The D Brief: Russia gains ground; US bombs, spoofed; China’s new forces; Marines’ ‘fictional intelligence’; And a bit more.

Russian invaders gain ground in eastern Ukraine. Some frontline Ukrainian troops have withdrawn from positions north and northwest of the Russian-occupied city of Avdiivka, in the eastern Donetsk region, Ukrainian and Russian officials said Sunday and Monday. 

“The most difficult situation is in the Pokrovsky and Kurakhiv directions, where fierce battles continue,” said Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi on Sunday. “The enemy deployed up to four brigades in these directions, [and] is trying to develop an offensive west of Avdiyivka and Maryinka, making its way to Pokrovsk and Kurakhovo,” he warned. 

Ukrainian troops are also observing a buildup of Russian forces in the north, around Kharkiv, though that may be a Russian effort to try to pull defenders away from other frontline regions in the south and east. Still, “In the most threatening directions [around Kharkiv], our troops have been reinforced by artillery and tank units,” Syrskyi said. 

But around Avdiivka, “Russian forces have committed roughly a reinforced division’s worth of combat power (comprised mainly of four Central Military District brigades) to the frontline” northwest of the city, analysts at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War wrote Sunday evening. 

In the days to come, “Russian forces will likely continue to make tactical gains in the Avdiivka direction in the coming weeks, and Ukrainian commanders may decide to conduct additional withdrawals if Russian forces threaten other Ukrainian tactical positions in the area,” ISW predicted. 

Panning out, “Ukrainian forces have struggled with under-resourcing and are facing a reported one-to-three manpower disadvantage northwest of Avdiivka, but have nonetheless prevented more than a division’s worth of Russian combat power from making the types of advances that these force and materiel disparities should in principle have allowed Russian forces to achieve,” ISW writes. 

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg visited Kyiv Monday, where “The situation is difficult, but it is not too late for Ukraine to prevail,” he wrote on social media. 

Zelenskyy: “The Russian army is now trying to take advantage of the situation while we are waiting for deliveries from our partners, and first of all, from the United States,” Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskyy said Monday on social media.  Therefore, rapid delivery literally means frontline stabilization.

Atop his list of needs: “155-mm artillery, long-range weapons, and air defense systems,” as well as Patriot air defense systems “first and foremost,” Zelenskyy said. 

Another U.S. precision-guided weapon falls prey to Russian electronic warfare. A new ground-launched version of an air-to-ground weapon developed for Ukraine on a rapid timeline failed to hit targets in part because of Russian electro-magnetic warfare, Defense One’s Sam Skove reported Sunday. 

“When you send something to people in the fight of their lives that just doesn’t work, they’ll try it three times and they’ll just throw it aside,” Bill La Plante, the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer, said last week in Washington. 

The weapon LaPlante is referring to is very likely the Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB) based on his description, according to Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. A Boeing spokesperson did not confirm that LaPlante was referring to GLSDB, but told Defense One the company is “working closely with the [Defense Department] on spiral capability improvements to the ground-launch SDB system.” Spiral capability improvements refers to an iterative software development process, Skove reports. Read more here. 

Ukraine also sidelined its U.S.-provided Abrams tanks due to “ubiquitous” drones along the frontlines, Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Adm. Christopher Grady told Tara Copp of the Associated Press, reporting Friday. “When you think about the way the fight has evolved, massed armor in an environment where unmanned aerial systems are ubiquitous can be at risk,” Grady said. 

So far, five of those 31 Abrams have been destroyed or immobilized by Russia. One big problem: “There isn’t open ground that you can just drive across without fear of detection,” a senior defense official told reporters Thursday. More, here. 

Developing: Ukraine is going all-in on homemade drones with a range of up to 500 miles, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. The idea is to degrade Russian oil refineries, airfields and logistics and hopefully slow the steam-rolling invaders far from the front lines. However, the growing effort “has emerged as a fault line between Kyiv and the Biden administration, which is concerned about the impact on energy prices,” the Journal reports. Read more (gift link), here. 

Related reading: 

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 1992, nearly a week of rioting swept across Los Angeles after the acquittal of four police following the beating of Rodney King, which was captured on camera. The California Army National Guard was activated on the first day. By day four, 2,000 soldiers from the 7th Infantry Division and 1,500 Marines from Camp Pendleton arrived to restore order. The New York Times revisited the scene two years ago to dig into the roots of the rioting, which stretched back decades before King’s beating dominated headlines. 

