The D Brief: Chinese boat in Taiwanese river; Ask AI to 3D-print a drone; Army’s mobile trainers; USCGA official resigns, citing coverup; And a bit more.

An alleged former Chinese naval officer managed to sail a speedboat up a “strategic river mouth” that leads to Taiwan’s capital city of Taipei, and now authorities on the self-governing island are investigating how it could have happened, the Associated Press reported Tuesday. 

“The small boat was detected off the coast but apparently was not interdicted until it began interfering with ferry traffic across the Tamsui River,” AP writes. 

A related scenario was discussed with Dmitri Alperovitch for our upcoming Defense One Radio podcast. Alperovitch just published a book entitled, “World on the Brink: How America Can Beat China in the Race for the Twenty-First Century,” and he unpacked its key themes in a 40-minute conversation with Defense One’s Patrick Tucker. The first several pages of his book describe how a Chinese military invasion of Taiwan might unfold.  

Using Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s public desire to “unify” Taiwan with the mainland as as lens, Alperovitch explained, Xi’s military has for the last several years been “building capabilities for amphibious assault ships that can do air assaults against key facilities like the ports and do an assault down the river that sneaks through the island into the heart of Taipei. But they don't have it yet,” he said. 

Using helicopter assault ships and what are effectively air-cushion landing craft, the Chinese military are refining their ability to “unload at the opening [or] the mouth of the river, the Tamsui River, that leads you into Taipei, and within 10 minutes, these boats full of Chinese Marines can be in the heart of the government district of Taipei, and attempt to do a decapitation strike of the government,” Alperovitch said. 

Any invasion will have to start at the coasts where Taiwan maintains seven commercial ports. But few are as large as the one at the Tamsui’s mouth that was significantly expanded in 2012. “Taiwan’s extensive array of steep mountains and winding rivers made the rapid transport of a large [Chinese military] armored force from any other port or beach to the capital all but impossible,” he writes in the prologue to his new book. It will be “essential to the Chinese to take [Taiwan’s] ports to unload the half a million-plus troops that they're going to need—enormous amounts of logistics, [an] enormous number of vehicles—that you need to occupy a country of 24 million people,” he said. 

But the Port of Taipei is seemingly the most vital of Taiwan’s seven ports. “You can close in on that port very rapidly,” he explained on the podcast. “You can unload your boats at the mouth of the city and be within the city of Taipei in 10 to 15 minutes.” 

Alperovitch is not the only one who suspects the Chinese may attempt to kill or capture Taiwan’s leaders. Retired Australian Army Maj. Gen. Mick Ryan said much the same in a similar conversation for Defense One Radio. (He published a fictional account of possible future war for Taiwan with his 2023 book, “White Sun War.”) “What the Russians tried to do and failed [in Ukraine] and what the Chinese will definitely try and do is decapitation of national leadership,” Ryan said. 

“They will want to ensure that there is not a Zelenskyy-type figure that arises in Taipei or somewhere in Taiwan that unifies [or] rallies the nation and is able to gain diplomatic and other forms of support from overseas,” the general said. “And I think the Taiwanese are looking at these kinds of issues very, very closely through the lens of Ukraine,” Ryan said. 

Ukraine, after all, blew up the runway on its main airport near Kyiv, effectively torpedo-ing Russia’s chances of offloading massive numbers of troops right near the capital city back in February 2022. 

And that begs the question: Should an invasion begin, will Taiwan choose to blow up the Port of Taipei? “To make the decision to destroy the port, or even blockade, the river has to be done very rapidly,” Alperovitch said. “You have minutes to decide, [and] that decision has to be transmitted, of course to your forces, they have to be positioned to do it.” 

“And guess what the Chinese are going to do?” he continued. “They're going to try to destroy command and control nodes, to try to jam communication. So it's not even clear if the decision gets made that will be transmitted at the right point to the right people.”

Which could be why a 60-year-old Chinese fisherman may choose to poke around the port and see what response he provokes. Or he may have simply gotten lost. Read more at AP, here; and stay tuned for our conversations with Alperovitch and Ryan, which are set to go live very soon…

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 here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1942, the Battle of Bir Hakeim came to an end in the Libyan desert. The two-week defensive stand was ostensibly a loss for French-led forces attempting to block a German Nazi and Italian Fascist advance on the port city of Tobruk; but the delay caused by defense of Bir Hakeim led the Nazis to cancel their planned invasion of Malta, which hosted a vital British air and naval base in the Mediterranean Sea. The French still commemorate this battle with a metro stop and bridge in Paris that bears its name.

Remember when Tony Stark had JARVIS whip up a new version of his Iron Man suit? Something similar is happening at the Air Force’s drone-developing Task Force 99. “Earlier this year, the unit tried out prototype software that designs 3D-printed drones with artificial intelligence,” reports Defense One’s Audrey Decker. 

“The tool ‘drastically reduced’ the time it takes for TF-99 to design and build a small UAS from weeks and months to ‘hours and days’,” said Col. Jeffrey Digsby, who commands the Air Forces Central Command unit. “Digsby said the AI software is fed a set of requirements, like how far the drone needs to fly and how heavy a payload it needs to carry, and then 3D-printing machines build the drone within a day.” Read on, here.

Sophisticated Army training goes mobile to knit a farflung Pacific coalition. For a recent exercise in the Philippines, U.S. Army Pacific made the first deployment of its Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center-Exportable—a unit that brings a “fully instrumented” set of range gear and other capabilities to help partner nations get the best training possible. Defense One’s Jennifer Hlad reports from Hawaii.

Pentagon pauses development of its go-to data analytics tool. DOD’s new data chief wants infrastructure improvements made to the Advana platform, which tracks Ukraine aid and many other things. Advana will remain up and running, but users who were banking on new features or apps will need to wait an unknown amount of time—or find a workaround. Defense One’s Lauren Williams has more, here.

Coast Guard Academy official resigns, saying leaders told her to lie to Congress about sex-assault cover-ups. Shannon Norenberg, the academy’s head of sexual-assault prevention, told CNN that “she was devastated when she recently discovered old records showing how leaders had used her as part of the cover-up of Operation Fouled Anchor, a secret internal probe into a history of sexual assault cover-ups that CNN exposed last summer.” More, here.

And lastly: Army gate security drama last year leads to guilty plea. An unusually dangerous situation unfolded at the entrance of Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., exactly one year ago, the Department of Justice reminded us with an update to a federal case Monday in the western district of Missouri. 

A 32-year-old man “drove a stolen vehicle to the north gate of Fort Leonard Wood shortly after 1 a.m. on June 11, 2023,” DOJ said Monday. After erratic behavior under questioning, the suspect showed gate guards an axe in his passenger seat, and then fled—initiating a brief high-speed pursuit, which led him to crash into the base’s north gate drop arm barrier. 

According to the charges, he yelled at the officers, “If you tase me, I will kill you.” The Justice Department says, “He then charged toward the officer with his fists clenched, and the officer tased him.” His hostile behavior did not end there (read on for the rest). He pleaded guilty Monday to one count of assaulting a federal officer and one count of threatening to murder a federal law enforcement officer, which could lead to as many as 18 years in prison.