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16 Apr 20. Thornberry wants $6bn this year to launch counter-China fund. The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee will release a proposal Thursday to formally create a new fund to counter Chinese actions in the Pacific, Defense News has learned.
Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, is calling for the creation of an Indo-Pacific Deterrence Initiative (IPDI), with a $6.09bn invest in fiscal year 2021. The fund would be based on the European Deterrence Initiative, a special DoD fund for projects focused on deterring Russia that was set up in the wake of the annexation of Crimea.
“The Indo-Pacific has been called our highest priority theater and I believe that is true. It is time to put our money where our mouth is,” Thornberry told Defense News. “This effort consolidates and funds the policies, infrastructure, and platforms needed to reassure our allies and partners while we deter China. It also serves as a benchmark against which we can judge our efforts in the region. We may not be able to get this all done this year, but it is vital that we make a start.”
For several years, members of Congress have questioned if some form of EDI is needed in the pacific. Action was taken in the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act, with language in Section 1253 requiring INDOPACOM to deliver by mid-March of this year a report detailing what the combatant command needs to fulfill the National Defense Strategy and maintain an edge over China. The hope among supporters was that the list would provide the core of a PDI requirement.
As Defense News reported April 2, INDOPACOM head Adm. Phil Davidson came back to the Hill with a $20 bn wish list covering FY21-FY26, with $1.6bn requested specifically for FY21.
Thornberry’s request for FY21 is obviously significantly higher than Davidson’s ask for the same fiscal year, but a Congressional staffer added that Thornberry, who is retiring come January, is realistic that the whole $6bn request is unlikely to survive the coming budget fights. The goal, the staffer said, is to get something through that creates the IDPI account, in hopes it can grow moving forward.
On that front, Thornberry is likely to find at least some bipartisan support. In a March 24 letter to Davidson, Rep. Adam Smith, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, stated that he intends “to identify funding for an Indo-Pacific Reassurance Initiative in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021.” (The EDI was initially branded the European Reassurance Initiative under the Obama administration.)
While the Section 2153 report helped inform Thornberry’s request, the staffer said that work was already underway on the congressman’s proposal by the time the report arrived. However, the report’s influence can be seen in how the Thornberry plan breaks down into five categories also similar to those laid out by Davidson, as well as in a number of crossover requests.
Increased presence and joint force lethality ($1 bn): The Thornberry proposal would authorize funding for a “permanent and persistent land-based integrated air and missile defense system and associated weapons delivery system on Guam,” which Davidson described in the Section 1253 report as his highest priority, one that would cost $1.67bn over the six year period. (The Thornberry proposal summary viewed by Defense News does not contain breakdowns for individual budget items.)
In addition, the Thornberry proposal would fund a homeland defense radar in Hawaii, another key Davidson request; increase funding for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability in the region; maintain rotational forces in the region, including a rotational bomber presence; invest more in underseas warfare capability, and develop long-range precision “ develop long-range precision fires systems with a plan to posture the systems throughout the Indo- Pacific region.”
Prepositioning and logistics ($1.5bn): In his Section 1253 report, Davidson wrote that new prepositioning strategies are needed, as “It is not strategically prudent, nor operationally viable to physically concentrate on large, close-in bases that are highly vulnerable to a potential adversary’s strike capability…Forward-based, rotational joint forces are the most credible way to demonstrate U.S. commitment and resolve to potential adversaries, while simultaneously assuring allies and partners.”
Along those lines, the Thornberry proposal would authorize funding for “contingency regional based clusters prepositioning kits; ship prepositioning and surge capacity; munitions stocks and storage; a movement coordination center to facilitate air and ship transport; and prepositioned forces.”
Improved infrastructure ($2.1bn): Thornberry wants this pot of money for military construction and the acquisition of land along with funding to support the “planning and design of emergent posture requirements for the Indo-Pacific theater.”
Included in this pot of money is $10m for strategic construction planning and design assessments for places that the U.S. currently does not have a footprint in, but likely will need to consider investing in for the future.
Strengthen allies and partners ($350m): Thornberry wants to increase overall capacity and capabilities of allies and partners in the region, including a new program to “modernize communications architecture and systems with allies and partners;” increasing multilateral partnerships built around counter-terrorism efforts; increase the use of the National Guard State Partnership Program with countries in the region; help fund security cooperation efforts, including the Indo-Pacific Maritime Security Initiative; and fund the Pacific Partnership program, an “annual multilateral humanitarian and civic assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Pacific region.”
Training and exercises ($1bn): This funding would increase joint training and exercise between INDOPACOM and its allies and partners overall, including the funding of both joint division level and service-level training and exercise programs.
