Today’s D Brief: $300M in Ukraine aid; Arms sales to Poland; Red Sea skirmishes; Orbiting gas stations?; And a bit more.

by Braxton Taylor

The U.S. is on the verge of selling Poland nearly $4 billion in missiles. That includes 821 AGM-158B-2 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles with Extended Range (at $1.77 billion); 745 AIM-120C-8 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles ($1.69 billion); and 232 AIM-9X Sidewinder Block II Tactical Missiles ($219 million), the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced this week.

Poland already has each of those missiles in its inventory. “This proposed sale will support the foreign policy goals and national security objectives of the United States by improving the security of a NATO ally that is a force for political stability and economic progress in Europe,” DSCA said in its Tuesday announcement. U.S. lawmakers could still oppose the sales, but that seems highly unlikely. 

The U.S. also wants to sell Warsaw 96 AH-64 Apache helicopters, the White House said after Polish President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Donald Tusk visited Washington Tuesday. “This is a major step to provide Poland’s armed forces with cutting-edge capability to defend itself, strengthen NATO interoperability, and further bolster the U.S. defense industry,” administration officials said in their post-meeting readout.

Bigger picture: Poland is a NATO and European Union leader when it comes to defense spending by GDP. And the country has significantly raised its commitment over the past two years, as Defense One’s Sam Skove reported during a trip to eastern Europe in September. Indeed, shortly after Russia’s full-scale invasion, Warsaw said it aims to double the Polish Army’s size to 300,000 soldiers over five years. And the Polish government vowed in 2023 to raise its defense budget to four percent of gross domestic product, which is more than double NATO’s two-percent target. 

Prime Minister Tusk had a message Tuesday for Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson, who has refused to take up bipartisan legislation passed in the Senate that would send another $60 billion in military aid to Ukraine. The House last passed a supplemental funding bill for Ukraine in December 2022.

“This is not some political skirmish that [only] matters on the American political scene,” Tusk told reporters in Washington. “Mr Johnson’s failure to make a positive decision will cost thousands of lives,” he said, and added, “He takes personal responsibility for that.”

Johnson “must be aware,” said Tusk, that “the fate of millions of people depends on his individual decisions. And thousands of lives in Ukraine today and tomorrow depend on his decisions.” 

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski also pleaded with Johnson to authorize a vote on the supplemental aid bill during an event Tuesday morning in Washington. Russia “persecutes religious minorities, including Baptists” in occupied Ukraine, Sikorski said.

Related reading: 

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 for the year ahead here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On March 13, 1946, U.S. Army Pfc. Sadao Munemori posthumously received the Medal of Honor for diving on a grenade to save two fellow soldiers as they fought to break the Germans’ main defensive line in Italy’s Apennines Mountains in April 1945. Munemori, who had enlisted one month before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, learned the following year that the U.S. had incarcerated his family, along with thousands of other Japanese-Americans, at the Manzanar internment camp in California.

The U.S. will soon send an emergency aid package worth $300 million in missiles, rockets, artillery rounds and more to Ukraine after officials said that they’d recently found “unanticipated cost savings in contracts that DOD negotiated to replace equipment we’ve already sent to Ukraine,” according to National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan speaking to reporters at the White House Tuesday. 

“When we sent Ukraine weapons last year,” said Sullivan, “we budgeted the full amount of appropriated funds for those contracts. It turns out we negotiated well. Those contracts came in under budget. So we have a modest amount of funding available,” he explained. 

For example, when it comes to 25mm ammunition, “We estimated initially a unit cost of $130 each, but we ended up getting a better price of $93 to help us as we negotiated the contract with the vendor,” a senior defense official told reporters Tuesday. “We did something very similar with joint light tactical vehicles,” and with humvees, he said. 

“This is a bit of a unique occurrence, not that we’ve not had savings before,” said another defense official. “About six percent of all the funds appropriated have been returned and reused so far,” he added. 

“We certainly can’t count on this as a way of doing business,” the defense official said, “so we do need the House to act, [or rather] the House to be allowed to act and allowed to vote on the supplemental to send authority approved.”

Sullivan also urged House lawmakers to pass the supplemental aid bill that advanced in the upper chamber one month ago since he didn’t anticipate these sort of cost savings arising again anytime soon. 

“We cannot provide ongoing assistance to Ukraine without significantly impacting our military readiness, absent congressional action,” Sullivan said. “That remains the case despite this modest amount of cost savings that we are putting to use on an urgent basis. Congress must act,” said Sullivan.  

In terms of when, “Ukraine has processes in place to ensure that this aid can be delivered as quickly as possible,” said Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder on Tuesday. “So it’s going to be fast,” he said, without elaborating. 

How long is this new package estimated to last? “Weeks. Maybe even just a couple of weeks,” said Sullivan. “It’s not going to be for a long time. And that’s why we so urgently need them to act on the supplemental” aid package.

For what it’s worth: “This funding does not appear to be part of the reported $4 billion in presidential drawdown authority fund still available for Ukraine,” analysts at the Institute for the Study of War noted Tuesday evening. That materiel would come from U.S. stocks. 

Battlefield latest: “Russian forces recently made confirmed advances near Bakhmut, Avdiivka, and Donetsk City amid continued positional engagements along the entire line of contact on March 12,” ISW wrote in its latest assessment. And Russian officials are moving ahead with several “industrial projects in occupied Ukraine,” apparently including at the Avdiivka Coke Plant, similar to Russians are doing at the Azovstal Metallurgical Plant in occupied Mariupol.

The U.S. military and allies in the Red Sea destroyed two aerial drones likely launched by the Houthis in Yemen on Tuesday. The drones appeared to threaten commercial and military ships in the region, U.S. officials announced after the shootdowns. 

The Houthis tried to attack another U.S. Navy ship (USS Laboon) in the Red Sea using a close-range ballistic missile in the early morning hours Tuesday. “The missile did not impact the vessel and there were no injuries or damage reported,” officials at Central Command said. 

The Houthis also tried to attack a merchant vessel in the Red Sea on Monday, but their two anti-ship ballistic missiles “did not impact the vessel and there were no injuries or damage reported,” CENTCOM said in a separate announcement. 

Later that afternoon, U.S. forces “conducted six self-defense strikes destroying an unmanned underwater vessel and 18 anti-ship missiles in Houthi controlled areas of Yemen,” according to CENTCOM. “These weapons presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and U.S. Navy ships in the region,” said CENTCOM.

Orbital “service stations”? The Space Force is launching an effort to develop technology to refuel and maintain satellites, the service’s top officer said in a Monday interview. “We’re investing in demonstrations and capabilities to start to explore what you would need on orbit to be able to service and maintain satellites. This gives us some opportunities to explore dynamic maneuvering [and] maneuver without regret. These are things that will make our satellites harder to target, more defensible,” Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman said as part of Defense One’s State of Defense series. Audrey Decker has this report.

F-35 gets thumbs-up for full production, years late. The program had been stuck in its operational testing phase since 2018, even as Lockheed Martin has been turning out the jets at its maximum capacity of 156 jets per year. Decker has the story, here.

Opinion: Congress should block the Navy’s plan to put another two years between its new carriers. “Monday’s FY25 budget rollout revealed that the Navy plans to delay procurement of the next aircraft carrier—CVN 82—by at least two years, from 2028 to beyond the new five-year plan that ends in FY 2029,” writes Bryan McGrath. This will stress the industrial base and likely reduce the carrier fleet below the current 11, he argues, here.

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