Today’s D Brief: Navy programs, delayed; Downing drones in Syria; Israel attack in Damascus; Ukraine raises draft age; And a bit more.

by Braxton Taylor

Every major U.S. warship program is running late, Navy officials revealed Tuesday. In a rare public accounting of program woes, officials released a one-page summary of the results of a shipbuilding review ordered up earlier this year by Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro. 

The delays range from three years for the Block IV Virginia-class attack submarines and the lead ship of the new Constellation class of frigates, to “late but stable” for DDG-51 destroyers and LPD and LHA amphibious ships.

The reasons include designs that took longer than expected to complete, supply-chain problems, and the difficulty of finding skilled workers, according to the summary.

The document includes the names of the prime contractors for each ship class. “While that information may not be coveted or secret, the veritable poke in industry’s eyes for their programs’ slip ups align with a series of jabs Del Toro has taken at the defense industrial base in recent months,” Breaking Defense wrote.

Flashback: “Navy secretary blasts defense industry’s stock buybacks” by D1’s Patrick Tucker in February.

Meanwhile, the Navy’s biggest next-gen efforts are already delayed, Navy comptroller Russell Rumbaugh told the audience at an AEI discussion Wednesday morning. As part of “hard spending choices,”  Rumbaugh said, the service reduced planned spending—and thereby slowed work—on DDG(X), SSN(X), and F/A-XX in its 2025 budget proposal.

New: The Navy wants to make info warfare training ubiquitous. Service leaders know information warfare runs through every warfighting domain, but it’s not yet an integral part of training. U.S. Naval Information Forces, or NAVIFOR, have been trying to change that in recent years—with a payoff expected as early as 2025.  The plan is to open three new training centers and integrate nearly two dozen systems into the live, virtual, constructive training environment. D1’s Lauren C. Williams has more, here.

Around the services:

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 this day in 1996, “unabomber” Ted Kaczynski was captured at a cabin in Montana.

U.S. forces in Syria shot down a drone seemingly targeting their remote base on Monday, marking the first apparent attack aimed at U.S. troops in Iraq or Syria in almost two months, al-Monitor and the New York Times reported Tuesday. The attack targeted the U.S. military’s Al-Tanf Garrison, near the border with Jordan and Iraq, according to the Associated Press. 

That interaction followed an apparent Israeli airstrike on the Iranian Embassy complex in Damascus on Monday. That strike killed at least seven Iranians, including Mohamad Reza Zahedi, who until 2016 was allegedly responsible for Iran’s covert operations in Syria and Lebanon under the paramilitary Quds Force. His deputy, Mohammad Hadi Haji-Rahimi, was also killed in the strike, according to the BBC. Iran’s Ambassador to Syria claimed the strike was “carried out by [Israeli] F-35 fighter jets,” and hit the consulate and ambassador’s residence.  

Officially, Israeli officials did not take responsibility for the attack, which is common practice for strikes outside of Israel’s borders. However, a military spokesman told CNN, “According to our intelligence, this is no consulate and this is no embassy…This is a military building of Quds forces disguised as a civilian building in Damascus.”

Tehran reax: “We will make them regretful about the crime and similar acts,” Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said afterward. 

A Hezbollah fighter was also killed in the strike. The Iran-backed militia released a post-attack statement vowing, “This crime will certainly not pass without the enemy receiving punishment and revenge,” according to AP. The Arab League also condemned the attack, and said it threatened to “expand the [Israeli-Hamas] war and push the region to chaos.”

A U.S. soldier has been nicknamed the “Ace of Syria” after shooting down half a dozen drones while deployed to northeastern Syria recently, Task and Purpose reported Tuesday after noticing a late March Army press release on the subject. His name is Spc. Dylan Green, an infantryman with Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division. T&P has more, here. 

Regional analysis: While Iran-backed militias have scaled back their drone and rocket attacks on U.S. troops, those same militias under Iraq’s Axis of Resistance umbrella have “run a parallel strike campaign against Israel since the outbreak of the Gaza war last October,” Hamdi Malik and Mike Knights of the Washington Institute write in a new two-part assessment of that Axis of Resistance. Find part one here; and part two, with more of a focus on activity closer to Jordan, here.

