Today’s D Brief: Shells for Ukraine; SpaceX’s big contract; China’s nascent railgun; N. Korea’s missile tests; And a bit more.

by Braxton Taylor

Europe will sell Russian assets to help Ukraine. The European Commission will use “windfall profits on frozen Russian assets to finance arms purchases for Kyiv,” Reuters reported Friday after a meeting between German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.“The Commission is expected to make a concrete proposal in the coming days.” The three leaders did not say how much money this might yield.

New artillery-aid effort? Scholz said the three also agreed that the Ukraine Defence Contact group—a Pentagon-led group of some 50 countries that provide military support to Ukraine—should create a coalition to provide artillery. 

The group is scheduled to meet this week at Germany’s Ramstein Air Base. Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin departed the east coast Monday morning en route to Ramstein, his press team tweeted along with a short video.

Artillery shells are already on the way from the Czech Republic. Prague has rounded up 800,000 shells for Ukraine and found another 700,000 that it could acquire if it finds the money, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Meanwhile, the U.S. House of Representatives has yet to pass the supplemental aid bill. They should pass it, argue Philip Breedlove, a retired U.S. Air Force general who commanded NATO Supreme Allied Command, and Sam Locklear, a retired U.S. Navy admiral who led U.S. Pacific Command. Read their oped in Defense One, here.

ICYMI: Denmark to expand military draft. The country will extend conscription to women for the first time and increase the time in service from 4 months to 11 months for both genders, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said Wednesday. The plan will add 300 conscripts, bringing the total to 5,000, alongside the country’s up-to-9,000 professional troops.

Quote: “We do not rearm because we want war. We are rearming because we want to avoid it,” Frederiksen told reporters. (AP)

Drifting mines have once again been spotted in the Black Sea, NATO warned mariners in its first regional update since July. 

A 2022 RAND report offers this context: “The use of these weapons is theoretically constrained by international law: the Hague Convention of 1907, which Russia signed, forbids the use of drifting mines unless they become harmless within an hour of release. It also requires that moored mines be designed so that they become harmless if they break free of their cables. If Russia has violated this treaty, it isn’t the only nation to do so: China has overtly manufactured drifting mines and composed legal guidance disregarding this part of the Hague Convention. Moreover, rebels and terrorist groups like the Houthis are under no such treaty restrictions.” Read, here.

And Vladimir Putin will stay on as Russia’s leader for at least another six years after garnering what state-run media TASS claims was 87% of the vote in what most outsiders viewed as a sham election that took place over the weekend. 

For most Russians, this almost certainly confirms a return “to late Soviet stagnation, albeit with no ideology beyond autocracy, kleptocracy and paranoia,” writes Mark Galeotti of the Royal United Services Institute. 

Related reading:

  • “N. Korean leader congratulates Putin on reelection,” South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported Monday; 
  • “Buying satellite imagery of Ukraine is dangerously easy,” via Graeme Wood, writing Monday for The Atlantic;
  • “Russian ‘dark fleet’ [of oil tankers] lacks disaster insurance, leaks suggest,” the Financial Times reported over the weekend; 
  • “Time Is Running Out in Ukraine: Kyiv Cannot Capitalize on Russian Military Weakness Without U.S. Aid,” argues Dara Massicot of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writing earlier this month in Foreign Affairs
  • See also, “The Case for a Binding Security Agreement With Ukraine,” via former U.S. intelligence analyst Eric Ciaramella, writing in Lawfare. 

Welcome to this Monday 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 1969, the U.S. military began secretly bombing Cambodia with B-52s as part of a 14-month campaign later known as Operation Menu.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX is building a classified spy satellite network for the U.S., Reuters reported Saturday, citing five sources familiar with the alleged plans. “The network is being built by SpaceX’s Starshield business unit under a $1.8 billion contract signed in 2021 with the National Reconnaissance Office,” those sources said. (By the way, the Wall Street Journal alluded to this program in reporting last month.)

