The D Brief: Taiwan leaders on China; Patriots to Ukraine?; Moscow’s Africa disinfo; Gaza pier inquest; And a bit more.

Taiwanese officials don’t see war with China as inevitable or unavoidable even as Chinese military aircraft and ships cross the median line of the Taiwan Strait nearly every day in an apparently growing campaign of harassment.

“They are huge. Bigger. Bullier. Economically, yes. Militarily, yes,” Chung-kwang Tien, Taiwan’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, told a group of international reporters, including Defense One’s Jennifer Hlad, during a media trip paid for by the Taiwanese government. But, he said, the democratically run island knows its weaknesses, and has built a strong international community of support. “So we are small, but we are not alone,” Tien said. Read on for more interviews.

And don’t miss our two-part podcast series on the future of Taiwan’s security, featuring retired Australian Army Maj. Gen. Mick Ryan and Washington-based Dmitri Alperovitch.

ICYMI: U.S. Army tests next-gen long-range fires capability in Pacific. The Army fired two Precision Strike Missiles from its prototype uncrewed Autonomous Multi-Domain Launcher at a decommissioned ship off the coast of Palau two weeks ago. It was the first such launch outside the continental U.S.

“Couldn’t have asked for better results” in the June 16 launch, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey VanAntwerp, head of operations for U.S. Army Pacific, said in a phone interview. Jennifer Hlad has more, here.

Do China’s electric vehicles pose a national security threat? Made-in-China lidar sensors and a whole range of other IoT devices could help Beijing spy on the U.S., argue Emily de La Bruyère and Nathan Picarsic, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Their thesis has attracted Congressional attention; the House’s Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party is looking into the possible threat, Nextgov reported on Monday.

Welcome to this Friday 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, and with Nazi fuel supplies running low, Adolf Hitler ordered a multi-front offensive against the Soviets to seize oil fields at Baku, Grozny, and Maikop. Hitler’s troops were eventually stopped at Stalingrad, which hosted one of the war’s bloodiest battles.

Developing: The U.S. and Israel are allegedly working to supply Ukraine with as many as eight Patriot air defense systems, the Financial Times reported Thursday, citing “five people briefed on the negotiations.”

Where this comes from: “Israel said in April that it would begin retiring its eight [M901 PAC-2] Patriot batteries, which date back more than 30 years, and replacing them with more advanced systems,” FT writes.

However, “the batteries, which have been used in Israel’s current war with Hamas, have not yet been discontinued due to concerns that tensions with the Iran-backed Hizbollah militant group could erupt into a full-blown war.”

Update: “More than 1,000 Russian soldiers in Ukraine were killed or wounded on average each day in May,” the New York Times reported Thursday, citing NATO estimates. But U.S. officials think Russia is recruiting as many new troops as its losing to its invasion and occupation of Ukraine. 

Ukrainian “drones, machine gun fire and artillery barrages” are causing most of the casualties, the Times reports. But the Russians still keep coming in seemingly endless waves of infantry—continuing the war’s already familiar description of the war as a “meat grinder” for Vladimir Putin’s forces. Continue reading (gift link), here

Updated view from the frontlines: Reuters published more than two dozen recent photos from Russia’s Ukraine invasion this week. You’ll see wet and cluttered trenches, broken pianos, exhausted and wounded men, quite a bit of cigarette smoking, howitzers about to blow, anxious observers on the lookout for drones, and a lot more. 

On Capitol Hill Thursday, about a third of House Republicans voted to stop further funding to Ukraine, supporting an amendment put forward by Georgia’s far-right Rep. Marjorie Greene. Politico’s Anthony Adragna shared a screenshot of the vote count from the House on social media. This faction within the GOP has come to be known as the “pro-Russia caucus” (via historian Anne Applebaum) or “Putin wing” of the GOP (Liz Cheney’s description). 

But that also means two-thirds of House Republicans rejected the measure to further fund Ukraine against the invading Russian military, which arguably reflects the eventual rise in support among leading Republicans on defense issues—like Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi or Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, both the top GOP members of their respective Armed Services Committees—who began to emphasize publicly that a majority of U.S. funds to support Ukraine are spent stateside. The Center for Strategic and International Studies elaborated on this very point last month, writing that an estimated “72 percent of this money overall and 86 percent of the military aid will be spent in the United States.” 

And House Speaker Mike Johnson went through his own about-face on the issue of aid to Ukraine over the past 12 months, as the Washington Post explained in mid-April.  

French officials say Russia orchestrated what was ultimately a failed terrorist attack north of Paris about three weeks ago. The apparent culprit was arrested after visiting a French hospital on June 3 with burns on his upper body, face, and head. He blamed his injuries on what he described as an accidental explosion. But officials investigated the scene and discovered several more suspicious details—including “forged identity papers, products and materials intended for constructing explosive devices, mobile phones and traces of ammonium nitrate,” according to France’s Le Monde, which updated the case with new information on Thursday. 

And in Africa, defense leaders regard Russian disinformation with “consistent” and growing concern, the commander of U.S. Africa Command said Thursday at the Africa Chiefs of Defense Conference in Botswana. 

“That was one of the challenges that was illuminated and amplified throughout the conference: misinformation and disinformation campaigns and the influence those campaigns have from the Russian Federation on African countries,” Gen. Michael Langley told reporters in a media call from Gaborone. Defense One’s Patrick Tucker has more, here.

New: The Pentagon’s IG just launched an investigation of the White House’s Gaza pier operation for the U.S. military to help deliver humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza. Since the project is largely a U.S. Agency for International Development effort, USAID’s inspector general will also join in the investigation. 

The focus will be on “the effectiveness of DoD’s efforts to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza through the maritime corridor,” the Pentagon’s IG said in a statement Thursday. 

The $230 million project has been troubled by choppy waters on the Mediterranean Sea, which broke the pier and scattered some of the elements a few weeks ago. The effort was intended as a workaround to Israel’s obstruction of humanitarian aid supplies to Gaza; but weather has proven to be nearly as unreliable.  

Leading Republican hawks have criticized the project even before it began. Critics include Sen. Roger Wicker and Rep. Mike Rogers, who on Thursday sent a letter to National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken asking for the operation to stop. 

The pier “has been riddled with setbacks, sidelined more often than operational, and can only be classified as a gross waste of taxpayer dollars,” Rogers said in his letter. Read the rest, here

Related reading:Israel’s bombs flatten swaths of Lebanon village amid fears of wider war,” Reuters reported Thursday from Beirut.

And lastly this week: The Army wants industry help on how to best leverage AI. “One of the things that we want to do is we want to adopt third-party-generated algorithms as fast as y'all are building,” Young Bang, the principal deputy assistant Army secretary for acquisition, logistics and technology, said at the Amazon Web Services Washington D.C. Summit on Wednesday. “We realized, while we had tons of data…we're not gonna develop our algorithms better than y’all,” he explained. 

Next up: Look for a series of requests for information to industry in the coming months focused on AI capabilities, security, and testing, an Army spokesperson confirmed to Nextgov/FCW’s Alexandra Kelley. More, here.