China’s military just axed a force once hailed as evidence of innovation. What went wrong? “The unexpected elimination of the People’s Liberation Army unit that handled space, cyber, and electronic warfare missions is all the more surprising because the Strategic Support Force seemed to just be coming into its own,” write BluePath Labs’ Matt Bruzzese and New America’s Peter W. Singer in the latest installment of The China Intelligence. 

On April 19, the PLA replaced the SSF with the Aerospace Force, Cyberspace Force, and Information Support Force. THe move comes eight years after the SSF was created—along with the PLA Rocket Force—in an earthshaking reorganization that put space, cyber, electronic warfare, and other information missions such as psychological warfare under a single command.

Try, try again. Now the PLA, apparently unhappy with the results of its experiment, has broken the SSF into three component forces. Read on, here.

Check out “A New Pacific Arsenal to Counter China,” a fancy New York Times interactive infographic showing where the Biden administration has put subs and missiles and shored up alliances, here.

Also: Japan’s inability to secure its networks is impeding defense cooperation with the United States, Reuters reports.

Related reading: 

The Iran-backed Houthis attacked two more commercial ships in the Red Sea on Friday. The terrorist group launched three anti-ship ballistic missiles at the MV MAISHA, an Antigua/Barbados-flagged vessel, and the MV Andromeda Star, Panamanian-flagged ship. The Andromeda Star suffered minor damage, but continued on its voyage, military officials at Central Command said Friday. 

And the Houthis appear to have shot down their third U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone in the last couple of months. CBS News reported the $30 million drone “crashed” early Friday off the coast of Yemen. The Houthis released a video on Saturday claiming to show the shootdown using a surface-to-air missile as well as debris from the crash, which the group said occurred in the northern Saada province, bordering Saudi Arabia. 

The U.S. has lost at least five drones to the Houthis since 2017, the Associated Press reports. 

Separately, U.S. forces near Yemen destroyed five drones flying over the Red Sea early Sunday morning. Each of those Houthi drones are believed to have cost around $2,000 to produce, Politico reported in December. 

From the region: “‘To the Future’: Saudi Arabia Spends Big to Become an A.I. Superpower,” the New York Times reported Thursday. 

Meanwhile, in DC: Reuters has seen an internal State Department memo that says some senior U.S. officials have told Secretary of State Antony Blinken that they do not find “credible or reliable” Israel’s assurances that it is using U.S.-supplied weapons in accordance with international humanitarian law. Others, however, buy Israel’s story. 

The so-what: “Under a National Security Memorandum (NSM) issued by President Joe Biden in February, Blinken must report to Congress by May 8 whether he finds credible Israel’s assurances that its use of U.S. weapons does not violate U.S. or international law,” writes Reuters, here.

New: Air Force picks the builder of its next Doomsday plane. The $13 billion contract to develop a replacement for the four E-4B Nightwatch nuclear command-and-control jets has been awarded to Sierra Nevada, which is to deliver the new Survivable Airborne Operations Center by 2036. (Reuters)

Marine special operators are using fiction to envision the future. “Fictional intelligence, or FICINT, stories, as defined by Ghost Fleet and Burn-In authors Peter Singer and August Cole, represent a way to envision future scenarios with operationally-informed fiction writing,” Maj. Gen. Matthew Trollinger, who leads Marine Forces Special Operations Command, writes at D1. “Our command worked with both authors—known for galvanizing discussions about change within the Defense Department—to mentor current Marine Raiders in publishing three FICINT stories that have already helped drive discussion on the evolution of MARSOC into 2040.” Read on, and get the links to those stories, here.

Happening today in Washington: National Guard chief Gen. Daniel Hokanson is scheduled to join a panel discussion on domestic deployments for Guard troops. The Brookings Institution is hosting that one, which is slated for 2 p.m. ET. Details here.

Making moves: The former chief of the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command, retired Lt. Gen. Daniel Karbler, has joined the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank as a non-resident senior adviser. Logically enough, Karbler will work within the Missile Defense Project at CSIS. 

“As a world-class strategic thinker and leader, his insights while in uniform have long informed our work, and we are grateful he will continue to do so in this new capacity,” said Tom Karako, director of the CSIS Missile Defense Project.

Karbler also joined the board of Maryland-based aerospace firm TCOM last week. The three-star general’s “experience with developing elevated sensor requirements will help TCOM develop the next generation of unmanned aircraft systems and counter-UAS capabilities,” the company said in a statement late last week.

Read the full article here