Daily on Defense: Biden and Zelensky make case at UN, Ukraine counteroffensive picking up, Erdogan waffles on Sweden, F-35 mystery deepens

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BY JAMIE MCINTYRE

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ZELENSKY: EVIL CANNOT BE TRUSTED: In a powerful, emotional speech before the United Nations General Assembly yesterday afternoon, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky argued that Vladimir Putin's unprovoked invasion of his country should be seen as a warning of what could happen to other countries if Russia is not defeated.

"The goal of the present war against Ukraine is to turn our land, our people, our lives, our resources into a weapon against you, against the international rules-based order. Many seats in the General Assembly Hall may become empty, empty if Russia succeeds with its treachery and aggression," Zelensky warned.

"Please hear me," Zelensky said, delivering his speech in English, a language he says he struggles with. "Let unity decide everything openly. While Russia is pushing the world to the final war, Ukraine is doing everything to ensure that after Russian aggression, no one in the world will dare to attack any nation."

Putin, Zelensky said, has weaponized everything from food and energy to the kidnapping of thousands of Ukrainian children. "What will happen with them? What will happen to them? Those children in Russia are taught to hate Ukraine, and all ties with their families are broken, and this is clearly a genocide."

"Evil cannot be trusted. Ask Prigozhin, if one bets on Putin's promises."

ZELENSKY PLEADS FOR CONTINUED FOREIGN ASSISTANCE IN UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY ADDRESS

BIDEN: AN 'INFLECTION POINT IN HISTORY: Biden also pressed the case that, left unchecked, Putin's expansionist plans threaten the rules-based world order.

"Russia believes that the world will grow weary and allow it to brutalize Ukraine without consequence. But I ask you this, if we abandon the core principles of the United States to appease an aggressor, can any member state in this body feel confident that they are protected?" Biden said in his speech earlier in the day. "If we allow Ukraine to be carved up, is the independence of any nation secure? I'd respectfully suggest the answer is no. We have to stand up to this naked aggression today and deter other would-be aggressors tomorrow."

"At this inflection point in history, we're going to be judged by whether or not we live up to the promises we've made to ourselves, to each other, to the most vulnerable and to all those who will inherit the world we create," Biden said. "Let's bend the arc of history for the good of the world. Because it's in our power to do it."

UKRAINE HAS THE 'STRATEGIC INITIATIVE': While slowed by Russia's formidable dug-in defenses of minefields and tank traps, in recent days, Ukrainian forces have made some notable progress, so much so that the Institute for the Study of War is updating its battlefield maps twice a day.

The ISW credited "high morale, sufficient training, sufficient resources for artillery fire and drone strikes, good coherence between Ukrainian units, and detailed reconnaissance" for enabling recent advances. "Russian losses have reportedly significantly increased in western Zaporizhia Oblast in recent days, and the Russian military likely struggles with a lack of available combat-effective units," the assessment concluded.

"We see it now on the east direction. We didn't want, you know, publicly to communicate this some successful steps previously because we didn't want, you know, Russia to understand what we do and what we really prepared," Zelensky said in an interview with CNN. "And in the east, we started pushing them back. We liberated three small towns during last two weeks. And I think that we will achieve success."

The counteroffensive has made "continuous, steady progress," Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley told reporters after a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. "The Ukrainians have penetrated several layers of this defense. It is not 100% penetrated yet, but they've penetrated several of the layers and they're going very slow, preserving their combat power very deliberately through this defensive belt that stretches the entire length and breadth of Russian-occupied Ukraine."

"So for the critics that are out there, I would say that there's plenty of fighting weather left. There's plenty of combat power remaining," Milley said, adding that "there's no intention whatsoever by the Ukrainians to stop fighting during the winter. They have the strategic initiative right now and they intend to continue to do that until their end state's achieved."

"We go slowly, but we go forward," Zelensky said. "Very important information, that initiative in our arms, in all the direction. It shows how it's changed."

