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06 May 20. U.S. rearms to nullify China’s missile supremacy. As Washington and Beijing trade barbs over the coronavirus pandemic, a longer-term struggle between the two Pacific powers is at a turning point, as the United States rolls out new weapons and strategy in a bid to close a wide missile gap with China.
The United States has largely stood by in recent decades as China dramatically expanded its military firepower. Now, having shed the constraints of a Cold War-era arms control treaty, the Trump administration is planning to deploy long-range, ground-launched cruise missiles in the Asia-Pacific region.
The Pentagon intends to arm its Marines with versions of the Tomahawk cruise missile now carried on U.S. warships, according to the White House budget requests for 2021 and Congressional testimony in March of senior U.S. military commanders. It is also accelerating deliveries of its first new long-range anti-ship missiles in decades.
In a statement to Reuters about the latest U.S. moves, Beijing urged Washington to “be cautious in word and deed,” to “stop moving chess pieces around” the region, and to “stop flexing its military muscles around China.”
The U.S. moves are aimed at countering China’s overwhelming advantage in land-based cruise and ballistic missiles. The Pentagon also intends to dial back China’s lead in what strategists refer to as the “range war.” The People’s Liberation Army (PLA), China’s military, has built up a huge force of missiles that mostly outrange those of the U.S. and its regional allies, according to senior U.S. commanders and strategic advisers to the Pentagon, who have been warning that China holds a clear advantage in these weapons.
And, in a radical shift in tactics, the Marines will join forces with the U.S. Navy in attacking an enemy’s warships. Small and mobile units of U.S. Marines armed with anti-ship missiles will become ship killers.
In a conflict, these units will be dispersed at key points in the Western Pacific and along the so-called first island chain, commanders said. The first island chain is the string of islands that run from the Japanese archipelago, through Taiwan, the Philippines and on to Borneo, enclosing China’s coastal seas.
Top U.S. military commanders explained the new tactics to Congress in March in a series of budget hearings. The commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, General David Berger, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 5 that small units of Marines armed with precision missiles could assist the U.S. Navy to gain control of the seas, particularly in the Western Pacific. “The Tomahawk missile is one of the tools that is going to allow us to do that,” he said.
The Tomahawk – which first gained fame when launched in massed strikes during the 1991 Gulf War – has been carried on U.S. warships and used to attack land targets in recent decades. The Marines would test fire the cruise missile through 2022 with the aim of making it operational the following year, top Pentagon commanders testified.
At first, a relatively small number of land-based cruise missiles will not change the balance of power. But such a shift would send a strong political signal that Washington is preparing to compete with China’s massive arsenal, according to senior U.S. and other Western strategists. Longer term, bigger numbers of these weapons combined with similar Japanese and Taiwanese missiles would pose a serious threat to Chinese forces, they say. The biggest immediate threat to the PLA comes from new, long-range anti-ship missiles now entering service with U.S. Navy and Air Force strike aircraft.
“The Americans are coming back strongly,” said Ross Babbage, a former senior Australian government defense official and now a non-resident fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a security research group. “By 2024 or 2025 there is a serious risk for the PLA that their military developments will be obsolete.”
A Chinese military spokesman, Senior Colonel Wu Qian, warned last October that Beijing would “not stand by” if Washington deployed land-based, long-range missiles in the Asia-Pacific region.
China’s foreign ministry accused the United States of sticking “to its cold war mentality” and “constantly increasing military deployment” in the region.
“Recently, the United States has gotten worse, stepping up its pursuit of a so-called ‘Indo-Pacific strategy’ that seeks to deploy new weapons, including ground-launched intermediate-range missiles, in the Asia-Pacific region,” the ministry said in a statement to Reuters. “China firmly opposes that.”
Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Dave Eastburn said he would not comment on statements by the Chinese government or the PLA.
