The D Brief: NATO pledges ‘bridge’ to Kyiv membership; Z seeks US deep-strike OK; F-35 deliveries to resume; European innovation Q&A; And a bit more.

The D Brief: NATO pledges ‘bridge’ to Kyiv membership; Z seeks US deep-strike OK; F-35 deliveries to resume; European innovation Q&A; And a bit more.

At NATO summit, Zelenskyy presses for U.S. greenlight to hit Russian bases. At a Wednesday speech, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy Zelensky highlighted Russia’s strikes on population centers with guided bombs, which are packed with enough explosive to level a building in a single strike. 

To prevent the attacks, Zelensky pushed the U.S. to drop its restrictions on using U.S.-provided long-range weapons to target airfields hundreds of miles inside Russia. “We can protect our cities from Russian guided bombs if American leadership makes a step forward and allows us to destroy Russian military aircraft on their bases,” he said. 

Even as Zelensky praised U.S. support under the Biden administration, he also sought to avoid alienating Republican candidate Donald Trump, who improperly held up Ukrainian aid during his first term, pressed GOP lawmakers to end it as he campaigned, and says he will cut it if reelected. 

NATO leaders also pledged a “well-lit bridge” to Ukraine’s potential alliance membership, but the “bridge” is a far cry from the commitment of full membership Ukraine has been seeking since 2008, Defense One’s Patrick Tucker reports.  

How exactly will the bridge be built? Outgoing NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg broke it down into a series of commitments NATO allies are ready to make to Ukraine, short of extending full Article 5 collective defense protections. Read more, here. 

Government officials and defense-industry execs said European nations weren’t doing enough to build up their militaries. “We have serious gaps in meeting our capability targets,” Petr Pavel, president of the Czech Republic, said at one NATO panel. 

Supply shortage? Estonian prime minister Kaja Kallas added that some governments want to buy weapons to meet the NATO benchmark of at least 2 percent of GDP on defense but are unable to find suppliers who are not already committed to filling orders amid Ukraine-related demand. 

“One prime minister asked me: where can I spend? I want to spend 2 percent, but nobody’s selling [to] me now, because they don’t have anything,” Kallas said at the same panel. Defense One’s Sam Skove has more. (Bonus: At the bottom of today’s newsletter, we’ve got an interview with a U.S.-based analyst who recently surveyed European defense ministries for ways they can better innovate.)

Battlefield update: “The situation at the front is better than it was this spring,” writes Michael Kofman of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He recently returned from a field study trip to Ukraine, and shared his post-trip thoughts on social media Wednesday. 

“More worrisome is the state of Ukraine’s air defense, and the damage from Russian strikes to the power grid,” he explained. “The next 2 months will be especially difficult,” because “rectifying [Ukrainian] manpower deficits will take time” and “Russian forces are likely to keep advancing over the coming months, especially in Donetsk,” said Kofman. 

One notable observation: “Ukraine is very low on ammunition for legacy Soviet systems, whereas Russian drone and missile production rates have increased significantly,” Kofman said. “A deficit of air defense has led to pervasive Russian [aerial drone] reconnaissance behind the front line and increased success rates in strikes.” 

Worse for Kyiv, “Russian glide bomb (UMPK/UMPB) strikes have become more accurate, and from greater ranges. They destroy entire positions, and are more psychologically impactful than artillery. Glide bombs level structures in cities that would take days of artillery fire to destroy.” And this suggests that even if Ukraine received the Patriot air defense systems it requests, pushing those “Patriot batteries forward to tackle Russian air strikes will be risky if they cannot themselves be protected,” said Kofman. 

He also unpacks some new tactical developments for Russia, as well as a dismal winter outlook for ordinary Ukrainians living in a battered power grid. Read over his entire thread, here.  

