The D Brief: Aid heads to Ukraine; Army’s 100K goal; Niger pullout talks; Pentagon test recuses himself; And a bit more.

The U.S. is sending $1 billion worth of military supplies to Ukraine in the latest tranche of weapons, announced moments after President Biden signed the recently passed $95 billion aid package for Kyiv, Taiwan, Israel, and more Tuesday morning at the White House. 

Against the drones: The new weapons delivery includes “.50 caliber rounds to counter Unmanned Aerial Systems,” which Ukraine has been shooting down in greater numbers since Iran began supplying the invading Russian military with one-way attack drones often referred to as Shaheds. 

There are also lots more artillery rounds and of several varieties (HIMARS, 155mm, 105mm, and more). More Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles are also en route—as well as claymore and “anti-armor mines,” reflecting a particular defensive focus for this latest package. 

The White House already sent Ukraine long-range ATACMS missiles, multiple outlets reported Wednesday after Biden signed the bill into law, citing unnamed U.S. officials. The transfer of those missiles, which some experts and lawmakers have been encouraging for months, occurred secretly in March so as to retain a certain element of surprise for Ukraine. 

Those missiles, with a range of about 190 miles, were apparently used twice so far, “striking an airfield in Crimea and Russian troops in southeastern Ukraine,” the New York Times reported. More than 100 ATACMS have been sent so far, U.S. officials said. (The U.S. had previously sent a shorter-range ATACMS variant months ago; it carried older cluster munitions not as widely in use among U.S. forces around the world.)

Shipments to Ukraine have already begun, U.S. officials say. As the prospects for a new aid tranche grew brighter last week, the Pentagon began moving arms and gear into position for quick transfer to the beleaguered country, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. C.Q. Brown told reporters on Wednesday. Added Bill LaPlante, the Pentagon’s buyer-in-chief: “Literally, right now, there are planes flying probably with equipment to Ukraine.” Defense One’s Patrick Tucker reports. 

The supplemental will also renew the U.S. Army’s quest to produce 100,000 artillery shells per month. That goal, set for next summer, would more than triple the current production, Lt. Gen. James Mingus, service’ vice chief of staff, said at a CSIS event on Wednesday. Army officials had earlier said progress toward the goal would depend on some $3 billion in a Ukraine supplemental. Defense One’s Sam Skove has more, here.

Developing: Potential anti-radar missile sales. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced potential sales of Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missiles and related support to Poland ($1.275 billion) and to the Netherlands ($700 million).

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U.S. diplomatic and military officials traveled to Niger’s capital city this week “to initiate discussions on an orderly and safe withdrawal” of the remaining thousand or so U.S. forces from the country, the Defense Department announced Wednesday. The U.S. delegation included Ambassador to Niger Kathleen FitzGibbon and Africa Command’s Air Force Maj. Gen. Kenneth Ekman. 

Context: Niger’s military overthrew elected President Mohamed Bazoum in a July 2023 coup, which was one of eight to hit West and Central African nations since 2020. (Niger itself endured four prior coups since gaining independence from France in 1960.) In the months since, the anti-democratic junta has fostered a closer relationship with Russian officials and mercenaries, and—without a sense of irony—declared that a 2012 security pact with the U.S. violated Niger’s “constitutional and democratic rules.” That pact had permitted U.S. troops to operate a drone base outside the city of Agadez for the purposes of fighting terrorists and combating extremism in the region.

FWIW: “Since the 2010s, the U.S. has sunk roughly a quarter billion dollars into the outpost,” which is “in addition to more than $500 million in military assistance provided to Niger since 2012,” Nick Turse of The Intercept reported in March. (The Wall Street Journal last week referred to the site as a “$110 million U.S.-built drone base.”)

“Amid discussion underway since July 2023, we have been unable to reach an understanding” with junta leaders, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement Wednesday. “The United States is proud of the security cooperation and shared sacrifice of U.S. forces and Nigerien forces, a partnership which effectively contributed to stability in Niger and the region,” he added. 

U.S. officials are particularly concerned about Niger’s uranium mines, whose output Washington fears could be sold to Iran. The country supplies about 5% of the world’s uranium, including an estimated 20% of the European Union’s needs. 

Next week, two U.S. officials will travel to Niamey for follow-on discussions with Nigerien officials. That U.S. team is expected to include Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict Christopher Maier and Air Force Lt. Gen. Dagvin Anderson from the Joint Staff. Other U.S. troops are also staged nearby in Benin and Chad, though they only number in the dozens—nothing like the contingent in Niger. U.S. officials are reportedly considering moving their drone assets to Benin, Ivory Coast, or Ghana. Togo may also be an option. 

Could Chad be next to evict U.S. troops? “This month, the top Chadian air force general ordered the U.S. to cease activities at a major air base in the country [Adji Kossei], questioning the legal grounds for the American presence,” the Journal reported last week. “U.S. officials are trying to assess how widespread that sentiment is among Chad’s leaders and military commanders,” Michael Phillips of the Journal wrote. 

For the record, the U.S. military “remains committed to countering violent extremist organizations in West Africa,” and “will continue to support whole-of-government approaches to work with African leaders to maintain stability and address terrorist threats in the region, including addressing core issues that drive insecurity,” Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement Wednesday evening. 

Related reading:

New: The Pentagon’s top weapons tester recused himself from decisions or program evaluations involving Lockheed Martin, Bloomberg’s Anthony Capaccio reported Thursday. 

Involved: Douglas Schmidt, who just took the job as director of the Operational Test and Evaluation on April 8. He was an expert witness for a law firm representing a Lockheed unit; and as a result, he’s decided to recuse himself from LMT cases “out of an abundance of caution,” Capaccio reports. A bit more behind the paywall, here. 

The U.S. Navy has a new Virginia-class submarine: New Jersey (SSN 796) was delivered by HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding division in Virginia, the company announced Thursday. The sub was christened in November 2021 and is set to be commissioned sometime later this year. 

Robot wingman news: Anduril and General Atomics have beat out three defense giants to develop the first slew of Air Force drones that will escort fighter pilots into combat under a program known as collaborative combat aircraft, or CCA, Defense One’s Audrey Decker reported Wednesday. 

The pair will develop CCAs in “increment one” of the program, which is focused on fielding drones quickly. Drones in the next tranche will be fielded later and likely feature different capabilities, Decker writes. 

Background: The Air Force had hoped to fund further development by three of the five vendors in the pool, which also included Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. The choice of two suggests that the service lacked the money. But any of the five companies may compete for the increment one or two production contracts; they’ll just have to spend their own money to further develop their design, Decker reports. Read on, here. 

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