U.S. MILITARY UNSHACKLED
While the coronavirus pandemic rages, Beijing has increased its military pressure on Taiwan and exercises in the South China Sea. In a show of strength, on April 11 the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning led a flotilla of five other warships into the Western Pacific through the Miyako Strait to the northeast of Taiwan, according to Taiwan’s Defense Ministry. On April 12, the Chinese warships exercised in waters east and south of Taiwan, the ministry said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy was forced to tie up the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt at Guam while it battles to contain a coronavirus outbreak among the crew of the giant warship. However, the U.S. Navy managed to maintain a powerful presence off the Chinese coast. The guided-missile destroyer USS Barry passed through the Taiwan Strait twice in April. And the amphibious assault ship USS America last month exercised in the East China Sea and South China Sea, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said.
In a series last year, Reuters reported that while the U.S. was distracted by almost two decades of war in the Middle East and Afghanistan, the PLA had built a missile force designed to attack the aircraft carriers, other surface warships and network of bases that form the backbone of American power in Asia. Over that period, Chinese shipyards built the world’s biggest navy, which is now capable of dominating the country’s coastal waters and keeping U.S. forces at bay.
The series also revealed that in most categories, China’s missiles now rival or outperform counterparts in the armories of the U.S. alliance.
China derived an advantage because it was not party to a Cold War-era treaty – the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) – that banned the United States and Russia from possessing ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges from 500 kilometers to 5,500 kilometers. Unrestrained by the INF pact, China has deployed about 2,000 of these weapons, according to U.S. and other Western estimates.
While building up its missile forces on land, the PLA also fitted powerful, long-range anti-ship missiles to its warships and strike aircraft.
This accumulated firepower has shifted the regional balance of power in China’s favor. The United States, long the dominant military power in Asia, can no longer be confident of victory in a military clash in waters off the Chinese coast, according to senior retired U.S. military officers.
But the decision by President Donald Trump last year to exit the INF treaty has given American military planners new leeway. Almost immediately after withdrawing from the pact on August 2, the administration signaled it would respond to China’s missile force. The next day, U.S. Secretary for Defense Mark Esper said he would like to see ground-based missiles deployed in Asia within months, but he acknowledged it would take longer.
Later that month, the Pentagon tested a ground-launched Tomahawk cruise missile. In December, it tested a ground-launched ballistic missile. The INF treaty banned such ground-launched weapons, and thus both tests would have been forbidden.
A senior Marines commander, Lieutenant General Eric Smith, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 11 that the Pentagon leadership had instructed the Marines to field a ground-launched cruise missile “very quickly.”
The budget documents show that the Marines have requested $125m to buy 48 Tomahawk missiles from next year. The Tomahawk has a range of 1,600km, according to its manufacturer, Raytheon Company.
Smith said the cruise missile may not ultimately prove to be the most suitable weapon for the Marines. “It may be a little too heavy for us,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee, but experience gained from the tests could be transferred to the army.
Smith also said the Marines had successfully tested a new shorter-range anti-ship weapon, the Naval Strike Missile, from a ground launcher and would conduct another test in June. He said if that test was successful, the Marines intended to order 36 of these missiles in 2022. The U.S. Army is also testing a new long-range, land-based missile that can target warships. This missile would have been prohibited under the INF treaty.
The Marine Corps said in a statement it was evaluating the Naval Strike Missile to target ships and the Tomahawk for attacking targets on land. Eventually, the Marines aimed to field a system “that could engage long-range moving targets either on land or sea,” the statement said.
The Defense Department also has research underway on new, long-range strike weapons, with a budget request of $3.2bn for hypersonic technology, mostly for missiles.
China’s foreign ministry drew a distinction between the PLA’s arsenal of missiles and the planned U.S. deployment. It said China’s missiles were “located in its territory, especially short and medium-range missiles, which cannot reach the mainland of the United States. This is fundamentally different from the U.S., which is vigorously pushing forward deployment.”
BOTTLING UP CHINA’S NAVY
Military strategists James Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara suggested almost a decade ago that the first island chain was a natural barrier that could be exploited by the American military to counter the Chinese naval build-up. Ground-based anti-ship missiles could command key passages through the island chain into the Western Pacific as part of a strategy to keep the rapidly expanding Chinese navy bottled up, they suggested.
In embracing this strategy, Washington is attempting to turn Chinese tactics back on the PLA. Senior U.S. commanders have warned that China’s land-based cruise and ballistic missiles would make it difficult for U.S. and allied navies to operate near China’s coastal waters.