Additional reading: 

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 here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1405, Chinese admiral Zheng He and his enormous treasure ships began sailing throughout the Indo-Pacific in the first of what would eventually become seven long voyages before the collapse of the Ming dynasty amid droughts, poverty, and peasant revolts.

Update: The Pentagon will likely resume accepting new F-35s this month, Air Force Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, the head of Air Combat Command, said during a virtual Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies event Wednesday. 

Background: The government stopped accepting new F-35s last July because of problems with Technology Refresh-3, or TR-3, Defense One’s Lauren C. Williams reports. 

“Right now we’re very much focused on the TR-3 upgrade…[and] on unwinding that hold up. And I’m hopeful that those jets will start to be delivered this month,” Wilsbach said. 

He also said the USAF has no official replacement program for the F-22, despite service leaders’ previously insisting that’s what the Next Generation Air Dominance program would be. “The F-22 is a fantastic aircraft. We’re actually planning several upgrades to the jet as we speak,” Wilsbach said. 

That NGAD downselect could happen this year, he said. The program, which is designed to be a suite of complementary platforms, has experienced significant delays. Read more at Defense One.

A Chinese rocket firm suffered its fourth launch failure last night when a recent rocket’s fourth stage suffered some kind of anomaly shortly after launch Wednesday evening, the company iSpace said in a statement.

Context: “Beijing Interstellar Glory Space Technology Ltd., or iSpace, made history in 2019 as the first privately-funded Chinese company to reach orbit with the solid-fueled Hyperbola-1. However the rocket suffered three consecutive failures following that feat,” Spacenews reports. 

Bigger picture: “The loss could add to concerns over China’s commercial launch industry as it follows Space Pioneer’s recent catastrophic static-fire explosion, which saw a fully-fueled first stage unintentionally launch from the test bench in Gongyi, Henan province,” Spacenews writes. 

ICYMI: Europe’s new Ariane 6 rocket launched successfully for the very first time Tuesday, taking off from a spaceport in French Guiana on a mission to release satellites into orbit in the hopes of “restoring the continent’s independent access to space,” Agence France-Presse reports in a short video of the launch. 

But about three hours in, “an anomaly in the final phase of the flight” meant the last of its cargo could not be released, the New York Times reported afterward. Nevertheless, “We are perfectly on track to make a second launch this year,” the launch firm’s CEO Stéphane Israël said after the mission Wednesday. 

The company behind Ariane 6 is France-based launch service provider Arianespace, which is “part of ArianeGroup, a joint venture between Airbus and Safran that developed and built the powerful rocket,” CNN reports. 

Why it matters: “In the past, many of Europe’s missions flew on Russian Soyuz rockets. But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine led to a break in the relationship in 2022,” the Times reports. 

Now what? “Europe needs to double its investment in space by 2040, otherwise it risks becoming a middle power, junior partner and being marginalized next to the existing powers—the US and China—and newly emerging space powers, including India,” a policy analyst told Spacenews. Read more, here.  

And lastly today, we’re sharing a Q&A on what “innovation” means for defense ministries across Europe, featuring Matt Schlueter of the Boston Consulting Group. BCG recently released their annual Global Defense Innovation Readiness Gap report, which monitors nearly a dozen dimensions of readiness across many of Europe’s militaries. Defense One spoke to Schlueter as NATO’s 32 members descended on Washington this week for the 75th annual alliance summit. 

Defense One: So first, for our audience, can you tell us a brief bit about yourself and what you do?

Schlueter: I have had the pleasure for the last five years to lead the defense and security practice globally for the Boston Consulting Group. And in our work, we look really across the range of everything from strategy to operations, to be inclusive of people, process, and technology. But a big focus of ours most recently has been on the concept of defense innovation, and more specifically, the innovation gap that we feel exists between the capabilities that the ministries and departments wants to have to innovate, and the current capability that they’re actually delivering.

Defense One: Before we progress too far, are you a history fan at all?

Schlueter: I am a history fan.

