Today’s D Brief: Russia’s staggering losses; SecNav blasts industry; USAF eyes stealth tanker; Navy’s shipboard coders; And a bit more.

by Braxton Taylor

“At least 315,000 Russian forces have either been killed or wounded” during the ongoing war in Ukraine, a senior U.S. defense official told reporters Friday morning. That’s the same estimate leaked to Reuters in December, citing declassified U.S. intelligence. One year ago, that estimate was closer to 180,000. 

Russia has not sustained so many casualties in combat since the Second World War. Indeed, Moscow’s military had already suffered more combat deaths in Ukraine during the first 12 months than in all of its wars since World War II combined, as the Center for Strategic and International Studies pointed out one year ago.

Ukrainian forces have also sunk, destroyed or damaged at least 20 medium to large Russian navy vessels and one Russian-flagged tanker in the Black Sea. “I think it’s important to look at the story of the Black Sea,” the official said Friday, because Ukraine has significantly eroded Russian naval power and that in turn has increased the dependability of Ukrainian grain exports.

In terms of economics, “Russia has probably spent up to $211 billion dollars in direct financial outlays to equip, deploy, maintain and sustain Russian operations in Ukraine” to date, the official said. The war has also cost Russia an estimated $10 billion in postponed or canceled arms sales and $1.3 trillion in previously anticipated economic growth through 2026.

These estimates come as future U.S. financial aid to Ukraine lingers in the Republican-led House of Representatives. Nearly two dozen Republican senators joined their Democratic colleagues earlier this week passing new funding for Ukraine. But the House remains mired in what David Frum of The Atlantic calls the “politics of domination,” with House Speaker Mike Johnson so far refusing to consider funding a path forward. 

“We will not be able to supply Ukraine’s air defenses” without more funding from a supplemental aid bill, the defense official said Friday. This means, in part, that the destruction of many more Ukrainian cities is virtually assured if the U.S. does not step up. “We will see more civilians dying, and we will see Ukraine struggling to protect their critical infrastructure and their forward line of troops,” the official warned. 

The U.S., of course, isn’t the only nation chipping in. In fact, the U.S. is the 16th in the world in terms of contributions to Ukraine based on GDP. (See who leads the way via this rolling analysis from the Kiel Institute for the World Economy.) Other nations this week promised to do more as well, including Canada pledging $60 million for Ukraine’s air force, the Brits approving a £2.5 billion package last month, including money for drones; and Germany’s €1.3 billion package, with artillery and air defense systems and equipment, announced in November.

That UK drone program will bear its first fruit in an effort, co-led by Estonia, to buy thousands of quadcopter-type drones for use as loitering munitions, Defense One’s Sam Skove reported Thursday.

New: Vladimir Putin is urging Russians to have more babies, he told employees of a tank factory on Thursday. “If we want to survive as an ethnic group— well, or as ethnic groups inhabiting Russia—there must be at least two children” per family, he said, according to Reuters. 

For some context, Russia’s population was just over 146 million last January, which is “down from nearly 149 million 20 years earlier but up from a low of about 143 million between 2007 and 2012,” Reuters writes. 

Additional reading: 


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 for the year ahead here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1814, the frigate Constitution captured the British ship Susannah, even though the War of 1812 had been over for about six weeks. The Constitution remains in commission in Boston and is the only current U.S. warship that has sunk an enemy vessel.

SecNav blasts industry for stock buybacks. Defense contractors are using too much of their record profits to line their pockets instead of increasing production capacity, Navy Secretary Carlos del Toro said Thursday. 

“Overall, many of you are making record profits, as evidenced by your quarterly financial statements,” Del Toro told the crowd at the AFCEA West conference. “You can’t be asking for the American taxpayer to make greater public investments while you continue to goose your stock prices through stock buybacks, deferring promised capital investments, and other accounting maneuvers.”

A warning: The secretary said the Navy is already looking to “ensure that we will leverage all legal means at our disposal to ensure that the American people are getting what they paid for” via its general counsel’s office and a tool called the Taxpayer Advocacy Project, he said. D1’s Patrick Tucker reports from San Diego.

Speaking of the industrial base, the lead author of the Pentagon’s new industrial-base strategy writes that the document fills a need for a plan that “revitalizes our defense manufacturing and technology supply chains to out-compete our adversaries.” Read the oped by Laura Taylor-Kale, assistant defense secretary for industrial base policy, in D1, here.

Stealth tanker: The Air Force’s future refueling fleet will include at least some aircraft with “exquisite capabilities” that can fly into “extreme threat areas,” the leader of Air Mobility Command says. But the bulk of the tanker fleet will be updates on today’s conventional aircraft, Gen. Mike Minihan, commander of told reporters Wednesday at the Air & Space Forces Association Warfare Symposium here.

Quote: “It’s not one airplane. It’s a system, so it’s not one-size-fits-all. I’m not looking to develop a fleet that has to handle every threat environment.” D1’s Audrey Decker has more, here. 

F-35 production will remain steady, even as global demand rises and the Pentagon reportedly mulls a one-year cut, a Lockheed official told Decker. Read on, here.

And lastly: The Navy wants more shipboard coders. Capt. Bryan Braswell, who leads the Naval Information Warfighting Development Center, is impressed with the way some sailors have put their largely self-taught coding and data-science skills to work at their commands. He urges every commander to encourage this kind of innovation, and is mulling how to formalize it—perhaps through training or requirements. He talked with D1’s Lauren C. Williams; read more, here.

Have a safe weekend, everyone. We’re off for Presidents Day, so we’ll see you again Tuesday!



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