The idea is to create a “swarm” of satellites in low orbits. Already, “Roughly a dozen prototypes have been launched since 2020,” Reuters reports. Officials in Beijing are already upset over the developments, as the wire service reported in a follow-up Monday. 

China’s naval railgun as a window into naval R&D. Since the 2021 cancellation of the U.S. Navy’s railgun program, China has been the state putting the most effort into an electromagnetic cannon. But that’s hardly the full extent of the PLAN’s shipboard electricity work, Peter Singer and BluePath Labs’ Matt Bruzzese report in the latest edition of The China Intelligence column.

What might Starship do for the Pentagon? D1’s Audrey Decker looks at potential military uses for the reusable megarocket, whose recent third test flight got farther than its first two. Read, here.

North Korea launched at least three short-range ballistic missiles Sunday into the Sea of Japan (also known as the East Sea) as Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited South Korea for a democracy summit hosted by officials in Seoul. 

The U.S. and South Korean militaries just ended their annual Freedom Shield exercises on Thursday. The North Korean missiles Sunday “did not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel or territory,” defense officials at U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement shortly after. 

Pyongyang last launched a ballistic missile on January 14, when they said they tested an intermediate-range ballistic missile with a hypersonic warhead. The North’s last missile launch occurred on February 14 when they tested a new surface-to-sea cruise missile, according to Yonhap.

Niger’s military junta instructed the U.S. military to leave the country on Saturday, “throwing the United States’ strategy in the region into disarray,” the New York Times reported over the weekend. There are still at least 600 American troops in the country operating out of a $110 million remote installation referred to as U.S. Air Base 201. 

Rewind: Niger suffered a coup last July, and subsequently ordered the French military out in August. “American officials say they have tried for months to prevent a formal break in relations with Niger’s junta,” the Times reports; but it ultimately looks as though those talks have been unsuccessful. 

Developing: The junta’s announcement Saturday followed recent allegations from senior U.S. officials that the junta was “secretly exploring a deal to allow Iran access to its uranium reserves,” according to the Wall Street Journal, reporting Sunday. 

For the record, “Niger was the world’s No. 7 uranium producer in 2022, with a production of around 2,020 metric tons,” the Journal reports. “Most of its uranium is exported to France, Niger’s former colonial power whose state uranium company, Orano, mines the mineral in a partnership with a company owned by the Nigerien government.” 

U.S. forces destroyed five drone boats from the Iran-backed Houthis and two other aerial drones on Saturday near the coast of Yemen, according to defense officials at Central Command. The drone boats were launched late Saturday evening, triggering self-defense strikes from U.S. forces in the region working to protect commercial vessels from Houthi attacks. 

The U.S. military watched as the Houthis seem to have wasted three anti-ship ballistic missiles Friday evening. “There were no injuries or damage reported by U.S., coalition, or commercial ships” from those missiles, CENTCOM said afterward.  

New Air Force Commander in the Middle East? Last week, President Biden nominated Maj. Gen. Derek France to lead Air Forces Central as well as the Combined Forces Air Component Commander for U.S. Central Command. France is the current commander of the Germany-based Third Air Force. AFCENT’s current chief, Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, is moving on as the next director of operations on the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. 

Busy AO: “AFCENT is currently tackling Houthi attacks on shipping in the Red Sea region, responding to more than 150 attacks on U.S. troops supporting the campaign against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, including an attack in January that killed three Soldiers in Jordan at an outpost just across the border from Syria, and conducting humanitarian aid airdrops over Gaza,” Air & Space Forces Magazine writes. 

Maj. Gen. France still must be confirmed by lawmakers; but there do not appear to be any obstacles in his way at this stage. 

From the region: 

And lastly: Join us in about 24 hours for our latest digital event on the State of the Marines, which takes place Tuesday, March 19, at 2 p.m. ET. Assistant Commandant Gen. Christopher J. Mahoney sits down with Defense One’s Sam Skove.

Less than an hour later, Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl will speak with D1’s Jennifer Hlad about the Corps’ role as America’s crisis response force as the service undergoes force design changes. Registration required (it’s free). Details, here. 



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