“By signing the bill, Biden will be forced to agree to a repeal of the Pentagon’s policy requiring troops to receive the Covid vaccine or face expulsion from the military.
The repeal is a victory for Republicans who pushed to do away with the policy during negotiations on a final defense bill. Conservatives have hammered the administration for forcing out thousands of military personnel and piling onto an already rough recruiting environment.
Rescinding the August 2021 mandate is a black eye for Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who still back the policy as a matter of health and readiness for the armed forces.”
“The bill, however, doesn’t prohibit a new vaccine requirement in the coming months, meaning Austin could implement a new policy when the 2021 directive is repealed. Doing so, however, would spark a battle with the Republican-controlled House next year.”
“Both parties roundly rejected Biden’s $813 billion military spending plan as too low to meet worldwide threats and counter the impacts of inflation on the Pentagon.
Instead, Congress endorsed that hefty $45 billion increase to Biden’s budget, which already would have boosted defense by about $30 billion over last year’s level. The final bill amounts to an increase of roughly $75 billion, or nearly 10 percent, from the previous year.
The additional money went toward buying more weapons as well as efforts to blunt the effects of inflation on Pentagon programs, troops and construction.
This marks the second straight year that Congress has significantly rewritten Biden’s budget. Defense legislation approved last year authorized an increase of $25 billion to the administration’s first proposal. It’s a pattern Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), who is set to chair House Armed Services next year, chalked up to Congress and the White House rarely seeing eye to eye on federal spending.”
“Congress foiled one of the few major changes Biden proposed to the nuclear arsenal, keeping alive a sea-launched cruise missile first proposed by the Trump administration.
Proponents of canceling the developmental program criticized it as costly, destabilizing and redundant, because Biden kept low-yield nukes fielded by the Trump administration deployed aboard ballistic missile submarines. A 2021 report by the Congressional Budget Office estimated the missile will cost $10 billion through 2030.
But lawmakers ultimately authorized $45 million to continue the program after top military brass, including Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley, publicly expressed support for the weapon, in a split with Austin and other top civilians who argued the missile isn’t needed.”
“Lawmakers also voted to require the Pentagon to keep most of its inventory of B83 nuclear gravity bombs, which Biden proposed retiring. The agreement prohibits retiring or deactivating more than 25 percent of the stockpile until the Pentagon provides Congress with a study on how it will field capabilities to strike hard and buried targets.”
“Lawmakers authorized $32.6 billion to buy new ships, boosting the budget by $4.7 billion and ordering up three new hulls the Navy didn’t ask for.
The additions include a third unrequested Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, which the White House said it “strongly opposes” when the House approved it. Navy leaders have questioned whether a strained shipbuilding base can handle a rate of three destroyers per year. The bill also set a legal floor of 31 amphibious warships for the Navy, which the administration also opposes, arguing it would “unduly constrain” military planning.
Congress also threw a wrench into Navy plans to retire two dozen ships. The move was aimed at saving money but it also drew criticism on Capitol Hill because the plans would have scrapped some troubled littoral combat ships relatively early in their service lives.
The compromise bill ultimately bars the Navy from retiring a dozen warships it had planned to decommission, including five littoral combat ships and a Ticonderoga-class cruiser.
The legislation also crimps efforts by the Pentagon to retire dozens of aircraft. It jams up the administration’s plans to retire Navy EA-18G Growler electronic warfare jets, requiring the service to maintain a fleet of at least 158 aircraft through fiscal 2027. The bill similarly blocks efforts by the Air Force to retire some F-22 fighters through fiscal 2027.
Lawmakers also limited the Air Force’s ability to reduce its fleet of E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System planes below a certain level. Those restrictions would be eased if the service submits an acquisition strategy or awards a contract for its successor, the E-7 Wedgetail.
Lawmakers, meanwhile, boosted procurement for a swath of aircraft across the military services. Most notably, Armed Services leaders approved $666 million for eight Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets the Navy didn’t seek in its budget, keeping the production line active.”
“The goal is to send National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems to Ukraine in the next three to six months, CEO Greg Hayes said in an interview. The U.S. would then backfill those systems with new NASAMS in the Middle East over the next 24 months.
“There are NASAMS deployed across the Middle East, and some of our NATO allies and we [the U.S.] are actually working with a couple of Middle Eastern countries that currently employ NASAMS and trying to direct those back up to Ukraine,” Hayes said.
He noted that shifting systems from the Middle East is faster than building them in the U.S. “Just because it takes 24 months to build, it doesn’t mean it’s going to take 24 months to get in [the] country,” he said.”
It takes two years to build NASAMS because of the lead time required to buy electronic components and rocket motors, Hayes said.”
“The scale of the destruction makes quick repairs impossible. Replacement parts are not often readily available. Energy infrastructure also remains vulnerable: A lot of it is big and out in the open; once hit by a missile and fixed, it can be hit again. “It’s not possible to repair quickly after it’s been damaged,” said Volodymyr Shulmeister, founder of the Infrastructure Council NGO and former first deputy minister of infrastructure of Ukraine from 2014 to 2015. “There were some spare parts, some electric power stations has been repaired, but there will be new problems coming from the air.”