But deploying ground-based U.S. and allied missiles in the island chain would pose a similar threat to Chinese warships – to vessels operating in the South China Sea, East China Sea and Yellow Sea, or ships attempting to break out into the Western Pacific. Japan and Taiwan have already deployed ground-based anti-ship missiles for this purpose.
“We need to be able to plug up the straits,” said Holmes, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College. “We can, in effect, ask them if they want Taiwan or the Senkakus badly enough to see their economy and armed forces cut off from the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean. In all likelihood the answer will be no.”
Holmes was referring to the uninhabited group of isles in the East China Sea – known as the Senkaku islands in Japan and the Diaoyu islands in China – that are claimed by both Tokyo and Beijing.
The United States faces challenges in plugging the first island chain. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to distance himself from the United States and forge closer ties with China is a potential obstacle to American plans. U.S. forces could face barriers to operating from strategically important islands in the Philippines archipelago after Duterte in February scrapped a key security agreement with Washington.
And if U.S. forces do deploy in the first island chain with anti-ship missiles, some U.S. strategists believe this won’t be decisive, as the Marines would be vulnerable to strikes from the Chinese military.
The United States has other counterweights. The firepower of long-range U.S. Air Force bombers could pose a bigger threat to Chinese forces than the Marines, the strategists said. Particularly effective, they said, could be the stealthy B-21 bomber, which is due to enter service in the middle of this decade, armed with long-range missiles.
The Pentagon is already moving to boost the firepower of its existing strike aircraft in Asia. U.S. Navy Super Hornet jets and Air Force B-1 bombers are now being armed with early deliveries of Lockheed Martin’s new Long Range Anti-Ship Missile, according to the budget request documents. The new missile is being deployed in response to an “urgent operational need” for the U.S. Pacific Command, the documents explain.
The new missile carries a 450 kilogram warhead and is capable of “semi-autonomous” targeting, giving it some ability to steer itself, according to the budget request. Details of the stealthy cruise missile’s range are classified. But U.S. and other Western military officials estimate it can strike targets at distances greater than 800 kilometers.
The budget documents show the Pentagon is seeking $224m to order another 53 of these missiles in 2021. The U.S. Navy and Air Force expect to have more than 400 of them in service by 2025, according to orders projected in the documents.
This new anti-ship missile is derived from an existing Lockheed long-range, land attack weapon, the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile. The Pentagon is asking for $577m next year to order another 400 of these land-attack missiles.
“The U.S. and allied focus on long-range land-attack and anti-ship cruise missiles was the quickest way to rebuild long-range conventional firepower in the Western Pacific region,” said Robert Haddick, a former U.S. Marine Corps officer and now a visiting senior fellow at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies based in Arlington, Virginia.
For the U.S. Navy in Asia, Super Hornet jets operating from aircraft carriers and armed with the new anti-ship missile would deliver a major boost in firepower while allowing the expensive warships to operate further away from potential threats, U.S. and other Western military officials say.
Current and retired U.S. Navy officers have been urging the Pentagon to equip American warships with longer-range anti-ship missiles that would allow them to compete with the latest, heavily armed Chinese cruisers, destroyers and frigates. Lockheed has said it successfully test-fired one of the new Long Range Anti-Ship Missiles from the type of launcher used on U.S. and allied warships.
Haddick, one of the first to draw attention to China’s firepower advantage in his 2014 book, “Fire on the Water,” said the threat from Chinese missiles had galvanized the Pentagon with new strategic thinking and budgets now directed at preparing for high-technology conflict with powerful nations like China.
Haddick said the new missiles were critical to the defensive plans of America and its allies in the Western Pacific. The gap won’t close immediately, but firepower would gradually improve, Haddick said. “This is especially true during the next half-decade and more, as successor hypersonic and other classified munition designs complete their long periods of development, testing, production, and deployment,” he said. (Source: Reuters)
06 May 20. Defense Security Cooperation Agency Sees Growing Interest in Partnerships. Strengthening alliances and attracting new partners is one of the National Defense Strategy’s lines of effort, and the Defense Security Cooperation Agency is a large part of that effort.