Notably, it would also require DoD to create a plan for the integration of “all major test and training ranges in the Indo-Pacific Command area of operations to support future joint training and exercises and test operational capabilities and weapons systems to include space and cyber activities.” That test range integration was also a feature of Davidson’s request. (Source: Defense News)
16 Apr 20. US explores possibility that coronavirus started in Chinese lab, not a market. US intelligence and national security officials say the United States government is looking into the possibility that the novel coronavirus originated in a Chinese laboratory rather than a market, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter who caution it is premature to draw any conclusions.
The theory is one of multiple being pursued by investigators as they attempt to determine the origin of the coronavirus that has resulted in a pandemic and killed hundreds of thousands. The US does not believe the virus was associated with bioweapons research, and officials noted that the intelligence community is also exploring a range of other theories regarding the origination of the virus, as would typically be the case for high-profile incidents, according to an intelligence source.
The theory has been pushed by supporters of the President, including some congressional Republicans, who are eager to deflect criticisms of Trump’s handling of the pandemic.
An intelligence official familiar with the government analysis said a theory US intelligence officials are investigating is that the virus originated in a laboratory in Wuhan, China, and was accidentally released to the public. Other sources told CNN that US intelligence hasn’t been able to corroborate the theory but is trying to discern whether someone was infected in the lab through an accident or poor handling of materials and may have then infected others.
US intelligence is reviewing sensitive intelligence collection aimed at the Chinese government, according to the intelligence source, as they pursue the theory. But some intelligence officials say it is possible the actual cause may never be known.
Joint Chief of Staff Chairman Mark Milley acknowledged this week that US intelligence is taking “a hard look” at the question of whether the novel coronavirus originated in a lab.
“I would just say, at this point, it’s inconclusive although the weight of evidence seems to indicate natural (origin). But we don’t know for certain,” Milley told reporters on Tuesday.
Asked about the intelligence, which was first reported by Yahoo and Fox News, President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that the US is “doing a very thorough examination of this horrible situation that happened” but refused to discuss what he had been told about the findings.
The lab theory has been denied by the Chinese government and many outside experts have also cast doubt on the idea, CNN has previously reported.
A source close to the White House coronavirus task force also cautioned that “every time there is an outbreak someone proposes that the virus or other pathogen came out of a lab.”
One official called the way China has handled dealing with the virus “completely reprehensible” — and intelligence investigators are determined to build a fuller picture of how it originated.
The Washington Post has reported on State Department cables from 2018 demonstrating concerns about the safety and the management of the Wuhan Institute of Virology biolab. When asked about those cables, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — who has continued to call the coronavirus the “Wuhan virus” — did not dismiss them, but neither did he say that they show any legitimate linkage to Covid-19.
“The Chinese Communist Party didn’t give Americans access when we needed it in that most timely point at the very beginning,” Pompeo said earlier this week. “Then we know they have this lab. We know about the wet (fresh food) markets. We know that the virus itself did originate in Wuhan. So all those things come together. There’s still a lot we don’t know, and this is what the President was talking about today. We need to know answers to these things.”
Some of the officials said the US intends for China to pay a price, but recognize the US has to be careful not to inflict a cost on China before the pandemic is under control and until they have more information about its creation. (Source: CNN)
14 Apr 20. DOD Continues Global Military Operations Even as It Battles COVID-19. Even as the Defense Department supports the whole-of-government response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it continues its vital national security missions, Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper said.
- Conducting counterterrorism missions in Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan;
- Conducting freedom of navigation operations around the world;
- Monitoring North Korean weapons tests;
- Improving the U.S. defensive posture in Iraq;
- Escorting Russian bombers out of U.S. airspace;
- Deterring Iran’s aggressive behavior;
- Working with Afghan security forces and Operation Resolute Support partners in Afghanistan;
- Continuing enhanced counternarcotics operations in the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility;
- Working with NATO allies in Europe; and
- Continuing to defend U.S. interests in space.
And last month, the Space Force launched its first satellite into orbit, Esper noted.
Regarding North Korean weapons tests, Milley said the intelligence analysis of their recent missile launches would take a few days, but the tests were short-range and not particularly provocative or threatening.
Regarding COVID-19, Milley said there are going to be a lot of lessons learned, and a comprehensive after-action review will follow. It won’t be business as usual after the pandemic, the chairman said.
“There are countries out there in states that are very fragile that are in various states of civil war and have violence internal to their societies,” he said. “There’s significant stress as a result of the COVID-19 virus on the internal politics of other countries. There’s a significant stress on their economies, on resources. There’s risk of instability, So, no, it’s not going to be business as usual. We’ve got to take a hard look at how we, the Department of Defense, conduct operations in the future.” (Source: US DoD)
13 Apr 20. The US Navy is taking extreme measures to preserve its carrier surge. With the world’s eyes on the embattled carrier Theodore Roosevelt, the U.S. Navy is taking strong measures to make sure it can surge healthy aircraft carriers if needed.
