The D Brief: ‘Most intense combat since WWII’; Navy’s big drone bet; Chinese, Philippine ships collide; NATO chief in DC; And a bit more.

The D Brief: ‘Most intense combat since WWII’; Navy’s big drone bet; Chinese, Philippine ships collide; NATO chief in DC; And a bit more.

The paint has burned away from the missile launchers aboard the destroyer Laboon, one of the U.S. warships whose crew has just minutes or even seconds to respond to incoming fire in the Red Sea. “It is every single day, every single watch, and some of our ships have been out here for seven-plus months doing that,” said Capt. David Wroe, the commodore overseeing the guided missile destroyers.

The fight against the Houthi group in Yemen is “the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II,” service leaders told the Associated Press, which writes: “The combat pits the Navy’s mission to keep international waterways open against a group whose former arsenal of assault rifles and pickup trucks has grown into a seemingly inexhaustible supply of drones, missiles and other weaponry. Near-daily attacks by the Houthis since November have seen more than 50 vessels clearly targeted, while shipping volume has dropped in the vital Red Sea corridor that leads to the Suez Canal and into the Mediterranean.”

Laboon’s CO: “I don’t think people really understand just kind of how deadly serious it is what we’re doing and how under threat the ships continue to be,” Cmdr. Eric Blomberg told AP. Read that, here.

Late last week, two merchant ships were hit by Houthi attacks, U.S. Central Command said:

  • June 12: a Houthi uncrewed surface vessel hit M/V Tutor, a Liberian-flagged, Greek-owned and -operated bulk cargo carrier, damaging its engine room and causing flooding. The crew abandoned ship and were picked up by the U.S. cruiser Philippine Sea and partner forces. One civilian mariner is missing. T M/V Tutor remains in the Red Sea and is slowly taking on water.
  • June 13: Two missiles hit M/V Verbena, a Palauan-flagged, Ukrainian-owned, Polish-operated bulk cargo carrier, setting fires on board and severely injuring one crew member. One civilian mariner was medically evacuated due to severe injuries. 

Carrier Eisenhower still afloat, undamaged, no matter how many times Houthis claim otherwise. The CO flew AP reporters around his ship in a helicopter so they could see for themselves. “I think it’s been about two or three times in the past six months we’ve allegedly been sunk, which we have not been,” Capt. Christopher “Chowdah” Hill told AP. “It is almost comical at this point.” Read on for fun details about how Hill keeps up morale aboard the 5,000-person ship, here. 

And in Gaza, the U.S. military temporarily halted its pier operations due to choppy seas again on Friday. “The decision to temporarily relocate the pier is not made lightly but is necessary to ensure the temporary pier can continue to deliver aid in the future,” CENTCOM said. “After the period of expected high seas, the pier will be rapidly re-anchored to the coast of Gaza and resume delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza,” officials promised.

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 here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1967, China announced it had developed a thermonuclear weapon, becoming just the fourth nation to do so (along with the U.S., the U.K., and the Soviet Union).

The Navy just committed nearly a billion dollars to almost 50 companies for various drone-related work to help develop the service’s “Unmanned Surface Vehicle Family of Systems,” the Defense Department announced Friday afternoon. Each contract concerns “one or more functional areas, i.e. payloads, non-payload sensors, mission support systems, autonomy and vehicle control systems, ashore and host platform elements, and logistics and sustainment,” the Pentagon said. 

The Navy wants the initial work completed by February 2025, and each includes “a five-year ordering period option which, if exercised, will continue work through February 2030.”

Recipients include California-based Anduril Industries, Alabama’s Leonardo Electronics, Pennsylvania’s Carnegie Robotics, Virginia-based Novetta Inc., Wisconsin’s Marinette Marine Corp., Honeywell International and Beast Code out of Florida, Teledyne FLIR Surveillance from Massachusetts, Microsoft, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Saab, and lots more. 

New: U.S. drone maker Red Cat Holdings now has a FPV strike drone, making the Puerto Rico-based firm of the few but growing number of companies to be going in this direction, Defense One’s Sam Skove writes off an industry announcement Monday. 

The drone is known as “FANG,” and it currently has a 10-minute flight time, according to Red Cat. Future users “can combine and deploy these FPV drones with lethal payloads and ISR drones based on the mission profile for seek and destroy capabilities,” the company says. 

