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11 Mar 20. Update on DOD COVID-19 Measures. Today, the Secretary of Defense announced new travel restrictions for 60 days for service members, DoD civilians and families traveling to, from, or through Level 3 locations, as designated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These restrictions are effective March 13.
“The Department of Defense’s top priority remains the protection and welfare of our people. While directing this prudent action, I continue to delegate all necessary authority to commanders to make further decisions based on their assessments to protect their people and ensure mission readiness. While we deal with this fluid and evolving situation, I remain confident in our ability to protect our service members, civilians and families,” said Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.
This restriction includes all forms of travel, including Permanent Change of Station, Temporary Duty, and government funded leave. The Level 3 countries are set by the CDC and may change. The DoD guidance will follow those changes. Service secretaries and commanders may issue waivers to this policy as they determine necessary to ensure mission readiness and address specific cases.
Additionally, for the next 60 days, concurrent official travel to Level 2 locations for families of service members and civilian personnel is denied. For the next 60 days, DoD will implement enhanced health care protocols for traveler safety and transition to the use of military or contracted aircraft for required travel to Level 2 or 3 locations.
DOD has also issued updated Force Health Protection guidance that requires a screening and 14-day self-monitoring at home upon return for all DOD personnel who have traveled from, to or through Level 2 or 3 countries. This policy will be reviewed prior to the end of the 60-day period to determine whether it will be modified or extended.
The Department will continue to issue additional guidance with regard to the COVID-19 as conditions warrant.
For more information on the CDC travel restrictions, visit https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices/.
We encourage all DOD personnel to visit https://www.defense.gov/Explore/Spotlight/Coronavirus/ for information on staying healthy during the outbreak. (Source: US DoD)
12 Mar 20. Right-Sizing, Not Reduction at Guantanamo, Southcom Commander Says. Since the Guantanamo Bay detention camp stood up in 2002, nearly 780 prisoners have been housed there. Today, the facility holds just 40 men, one who has been convicted and 39 others who are detainees, said Navy Adm. Craig S. Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command. Now, there are plans to adjust operations at the facility to reflect this new reality.
”There’s a heavy guard footprint,” Faller said, speaking during a briefing at the Pentagon. ”What drives the size of the guard is, in some respects, the spread-out layout of the detention facility.”
The admiral said that as part of a Combatant Command review process, Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper had raised the issue of increasing efficiency and effectiveness at the detention facility, while at the same time not compromising force protection, security of information or the mission of the Guantanamo military commission.
“We’ve gone through a number of courses of action, and we think there’s a way to consolidate footprint and not compromise force protection, and not compromise in any way the Commission process and so we’re on a conditions-based path to do that. As we meet conditions, we’re going to look to best consolidate the footprint.”
Faller said that he doesn’t consider possible changes at the detention facility to be a ‘reduction.’ Rather, operations will be adjusted to meet the mission requirement as it currently exists.
“I think that the way I would look at what we’re doing in the detention facility … is we are right-sizing that. We’re making it fit for the task, the purpose and the numbers,” he said. “So there’ll be savings and a tremendous manpower savings and a cost savings for consolidation on footprint, but it’s absolutely the right thing to do. And so I wouldn’t look at it as a reduction so much as a re-balance.”
Faller was in Washington so that he could testify on Capitol Hill regarding the Southcom portion of the DOD’s fiscal year 2021 budget request.
The admiral said that, among other things, he discussed with lawmakers the importance of maintaining a competitive edge in Central and South America.
“It’s our assessment that the neighborhood’s becoming an increasingly contested strategic space in the global competition with China and Russia,” he said. “And we do maintain our positional advantage here. However, that advantage is eroding and it’s challenging our ability to maintain the favorable balance of regional power that’s strictly called for here in this hemisphere in the National Defense Strategy.” (Source: US DoD)
11 Mar 20. U.S. Potential Target for Malicious Actors, DOD Official Tells Congress. The United States is no longer a sanctuary, but a target, Kenneth Rapuano, the assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense, told the House Armed Services Committee in Washington today. During World War II, the United States became the arsenal of democracy, in part because it was not touched by Axis bombing campaigns. Today, the United States is in range of the capabilities of those who would do us harm.
“The homeland is a target in a complex global security environment,” Rapuano said.
The main threats emanate from China and Russia, who use malign influence against the United States, its allies and partners to undermine regional security, he said.
China and Russia do not want armed conflict with the United States. Such a conflict would be devastating to all. But the two nations seek to erode American capabilities, alliances and — most important — the American will. The nations seek capabilities to win below the threshold of armed conflict to erode our national security and prosperity, Rapuano said. “They are attempting to undermine democratic governance, the rule of law, market-driven economies and compliance with international rules and norms.”