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Good Wednesday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre's Daily on Defense, written and compiled by Washington Examiner National Security Senior Writer Jamie McIntyre (@jamiejmcintyre) and edited by Conrad Hoyt. Email here with tips, suggestions, calendar items, and anything else. Sign up or read current and back issues at DailyonDefense.com. If signing up doesn't work, shoot us an email and we'll add you to our list. And be sure to follow me on Threads and/or on X @jamiejmcintyre

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HAPPENING TODAY: While Zelensky is expected to be welcomed to the White House tomorrow, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with President Joe Biden in New York today on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly session, a venue seen as an indicator of the strained relations between the U.S. and Israel.

It will be the first meeting between the two leaders since Netanyahu returned to power as the leader of the country's far-right government late last year.

The White House didn't give a preview of the 10:15 a.m. bilateral session, but the Biden administration has made no secret of its concern about Netanyahu's efforts to weaken Israel's independent judiciary, which it sees as an effort by Netanyahu to move toward authoritarianism.

'PATRIOTS ARE THE BEST': At the Ramstein conference, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin cited more air defenses as a critical need as Ukraine seeks to defend against constant Russian drone and missile attacks.

"Air defense will continue to be Ukraine's greatest need, to protect its skies, its civilians and its cities, as well as innocent people far away from the battlefield," Austin said. "I urged allies and partners to dig deep and donate whatever air defense munitions they can, as Ukraine heads into another winter of war."

In his CNN interview, Zelensky touted the Patriot air defense system built by Raytheon Technologies as the most effective air defense system in his arsenal. "Patriot air defense systems are the best because they save, because Patriot air defense against any type of Russian missiles… We also have very good NASAMS, RST, Hawks. We have different systems, but Patriots are the best."

"Patriots, thank you very much," he said. "We have some — I will not tell you how many betters we have because Russia will know it immediately. I mean, that's publicly, but I'm very thankful."

ERDOGAN'S WAFFLE ON SWEDEN: In an interview with PBS NewsHour this week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared to backpedal slightly on his commitment to support Sweden's accession to NATO. Erdogan indicated the Turkish parliament would take up the ratification of Sweden's bid next month but wouldn't say if it will be approved.

"Sweden's bid to join NATO is being assessed by the Turkish Grand National Assembly, and that's where it's going to be eventually ratified," Erdogan told PBS. "For that to be happening, of course, Sweden should keep its promises. Terrorist organizations should immediately stop their demonstrations on the streets of Stockholm, and they should stop their activities because seeing this actually happening is going to be very important for the Turkish people. Sweden seemingly carried out legislative amendments, but it's not enough."

Erdogan compared his promise to support Sweden's NATO membership to Biden's promise to sell F-16s to Turkey, although he said the two things were not linked. "President Biden said that this issue [F-16s] was tied to the Congress, we would always say, 'OK, we have the Turkish parliament.' So, these issues are tied to the parliament," Erdogan said. "If the parliament doesn't make a positive decision about this bid, then there's nothing to do."

UKRAINE INVESTIGATING WHETHER DEADLY MARKET STRIKE WAS ERRANT AIR DEFENSE MISSILE

THE BIPARTISAN CASE FOR SLCM-N: Sens. Deb Fischer (R-NE) and Angus King (I-ME) are taking issue with a recent editorial in the Washington Post that called a proposed new generation of nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missiles, aka SLCM-Ns, "The weapon the warriors don't want."

The Aug. 9 editorial argued the U.S. already has multiple ways to deliver tactical nuclear weapons, including cruise missiles launched from B-52s, submarine-based ballistic missiles armed with low-yield W76 warheads, and B61 gravity bombs dropped from stealth bombers and fighters. "All three are designed to prevent our adversaries from using tactical nuclear weapons; the military doesn't need a fourth."

In a rebuttal published this week, Fischer and King argued there are sound reasons that both the House and Senate Armed Services committees want to add the SLCM-N to America's nuclear deterrent options.

"We have a strong strategic nuclear capability today, but it is just that: strategic, not tactical. The danger is that an adversary might believe that we would not respond to the use of a low-yield tactical nuclear weapon because our only tool is massive retaliation. Indeed, this almost certainly is part of President Vladimir Putin's calculation as he continues to threaten the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine," the senators wrote. "The nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missile fills this gap and can be a critical part of maintaining the credible deterrent that has protected us all these years."

