The D Brief: Putin’s nuke exercises; US halts arms transfer to Israel; Navy’s analog shipbuilding; Aussie’s giant quantum project; And just a big more.

The D Brief: Putin’s nuke exercises; US halts arms transfer to Israel; Navy’s analog shipbuilding; Aussie’s giant quantum project; And just a big more.

Russian defense officials announced plans for tactical nuclear weapons drills at an unspecified future date. The idea is “to practice the preparation and use of non-strategic nuclear weapons,” the Defense Ministry said Monday on Telegram. 

They’re also being planned “in response to provocative statements and threats of individual Western officials against the Russian Federation,” the military said on social media. 

The Kremlin blamed the drills on “a new, unprecedented round of tension in Ukraine, which requires Moscow to respond,” according to state-run TASS. A Ukrainian intelligence official referred to the drills as “nuclear blackmail,” as Axios pointed out Monday. 

But don’t reach for your anti-anxiety meds yet: “First, there is no indication that nuclear deterrence is eroding or that Russia would actually take credible steps toward using nuclear weapons,” said researcher Fabian Hoffman of the Oslo Nuclear Project, writing Monday on social media. “The costs of nuclear weapons use still far outweigh the benefits,” he said. “Second, contrary to public statements made by Russian officials, they are fully aware that using nuclear weapons cannot guarantee desired outcomes.”

A second opinion: “People are asking if these kinds of exercises are unprecedented,” said Geneva-based researcher Pavel Podvig. His reply, he says, is “Not really (although depends on the scale).” For example, he notes while linking to a Russian military website, “Here is a test of deployment procedures back in 2020.” And, he adds, “I’ve been told that NATO sees these kinds of procedures during Zapad [exercises] etc.”

And recall that eight years ago in October, just weeks before the U.S. election, Russian authorities claimed some 40 million citizens were rehearsing for a widespread chemical, biological, or radiological weapons attack in cities all across the country. 

Developing: Moscow is plotting sabotage in Europe, three intelligence agencies tell the Financial Times: “Russia has already begun to more actively prepare covert bombings, arson attacks and damage to infrastructure on European soil, directly and via proxies, with little apparent concern about causing civilian fatalities, intelligence officials believe. While the Kremlin’s agents have a long history of such operations — and launched attacks sporadically in Europe in recent years — evidence is mounting of a more aggressive and concerted effort…” Read on, here.

Read more: “Russia, remastered” is the kicker on a Washington Post report that begins, “As Vladimir Putin persists in his bloody campaign to conquer Ukraine, the Russian leader is directing an equally momentous transformation at home — re-engineering his country into a regressive, militarized society that views the West as its mortal enemy.” Continue reading, here.

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 for the year ahead here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1945, and just two days before Germany’s surrender, Berlin-based broadcaster Mildred Gillars (aka “Axis Sally”) transmitted her last short-wave radio message on behalf of the Nazis. CBS News remembered U.S.-born Gillars, whose pursuit of wealth and fame took her from acting classes at an Ohio university and onto Broadway and eventually Europe, in a brief report from 2012, here.

U.S. officials stopped a weapons shipment to Israel last week, Axios reported Sunday, citing Israeli officials. The hold was the first of its kind since Hamas attacked Israel in early October, triggering the lopsided response from Israeli forces that has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians across Gaza over the last seven months. 

Context: “The Biden administration is highly concerned Israel will invade the southern Gaza city of Rafah where more than one million displaced Palestinians have been taking shelter,” Axios reports. 

Could it be an effort to slow Bibi? After all, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Sunday he expects “a powerful operation in Rafah in the near future” because Israeli officials believe Hamas has no genuine interest in a ceasefire. The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War has more, writing Sunday evening, here. 

Update: Choppy weather caused a delay in the construction of the U.S. military’s temporary pier to the coast of Gaza, U.S. defense officials from Central Command announced Friday. “Forecasted high winds and high sea swells caused unsafe conditions for Soldiers working on the surface of the partially constructed pier,” the officials said in a statement. 

Developing: More than 600 U.S. troops are drilling with the Saudis and Emiratis in an exercise that began Sunday known as Native Fury 24. The drills are heavy on logistics, and feature “on-load and off-load operations using commercial maritime shipping, long-distance convoys, [and] urban combat training” in locations across Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, CENTCOM said Sunday.

Training settings and locations include a Saudi port facility in the Red Sea; the KSA Prince Sultan Air Base; the UAE’s Al Dhafra Air Base; and an unspecified UAE port facility in the Gulf of Oman.

At least three other simultaneous exercises in the region also feature CENTCOM troops: Exercise Eager Lion (based in Jordan); Exercise Indigo Defender (bilateral naval exercise with the Saudis); and Exercise Iron Union (bilateral drills with the Emiratis).

Related reading: 

Navy slow to adopt modern ship-designing tools, GAO finds. One reason the U.S. Navy is behind on its shipbuilding goals: it’s been slow to embrace the kinds of digital-design tools that have revolutionized the process of building commercial ships and military aircraft, the Government Accountability Office says in a new report. D1’s Patrick Tucker explains, here.

Expect Air Force’s new requirements command to launch this year, chief says. By year’s end, the three-star Integrated Capabilities Command will start lifting the burden of modernization planning from major commands, allowing them to focus on keeping their forces ready to fight, Air Force Chief Gen. David Allvin said Friday.

Some 500 to 800 personnel will stand up the command, many of whom will be drawn from major commands yet remain physically located near their headquarters, Allvin said. 

The new command is one of the service’s “Reoptimizing for Great Power Competition” changes announced in February. D1’s Audrey Decker has more, here.

The Marines want to ‘litter the battlefield’ with anti-drone sensors and weapons. “In the next 12 months, there’s going to be systems out there fielded to this at a basic level,” Capt. Taylor Barefoot of the Corps’ Capabilities Development Directorate said Thursday at the Modern Day Marine conference. Barefoot said some Marines in Marine Expeditionary Units, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe, and the 4th Marine Regiment will get the scanners. More advanced systems are in the works. D1’s Sam Skove reports, here.

Commentary: Too few planners understand what special operators can do today, write Clementine G. Starling of the Atlantic Council and James “Hoss” E. Cartwright, the Marine general who served as eighth vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Read their argument here—and stay tuned for Patrick Tucker’s coverage from the SOF Week convention in Tampa.

Paparo takes the helm at INDOPACOM. That’s Adm. Samuel Paparo, fleeting up from U.S. Pacific Fleet, where his tenure was marked by accelerating experiments with uncrewed systems. In 2022, he established the Navy’s first Unmanned Surface Vessel Division; a second is to stand up this month. More recently, he has advocated for a force of hundreds or thousands of small drones—a “hellscape”—that might help repel a Chinese invasion force from Taiwan. D1’s Jen Hlad reports from the change-of-command ceremony, here.

Will Australia’s giant quantum project bring militaries’ fears to life? 

Last week, the Australian government inked a $620 million contract with PsiQuantum to create by 2027 what the Silicon Valley startup says would be the “world’s first utility-scale, fault-tolerant quantum computer”—a building-sized device in Brisbane that just might be powerful enough to break the modern public-key encryption schemes that protect personal data and national secrets. D1’s Lauren C. Williams has more, here.

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