Why bring it up: “Iran’s local proxies have learned that if you attack Israel/Saudi/UAE/Bahrain/Kuwait, or threaten Jordan, or kill Iraqi citizens, then the U.S. just doesn’t care, which is taken as a green light,” Knights writes. 

The U.S. military is still shooting down Houthi drone boats and UAVs off the coast of Yemen, defense officials at Central Command say. The last such public mention occurred Monday when CENTCOM said U.S. troops “destroyed an Iranian-backed Houthi terrorist unmanned surface vessel” that “presented a threat to U.S. and coalition forces and merchant vessels in the region.” Two days prior, U.S. forces destroyed two Houthi UAVs—one “over the Red Sea and the other was engaged on the ground prepared to launch.” 

Updated: View a map of maritime attacks in the Middle East going back to 2019, thanks to the Washington Institute’s Noam Raydan and Farzin Nadimi.

And U.S. and Jordanian troops are still carrying out near-daily humanitarian food drops to besieged Palestinians in Gaza. The Tuesday run dropped “over 50,680 U.S. meal equivalents into Northern Gaza,” CENTCOM said. 

Global outrage again turned to Israel’s military this week after a series of airstrikes killed seven people working for the food aid charity World Central Kitchen on Monday. At least one of the vehicles was clearly marked and the organization claims it shared its workers’ movements with the Israeli Defense Forces in advance. 

One of those killed was an American, the White House noted in a statement from President Biden on Tuesday. Biden said Israel’s investigation into the incident “must be swift, it must bring accountability, and its findings must be made public.” Meanwhile, “The United States will continue to do all we can to deliver humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians in Gaza, through all available means,” he said. “And we are pushing hard for an immediate ceasefire as part of a hostage deal.” 

Panning out, “Since October, Israel airstrikes in Gaza have killed 173 UN staff, hit 161 UN facilities, killed 409 civilians sheltering in UN facilities, hit a UN aid convoy, killed a USAID contractor, and hit [Doctors Without Borders] & RESCUEorg facilities,” Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute noted Tuesday on social media.  

Related reading: 

After much public hand-wringing over the past several months, Ukraine officially lowered its draft age to 25 this week in an effort to replace soldiers lost from more than two years of war with the invading Russian military. The previous mobilization age was 27. 

President Volodymir Zelenskyy signed the bill into law this week, more than three months after he said his military needed to add at least 500,000 troops in order to keep up the fight against Russia. The bill in question was passed in Ukraine’s parliament 10 months ago, but Zelenskyy’s staff reportedly viewed the change as politically toxic. “It was not immediately clear what prompted President Zelensky to approve a law to lower the age of mobilisation, although he has previously warned of plans Russia may have to launch a spring or summer offensive this year,” the BBC reports.

For a sense of how intense Russia’s invading troops are still fighting, “In March alone, Russian terrorists used over 400 missiles of various types, 600 ‘Shahed’ drones, and over 3,000 guided aerial bombs against Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said Wednesday on social media. “None of this will be possible when Ukraine receives reliable air defense systems capable of saving lives and restoring security to our cities,” he added in an appeal to allies and partners, many of whom have seemingly exhausted their ability to share weapons with Ukraine’s defending troops. 

And lastly: NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg is floating a possible $107 billion five-year fund to help Ukraine’s military, Reuters reported Wednesday from Brussels. The plans involve taking over a significant amount of the Pentagon-led Ukraine Defense Contact Group, which coordinates military aid to Kyiv in monthly meetings. NATO had previously declined such active participation out of fear it may provoke Russia’s Vladimir Putin further. 

“We must ensure reliable and predictable security assistance to Ukraine for the long haul, so that we rely less on voluntary contributions and more on NATO commitments—less on short-term offers and more on multi-year pledges,” Stoltenberg said this week. 

A parallel consideration: Officially changing or formalizing such processes for military aiding Ukraine are at least partly motivated out of fear that former President Donald Trump could win re-election later this year, Politico reported Tuesday. 

One possible hiccup: “Initial reactions from across the alliance signalled a decision may not be easy,” Reuters writes. More, here. 

Related reading: “NATO Turns 75 Facing an Old Foe and New Squabbles,” via the Wall Street Journal, reporting Wednesday from Brussels.

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