GETTING TO KNOW YOU: Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin not only got to know Ukraine's new Defense Minister Rustem Umerov at the Ramstein conference, but earlier this week, he had what the Pentagon described as an "introductory call" with new British Defense Secretary Grant Shapps.

"The secretaries discussed opportunities to strengthen Ukraine's armed forces, reaffirmed the importance of the AUKUS trilateral partnership, and highlighted their commitment to a strong and capable NATO Alliance," the Pentagon said in a statement.

THE GRAVITY OF THE SITUATION: There are a lot of questions about what caused a Marine Corps F-35B to malfunction in flight, resulting in the ejection of the pilot and a crash in a wooded area in Williamsburg County, South Carolina.

There is some speculation the malfunction might have been with the ejection seat itself, which in the B-model has an "auto-eject" feature that is designed to kick in if something goes wrong while the plane is in hover mode.

"I am also looking forward to receiving more information about what led to the incident and the efforts to find the aircraft," said Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, in a statement. "My colleagues in the House Armed Services Committee and I will be considering whether congressional action is needed to address this and other recent aviation mishaps and ensure such incidents are avoided in the future."

"Ejections and crashes are an unfortunate reality due to the inherent risks that pilots face in combat and in training," Smith said. "Given the gravity of those risks, I am very glad to hear that the pilot is safe. He and his family are in my thoughts."

THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING F-35

MISTAKES WERE MADE: Sharp-eyed readers of yesterday's Daily on Defense may have noticed a slight discrepancy in the MSRP of the Marine Corps F-35B joint strike fighter that crashed under mysterious circumstances in South Carolina. If the plane had indeed cost $80 billion dollars, it would have been the world's most expensive fighter jet ever.

One hopes long-time readers would realize that the vastly-inflated sticker price was a typo made in haste, and that the correct number would be in the millions, not billions, for a single plane. It is true that the Pentagon's entire F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter program is the most expensive ever, according to the Government Accountability Office, which estimates it will cost nearly $1.7 trillion to buy, operate, and sustain the aircraft and systems over its lifetime.

But in round numbers, the current versions of the F-35 cost $70 million for the F-35A Air Force variant, $80 million for the Marine Corps F-35B, which can land vertically, and $90 million for the Navy F-35C, which has a tailhook and can land on an aircraft carrier.

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The Rundown

Washington Examiner: Zelensky pleads for continued foreign assistance in UN General Assembly address

Washington Examiner: American tanks to arrive in Ukraine 'soon,' US says

Washington Examiner: Sen. Patty Murray confirms Ukraine and disaster aid spending bill in the works

Washington Examiner: Ukraine investigating whether deadly market strike was errant air defense missile

Washington Examiner: Biden touts more 'integrated' Middle East ahead of possible Israel-Saudi Arabia normalization deal

Washington Examiner: Iran declares victory over US in UN address hailing new 'international order'

Washington Examiner: Iran's president reemphasizes US assassination threats in UN speech

Washington Examiner: Japan's leader tells UN he wants meeting with Kim Jong Un, 'without conditions'

Washington Examiner: 'Upset' Raimondo reassures Congress that China cannot build advanced chips 'at scale'

Washington Examiner: Tuberville plans to force vote on Marine leader caught up in DOD blockade

Washington Examiner: Colombia's leftist president predicts 'billions' of migrants 'defy armies' to move north

Washington Examiner: The mystery of the missing F-35

Washington Examiner: Opinion: Mutually assured financial destruction won't deter China

Reuters: Chinese Blockade of Taiwan Would Likely Fail, Pentagon Official Says

CNN: Turbulence In China's Top Ranks Raises Questions About Xi Jinping's Rule

DefenseScoop: Lawmakers Question US Military Base Security Amid 'Growing Trend' of Alleged Chinese Espionage

Bloomberg: Taiwan Arms Supply Is Hobbled by Slow Contractors, US Official Says

Wall Street Journal: Ukrainian Tactics Put Russia On The Defensive In The Black Sea

