The D Brief: Red Sea attacks, quantified; Ukraine’s new drone corps; V-22’s limited flight ops; Estonia’s warning; And a bit more.

The Iran-backed Houthi terrorists appear to be stepping up their attacks on ships along Yemen’s coast. That includes a drone boat that hit M/V Tutor, a Liberian-flagged, Greek-owned and operated vessel in the Red Sea on Wednesday. 

The drone boat attack “caused severe flooding and damage to the engine room,” U.S. defense officials at Central Command said Wednesday. The same boat, M/V Tutor, was also hit with “an unknown airborne projectile,” British maritime authorities said Wednesday. 

A separate apparent attack caused fire aboard another ship Thursday south of Aden. Two “unknown projectiles” were involved, according to the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations. 

A different explosion occurred near a vessel west of Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah on Thursday as well, though there is no apparent damage from that incident, UKMTO said. Earlier in the week, on Tuesday, the Houthis fired two anti-ship ballistic missiles toward ships in the Red Sea, but “There were no injuries or damage reported by U.S., coalition, or commercial ships,” CENTCOM said. 

Said one U.S. naval officer: The Houthis “hit ships that are completely not associated or tied to the U.S. or Israel at all,” said Cmdr. Eric Blomberg, the commanding officer of the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer Laboon, speaking to Jon Gambrell the Associated Press

“These are just innocent merchant sailors carrying goods through the Red Sea, trying to get it through the least-expensive route, and they’re paying for it,” he said.

  • Extra reading: The Defense Intelligence Agency just released a report illustrating the timeline and likely economic impacts of the Houthis attacks on commercial shipping up to late March 2024. Much of the information we’ve already covered in this newsletter. But you can read over this new report for yourself, (PDF) here

Q. Is the U.S.-led naval mission to protect commercial shipping in the Red Sea working? Answer: Sort of. That is to say, there seems to have been about a 20% reduction in those attacks over a four-month period, according to a recent analysis from the Washington Institute’s Michael Knights, who explained his findings in a video Wednesday. December was the most active month for the Houthis attacking ships along Yemen’s coast; February was the second-most active month. 

Knights’ big takeaway (and prediction): “What we’re seeing at the moment in the Strait of Hormuz and the Indian Ocean is a test run of some of the capabilities that Iran might use in the Strait of Hormuz scenario,” Knights said in a video posted Wednesday. “But the impact of a Strait of Hormuz closure would be far greater for the global energy markets than this crisis in the Red Sea has been,” he added. 

Speaking of global energy, “oil markets are headed toward a major glut this decade,” with oil-demand growth “set to peak by the rollout of clean-energy technologies accelerates,” the Wall Street Journal reported (gift link) Thursday, citing the International Energy Agency's newest medium-term oil market report entitled, Oil 24. “Apart from during the pandemic, the last time demand was this low was in 1991,” the report’s authors write. 

In the near term, “Rising world oil supplies, led by non-OPEC+ producers, are expected to surpass forecast demand from 2025 onwards,” the IEA predicts. Still, “Total oil demand is nevertheless forecast to rise by 3.2 [million barrels per day] between 2023 and 2030, supported by increased use of jet fuel and feedstocks from the booming petrochemical sector.” Much of that demand is poised to saturate India and China consumers, as well as in the world’s developing and emerging economies (unlike advanced economies in the U.S. and Europe, for example). 

And in terms of fueling its Ukraine war, “Capacity in Russia is expected to show only a marginal decline despite international sanctions as the giant Vostok project ramps up, helping to offset losses at mature oil fields,” the IEA says. Read more in the full report, here

Update: U.S. forces reopened pier operations leading to the coast of Gaza on Tuesday, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said Wednesday. “In total, since May 17, Central Command assisted in the delivery of more than 2,500 metric tons, or approximately 5.6 million pounds of humanitarian aid to the shore for onward distribution,” she said.

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 here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1944 and exactly one week after the allied landings at Normandy, Nazi Germany launched its first V1 flying bombs (like an early cruise missile and similar to glide bombs used by Russia to attack Ukraine) in a wave of air attacks against England.

New: V-22s won’t return to full flight operations until mid-2025. “Today, we are methodically looking at material and non-material changes that we can make to allow for a full mission set without controls in place,” Vice Adm. Carl Chebi, head of Naval Air Systems Command, said Wednesday during a House Oversight Committee national security subcommittee hearing. “I will not certify the V-22 to return to unrestricted flight operations until I’m satisfied we have sufficiently addressed the issues that may affect the safety of the aircraft. Based on the data that I have today, I’m expecting that this will not occur until mid-2025.”

Family members of troops who have died in Osprey mishaps attended the hearing on Capitol Hill, holding up pictures of their deceased loved ones behind the three Pentagon officials testifying. “In my mind, if you can’t fix it, you shouldn’t be flying it,” Alexia Collart said after the hearing. Collart’s son, Cpl. Spencer Collart, died last year in a Marine Corps V-22 crash in Australia.  

Context: The Pentagon grounded its entire fleet for months after a “materiel failure” caused an Air Force Special Operations Command CV-22 to crash off the coast of Japan in December, killing eight airmen. It cleared all Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force V-22s to return to “restricted” flight operations in March. D1’s Audrey Decker reports.