Attracting new partners doesn’t get as much discussion as it should, but that doesn’t mean the Defense Department or DCSA hasn’t been effective in meeting the requirement, the agency’s director said.
“The initial instructions that I received upon taking this position were, we were to push forward and adhere to line of effort two in the National Defense Strategy, which is, strengthening alliances and attracting new partners,” Army Lt. Gen. Charles Hooper said during a discussion with the Atlantic Council yesterday.
Hooper said attracting new partners is something DCSA takes as seriously as every other mission for which it is responsible, and that the U.S. effort at growing alliance relations is strong.
“I will tell you that I’ve seen a strengthening of our existing alliances and relationships,” he said. “And I’m proud to say that I’ve seen efforts by countries not normally aligned with the United States that are moving in our direction to align with us. I’ve seen us attracting new partners. So I’m very optimistic about it. I think it’s strong, and I think it’s so strong that we’re attracting new partners.”
One reason, Hooper said, is the way the United States conducts partnership agreements, noting that DSCA operations are driven by four principles: transparency, responsiveness, integrity and commitment.
“Transparency in everything that we do. … The United States is the only great power where the entire menu and procedure for procuring weapons and equipment is online and a matter of public domain and public record,” he said.
The United States also is fast in responding to partner needs, he said, and conducts relations with an integrity that’s unmatched by other potential partners.
“The integrity of the U.S. approach to security cooperation … is virtually incorruptible,” the general said. “I like to tell many of my interlocutors, counterparts and defense ministers that I deal with [that] when you do business with the United States, the books are always open for inspection.”
The U.S. approach to partnership differs from other great powers in that the United States enters relations with partner and allied nations with more than simple sales or profit in mind, Hooper said, adding that the United States enters such partnerships with long-term relations in mind.
“I think that that is one of the most unique characteristics of this very American approach to security cooperation,” he said. (Source: US DoD)
06 May 20. US Defense Sec Esper calls for funding focus on modernisation programs. US Defense Secretary Mark Esper has called for greater accountability and targeted focus of funding for the US Defense Department as the nation’s annual defence budget is expected to shrink, placing pressure on prioritising modernisation programs and keeping legacy platforms and capabilities in the fight, often to a cost detriment.
For the first time in nearly a century, two great powers stare across the vast expanse of the Pacific, the incumbent heavyweight champion – the US, tired and battle-weary from decades of conflict in the Middle East – is being circled by the upstart – China, seeking to shake off the last vestiges of the “century of humiliation” and ascend to its position as a world leader.
In response, US President Donald Trump has sought to counter the rise of China by providing an unprecedented level of funding to the US Armed Forces, with a focus on expanding the modernisation and replacement schedule of Cold War-era legacy platforms in favor of fifth-generation air, land, sea and multidomain capabilities supported by an expected budget of US$738bn for FY2020.
However, while the figure is less than the US$750bn President Trump called for earlier this year, the US$738 bn figure will still see a major ramp-up in the modernisation, recapitalisation and expansion of the US military at a time of increasing great power rivalry.
Ranking Republican lawmaker on the House appropriations defense subcommittee Ken Calvert welcomed the US$20bn increase over the preceding 2019 budget, explaining: “The bill increases funding for operations and maintenance, and procurement for the next generation of equipment to ensure our men and women in uniform always have the tactical advantage.”
This was reinforced by Senate appropriations committee chairman Richard Shelby of Alabama, who stated the deal would see “robust investment in rebuilding our military and secures significant funds for the President’s border wall system”.
The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act will see a number of major acquisition, organisational restructures and modernisation programs to support America’s shift away from decades of conflict in Afghanistan and the Middle East, with a US$15 bn increase in the procurement budget, bringing the Pentagon’s total acquisition budget to US$146bn.
However, this funding initiative has run aground following the successive multitrillion-dollar government stimulus packages to keep the US economy and businesses afloat amid the COVID-19 crisis, prompting US Defense Secretary Mark Esper to refocus the US defence investment away from maintaining legacy platforms to focus on modernisation programs of key capabilities and platforms.