New York Times: Ukraine Tries New Route Along Black Sea to Get Its Grain Out to the World

Defense News: Capitol Hill Dysfunction Threatens Key Defense Initiatives

Defense One: Lockheed Aims to Hit F-16 Production Goal by End of 2025

New York Times: Anti-Affirmative Action Group Sues West Point Over Admissions Policy

Breaking Defense: Beyond ChatGPT: Experts Say Generative AI Should Write—But Not Execute—Battle Plans

Defense One: One Way the Air Force Is Filling Electronic-Warfare Gaps: Hiring Interns

Air & Space Forces Magazine: USAF Will Test Out a New Way to Organize Deployments: Air Task Forces

Air Force Times: Old Is New Again as Air Force Special Ops Branch Revamps Training

Air & Space Forces Magazine: Air Force Acquisition Boss: In Upcoming Reorganization, Speed Is the Priority

Air & Space Forces Magazine: AFSOC Wants MQ-9 Reapers to Act As 'Capital Ships' For Smaller Drones

Military.com: Air Force's 9th Bomb Squadron Commander Fired After Just a Couple of Months on the Job

The Cipher Brief: Advantage in Space is Mission Critical

Forbes: The President's Power To Launch Nuclear Weapons Highlights A Troubling Paradox In U.S. Strategy

Calendar

WEDNESDAY | SEPTEMBER 20

7:20 a.m. 2425 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Virginia — Association of the U.S. Army "Coffee Series" discussion, with Gen. Gary Brito, commanding general of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command https://ausa.my.site.com/OnlineCommunity/s/community-event

9 a.m. New York, N.Y. — Secretary of State Antony Blinken; and Samantha Power, administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development, deliver remarks: "Democracy Delivers" https://www.usaid.gov/UNGA2023

10 a.m. 1152 15th St, NW — Center for a New American Security virtual mission brief: "Gaining the Asymmetric Advantage: Emerging Technology and the AUKUS Pillar 2 Promise," with Tanya Monro AC (Companion of the Order), Australia's chief defense scientist; and Becca Wasser, senior fellow, CNAS Defense Program https://www.cnas.org/events/mission-brief-gaining-the-asymmetric-advantage

10:30 a.m. Pentagon Briefing Room 2D972 — Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks; and David Honey, deputy defense undersecretary for research and engineering, announce $240 million in awards for the establishment of up to nine "microelectronics commons" regional innovation hubs https://www.defense.gov/News/Live-Events

12 p.m. — Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments webinar discussion of a new report: "Evaluate Like We Operate: Why the Should Evaluate Weapons Systems as Networked Force Packages, Not Individual Platforms," with Travis Sharp, senior fellow and director of CSBA defense budget studies; Tyler Hacker, CSBA research fellow; and Thomas Mahnken, CSBA president and CEO https://us06web.zoom.us/webinar/register

12 p.m. — Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft virtual discussion: "Debating Israeli-Saudi Normalization: Does it Advance U.S. Interests?" with F. Gregory Gause, professor at Texas A&M University; Ellen Laipson, professor at George Mason University; Trita Parsi, executive vice president at the Quincy Institute; and Steven Simon, senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute https://us06web.zoom.us/webinar/register

12 p.m. — Cyber Initiatives Group Fall 2023 Summit. Agenda at https://www.cyberinitiativesgroup.com. Register at https://register.gotowebinar.com/register

12:30 p.m. 601 13th St. NW — Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress in-person event: "From Kyiv to AUKUS: The vital partnership between the U.S. and U.K.," with Rear Adm. Tim Woods, the U.K.'s new defense attache https://www.addevent.com/event

1 p.m. 2212 Rayburn — House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee hearing: "Meritocracy in the Military Services: Accession, Promotion, and Command Selection," with testimony from Peter Levine, former (acting) undersecretary for personnel and readiness; Robert Greenway, director, Center for National Defense, Heritage Foundation; Will Thibeau, director, American Military Project at the Center for the American Way of Life, Claremont Institute; Lt. Gen. Douglas Stitt, deputy Army chief of staff; Vice Adm. Richard Cheeseman, deputy chief of naval operations for personnel; Lt. Gen. Caroline Miller, deputy Air Force chief of staff for manpower, personnel, and services; Michael Strobl, assistant deputy Marine Corps commandant for manpower and reserve affairs; and Katharine Kelley, deputy chief of space operations for human capital https://armedservices.house.gov/hearings/mlp-hearing-meritocracy

