Today’s D Brief: ANG idles helicopters; NATO OKs Swedish entry; Shutdown watch; South China Sea barrier; And a bit more.

by Braxton Taylor

JUST IN: The Army National Guard has idled its rotorcraft for a safety review, following two crashes of AH-64D Apache helicopters. The stand down, which began Monday, follows a Feb. 12 crash in Utah that injured two soldiers and a Feb. 23 crash in Mississippi that killed Chief Warrant Officer 4 Bryan Andrew Zemek and Chief Warrant Officer 4 Derek Joshua Abbott, according to an ANG statement.

ANG director Lt. Gen. Jon A. Jensen: “We will stand down to ensure all of our crews are prepared as well as possible for whatever they’re asked to do.”

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 for the year ahead here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1921, Theodore Jerome “Dutch” Van Kirk was born in Northumberland, Pennsylvania. He joined the Army Air Force at the age of 20; and after nearly 60 missions overseas, returned stateside as an instructor for several months before he was selected to begin training for the most important assignment of his career in November 1944. Ten months later, Van Kirk served as navigator onboard the Enola Gay, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress that carried out the world’s first-ever nuclear attack on the people of Hiroshima, Japan, at about 8:15 in the morning on August 6, 1945. Van Kirk left service as a major the following year, and would later work as an engineer with Dupont for more than three decades. He lived a long life, and eventually passed away in Georgia at the age of 93.

New: Hungarian lawmakers approved Sweden’s bid to join the Russia-focused NATO alliance in a 188-6 parliamentary vote Monday in Budapest, which will raise the collective defense pact’s membership to 32 nations once approved in Brussels. Swedish officials submitted their application in May 2022, along with their Finnish neighbors in the weeks immediately after Russia’s full-scale Ukraine invasion almost exactly two years ago. 

Finland formally joined the alliance last April. But Sweden’s bid was stalled by dogged resistance in Turkey and Hungary. After months of negotiations regarding extremism and defense agreements, Turkey’s parliament finally approved Sweden’s accession five weeks ago, which then focused attention on the reluctance of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his conservative parliamentary majority in Budapest. Hungary’s reticence was never as overtly intelligible as Turkey’s; and the New York Times reported Tuesday from Budapest that it’s still not terribly clear why Orbán and company waited as long as they did. 

“Sweden stands ready to shoulder its responsibility for Euro-Atlantic security,” Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson wrote on social media Monday after the news from Budapest, which he personally visited for talks with officials last Friday. 

Why it matters: “With Sweden following Finland into NATO, Russian President Vladimir Putin has in effect achieved the very thing he sought to avert when he launched his war in Ukraine—an expansion of the alliance,” Reuters reported after the Monday vote in Budapest. 

But perhaps more notably, “The decision to become part of the Alliance overturns a position of neutrality and military non-alignment that stretches back to the Napoleonic period and culminated in association with the global non-aligned movement at the height of the Cold War, as the country sought to navigate between NATO and the Soviet bloc,” Neil Melvin of the London-based Royal United Services Institute said Monday. “Sweden notably brings to NATO a well-equipped army, over a hundred advanced fighters, a modern navy including five submarines, as well as a technologically advanced defense industrial base,” he added. 

“Russia’s actions have thus set in motion security shifts, including now Swedish NATO membership, that mean Moscow faces being militarily excluded from the Baltic Sea and its airspace, while NATO can project force more effectively across Scandinavia and into the High North and Arctic,” said Melvin. 

“Sweden is a strong democracy with a highly capable military that shares our values and vision for the world,” White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement Monday. “NATO is the most powerful defensive alliance in the history of the world, and it is as critical today to ensuring the security of our citizens as it was 75 years ago when our Alliance was founded out of the wreckage of World War II,” he added. 

This morning in Washington, nearly a half dozen former ambassadors are discussing two years of Russia’s Ukraine invasion at the U.S. Institute of Peace. That event began at 10:30 a.m. ET. Livestream (or watch it in reruns) via YouTube, here. 

Related reading: 

Mideast developments

Undersea cables have been damaged in the Red Sea, but it’s not yet clear if the damage is from routine fishing operations—or from the Iran-backed Houthi militant group, which threatened to sever some of the cables in order to further disrupt regional activity during the ongoing Israeli-Hamas war in Gaza. 

The cables connect Europe to India. And the South African company in charge of the cables (Seacom Ltd.) first detected a fault on Saturday, Bloomberg reported Monday. “The company is working with a cable repair company owned by Emirates Telecommunications Group Co. PJSC on a plan, including how to insure the repair ship and whether they’ll need military escorts or armed security,” according to Bloomberg. 

“It’s too early to tell if it’s sabotage,” a company official said. “Only once we lift the cable will we be able to see if someone has cut it.” Read more, here.

Today on Capitol Hill, senators will discuss the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen and maritime security in the Red Sea with the Pentagon’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East Policy Daniel Shapiro. That’s slated for 2:15 p.m. ET before the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism. Details and livestream here. 

Additional reading: 

Shutdown watch

Two deadlines are looming: March 1 and March 8. That’s when funding for the federal government will run out under the short-term budget bill passed in January. 

CNN: “High-level disagreements over policy issues remain as House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, is under immense pressure from his right flank to fight for conservative wins. As the clock ticks down to the deadline, Senate Democrats expressed anger and frustration Monday at the growing risk of a shutdown as many criticized House Republicans over the impasse.” More, here.

Emerging technologies

Rocket Lab won’t be ready to launch its new rocket by year’s end, documents suggest. Even if the Long Beach, California-based company gets its reusable medium-lift Neutron rocket ready for its first flight by December, as company officials have promised, its new launch pad at Wallops Island, Va., will in all likelihood be still a work in progress. That’s according to contracting documents from the Virginia Spaceport Authority, which is building the pad for Rocket Lab.

That’s not the news Space Force was looking for. Officials had hoped that at least one new rocket maker would have its vehicle ready to go this year. Most of the Pentagon’s recent launches have gone to SpaceX, with once-dominant ULA and Blue Origin picking up most of the rest. D1’s Audrey Decker reports, here. 

The Navy is trying to use quantum computers to task spy satellites. It’s part of a broader effort to understand what the tools will be useful for. D1’s Patrick Tucker has more.

A floating barrier is blocking access to a disputed South China Sea atoll. Satellite photos show the barrier, bolstering a report by the Philippines Coast Guard that Chinese boats installed it. It would seem to be another Chinese attempt to enforce its court-denied claim on Scarborough Shoal, which is inside the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone. (Reuters)

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