The Navy has set the schedule for the decommissioning of its 13 remaining cruisers. (One of your D Brief-ers has reported from three of them.) Chris Cavas has the details here

Lawmakers slam Coast Guard's handling of misconduct allegations. “Members of both parties in both houses of Congress criticized the U.S. Coast Guard on Tuesday for allegedly withholding documents requested as part of investigations into the military branch’s handling of misconduct, particularly sexual assault,” write Govexec’s Sean Michael Newhouse. 

It’s a “present, ongoing, persistent and unacceptably prevalent problem,” the chairman of the investigations subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee told Coast Guard Commandant Linda Fagan during a hearing.

Meanwhile, leaders from the House Oversight and Accountability Committee have sent Fagan a letter asking why the Coast Guard hasn’t sent more documents to the panel as part of its own investigation into the force’s handling of racism, hazing, discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and other misconduct. Read on, here.

Ukraine officially has a drone corps, although a lot of details are still TBD. The Unmanned Systems Forces was unveiled in a June 11 ceremony, four months after President Volodymyr Zelensky ordered the creation of a separate branch of the armed forces to improve drone operations.

“Ukraine set a precedent that has not been seen since the creation of airplanes and air forces,” said Col. Vadym Sukharevskyi, who was responsible for drone systems and their development as deputy commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces. Sukharevskyi is the new branch’s first commander. The Kyiv Independent has a bit more.

ICYMI: The WH said no to a new Army drone corps. That comes from the Biden administration’s reaction this week to a provision in the House version of the 2025 defense policy bill that would force the U.S. Army to create a drone corps of its own. 

In a policy statement on Tuesday, the White House Office of Management and Budget said: “The Administration strongly opposes Section 924, which would establish a Drone Corps as a basic branch of the Army.A Drone Corps would create an unwarranted degree of specialization and limit flexibility to employ evolving capabilities. Further, the Secretary of the Army already has the authority to create branches, as needed, and creating a branch through legislation would detract from the Army’s flexibility in addressing current and future requirements.” (DefenseScoop)

The Ukraine Defense Contact Group is meeting for the 23rd time. In  opening remarks, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s noted Kyiv’s tough situation, though not the GOP-forced months-long pause in U.S. aid that deepened it and shook the Contact Group’s members. “Fortunately, support for Ukraine is growing, and not waning. In fact, I'm pleased to welcome Argentina as a new member,” Austin said. 

Europe’s still spending too little on defense to suit Estonia. Europe is “not taking seriously the current situation,” Marko Mihkelson, chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Estonian parliament, told D1’s Sam Skove in Tallinn. “There should be hundreds of billions of euros invested directly into the modernization of military forces.” 

Even Tallinn may not be taking its defense seriously enough, despite being one of the few NATO members that has regularly met the alliance’s goal of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense: On Tuesday, the permanent secretary at the Estonian Ministry of Defense, Kusti Salm, said he would resign his position over Estonia’s failure to increase munition stockpiles. Read on, here.

A top Pentagon advisor on U.S. relations in the Pacific is stepping down from his post, defense officials said Wednesday. That’s Abraham Denmark, who is Defense Secretary Austin's senior advisor for the trilateral AUKUS alliance, which ties together Australia, the United Kingdom, and U.S. efforts to help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines. He'd also previously served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asia, where he helped manage the Pentagon's strategy toward the People's Republic of China. 

Abe studied Mandarin in Beijing, and “was a key architect of the AUKUS Pillar One optimal pathway announced by the president and the prime ministers, and instrumental in developing advanced capability cooperation in AUKUS Pillar Two,” the Pentagon’s Sabrina Singh said Wednesday. “We want to thank Abe for his leadership, building strong coalitions, bringing us even closer to two of our closest allies, the U.K. and Australia, and for strengthening security across the Indo-Pacific,” she added. 

One regional expert’s advice for U.S. policymakers considering the Pacific: “People in the United States need to understand that in the western Pacific, unlike Europe, there is no NATO to come to the rescue,” said retired Australian Army Maj. Gen. Mick Ryan, speaking on the Defense One Radio podcast this week. “So if something happens with Taiwan [as in a Chinese naval blockade or military invasion], the U.S. is going to be the major contributor. There might be other countries like Japan and Australia who will help; but there's no NATO to come to the rescue,” he said. 

Additionally, Ryan explained, “when [President Biden] says we're going to defend Taiwan, and then you have officials then walk back back three times in a row? I mean, that's frustrating,” he said. “That is not helpful for anyone. It's not helpful for Taiwan, the United States, or people in the region.” 

“That said, I think we could probably have some faith that the U.S. military is a very capable, and strategically clever organization in many of these scenarios,” he continued, “and organizations like INDO-PACOM have been thinking about this problem” of how to plan for various contingencies related to Taiwan’s future. 

You may recall Ryan published a book of speculative fiction last year entitled “White Sun War: The Campaign for Taiwan.” We spoke to Ryan about the book, as well as what worries and encourages him in terms of U.S. and allied policy in the Pacific region. You can hear that conversation in full on our website, or wherever you listen to podcasts.