The carrier Harry S Truman, at the tail end of a seven-month deployment, is being held offshore as indefinitely as the Navy aims to keep its surge carrier deployment ready amid a global pandemic.
The Navy has already quarantined the crews of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group ahead of its upcoming deployment to ensure that its ready to make its Pacific deployment, vital since the forward-deployed carrier Ronald Reagan is in maintenance and the Theodore Roosevelt is marooned in Guam until it can get its COVID-19 outbreak under control.
The measures, combined with recent force-wide guidance documents to standardize mitigation procedures across the fleet, show the Navy getting its arms around a problem that bedeviled the military for weeks.
In the Truman strike group, which has already deployed twice without a significant maintenance period, the service is forbidding all traffic to and from the ships.
“We simply don’t allow people to come out, keeping our strike group COVID-free is the number one objective,” said Rear Adm. Andrew Loiselle, the carrier strike group commander. “And so while it might be nice to have some fresh people come out, right now it’s a better risk mitigation strategy” to keep people ashore.
U.S. 2nd Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis told reporters in a Monday phone call that some technical representatives may need to be brought out to the ship, but they would be subjected to a 14-day quarantine prior to departing. In the Pacific, the news has gone from bad to worse for the crew of the Theodore Roosevelt with more than 1 in 10 sailors testing positive for COVID-19. On Monday, news broke that a sailor found unresponsive in a quarantine room last week died in intensive care. The initial estimate from former Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly was that the ship would be in port for 25 days, which is would be next Monday, though that departure date appears unlikely.
(Source: Defense News Early Bird/Defense News)
13 Apr 20. Mobility Airmen Conduct First Transport Isolation System Medevac Mission. Air Mobility Command aircrew and medical personnel conducted the first operational use of the Transport Isolation System to perform an aeromedical evacuation of three U.S. government contractors who tested positive for the coronavirus from Afghanistan to Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
Upon arrival April 10 at Ramstein, the patients were transferred to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center for treatment.
The mission, REACH 725, marked the first operational use of the TIS since its development during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and the first movement of COVID-19 positive patients aboard U.S. Air Force aircraft. The TIS is an infectious disease containment unit designed to minimize risk to aircrew, medical attendants, and the airframe, while allowing medical care to be provided to patients in-flight.
REACH 725 featured a full TIS force package, which includes one C-17 and aircrew carrying two TIS modules and medical support personnel, consisting of aeromedical evacuation specialists, critical care air transport team members, infectious diseases doctors and technicians, and TIS operators.
Upon receipt of a warning order from U.S. Transportation Command on April 8, the 618th Air Operations Center tasked a TIS-trained AMC aircrew and medical team at Ramstein to prepare to execute the mission within 24 hours. Drawn from multiple specialties and units from across the Air Force, these airmen were pre-staged with a C-17 from Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, and TIS at Ramstein’s 86th Airlift Wing in late March in anticipation of joint force, allied and partner requirements in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Since arriving, these airmen have trained to increase proficiency on the movement of infectious patients via the TIS.
“Our unique capabilities, paired with our strategic locations across the globe, enable us to rapidly help those in need,” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa and NATO Allied Air Command. “Along with our allies and partners, we stand united against a shared threat and stand ready to help when called.”
Hours before the crew stepped to the C-17, Air Force Brig Gen Jimmy Canlas, 618th Air Operations Center commander, led a teleconference call in which he provided guidance in line with the recently released AMC COVID-19 Patient Movement Plan.
“Through the meticulous effort of AMC’s planners over the past few weeks, in coordination with U.S. Transportation Command, we’ve produced a detailed plan that guides our crews on how to safely and effectively move ill patients to a location where they can receive greater care, all while providing protection for our aircrew, medical personnel and aircraft,” Canlas said. “Within hours of completing and releasing this plan to the force, the crew of REACH 725 validated the hard work of these planners by safely transporting three COVID-19 patients nearly 4,000 miles from Afghanistan to Landstuhl.”
Developed by AMC planners over the past few weeks, the Patient Movement Plan provides aircrew and support personnel a comprehensive and detailed process by which to transport patients aboard pressurized, military aircraft, including patients afflicted with highly contagious diseases such as COVID-19.
“I’m exceptionally proud of our airmen who executed this historic [aeromedical evacuation] mission,” said Air Force Gen. Maryanne Miller, AMC commander. “REACH 725 is a great demonstration of AMC’s transition to a warfighting component command, with increased flexibility and speed enabling our mobility airmen to quickly answer any call for help during this global campaign to defeat COVID-19. Delivering hope runs deep in the blood of mobility airmen, and I’m in awe of what they are doing for those in need.” (Source: US DoD)
12 Apr 20. Boeing to reopen the KC-46 and P-8 production lines. Boeing will restart production of the P-8 and KC-46 on Monday after a three-week pause in operations spurred by the spread of the novel coronavirus in Washington state. The company temporarily shut down operations in the Puget Sound region on March 25. Boeing’s sites in Washington focus primarily on the development and production of commercial airliners and militarized variants of those aircraft, such as the KC-46 tanker made in Everett and the P-8 submarine hunting plane made in Renton.
