Today’s D Brief: Brown confirmed as CJCS; Russia hits Ukraine energy; Zelenskyy in USA; More troops to border; And a bit more.

by Braxton Taylor

The Senate voted overwhelmingly to confirm Air Force Gen. CQ Brown as the 21st chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Wednesday night, working around Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s blanket hold on confirmation votes for senior military officers. 

The 83-11 vote also averts a fourth vacancy on the Joint Chiefs. The GOP senator’s hold has left the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps with merely acting leaders, and CJCS Gen. Mark Milley is to step down at month’s end.

More votes are on the way. The Senate plans to vote around 11:30 a.m. on Gen. Randy George’s nomination to be the Army chief of staff, and may also vote on Gen. Eric Smith’s nomination to be the Marine Corps commandant. at 1:45 p.m.

The sudden votes are something of a surprise. For seven months, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had declined to schedule votes on individual nominees, preferring to let political pressure and military complaints press Tuberville to lift his blanket hold. Military nominees are usually voted on in groups, saving literally weeks of Senate time. Even if George and Smith join Brown in confirmation, 316 more promotions are still awaiting action. More: Defense One, New York Times, Politico.


Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston and Caitlin Kenney. If you’re not already subscribed, you can sign up here. On this day in 1964, the U.S. Air Force’s experimental Mach 3 bomber the XB-70A completed its first flight over California—though the planned test was interrupted halfway through due to engine trouble. Upon landing, its tires ruptured and a fire started on the landing gear, as the Associated Press reported at the time. The growing sophistication of Russian missiles and the emergence of ICBMs, however, rendered the XB-70 program obsolete fairly early in development. Its last flight took place in February 1969 when it was flown to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where it still resides at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton, Ohio. 

Russia has restarted attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure. A “massive missile attack” by Russia hit multiple Ukrainian energy facilities on Thursday, knocking out power across western and central Ukraine. 

Grid operator Ukrenergo said on Telegram that the attacks are the first of their kind in six months, and they caused “partial blackouts in the Rivne, Zhytomyr, Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk, and Kharkiv regions.” But, “It is too early to draw conclusions about the start of a new terrorist campaign against civilian infrastructure,” Ukrenergo cautioned. At least 18 people were wounded in the strikes, including one child. Reuters has a bit more. 

From the frontlines: View GoPro footage of Ukrainian forces apparently clearing trenches in clips allegedly from earlier this week that were posted to social media and shared on Wednesday. 

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is dropping by the Pentagon this morning, where he’ll be greeted with an honor cordon by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at about 11 a.m. ET. There are no public remarks planned, according to the Pentagon’s daily schedule.

Afterward, Zelenskyy and his wife Olena plan to visit President Joe Biden at the White House. The two leaders will hold bilateral talks, but they’ve not slated any Q&As with reporters aside from brief remarks (known as a “pool spray”) at the beginning and end of that bilateral. 

Zelenskyy also briefed senators on the war in Ukraine on Thursday, which Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy said elicited “two standing ovations” before Zelenskyy had finished. 

Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, on the other hand, has not scheduled any talks between Zelenskyy and lawmakers in the lower chamber, which has been stymied from making substantive progress this week thanks to what Nebraska GOP Rep. Don Bacon called the “dysfunction caucus” of far-right lawmakers who want to withhold aid to Ukraine as they threaten a government shutdown. 

New: The Pentagon’s inspector general will now oversee the vetting of U.S. military aid to Ukraine. Four senate Republicans released statements Wednesday pretending the appointment is a win for their pressure campaign on Ukraine aid transparency; however, Defense One’s Sam Skove reports, the appointment is in fact a legal requirement stemming from the White House’s decision to make Ukraine aid a “named operation,” which was a decision announced in July in order to potentially deploy reserve troops to Europe.

In charts: See how U.S. aid to Ukraine stacks up against Kyiv’s other allies, including countries in the European Union, Japan, Canada, and others thanks to a BBC analysis published Thursday. 

Developing: With elections looming, Poland says it will at least temporarily stop arming Ukraine, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Wednesday. That means no new deliveries are expected. But “previously agreed supplies of ammunition and armaments” will still be delivered, a government spokesman told state-run media on Thursday, according to Reuters. 

FWIW: Poland is ranked #7 in terms of government support to Ukraine, and it’s ranked #6 in terms of military aid to Ukraine with €3 billion (or $3.2 billion) pledged so far, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. 

Sweden has given Ukraine 10 of its German-made Leopard 2 tanks, which Stockholm calls the “Stridsvagn 122,” and those tanks are now on the battlefield inside Ukraine, Sweden’s military announced Thursday.  

Coming soon: The Estonian army is planning to field a unit solely dedicated to loitering munitions, drawing on lessons from the Ukrainian war, Defense One’s Sam Skove reported Wednesday from Tallinn. It could be the first unit of its kind in NATO, whose members have been watching the Ukrainian military’s extensive use of these one-way attack drones, Estonian Land Forces Maj. Andrei Šlabovitš told Skove. 

Šlabovitš said the idea came from studying the second Nagorno-Karabakh War, where Azerbaijan used Israel Aerospace Industries loitering munitions to destroy Armenian S-300 anti-aircraft systems. The Estonian unit will be tasked in part with taking out enemy anti-air emplacements, and will be equipped with Israel Aerospace Industries drones that are specially designed to seek out the radar signature of anti-aircraft systems. Continue reading, here. 

Additional reading, DC think tank edition: 

A few months after he predicted war with China by 2025, a U.S. Air Force general defended his incendiary memo, but added, “war is not inevitable,” Defense One’s Audrey Decker reported Wednesday. 

Asked last week whether he still thinks the U.S. will fight in the Pacific within two years, Air Mobility Command’s Gen. Mike Minihan said, “My assessment is that war is not inevitable, but the readiness I’m driving with that timeline is absolutely essential to deterrence and absolutely essential to the decisive victory.”

Drones incoming: The memo also directed his command’s KC-135 units to send him, by March, a “conceptual means” to deliver a hundred “off-the-shelf size and type” drones from a single aircraft. Minihan said the Air Force is “still driving towards” that concept and that he hopes to see this idea realized during his remaining time at AMC. Read the rest, here. 

Related reading: 

In a new first, President Biden is expected to announce a federal office of gun-violence prevention, the Associated Press reported Wednesday. The new post could be announced as soon as Friday, and is intended to “offer help and guidance to states struggling with increasing gun violence, while taking the lead on implementation of the bipartisan gun legislation signed into law last year,” AP reported. 

ICYMI: The U.S. is “on a faster pace for mass killings than in any other year since 2006,” according to a database maintained by the AP and USA Today in partnership with Northeastern University. Details here. 

Lastly: The U.S. just added 800 active-duty military personnel to its southern border to help process the arrival of thousands of migrants around the Texas city of Eagle Pass, the New York Times reported Wednesday. 

What’s going on: A White House official cited “continued instability in countries like Venezuela with authoritarian governments” for the recent surge, which “has reached levels not seen in months, taxing local governments in California, Arizona and Texas as large numbers of people claiming asylum have been released by Border Patrol agents directly into border communities,” the Times writes. The city of El Paso, too, “has seen around 1,200 arrivals each day [as] officials have been scrambling to place migrants in shelters and also in local hotels.”

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