Today's D Brief: Drones vs. factories; GE’s engine spinoff; USAFA’s diversity struggle; New job for Cold-War crane; And a bit more.

An alleged Ukrainian drone struck Russia’s third-largest oil refinery on Tuesday, which is about a thousand miles from the front lines of Vladimir Putin’s invasion and occupation of Ukraine.

Location: The Taneco refinery in the Tatarstan region southeast of Moscow, in a city called Nizhnekamsk. It has a production rate of 340,000 barrels per day, and “accounts for about 6.2% of Russia's refining capacity,” Reuters reports from Moscow. 

Post-strike imagery surfaced on social media like Telegram shortly afterward, though it’s not clear just yet if the strike will reduce production. At least a dozen people were injured in the fires that erupted after impact, according to the BBC.

A separate strike appears to have targeted an apparent drone factory in Tatarstan as well. But initial indications do not seem to suggest a successful strike, according to geolocation analyst Benjamin Pittet. The Washington Post has more on the likely intended target in the town of Yelabuga, here

Developing: Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson thinks he’s got a plan that could pave the way for more U.S. aid to Ukraine—provided the White House stands down on certain climate-related goals, including reversing a moratorium on new permits for liquefied natural gas exports. Politico and The Hill have a bit more. 

Related reading: 

Welcome 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 1951, two F9F-2B Panthers launched from the aircraft carrier Princeton (CV 37) on a mission to attack a railroad bridge near Songjin, North Korea, marking the U.S. Navy’s first jet-powered bombing operation.

“The U.S. Air Force wants a diverse officer corps. It's not working” is the headline for this deep dive by Reuters into the service’s efforts to address racial disparities in the ranks.

The issues were laid out in 2020 by an Air Force inspector general report that “found lower than average promotion rates for Black officers across all ranks, and that one in three Black officers did not believe the Air Force provided them the same opportunities to advance as their white peers,” Reuters writes. 

From that report: “Thousands of Black service members and civilians reported issues ranging from bias to outright racial discrimination,” the inspector general wrote.

Find the Reuters piece, which focuses on the experiences of two Black cadets at the Air Force Academy, here.

Related reading:

The 132-year-old U.S. industrial titan General Electric is much less of a titan these days. After a roughly 15-year financial slide, the company officially split its power and aerospace divisions on Tuesday, forming the separate entities GE Vernova and GE Aerospace, respectively, the Wall Street Journal reports in a retrospective multimedia slideshow

GE was valued as high as $601 billion in August 2000, which would be more than a trillion dollars in 2024. However, today its energy spinoff is valued at just $35 billion, and GE Aerospace is valued at $140 billion. As of April 2, both are now public companies trading on the New York Stock Exchange. (Trace the company’s financial history going back to 1980 in a chart via the New York Times, here.)

What’s going on: “The breakup is a culmination of CEO Larry Culp's efforts to breathe life into the company that ran into struggles, including the 2008 financial crisis that nearly bankrupted its most profitable business, GE Capital,” Reuters reports. 

Rewind: GE built the first U.S. jet engine to power the first U.S. military jet, the Bell XP-59A Airacomet, whose first flight was in October 1942. GE also powered the Army Air Corps’ P-80 Shooting Star, which set a world speed record of 620 miles per hour in 1947. 

GE engines would ultimately power an incredibly wide range of military aircraft, including the F-104 Starfighter, F-4 Phantom II, RA-5C Vigilante, B-58 Hustler, and the F-5 Freedom Fighter. More recently, GE-built engines have powered the T-38 Talon supersonic pilot trainer, the A-10 Thunderbolt II, the B-1 bomber, F-16C/D fighter aircraft, F-2 and F-15s, F-14 Tomcats, B-2 stealth bomber, U-2 spy planes, F/A-18 Hornets, F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, EA 18G Growlers, Saab JAS 39 Gripen, Korea’s T-50, India’s Tejas Mark I, F-117 stealth fighters, Apache, Sea Stallion and Blackhawk helos, and more. 

Bonus trivia: For a few decades leading up to the turn of the century, your D Brief-er’s mama worked at a GE plant fabricating Blackhawk parts in western Kentucky coal country. The factory was an enormous lifeline to the community, and she stayed on until her boys finally left home and yours truly enlisted in the Army, eventually parachuting from the side of those GE-powered Blackhawks and onto drop zones across the American south. 

Now what? “While GE is smaller, its share price nearly doubled in 2023 and is trading near seven-year highs,” the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. The company’s aerospace division, meanwhile, may need to adjust to changing times and possibly think smaller in the years ahead. 

GE had been excited about its part in the Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft program, aka FARA, which was a years-long effort to replace the aging Kiowa and Apache airframes. But the Army canceled that program in early February, and at least temporarily declined to advance its Improved Turbine Engine Program, initially launched in 2009, beyond the development phase. However, the Army still plans to integrate the engines into Apache and Blackhawk helicopters. 

“We are learning from the battlefield—especially in Ukraine—that aerial reconnaissance has fundamentally changed,” Army chief Gen. Randy George said when service leaders canceled the FARA program nearly six weeks ago. “Sensors and weapons mounted on a variety of unmanned systems and in space are more ubiquitous, further reaching, and more inexpensive than ever before.”

Keep up with the latest in drone and Army aviation developments via Defense One’s Sam Skove, who’s been monitoring these trends for several months.

And lastly: We can neither confirm nor, we can confirm that the crane from the Glomar Explorer is being used for the Baltimore bridge cleanup. 

The Chesapeake 1000, whose 800-ton rating makes it one of the most powerful cranes on the eastern seaboard, was built for the CIA’s Project Azorian, the secret effort to salvage a Soviet missile sub that went down in 1968 more than a thousand miles from Hawaii. The mission gave rise to the “Glomar response.” The Washington Post connected the dots to the bridge cleanup, reporting Sunday, here.