2 p.m. — Center for Strategic and International Studies virtual discussion: "Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Future of Trade in the Indo-Pacific," with Vangelis Vitalis, New Zealand deputy secretary for trade and economics; and Crawford Falconer, U.K. second permanent secretary and chief trade negotiation adviser https://www.csis.org/events/cptpp-and-future-trade-indo-pacific

2 p.m. 2200 Rayburn — Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe hearing: "Vladimir Kara-Murza: Putin's Personal Prisoner," with Evgenia Kara-Murza, advocacy director at the Free Russia Foundation and wife of Vladimir Kara-Murza; and Meghan McCain, daughter of the late Sen. John McCain. RSVP: Beth.Wiesinger@mail.house.gov

4:30 p.m. — Ronald Reagan Institute virtual discussion: "Algorithms for Our Arsenal: Artificial Intelligence and the National Defense Strategy," with Rep. Mike Waltz (R-FL); Assistant Defense Secretary for Strategy, Plans, and Capabilities Mara Karlin, performing the duties of the deputy undersecretary of defense for policy; David Spirk, senior counselor at Palantir Technologies and former chief data officer at the Defense Department; and Josh Rogin, columnist for the Washington Post's Global Opinions section https://www.reaganfoundation.org/reagan-institute/events

THURSDAY | SEPTEMBER 21

8 a.m. 7920 Jones Branch Dr., McLean, Virginia — Potomac Officers Club annual Intel Summit, with Stacey Dixon, principal deputy director of national intelligence; and Vice Adm. Frank Whitworth, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency https://potomacofficersclub.com/events/poc-2023-9th-annual-intel-summit

8:30 a.m. New York, N.Y. — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg participates in a discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations with former Democratic California Rep. Jane Harman, chairwoman, Commission on the National Defense Strategy and chairwoman, Board of Trustees, Freedom House https://www.cfr.org/event/russell-c-leffingwell-lecture 

9 a.m. — Brookings Institution virtual discussion: "The Legacy and Future of the Wagner Group," with Kimberly Marten, professor of political science at Barnard College; Wassim Nasr, senior research fellow at the Soufan Center; and Candace Rondeaux, professor of practice at Arizona State University https://www.brookings.edu/events/the-legacy-and-future-of-the-wagner-group

9:30 a.m. — Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to consider nominations of Derek Chollet to be undersecretary of defense for policy; and Cara Abercrombie to be assistant secretary of defense for acquisition https://www.armed-services.senate.gov/hearings

12 p.m. — National Security Institute at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University book discussion of Beijing Rules: How China Weaponized Its Economy to Confront the World, with author Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, Axios China reporter; and Jessica Jones, deputy executive director, National Security Institute https://nationalsecurity.gmu.edu/book-event-beijing-rules

12 p.m. 2043 Rayburn — Cato Institute briefing: "Why U.S. Efforts at Defense Burdensharing Fail," with Justin Logan, director of defense and foreign policy studies at Cato and author of Uncle Sucker: Why U.S. Efforts at Defense Burdensharing Fail; and Lawrence Montreuil, director of government affairs at Cato https://www.cato.org/events/why-us-efforts-defense-burdensharing-fail

FRIDAY | SEPTEMBER 22

9 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW — Wilson Center's Global Europe Program discussion: "The U.K. Labour Party's Foreign and Defense Priorities," with U.K. Shadow Secretary of State for Defense John Healey; and U.K. Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Affairs David Lammy https://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/uk-labour-partys-foreign-and-defense-priorities

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QUOTE OF THE DAY
"So, what can I say to American people in English? My English is poor to say all my messages and all my thanks to you … You gave us such huge support in difficult period, and this period, because of the Russian aggression, it didn't stop. We are on the finishing line."
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in an interview on CNN Tuesday.
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