obsolete. That’s according to Gen. James Rainey, the head of the U.S. Army’s Futures Command, who said this week that future artillery systems must “continuously move” with “no displacement” time. Defense One’s Sam Skove, reporting from Huntsville, Alabama, explains.

Lawmakers press the Pentagon on AI safety in tech sharing agreement with the U.K. and Australia. The Senate Armed Services Committee sent a long list of questions to the Pentagon this week about how Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom would develop AI tools together, as part of the AUKUS agreement. Read more from Defense One’s Patrick Tucker, here.

The Space Force says it will soon unveil a strategy for working with private companies. “I expect to talk about it in any detail at the Space Symposium out in Colorado Springs in a couple of weeks,” Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman said Wednesday. Our own Lauren Williams has a bit more.  

And happening today: Air Force chief Gen. David Allvin will sit down with Defense One’s Audrey Decker for the final conversation in our State of Defense interview series. Allvin will discuss the 2025 budget, rising global threats, recruiting challenges, and more. 

That will be followed by a discussion with Defense One’s Patrick Tucker and Shield Capital’s Raj Shah on how the Air Force can better embrace emerging technology. Show begins at 2 p.m. ET. Details and registration, here.