While the resumption of operations will focus on defense programs, the company will also reopen the facilities necessary for 737 MAX storage as well as other laboratories and functions deemed as essential.
“Boeing’s work supporting the Department of Defense as a part of the defense industrial base is a matter of national security and has been deemed critical. The work we do directly supports the servicemen and women protecting the nation around the clock – and they are counting on us to get it done,” the company said in a statement.
The phased re-opening of Boeing facilities will help support its supply base and will ensure the company has enough protective equipment available for the 2,500 employees who will return to work, the company said.
Boeing will also enact additional health checks at the Puget Sound sites, including wellness checks at the start of every shift, staggered shift times, additional handwashing stations and cleaning supplies, and a requirement that employees wear a mask at work to comply with state guidance.
The company’s Ridley Park, Penn.-facility remains closed. That site produces military helicopters including the H-47 Chinook cargo helicopter, the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft as well as the MH-139A Grey Wolf, which will be used by the Air Force to defend missile fields.
Monday’s reopening is especially good news for the KC-46 program, as the production line is already making tankers at full rate. Boeing has delivered 33 tankers to the Air Force so far, with the production of a total 179 KC-46s expected to be produced in the program of record.
Will Roper, the Air Force’s acquisition executive, said in March that the pause in KC-46 production wouldn’t become a problem unless it extended past a month.
“We’ve tried to make it very clear to our industry partners that we expect them to do whatever is necessary to keep our critical defense-industrial base workforce and their families healthy,” Roper said then. “The standing back up will be important too, because that sends a message to our adversaries that a domestic crisis is not a time of opportunity nor does it create a readiness bathtub in the future.” (Source: glstrade.com/Defense News)
10 Apr 20. Defense Contractors Keep Most Plants Running Despite Outbreak. The Pentagon’s contractors have largely avoided widespread closings or “major impacts” so far from the coronavirus pandemic, according to a running tally compiled by its contracts management office.
Of 10,509 locations tracked or monitored by the Defense Contract Management Agency, 135 had closed at some point as of Wednesday. Forty-nine of those reopened after an average of about 10 days.
“These closures have generally been short-term in order to clean facilities” or to “reduce the potential exposure of employees,” agency spokesman Matthew Montgomery said in a statement.
The agency doesn’t track how many workers are affected, he said. And the numbers on closings don’t reflect defense contractors that have cut back their operations — or the outsized impact of Boeing Co.’s shutdowns.
Boeing, the No. 2 U.S. defense contractor, has indefinitely halted assembly of the KC-46 refueling tanker and the P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft at its facilities in Washington State, the initial U.S. center of the pandemic.
Last Friday, the company began a two-week shutdown of the Philadelphia-area factory where it manufactures military rotorcraft, including the Chinook CH-47 cargo helicopter and the tilt-rotor V-22 Osprey.
Huntington Is Open
By contrast, Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc., has had no closings to this point, according to spokeswoman Beci Brenton. With 42,000 employees, it’s the sole U.S. builder of aircraft carriers and the co-contractor of Navy attack submarines and DDG-51 destroyers.
Montgomery said the Defense Department “has worked closely with local and state governments to ensure that the defense industrial base is considered critical infrastructure to help minimize the impact of statewide closures.”
Impacts from closings “are being seen across all sectors including but not limited to clothing and textiles, aerospace, shipbuilding, and ground vehicles,” he said.
Many Pentagon contractors “are struggling to maintain a mission-ready workforce due to work site closures, personnel quarantines and state and local restrictions on movement” that can’t “be resolved through remote work,” Kim Herrington, the Defense Department’s pricing and contracting director, said in a memo Wednesday.
To support the defense industry, the DCMA has modified about 1,400 contracts to increase the rate for “progress payments” for work completed on time from 80% to 90% of costs incurred for large businesses and from 90% of cost to 95% for small businesses.
The move resulted in $3bn being advanced to industry, according to Herrington.
That’s in addition to $882m that the Air Force is providing to Chicago-based Boeing. The funds were being withheld until the company corrected or provided sufficient plans to correct numerous deficiencies with KC-46 tankers. Most of those flaws remain unresolved.
Also, the Pentagon issued guidance Thursday that lets military contracting officers reimburse companies for documented payments to employees who can’t work because of coronavirus facility closings or related restrictions. (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Bloomberg)
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