Defense One: Are there any legendary defense innovations you’re still excited by when you consider the history of warfare? One of my favorites is the British navy’s deliberate use of citrus in the 18th century to ward off scurvy on especially long voyages. And it helped give us the expression, “The sun never sets on the British empire.” I think about that, almost every time I eat a navel orange nowadays. It’s probably not the kind you’re thinking about in your report. But are there any throughout history that have been memorable for you?

Schlueter: What I would offer is, you know, there are periods in time—around World War Two and post World War Two, early in the Cold War, you know—periods where government and industry have really come together with a sense of urgency. And you can see the impact that they have had, especially from an innovation perspective, that’s been really significant. Even things like WD-40, which is a common thing that’s in everyone’s garage, I think around the world. It came from, for example, the rocket program that we had, and I think that’s a perfect example of how can we use industry to keep testing things that have dual-use capabilities, that actually gives us benefit in a number of different capacities?

Defense One: Alright, now to the nitty gritty of this report. You’ve got a five-part plan here to improve what you call defense innovation across somewhat 60 institutions in Europe and NATO. And your report assesses the gap between defense ministries aspirations for innovation and their ability to generate results. Can we begin with maybe the impetus for this work, and maybe one or two exemplary aspirations that you came across over the course of assembling this report?

Schlueter: What really drove us to do this is we travel around the world and work with different ministries, and we’d ask them the question, ‘How good are you at innovating?’ And we get a whole slew of answers. We get, ‘Well, we just hired a Chief Information innovation officer.’ Or ‘We just invested all this money in this innovation project.’ Or ‘We just took a tour of Silicon Valley.’ But very few could actually say, in a quantified manner, if they’re getting better at innovation or what does that really mean. And so we stepped back and, using some of the research we’ve done on the industry side—where the best, most innovative companies are, how they view themselves and how they quantify their performance innovation—we apply that to the ministries of defense. And so that was the starting point. We started three years ago, and the first year, it gave us a baseline. But then the second year was after [Russia’s full-scale] Ukraine [invasion] started and all this money went into the system for new innovations. But what we saw was the results actually got worse. And everyone said, ‘Well, how can that be? How can that be possible? I just put all this money into it.’ But it proves the point that unless you understand not just your ambition, but innovation domains—you have good governance, you have performance management, you understand your innovation ecosystems, you actually have incentives for talent in the culture, you actually focus on projects funnels portfolio—it takes all these pieces to actually be successful. And so I’m happy to report that even though we saw the results go down in the second year, once we placed more focus on this going into the third year, we saw the results start to come back up. And there are a couple of very specific examples where I think folks have made progress. 

Defense One: What kind of lessons do you understand have been learned across these defense ministries since Putin launched his Ukraine invasion? And what are some areas that might be kind of stubborn or under-resourced? 

Schlueter: The desire to collaborate is really strong. We have seen the ambition really increase, I think that’s really important. The ambition is aligned, you see all the plans that are being created in NATO that have a partnership aspect to them. So that’s really important. The other piece I’d offer is around talent. We actually saw a significant improvement on the talent dimension—of people actually feeling that innovation is important. There’s a lot more emphasis on being better innovators from the respective ministries of defense.

Defense One: And room for improvement? 

Schlueter: I’ll offer a couple, and the first is around interoperability. And I think if you look at everything that countries are trying to do, NATO in particular, interoperability is really a foundational concept underpinning everything that they want to do. And when you look at the data, we surveyed people from 60 ministries, and 90%, said that they have policies, practices and procedures to share innovation, or to collaborate on innovation, which is positive—but only 10% said that those policies, practices and procedures are actually fully implemented. So the ambition and the implementation is not where it needs to be. Also, customization creep has really been a feature of NATO going all the way back a number of years. One of the prime examples? The NH90 helicopter that was supposed to be the singular aircraft that all of NATO can use. And now, I think there are 23 different variants because customization has happened, which makes it much more difficult to be interoperable, and work together. So I think that’s an area one that I would definitely focus on. Oftentimes, we’ve seen innovations are happening in the acquisition workforce, which needs to be part of the process, but it isn’t brought along until the end. So they actually don’t know what they’re acquiring—the financial management community who actually needs to invest and find the funds for all these different innovations that are going to be interoperable—doesn’t come to the table till too late in the game. And then the second piece I would offer to you in terms of interoperability is one of the terms I’ve heard the last day or so at the NATO summit, which is open systems architecture and open systems approach, and how we can increase the refresh cycle, how we can increase innovation to get more competition happening in the supply base. That is a significant business model change to how the industrial base is used to working. 

