Today's D Brief: Kyiv’s drone ambitions; Russian airstrikes, tallied; WestPac patrol plans; First-ever ASD for tech; And a bit more.

Ukraine is escalating its drone ambitions, with newly revised “production plans for all types of drones this year, including FPV, bombers, reconnaissance, and long-range drones for special missions,” President Volodymir Zelenskyy announced on social media. 

More than 750 days into Russia’s Ukraine invasion, Zelenskyy met with military officials to talk expressly about drones for almost three hours on Monday at least partly because “Frontline [battlefield] needs are constantly changing, and our manufacturers must respond in a timely manner,” the president said. 

Among Ukraine’s top drone priorities: “streamlin[ing] procurement procedures and component imports, increas[ing] the production of charges for drones, and train[ing] operators,” said Zelenskyy. 

Developing: Ukraine’s military is also working on “an integrated electronic warfare control system to protect our warriors and equipment from Russian UAVs,” the president said Monday. “It is already being tested in certain areas,” with plans to “scale it up to the entire front,” he said. 

Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin spoke to his Ukrainian counterpart Friday. Austin and Defense Minister Rustem Umerov discussued Ukraine’s artillery and air defense needs, as well as their mutual desire for House lawmakers to pass legislation authorizing more funding for Ukraine’s defense. The Senate passed their version of the additional funds in early February, but House Speaker Mike Johnson has so far refused to advance similar discussions in the lower chamber, which will return to Washington next week after its latest recess.  

Update: Russia has attacked Kyiv with missiles and drones more than 180 times since the start of the year, including with at least five of its new hypersonic Zircon missiles, Reuters reported Monday.

Additional reading: 

Welcome to The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. This April Fools Day, we’d like to take a brief moment to recall the edition sent on this day nine years ago (here) that made several subscribers a bit angry; Defense One alumnus Marcus Weisgerber captained the effort, which informed readers that the Pentagon had recently invited Chinese officials to Area 51 and that former SecDef Donald Rumsfeld wanted to return to the Defense Department, among other jokes and misdirections. There are no such misdirections today, we promise. 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 1976, Apple Computer, Inc. was founded by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.

Manila-Tokyo-Washington summit preview: The Japanese, U.S., and Philippine navies will plan to jointly patrol the South China Sea sometime later this year, Politico reported late last week, ahead of an upcoming meeting between leaders of the three countries at the White House on April 11. 

An American soldier was arrested in South Korea this weekend for allegedly “stealing a car and driving under the influence of alcohol before crashing into other vehicles from behind,” South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported Monday. The soldier is “in his 20s [and] stationed at an American military base in Pyeongtaek, 60 kilometers south of Seoul,” according to Yonhap. He’s now in U.S. military police custody. Story, here.  

From the region: 

Northrop Grumman teamed up with the Navy to shoot down a large test ballistic missile over the Pacific ocean last week. 

Involved: The Navy’s ship-based Aegis missile defense system, which detected and intercepted a two-stage, solid rocket-fueled ballistic missile in its final phase of flight using a Standard Missile-6 Dual II variant with a software upgrade. 

The test took place Thursday off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii, to test the Navy’s Flight Test Aegis Weapon System-32 (abbreviated as FTM-32 but also known as Stellar Laelaps), along with officials from the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. It was just the second time this particular system—Aegis Baseline 9.C2, also known as BMD 5.1—was used to shoot down a medium-range ballistic missile with the upgraded SM-6. 

The Australian navy participated as well, contributing “radar capabilities of the ANZAC Class frigate HMAS Stuart, together with an Australian E-7 Wedgetail aircraft assisting in data collection and communications,” U.S. officials said in a statement Friday. 

Check out the Navy’s USS Jack H. Lucas (DDG 125), which participated in the test as service’s first Flight III Aegis Destroyer equipped with SPY-6 radar, via a series of images published Friday on DVIDS, here

Air Force wants better-linked cargo planes. “We have more connectivity in our cars and on our cell phones than we do in the forward edge of the mobility platforms right now—and we have got to aggressively depart from that,” Gen. Mike Minihan said during Defense One’s State of Defense series. The service’s Air Mobility Command chief wants something like a palette that can be loaded onto airlifters to give more automated situational awareness than can currently be had by “squeezing a microphone trigger”—i.e., talking via radio. D1’s Audrey Decker reports.

And lastly: The Pentagon now has its first-ever Assistant Secretary of Defense for Science and Technology. Following her Senate confirmation in late February, three-decade plus NASA veteran Aprille Ericsson took the oath of office Friday at the Defense Department, after transferring from the Goddard Space Flight Center's Instrument Systems and Technology Division. 

Ericsson is the first Black woman to earn a PhD in mechanical engineering from Washington’s Howard University, and she’s the first Black woman to earn a PhD in engineering from Maryland’s NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Her new posting is one of three announced for the Pentagon in July. The other two are Assistant Secretary of Defense for Critical Technologies, currently held by Maynard Holliday in an acting capacity; and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Mission Capabilities, held by Thomas Browning in an acting capacity.