The D Brief: F-16s to Ukraine; Kyiv’s hardened defenses; The year of ground robots?; Hezbollah vs. Israeli ISR; And a bit more.

The D Brief: F-16s to Ukraine; Kyiv’s hardened defenses; The year of ground robots?; Hezbollah vs. Israeli ISR; And a bit more.

U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets are being transferred to Ukraine today, State Secretary Antony Blinken announced Wednesday during NATO’s 75th annual summit hosted this year in Washington. Catch a livestream of summit events, here. 

Blinken’s delivery announcement comes less than a year after President Joe Biden authorized the aircraft transfer to Ukraine’s military, which has been defending against a legendarily calamitous Russian invasion for more than two years. Biden reportedly greenlit the plan last August, after it had become clear that Ukrainian troops were not going to be able to claw back much territory in its occupied southern and eastern regions. 

“I am pleased to announce that, as we speak, the transfer of F-16 jets is underway—coming from Denmark, coming from the Netherlands,” Blinken said in an interview Wednesday morning at the alliance summit.  

“The transfer of F-16s is officially underway, and Ukraine will be flying F-16s this summer,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed during his opening remarks Wednesday. (His press secretary, Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, had promised nearly as much last week when he told reporters at the Pentagon, “The initial deliveries of F-16s, as you’re tracking, are set to take place sometime this summer.” But he refused to get into additional details, citing security concerns.)

What to expect: NATO countries have committed 65 F-16s to Ukraine, and naturally the greatest impact will likely come using those aircraft in large numbers, according to a recent analysis from the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. For example, “Ukraine needs close to 12 fighter squadrons to achieve the air support needed for the war on the ground, with four squadrons primarily responsible for each core mission set: (1) suppression of enemy air defenses, (2) air interdiction, and (3) defensive counter air. This aim would require 216 F-16s, with 18 aircraft in each squadron.” That is, of course, considerably more than have been pledged so far. 

Big-picture consideration: “The United States must decide what type of Ukrainian armed force it wants to support,” the three CSIS analysts write. “Is it a Ukraine that can defend, deter, or defeat Russia? Regardless of wanted outcomes, Ukraine needs more aircraft, and it needs them now.” Read on, here. 

Converge continues below…

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 here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1942, U.S. troops in a PBY Catalina “flying boat” spotted an intact Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter aircraft—at the time the world’s longest-range, most maneuverable aircraft—that had crash-landed off Alaska’s eastern Aleutian Islands. After about two weeks of recovery and cleaning, the U.S. Navy transported the A6M Zero to Seattle and then San Diego for analysis and exploitation. By late September, U.S. pilots began conducting flight tests, which revealed a combination of tactics allied pilots could use against A6M Zeros in dogfights over the Pacific until the end of the war. 

According to U.S. officials’ forecasts, Russia is unlikely to take much more Ukrainian territory in the months ahead. That’s thanks in large part to hardened defenses on both sides. And those “problems represent a significant change in the dynamic of the war, which had favored Moscow in recent months,” the New York Times reported Tuesday

Expert reax: “Ukrainian forces are stretched thin and face difficult months of fighting ahead, but a major Russian breakthrough is now unlikely,” said Michael Kofman, a senior fellow in the Russia and Eurasia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. More, here.

Developing: Deputy Pentagon chief Kathleen Hicks highlighted a new development in modern, drone-assisted warfare inside Ukraine on Tuesday. U.S. military research dollars are increasingly going toward “commercial tech companies, non-traditional contractors, and newer defense-tech startups and scale-ups, to complement the know-how and scale of our large defense firms,” she said at a NATO defense industry forum, and noted (emphasis added), “The cumulative effect is powerful, like how first-person-view drones have enabled Ukraine’s precise artillery correction in real-time.” 

Drones are increasingly being used for resupplying both Russian and Ukrainian frontline forces, Russia-watcher Rob Lee noted on social media Tuesday. And Russia’s formal defense industry as well as numerous volunteer efforts continue to diversify variants and rush new drones to the frontlines, as Sam Bendett details on his social media feed. 

Ground robots are increasingly finding work inside Ukraine as well. “This year will be the year of [unmanned] land systems,” Ukraine’s top official in charge of defense production efforts said Tuesday during a briefing to reporters on the sidelines of the NATO summit. “You’ll see more of them on the frontline” over the next 12 months, said Oleksandr Kamyshin, Ukraine’s minister for strategic industries of Ukraine.

Kamyshin told reporters he is seeking a further $10 to 15 billion in investments in the Ukrainian weapons industry, Defense One’s Sam Skove reports. Continue reading, here.  

New: NATO’s procurement agency just placed a $700 million order for Raytheon’s Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, outgoing alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg announced Tuesday. This particular Stinger order “will keep the production line running through 2029, an RTX spokesman told Reuters.”

Business as usual from London. Britain’s new Prime Minister Keir Starmer announced Tuesday the new UK government will keep the prior government’s policy in place allowing Ukraine to use British missiles to strike Russian military targets inside Russia. Bloomberg has a bit more.

And sometime last week, Ukrainian naval forces intercepted a cargo ship that had likely been carrying gypsum to the occupied port of Sevastopol in May. Industry watcher Lloyd’s List has the details.

Additional reading: 

The few can beat the many, Taiwan president says ahead of annual war games. “The amount of equipment admittedly is important, but it cannot represent the military power of a country,” Taiwan President Lai Ching-te told air force officers in comments released on Tuesday. “In history, there are many cases where the few win out over the many, and there are countless ways to win over old-fashioned enemies with new thinking.”

Taiwan starts its five-day Han Kuang exercises on July 22—alongside the Wan An civil defense drills, in which cities are briefly shut down during simulated air raids. A senior Taiwan official said last month that this year’s annual Han Kuang drills will be as close as possible to actual combat. (Reuters)

Hezbollah is trying to counter Israel’s high-tech surveillance. “Coded messages. Landline phones. Pagers. Following the killing of senior commanders in targeted Israeli airstrikes, the Iran-backed Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah, has been using some low-tech strategies to try to evade its foe’s sophisticated surveillance technology,” Reuters reports, citing “informed sources.” The group has also been using its own drones to study and attack Israel’s intelligence assets.

The sides have been trading fire on Lebanon’s southern border since Hezbollah’s Palestinian ally in the Gaza Strip, Hamas, went to war with Israel in October. More, here.

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