Modernisation is the key priority
A core focus of the US pivot towards the Indo-Pacific and countering the economic, political and strategic assertiveness of China is modernising and expanding the capability of the US Air Force and its Indo-Pacific-based Air Force assets.
Secretary Esper, speaking to journalists in Washington, said, “Frankly, my inclination is not to risk any in the modernisation programs; it’s to go back and pull out more of the legacy programs… We need to move away from legacy [programs] and we need to invest those dollars into the future. We have a lot of legacy programs out there right now. I could pick dozens out from all branches of the services. So, that is where I would start.”
Expanding on this, Esper added specific emphasis on countering the rise of China in the Indo-Pacific and Russia in Europe, stating, “What that would mean is probably accepting some near-term risk, but I think that is something [that has to happen], given the trajectory that we see China is on, and we know where Russia may be going in the coming years. So, that is one place where I would begin, but we’re going to be working through this course of action.”
This focus on expanding and enhancing key strategic capabilities across the respective branches of the US Armed Forces is in line with the broader modernisation program identified as a key focus of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.
The act sees US$1.87bn for aviation acquisition programs, including the purchase of 98 F-35 aircraft, 20 more than requested by President Trump, and eight Boeing F-15EX aircraft to recapitalise the Air Force and Air National Guard’s F-15C/D fleets.
Additionally, the figure will support the acquisition of 12 KC-46A tanker aircraft as part of the ongoing aerial refuelling recapitalisation program, 24 F-18 E/F Block III Super Hornets for the US Navy, nine P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol/anti-submarine aircraft and 74 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.
The US Navy was a major winner out of the increased budget, with US$23.9 bn approved for the acquisition of 14 warships, including three Flight III DDG-51 Arleigh Burke Class guided missile destroyers, a guided missile frigate, a single America Class landing helicopter dock and a single LX-R amphibious transport dock to support the US Marines.
Additionally, the US Navy will receive an Austal-designed expeditionary fast transport ship, two replenishment oilers, two tugs and the next Ford Class supercarrier. However, the funds will provide for three Virginia Class fast-attack submarines, one less than the President requested.
The US Navy’s ambitious plans to replace the Super Hornets saw a major hit, with the requested US$20.7m rejected, with just US$7.1m approved to support the development of the US Navy’s F/A-XX sixth-generation fighter concept.
Both the US Army and Marine Corps will benefit from US$1.7bn for M1A2 SEPv3 upgrades for their respective fleets of Abrams main battle tanks, and US$1.5bn approved for the acquisition of additional Joint Light Tactical Vehicles and a program increase of US$250m to support a 30mm cannon upgrade for the US Army’s Stryker armoured vehicles.
Missile defence, border security and election security
The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act is also expected to fully fund the US$1.2bn request for national security space launch and provide US$10.4bn to the Missile Defense Agency – including US$108m for a space-based sensor array to focus on tracking hypersonic and ballistic missiles.
Not leaving empty-handed, the Democrats secured a number of wins outside the act, seeing US$425m for election security grants ahead of the 2020 presidential election – a key focus for the Democrats.
This also saw the White House receiving US$1.38bn in Homeland Security funding to support the President’s border wall along the US-Mexico border wall – significantly less than the US$5bn the President originally requested for the contentious program. (Source: Defence Connect)
05 May 20. DOD Focuses on Sustaining Industrial Base Through Pandemic. The Defense Department is using an array of tools to ensure the defense industrial base stays afloat so it can provide critical materiel now and remain robust after COVID-19 has passed.
Ellen M. Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said last week that DOD is “carefully and methodically” tracking the state of the defense industrial base, which includes businesses large and small that have direct business with DOD or provide important components or support to companies with defense contracts.
“Our acquisition and sustainment team remains focused on partnering with industry to maintain readiness and drive modernization,” Lord said. “Our industrial policy team continues to lead multiple industry calls every week with 18 Industrial associations. I am proud of the department’s responsiveness in addressing defense industry concerns that are outlined during these calls.”
One agency heavily involved in ensuring that the defense industrial base remains strong and capable throughout the COVID-19 pandemic is the Defense Contract Management Agency, which manages some of the largest contracts for the department, including that of the F-35 joint strike fighter aircraft.