The U.S. Army will name a new air-defense system for a Vietnam War hero amid a broader push for weapons that can ward off drones and other airborne threats, Defense One’s Skove reported Friday. The name “Sgt. Stout” will apply to the Increment One variant of the Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense System, or M-SHORAD, Army acquisition chief Doug Bush told reporters on Thursday. 

The Sgt. Stout is named after Sgt. Mitchell William Stout, the only Army air defense soldier to earn the Medal of Honor. Stout died in Vietnam in 1970 at the age of 20 after using his body to shield other soldiers from an enemy grenade.

The Sgt. Stout is meant to counter fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, and class one through three drones, which is a category that covers everything from small quadcopters to long-range loitering munitions, Skove reports. The system consists of a Stryker vehicle, onto which are attached Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, a 30mm auto-cannon, a machine gun, and a radar system. Continue reading, here.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg is visiting the White House for discussions with President Biden this afternoon. Reminder: NATO’s annual summit is less than a month away, and it’s happening this year in Washington (9 through 11 July). 

Stoltenberg is coming off a NATO defense ministerial last week in Brussels, and the military chiefs posed for an obligatory three-tiered photo Jens shared on social media Friday. At the conclusion of that meeting, Jens promised the alliance “will step up our support [to Ukraine] for the long haul—sending a clear message to Moscow that they cannot wait us out.” 

Over the last few weeks, alliance members “have seen a surge of sabotage, cyber-attacks, instrumentalized migration and other hostile actions by Russia,” Stoltenberg said Friday. In response, “We will be calm and measured in how we respond to Russian provocations. At the same time, we will call out Russia’s actions and impose costs,” said Stoltenberg. 

“Today we have 500,000 troops at high readiness across all domains, significantly more than the goal that was set at the 2022 Madrid Summit,” he said in his parting remarks at Brussels. “NATO has also doubled the number of battle groups on the Eastern flank,” said Stoltenberg. 

And over the next five years, NATO members are also planning to buy “thousands of air defense and artillery systems, 850 modern aircraft (mostly 5th generation F-35s), and also a lot of high-end capabilities,” he said Friday. 

The alliance also plans to announce a “Defence Industrial Pledge” during the Washington summit next month. The idea with that pledge is “to send a signal of sustainable demand to industry,” Stoltenberg said. And that’s been a particularly tough sell, as Defense One’s Sam Skove has reported over the past few weeks. 

Over 80 countries signed a joint statement affirming Ukraine’s territorial integrity during a peace conference this weekend in Switzerland.

But several nations’ representatives did not sign the document, including Saudi Arabia, India, South Africa, Armenia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Brazil, analysts at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War noted in their Sunday evening assessment. 

Related reading: 

Philippine and Chinese ships collided in the South China Sea on Monday, the Associated Press reports from Taiwan. The collision occurred near the Second Thomas Shoal, which is a submerged reef in the disputed Spratly Islands—the setting of Chinese-Philippine naval tensions over the past several months as “Filipino navy personnel have transported food, medicine and other supplies to a long-grounded warship that has served as Manila’s territorial outpost,” AP writes.  

Background: “The Philippines says the shoal falls within its internationally recognized exclusive economic zone and often cites a 2016 international arbitration ruling invalidating China’s expansive South China Sea claims based on historical grounds,” AP reminds readers. 

Chinese officials, however, have never liked that court ruling and have tried for years to ignore it in an apparent effort to assert dominance over significant portions of the South China Sea. Reuters has more.

From the region: “Pentagon ran secret anti-vax campaign to undermine China during pandemic,” Reuters reported in a special feature on Friday.

And lastly: Join us tomorrow for a day of conversations and demos about cutting-edge research and development trends at this year’s Defense One Tech Summit at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City.

Beginning at 8 a.m. ET, senior Pentagon and industry leaders will explore advancements in battlefield and backend technologies, as well as how the U.S. government can better work with startups, academia, and international partners. Closing remarks are slated for 3 p.m. ET. 

Speakers include DARPA Director Stefanie Tompkins, the Pentagon’s Michael Horowitz, Defense Department hypersonics advisor Jarret Lafleur, Aditi Kumar of the Defense Innovation Unit, and lots more.

Register ahead of Tuesday here. And we look forward to seeing you in Pentagon City!

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