That is on top of all the other destruction Ukraine accumulated in months and months of war: houses and apartment buildings, bridges, roads, railways. There is always collateral damage in conflict, but Russia’s attacks on non-military critical and energy infrastructure are intentional. “This is not a new tactic for Russia,” said John Spencer, a retired Army officer and chair of urban warfare studies at the Madison Policy Forum. “If you think about what they did in Chechnya, and in Syria, to basically bring the civilian population to such despair that they’re willing to capitulate.”
Moscow’s targeting of infrastructure, which some have argued amounts to war crimes, is an effort to undermine Ukraine’s economy and deprive people of essential services — heat, water, electricity — as winter approaches. Russia is struggling against Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the east and south, and so Moscow is trying to extend the war and spread out that pain across Ukraine, not just in war zones. All of it will make Ukraine even more reliant on aid from the West, which is dealing with its own inflation and energy crises. “Russians are actually now acting very cruel, but also in a very well-thought-through way,” said Andriy Kobolyev, former chief executive officer of Ukraine’s largest national oil and gas company Naftogaz.
In areas closer to the fighting, the infrastructure destruction is even more extreme, but also harder to fully assess. Zelenskyy accused Russian troops of destroying “all the critical infrastructure: communications, water, heat, electricity,” before retreating from Kherson last week. In Mykolaiv, in southern Ukraine, Russia cut off the city’s water supply months ago; salt water had run through the taps for months, and potable water is now just being restored. Zelenskyy said in early November, before the latest round of air strikes, that Russian attacks damaged about 40 percent of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure; precise data on how badly and where is hard to get, in part because Ukraine is closely guarding that information as a matter of national security.”
“Ukraine now has an edge in range and in precision-guided rockets and artillery shells, a class of weapons largely lacking in Russia’s arsenal. Ukrainian soldiers are taking out armored vehicles worth millions of dollars with cheap homemade drones, as well as with more advanced drones and other weapons provided by the United States and allies.
The Russian military remains a formidable force, with cruise missiles, a sizable army and millions of rounds of artillery shells, albeit imprecise ones. It has just completed a mobilization effort that will add 300,000 troops to the battlefield, Russian commanders say, although many of those will be ill-trained and ill-equipped. And President Vladimir Putin has made clear his determination to win the war at almost any cost.
Still, there is no mistaking the shifting fortunes on the southern front.
Ukraine’s growing advantage in artillery, a stark contrast to fighting throughout the country over the summer when Russia pummeled Ukrainian positions with mortar and artillery fire, has allowed slow if costly progress in the south toward the strategic port city of Kherson, the only provincial capital that Russia managed to occupy after invading in February.
The new capabilities were on display in the predawn hours Saturday when Ukrainian drones hit a Russian vessel docked in the Black Sea Fleet’s home port of Sevastopol, deep in the occupied territory of Crimea, once thought an impregnable bastion.
The contrast with the battlefield over the summer could not be starker. In the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, Russia fired roughly 10 artillery rounds for each answering shell from Ukrainian batteries. In Kherson now, Ukrainian commanders say the sides are firing about equal numbers of shells, but Ukraine’s strikes are not only longer range but more precise because of the satellite-guided rockets and artillery rounds provided by the West.”
“Russian forces have apparently obtained scores of the cheap, plentiful and potentially deadly Iranian-made drones. Like the Nazis in the Second World War, the Russians may hope these new weapons could turn the tide of the war in Russia’s favour.
Made by the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industries Company, the Shahed-136 entered service last year. With a range of up to 1,500 miles and carrying a warhead of 35 kilograms, the drones are designed to loiter overhead before striking targets. Ukrainian forces say they come in both Kamikaze and munition-launching variants.
Constructed from commercially available components – including mobile phone parts and model aircraft engines – the drones are easy and cheap to build with a supply chain that is difficult to disrupt with Western sanctions.
Their deployment comes amid signs that Russia is running out of other precision weapons. Last week, Sir Jeremy Fleming, the head of GCHQ, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We believe that Russia is running short of munitions.”
The waves of drone strikes are a rudimentary new form of terror, compared with the precision Kalibr cruise missiles which have been used to strike targets deep inside Ukraine.
The drones are estimated to cost less than £18,000 per unit. That’s a fraction of the cost of conventional Russian missiles, which range from about £270,000 for a Tochka-U up to £11.6 million for a x-101 cruise missile.
The relatively low speed of the Shahed-136 – just over 100 miles per hour – make them a tempting if difficult target for Ukrainian small arms fire. Soldiers in the Kharkiv region recently told The Telegraph that the drones are slow and visible enough to engage with small arms fire and that they had downed at least one using ordinary machine guns.
But their lack of defences is not a design flaw. The disposable drone is designed to be launched in swarms to overwhelm air defences. The drone is fired from launcher racks in stacks of five aircraft that take off with a booster rocket before switching to a petrol engine.
This, plus the size of their payload, means the drones pose a serious threat, Ukrainian commanders say.”
“Tehran has carefully couched its denials about the Shahed-136, repeatedly rejecting accusations it has supplied Russia with weapons “to be used in the war in Ukraine”. But security officials told the Washington Post that Iranian technical advisors have visited Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine to provide training on operating the drones.”