China and Russia have studied the American way of war and they will aim their actions where the U.S. is most vulnerable. “We must anticipate multi-dimensional attacks on land, in the air, at sea, in space and in cyberspace, targeted not just against our military forces, but against our critical infrastructure and our population,” he said. “Indeed, our way of life at home and abroad.”
China’s arsenal includes anti-satellite capabilities and advanced missile systems. China has tested hypersonic glide vehicles, and they have built islands in the South China Sea to close sea lanes of communication.
Russia poses different challenges, but it is also developing anti-satellite capabilities, advanced missiles, hypersonic glide vehicles and advanced cyber capabilities.
Both nations are also seeking influence around the world to undermine America’s system of alliances. In the Western Hemisphere both prop up the Maduro regime in Venezuela, and they provide economic aid solely to make nations beholden, Rapuano said.
China and Russia both strive to break the U.S. dominance in space. “The U.S. is responding to this threat by transforming our space enterprise and working closely with our allies and partners,” he said. “The President’s budget requests provides $18bn for space programs, including $111m to support the establishment of the new military service.”
But the area of most contention is in the cyber domain. Attribution of cyber attacks is difficult, and the attacks do damage in the real world. DOD is examining defensive and offensive capabilities to deter these attacks or make a perpetrator pay if deterrence doesn’t work.
DOD will continue to work with allies and partners to ensure defense. “The Department of Defense takes a global view of the challenges facing the nation, we continue to improve our ability to defend the U.S. homeland in all domains and develop capabilities to defend the nation’s interests globally,” Rapuano said. (Source: US DoD)
11 Mar 20. DOD’s tech programs at risk under stopgap 2021 budget, Norquist warns. The US Army is betting big on its augmented reality headset that helps improve situational awareness for soldiers in close combat, requesting to buy more than 40,000 of them in fiscal 2021 and eventually more than 100,000. But David Norquist, the deputy defense secretary, worries those plans could get derailed if Congress doesn’t provide on-time funding.
“[Integrated Visual Augmentation System goggles] are set to move those into the next stage where there’s some procurement that’s involved, and there’s production. But if there’s a [continuing resolution, they’re going to need to wait. And they’re going to need to wait until we get to the other side of the CR,” Norquist told the House Budget Committee during a March 10 hearing focusing on DOD’s 2021 budget proposal.
Norquist also said buying software, which requires constant updating to ensure cybersecurity in ships, aircraft, ground vehicles, could also be affected.
“This is a challenging area because everyone notices the ships, the planes, but behind it you have software, and software can have cybersecurity vulnerabilities,” Norquist said. “One of the issues is helping secure the businesses that are suppliers to DOD so their technology is not stolen.”
Norquist said continuing resolutions posed a significant problem because they can prevent starting new programs.
“The real risk to this over time is the department gets so used to it, it just moves its contracts to the spring and builds a six-month…delay because it just assumes it will not get the budget on time. So in a government where speed and efficiency is always a challenge and you’re trying to push, the CR pushes things to be slower and more inefficient and wasteful.”
Lawmakers were concerned about how the global spread of the coronavirus would affect the next year’s budget. Production of the F-35 has already been slowed due to the outbreak and mitigation efforts.
Norquist said DOD is continuing to examine production facilities.
“A lot of this is basic hygiene. It’s hand sanitation. It’s keeping distances. It’s teleworking if you need to have that set up. We’ll work on that. But we’re going to have to look and see if it begins to expand and spread what we need to do to keep those production facilities up and running and what measures and additional ones we need to take,” the deputy defense secretary said. “And how that will affect the expenditures in the budget.(Source: Defense Systems)
11 Mar 20. DOD Addressing PFAS Contamination, Official Says. Over the past four years, the Defense Department has committed substantial resources and has taken actions to respond to concerns with PFAS, a DOD official said.
Nationally, DOD had led the way in addressing these substances, she said.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are a group of man-made chemicals that are very persistent in the environment and the human body — meaning they don’t break down and they can accumulate over time. There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse human health effects.
PFAS is an effective chemical in aqueous film-forming foam, or AFFF, which is used to put out fires quickly, particularly around aircraft.
Maureen Sullivan, deputy assistant secretary of defense for environment, Defense Department, testified today at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing concerning the impact of PFAS exposure on service members.
In July 2019, a PFAS task force stood up “to provide strategic leadership and direction to ensure a coordinated, aggressive and holistic approach on DOD-wide efforts to proactively address PFAS,” she said.
The task force focused on three goals:
- Mitigating and eliminating the use of AFFF
- Understanding the impacts of PFAS on human health
- Fulfilling DOD’s cleanup responsibilities
The department is complying with the Environmental Protection Agency’s lifetime health advisory for addressing drinking water, where DOD is the known source of PFAS release, she said.
Levels greater than 70 parts per trillion are considered unhealthy, according to the EPA.
