The D Brief: New-ICBM chief fired; US contractors to Ukraine?; SecDef’s convo with Russian counterpart; UXO-hunting robots; And a bit more.

Air Force fires head of Sentinel ICBM program. Col. Charles Clegg’s removal, first reported by Bloomberg, comes as the program’s projected cost has soared past $131 billion and breached Nunn-McCurdy limits.

However, Clegg’s removal “is not directly related to the Nunn-McCurdy review,” Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek confirmed in a statement. Instead, he “did not follow organizational procedures” and the service lost confidence in his ability to lead the program, Stefanek said.

On the horizon: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin must now recertify the ICBM program by July 9 or else it will be canceled. Defense One’s Audrey Decker has a bit more on all this, here.

Previously on Sentinel: 

New: Attacks against the U.S. defense industrial base are increasing, NSA chief warns. U.S. government officials and lawmakers have called China a top cyber threat for years. But this year, they have been issuing increasingly dire warnings about China’s rising risk tolerance for cyber operations, as evinced by the Volt Typhoon campaign, which targeted key elements of U.S. infrastructure.

The NSA and Cyber Command are devoting more time and energy to threats posed by AI-enabled cyber attacks, as well as working on how to employ AI for cyber security within the Defense Department and within the industrial base, Gen. Timothy Haugh, the head of U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, told the crowd at TechNet Cyber on Tuesday. Defense One’s Patrick Tucker has more, here.

A key Pentagon data-analysis tool is getting ease-of-use upgrades. Just weeks after officials paused new development of the Advana platform, an official explains why: the three-year-old homegrown tool is being revamped to more easily draw data sets from external sources, which should ease the pain of the current complicated process to add the information to Advana’s single shared pool. 

Watch, today: William Streilein, the chief technology officer in the Pentagon’s chief digital and AI office, revealed the plan in an interview for Defense One’s Genius Machines series. (Register to watch when the interview goes live at 2 p.m. Eastern time. It’s free.) Defense One’s Lauren Williams has more on that conversation here.

Welcome to this Wednesday 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 1936, the world’s first practical, fully controllable helicopter, the Focke-Wulf Fw 61, was flown in Germany. 

On Capitol Hill: The House Oversight Committee is meeting this morning to discuss “Defending America from the Chinese Communist Party’s Political Warfare,” the second in an ongoing series of hearings hosted by Chairman James Comer of Kentucky. 

That began at 10 a.m ET, and features a former senior intelligence officer for the Navy’s Pacific Fleet: retired Capt. James Fanell, who was fired in 2014 for taking a hard line on China against the wishes of the Obama administration. Fanell’s opening remarks include seven recommendations for committee members, which begin with insisting the U.S. intelligence community admit its failures in “not recogniz[ing] the existential threat” of the People's Republic of China. Read his full 17-page opening remarks (PDF) here

Background-check hearing. The Defense Department’s Counterintelligence and Security Agency Director David Cattler is slated to discuss the military’s background check system before the House oversight committee’s subcommittee on Government Operations and the Federal Workforce, at 2 p.m. ET. Catch that live here

Oversight subcommittee trivia: All nine GOP panel members who held office during the last presidential election voted against certifying the results just hours after the January 6 insurrection to prevent the transfer of power from President Trump to President-elect Biden. That included Gary Palmer of Alabama, Louisiana’s Clay Higgins, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Florida’s Byron Donalds, William Tymons of South Carolina, Tennessee’s Tim Burchett, Georgia’s Marjorie Greene, Colorado’s Lauren Boebert, and Subcommittee Chairman Pete Sessions from Texas. (The other two Republicans on the panel—Russell Fry and Eric Burlison—began their House careers in 2023.)

Developing: The White House is considering authorizing defense contractor deployments to Ukraine to help repair U.S.-provided weapons, CNN reported Tuesday. 

For the record, “We have not made any decisions and any discussion of this is premature,” one White House official told CNN, and added, “The president is absolutely firm that he will not be sending U.S. troops to Ukraine.” More here.

Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin spoke to Russian Minister of Defense Andrey Belousov for the first time Tuesday. In that conversation, Austin “emphasized the importance of maintaining lines of communication amid Russia's ongoing war against Ukraine,” according to the Pentagon’s terse readout

Moscow’s POV: “Belousov highlighted the danger of further escalation due to continued US weapons supplies to the Ukrainian armed forces,” the Kremlin announced in its short readout, according to state-run TASS. “The parties also discussed other issues,” the Defense Ministry added. 

Context: Russia’s Belousov, a noted economist, was appointed military chief just over a month ago. We discussed the implications of his appointment and what it might mean for the direction of Russia’s ongoing Ukraine invasion in one of our recent Defense One Radio podcasts featuring Maria Snegovaya of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. 

Report: Ukraine’s allies need to work together much more in order to disrupt Russia’s defense industry. And there are several ways those partnered nations—mostly across Europe—can improve on this goal, according to a new analysis from London-based researchers Jack Watling and Gary Somerville of the Royal United Services Institute. 

The authors identify “multiple stages throughout the [defense] production process where intervention, both overt and covert, can cause delay, degradation in quality, or a serious increase in cost to Russia’s arms production,” they write. 

Notable excerpt: “There is no exhaust port on the Russian death star.” Which is to say the Russian defense industry is an adaptable machine with no quick method or silver bullet decision that can cripple or slow it down overnight. Certain lessons learned from attempts to slow the Nazis in World War II illustrate this. More recently, Moscow’s pursuit of engines for Iranian-made Shahed drone production illustrates this as well, along with Russia’s demand for military-grade explosives like hexogen. 

One significant takeaway: “Sequences of disruptions can leave a system functioning in an extremely inefficient manner.” And that’s just one of several recommendations. Read on here.  

And lastly today: Germany has created remote-controlled seabed crawlers to comb the bottom of the North and Baltic Seas for old WWII-era bombs. It’s a pilot project from officials in Berlin “to test a fast, industrial-scale process for clearing dumped munitions that are polluting the North and Baltic Seas,” the BBC reported Tuesday. 

Careful with the seafood: “These munitions are rusting, and our research has shown that over time, they're releasing more and more carcinogenic [and other toxic] substances, traces of which have been found in fish and mussels,” one researcher explained. Continue reading, here.