Defense One: How so?

Schlueter: So historically, the industrial base sells big programs. They can run those programs for 30, 40, 50 years. And that’s a steady stable revenue stream. Well, now as we introduce open systems architecture, which enables interoperability more effectively, what we find is that not every business is set up to actually thrive in that sort of environment. And so there’s a lot of teaching that needs to happen because when you look at software-based platforms, software-based solutions capabilities, that’s a totally different business model. And then the only other piece I’d offer that gives me pause that we focus on the report is around incentives and changing the incentives for the workforce. What do I mean by that? When you look at what people are valued for—and we’ve even gone very deep, and actually looked at performance reviews and performance reports of people that are quote, unquote, the innovators—and they still get valued on, you know, did you deliver something new, and, and so forth? What they are not necessarily valued on is, ‘Hey, did you take the right amount of risk?’ You know, you place bets on five different innovations. But did one or two of those hit? That’s a good thing. Unfortunately, our current workforce reviews still focus on the negatives of what didn’t happen, or what didn’t work didn’t turn out. There is not a big emphasis on speed, or how much have you taken an already proven innovation or that someone else is using and applied it to your context. Those are the sorts of things we see effective innovators do. And that needs to be further built into the incentives, the metrics of how we evaluate our own people in their respective ministries.

Defense One: What sort of things have you heard this week talking to folks on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in Washington, that might be kind of constructive for the months ahead?

Schlueter: If I were to put my finger on one, I would say it’s all about urgency. It’s really urgency and speed that’s most important. And there was a great discussion as part of a roundtable yesterday, where they mentioned if you look at some of the countries that are being most innovative, most of them have the most urgency in their smaller countries that are in rougher neighborhoods. Especially right now, if you look at Europe, you know, Eastern Europe and so forth. Those are the countries that we see are really innovating and doing things differently, and they might be even more resource constrained, but they’re actually getting more out of their resources than maybe other well-resourced countries. The lessons that we’re learning from Ukraine and from recent conflicts is that a lot of the most effective innovations are ones that are commercial innovations that were meant for commercial purposes, but actually have dual-use applicability. And so when you look at things like Starlink—these are not intended for a military purpose or military context. They were commercial innovations for commercial purposes. And so I think people are starting to realize it’s really effective and can be used, but it also comes at a scale and at a cost that’s a little bit more effective long term. And the last piece I would just offer about the resourcing in defense budgets is a lot of countries are hitting the 2% [GDP target—that is, 23 out of 32 NATO members] and are starting to make commitments, saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to better resource our militaries, and we’re going to support the funding.’ While that’s hugely important, it’s gonna be hugely helpful for innovation. One thing we’ve seen in our report is you can’t just think about deploying the initial new innovation, the new tech or so forth; you’ve actually got to think about full sustainment—how do you sustain that new innovation, that new tech, into perpetuity, or at least for the duration? And that’s a piece that often people don’t plan for and don’t resource appropriately. So you need to look at kind of a total lifecycle, look much more holistically at the capabilities you’re deploying, and how you’re going to support them throughout the lifecycle, or at least the period that the capability is still pertinent.

You can find Schlueter’s full report from the Boston Consulting Group (PDF), here.

Read the full article here