Known and suspected sources of PFAS release are in various stages of investigation and cleanup, she said, adding that information will be shared with affected communities in an “open and transparent manner.”
In January 2016, DOD issued a policy prohibiting the use of AFFF for maintenance, testing and training, Sullivan noted.
None of the commercially available PFAS-free foams meet DOD’s strict standards of rapidly extinguishing fuel fires, she said.
“We are funding extensive research and demonstration projects to test for fluorine-free alternatives,” added Sullivan.
“The department recognizes that this is a national challenge involving a wide array of industries and commercial applications as well as many federal and state agencies. Therefore, it needs a nationwide solution,” she said. (Source: US DoD)
10 Mar 20. Near-Peer Threats at Highest Point Since Cold War, DOD Official Says. The United States faces an array of threats from near-peer competitors China and Russia that have not been seen since before the fall of the Berlin Wall, a DOD official said today.
Matthew P. Donovan, who is performing the duties of the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said the character of warfare has evolved at the same time, with grave threats now appearing in previously unknown or uncontested domains, such as cyber and space. He testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is considering his nomination for undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
Donovan said the Defense Department must also evolve to successfully meet these threats. “We must attract and retain people with the right skills to prevail in this environment, properly manage them and meet their expectations using 21st century talent management practices, and ensure all are always treated with dignity and respect.”
The department must also provide its warriors with the cutting-edge tools of the trade that they need to be successful, state-of-the-art training technologies, and techniques to best hone their skills, he added.
Soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and DOD civilians deserve the best leadership, the best policies, the best equipment, the best education and training, and our service members and their families deserve the best health care, best support systems, and best quality of life we can possibly provide, for the sacrifices we ask them to endure, Donovan added.
One senator mentioned that a study showed only 29% of American youth are eligible to serve.
Donovan replied that he’s seen those studies. “I think it’s a problem that extends well beyond the Department of Defense. It’s a national issue.”
Part of the problem, he said, is the lack of sports and physical fitness activities among the nation’s youth.
“Kids are not getting the physical activity that they need to help prepare them for the rigors of military duty,” he said.
That said, Donovan noted that DOD isn’t yet having a problem filling its ranks with qualified and quality service members.
“But as we look toward the future, toward the imperatives of the National Defense Strategy, then we’re seeing that we’re going to need to attract those skills that are in so much demand on the outside as well,” he said, adding that a good example is cyber.
One step the department is taking is partnering with universities and industry to see if there’s some way to share the load on this, he said.
Also testifying today were: William Jordan Gillis, nominated for assistant secretary of defense for sustainment, and Victorino G. Mercado, nominated for assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans and capabilities. (Source: US DoD)
10 Mar 20. Military Doing Better Today Than 4 Years Ago, Norquist Says. The U.S. military is doing better today than it was four years ago based on several metrics, Deputy Defense Secretary David L. Norquist said.
“We are in a very different place than we were four years ago,” Norquist told lawmakers today during a hearing before the House Budget Committee. “The readiness of our forces are up, the quantity of munitions they have is up, [and] the training level is up.”
Norquist told lawmakers, specifically, that the Defense Department has increased the number of ready brigade combat teams by 33% and raised the readiness of the Air Force’s lead pacing squadrons by 35%.
While the military is traditionally thought of as fighting on land, in the air and on the sea, Norquist told lawmakers that space and cyberspace are two new domains where the DOD has made significant investments over the past three years. The department established the U.S. Space Force, for instance, elevated U.S. Cyber Command to a unified combatant command, and created the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center.
The Defense Department’s fiscal year 2021 budget request of $704.5bn is the next step in implementing the National Defense Strategy, Norquist said.
The focus for the budget request, he said, is on all domain operations and preparing for future challenges. He said the budget focuses on recapitalization of nuclear deterrence capabilities, strengthening homeland missile defense and expanding investments in technologies — such as hypersonic weapons, directed energy, 5G, microelectronics, artificial intelligence and autonomous platforms.
Last November, Norquist told lawmakers, the DOD completed its second departmentwide audit, which he said drives both near-term savings and long-term departmental reforms. One example of success has been the uncovering of available inventory for the department.
“The audit is not just a paperwork trail, they go and they open warehouses,” he said. “We found places where there were items in inventory, many times known to the locals but not … across the services because it wasn’t in the database. That freed up $167m worth of supplies, put those back into inventory, [we were] able to close out requirements.”
The audit also revealed places where savings could be had using automation, Norquist said. He also said long term benefits of the auditing are that private sector firms will have access to more timely and accurate data that can be used to drive decision-making.
When it comes to getting the FY2021 budget passed, Norquist told the committee how damaging continuing resolutions are to the department and its ability to operate. First, he said, continuing resolutions prevent the start of new programs.
