The D Brief: More sanctions on Russia; US talks space nuke; Manta-ray sub drone; Australia’s ship plan; And a bit more.

The U.S. says Russia is using chemical weapons in Ukraine. The allegation was made public in February when Ukrainian officials flagged Russia’s use of the World War I-era chemical weapon chloropicrin—also known as CS, or tear gas—including more than 200 alleged instances of its use in January alone. If confirmed, chloropicrin use would violate an early 1990s prohibition on the weapons in warfare. 

“The use of such chemicals is…probably driven by Russian forces’ desire to dislodge Ukrainian forces from fortified positions [trenches, e.g.] and achieve tactical gains on the battlefield,” the State Department said Wednesday as it announced a new round of sanctions against nearly 300 Russian officials and entities. 

If chloropicrin sounds familiar, the chemical is also used by U.S. soldiers and Marines either learning or renewing their training on the proper use of the M50 series gas mask. Your D Brief-er has inhaled it briefly, as instructed by cadre, and can confirm it is indeed a disgusting and debilitating substance. There are plenty of videos available on YouTube if you wanna see what that awfulness looks like. 

The U.S. also sanctioned three people it says were involved with the death of Russian opposition leader Aleksey Navalny while he served out his terrorism sentencing at Russia’s far northern Penal Colony IK-3. The three are prison and medical officials who worked at IK-3 during Navalny’s suspicious death in February, just ahead of elections. 

US: Russian space nuke could render low-Earth orbit unusable for a year. “Several analysts do believe that detonation in space at the right magnitude in the right location could render low-Earth orbit, for example, unusable for some period of time,” John Plumb, assistant defense secretary for space policy, told a House hearing on Wednesday. Plumb’s assessment follows the confirmation last week by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan that “the United States assesses that Russia is developing a new satellite carrying a nuclear device.” D1’s Audrey Decker reports.

A Lockheed Martin-Boeing joint venture intended to compete with SpaceX needs to pick up the pace, the Air Force’s top acquisition official Frank Calvelli told House lawmakers, Bloomberg reported Wednesday. 

For a sense of the lagging pace, consider that the joint venture, known as the United Launch Alliance, had just three national-security-related launches last calendar year. SpaceX conducted 96 such launches in 2023. 

DARPA’s manta-ray drone passes first ocean test. Several times larger than a small lifeboat, the autonomous submersible demonstrated multiple modes of propulsion and steering in tests off California, the agency said in a Wednesday statement. DARPA’s five-year-old Manta Ray effort aims to harness the movement of the ocean to power a submersible drone that could stay out for far longer than current undersea drones. Such drones could help search for Chinese or Russian submarines. D1’s Patrick Tucker has more, here.

Welcome to this Thursday 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 1945, the Soviets captured Berlin from the Nazis, though skirmishes around the city continued for another six days.

Everyone’s V-22s are flying again, and may do so past 2060. The U.S. Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force are all operating their Ospreys two months after the Pentagon lifted a grounding imposed in the wake of a crash.

The crash’s cause remains unknown, Marine Col. Brian Taylor, the V-22 program manager, told D1’s Audrey Decker, but they have narrowed down the root cause and identified “all the modes that can possibly end up with this outcome.”

Taylor also detailed modernization plans to keep Ospreys flying through the 2060s, including upgrades to the aircraft’s cockpit and software. Read on, here.

The Army has a new recruiting video intended to boost its psychological operations ranks. It begins with excerpts from the words of two 20th-century American icons: author John Steinbeck and President John F. Kennedy, before pivoting to allusions of a rising China in the 21st century. 

“The video is the second provocative recruiting ad that, in itself, exemplifies the kind of work the psyop soldiers do to influence public opinion and wage the war of words overseas,” Lita Baldor of the Associated Press reports.  

Context: “The Army’s Special Operations recruiters who recruit from already-serving soldiers say they are making about 75% of their overall goal, which is between 3,000 and 4,000,” Baldor writes. And based on those needs, recruiters “have to bring in about 650 active-duty soldiers to psychological operations per year.”

Making matters difficult, as we’ve discussed repeatedly at Defense One, service “Officials blame the nation’s low unemployment, increased competition from corporate businesses, which can pay more and offer similar benefits, and a sluggish return from several years of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions that prevented recruiters from visiting schools and attending other public events,” according to Baldor. Read on, here. 

Related reading: “After downsizing healthcare for years, Pentagon says medical readiness was a casualty,” NPR’s Quil Lawrence reported Thursday. 

Join us this afternoon as Navy Vice Adm. Kelly Aeschbach of Naval Information Forces speaks at 2 p.m. ET to D1’s Lauren Williams for a virtual Defense One “Service Branch Spotlight.” Registration required (it’s free); details here.

The U.S. military is more than half done building its temporary pier to help deliver humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza. The floating pier itself is finished, but construction of the causeway is ongoing, Pentagon officials said Wednesday. 

At this pace, the project could be up and running as early as this weekend. That had been the hope of White House officials. However, “There are also some weather concerns in the eastern Mediterranean [Sea],” and those could delay the ready date, White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby said in a call with reporters Thursday. 

CENTCOM updates: 

  • April 28: U.S. forces “successfully engaged” five UAVs over the Red Sea.
  • April 29: Iranian-backed Houthis fired three anti-ship ballistic missiles and three UAVs towards MV Cyclades, a Malta-flagged, Greece-owned vessel in the Red Sea. Initial reports indicate there were no injuries and the vessel continued on its way. Also, U.S. forces destroyed a Houthi UAV flying towards USS Philippine Sea and USS Laboon in the Red Sea.
  • April 30: U.S. forces destroyed an uncrewed surface vessel.

And lastly: Australia aims to double its naval fleet. Can its plan work? Forecast International’s Dan Darling takes a look at recent strategies, reviews, and analyses of the Royal Australian Navy’s shipbuilding plan, and notes that questions remain about financial commitment, manpower, schedule, and ability to avoid acquisition missteps. Read on, here.

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