“If we have a technology that the department recommends, and the House and Senate both agree, and Republicans and Democrats think are valuable, we can’t start it on 1 October. We have to wait,” he said. “So, each year you give the other team a three- to four-months head start every time you are under a CR because you’re delaying these new technologies.”
The same problem occurs with planned increases in production, he said.
“There’s a factory that’s scaled to go from 50 to 100, but it has to operate at 50, inefficiently, at extra cost to the taxpayer, until the budget … passes and allows them to go up to the hundred that the Congress authorized and appropriated and the department supported.”
The real risk of the continuing resolution, Norquist said, is that federal agencies and the DOD get used to them and make adjustments.
“It just moves its contracts to the spring and builds a six-month … delay because it just assumes it will not get the budget on time,” he said. “So, in a government where speed and efficiency is always a challenge and you’re trying to push, the continuing resolution pushes things to be slower and more inefficient and wasteful.” (Source: US DoD)
10 Mar 20. Middle East, Africa Commanders Discuss Terror Threats. Although there is no country or group in Africa and the Middle East that poses an existential threat to the United States, that doesn’t mean America can withdraw from the regions.
Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the commander of U.S. Central Command, and Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, the commander of U.S. Africa Command, told the House Armed Services Committee that terror groups in Africa and the Middle East pose threats regionally, and some have the desire to expand globally.
Both regions have large “ungoverned” or “little governed” areas that attract these terror groups. Terror groups use them as bases to train and plan attacks in the region and sometimes beyond.
In Africa and the Middle East, Iran is the only nation that promotes terror, and U.S. Central Command has the mission to counter that terror network.
McKenzie began the “tour of terror” in his testimony. “In Afghanistan, the principal threat that could threaten our homeland … is either ISIS-K or elements of al-Qaida,” he said.
Both organizations are under considerable pressure now. “They’re pushed up into the east of Afghanistan,” the general said. “If unrelenting (counterterrorism) pressure is maintained, it is likely they will find it very hard to achieve a degree of coordination necessary to attack. We believe that if their pressures are relieved at some point in those ungoverned spaces, they would regain that capability to attack us.”
The general said the Taliban does not entertain the idea of terror attacks on the U.S. homeland, but it does harbor terror groups.
In the far western part of the theater in Syria, the Idlib pocket contains remnants of both al-Qaida and ISIS, and both would attack the U.S. if they could, McKenzie said. “They are being compressed right now, and it’s hard for them to generate those attacks at the moment,” he said.
The problem in Idlib is the horrific humanitarian disaster that is occurring, the Centcom commander said.
To the south, al-Qaida on the Arabian Peninsula has visions of attacking the United States, he said. “They are under pressure and find it hard to realize that, but if left unconstrained, undoubtedly they would regenerate and present a threat to us, as well,” the general said.
McKenzie expounded on the danger Iran poses to the United States and the region. The Iranian threat network is at the bottom of much of the violence in the theater. Whether it is Shia militia groups in Iraq, Lebanese Hezbollah, the Quds Force or others “all of those entities entertain … a desire to attack Americans generally in the theater,” McKenzie said. “But Iran’s reach is not only regional it is global.”
In Africa Command, ungoverned areas abound, and the terror threat — while regional now — could grow, Townsend said. In the Sahel region, the threat is both ISIS and al-Qaida. There are local groups that have affiliated with both. One al-Qaida group is a growing threat. “What’s the interesting dynamic that we see in West Africa that we don’t see in other parts of the world is al-Qaida and ISIS cooperate with one another,” Townsend said. “I can’t really explain that.”
The general believes this cooperation is a local phenomenon. “These folks have grown up with each other, known each other all their lives,” he said. “One joined one gang, one joined the other, and so they cooperate with one another.”
The threat has grown five-fold just in the Sahel alone, he said. “We’re going to see that threat emerge and manifest in the littoral states of West Africa,” he said. “I think, unchecked, this threat becomes a threat beyond the region.”
Townsend believes the ISIS threat in Libya is being contained. He noted that the U.S. Africa Command and partner nations are able to work with both sides of the Libyan civil war to contain ISIS in that country.
In the eastern part of the continent, there is a small presence of ISIS in Somalia, but it is not a great operational concern, the general said. “But al-Shabaab is,” he said. “Al-Shabaab is the largest and most kinetically violent arm of al-Qaida. They are a serious threat to not only the Somali people, but the entire region, and one example [is] in a recent attack in Kenya. Another example is their threats to embassies in the region outside of Somalia. … I would just say that I’m of the belief that al-Shabaab today poses a significant threat to American interests in the region.”
That threat to U.S. interests would still manifest itself whether U.S. forces were in Somalia or not, he said. “I also believe that, if left unchecked — and we’ve been putting a fair amount of pressure on al-Shabaab — I believe that that would manifest into an international threat.” (Source: US DoD)
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