Navy Vice Adm. David Lewis, agency director, said when the first of the COVID-19 closures started happening, he told the defense industrial base businesses the agency works with that if they stayed open, DCMA would be there to support them.
“If you’re open, we’re open,” he said. “I said that, like, Day One or Day Two when this started happening. My point in that is we need the industrial base to stay open. We’re still building airplanes. We’re still building tanks. There are still soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in harm’s way around the world. They still need their parts, they still need their equipment. We’re still deploying. People are still shooting at us. We’re still shooting back.”
While DCMA works with nearly 10,500 businesses, the actual defense industrial base is much larger, Lewis said. A sister agency, the Defense Logistics Agency, also works with many companies, though there may be great overlap between the companies DLA and DCMA work with. Globally, the number of domestic and foreign companies in the defense industrial base could exceed 160,000.
One tool the department is using to ensure the companies remain viable is a memorandum published in March and signed by Lord. That memorandum defines the defense industrial base as the industrial complex that enables research and development as well as design, production, delivery and maintenance of military weapons systems/software systems, subsystems and components or parts, as well as purchased services to meet U.S. military requirements.
In the memorandum, Lord identifies the defense industrial base as a critical infrastructure sector as defined by the Department of Homeland Security. This allows companies to stay open even when other businesses have been directed to close.
“I’ve given the memorandum to every single DCMA employee, and we have given those to every company that wanted one and told them to give them to their employees,” Lewis said. “That has been hugely helpful.”
Another tool the department is using to help are changes made to increase the “progress payment” rate on some defense contracts. Those payments are made to improve cash flow for industry involved in the ongoing production of large defense items.
“There are about 1,500 contracts that [DCMA] pays every couple of weeks based on the progress that they’ve done,” Lewis said. “They don’t have to deliver a product. It’s such an expensive thing that we pay them incrementally as they build it.”
The progress payment rate increase from 80% to 90% for large businesses and from 85% to 95% for small businesses, Lewis said. “That has the effect of pushing $3.3bn into the defense industrial base,” he added. Last week, Lord said about $1.2bn in invoices were processed at the higher progress payment rate.
“We have spoken with each of our major prime companies, and they have each confirmed their detailed plans to work with their supply chains to accelerate payments, and to identify distressed companies and small businesses,” she said. “I want to particularly commend Lockheed Martin, who publicly committed to accelerating $450m dollars to their supply chain, again, focusing on distressed and small businesses who need it most.”
It’s important that extra funding from the government gets pushed down from large “prime” contractors — such as Lockheed Martin or Boeing — to their smaller suppliers, Lewis said, because those small businesses are also a critical part of the defense industrial base and are more vulnerable to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If you are a big company, you’ve got cash in the bank, you’ve got money on hand, you can probably work through things financially — it may not be pleasant, but you’re OK,” Lewis said. “If you’re a small wiring harness maker, you might be living paycheck to paycheck, as a company.”
Lewis also said that DCMA is working with companies to continue to provide payments even if those businesses are unable to keep the original agreed-upon schedule for product delivery.
“We’ll give them grace — if you’re supposed to deliver 10 this week, but you completed eight — that’s fine,” he said. “We’ve allowed partial payments. We’ll relax some of our normal contract provisions for penalties … we’ll relax our penalties if you’re late on deliveries. So you’re still producing, you’re compliant with the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines for the health of your workforce … but you’re still producing product, which means you’re still getting paid, which means you have an income stream and you can stay open.”
DOD also has made changes in what’s allowed within a “request for equitable adjustment.” The changes were part of the recent Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
Lewis likened a request for equitable adjustment as something that might be used by a small business to recoup additional, unforeseen costs associated with a contract. A contractor, he said, might agree to replace a customer’s roof for $15,000. If during the execution of that work the roofer discovers extensive termite damage to the customer’s home, then this would increase the cost of the roofing work. The roofer would need to work with the customer to get additional funds beyond what was initially agreed upon.
Businesses doing work with the government who suffer similar unforeseen circumstances — such as costs associated with COVID-19 — would use the request for equitable adjustment to seek additional funding.
“The company could say, well, ‘I was supposed to deliver ten, but because of the pandemic I could only deliver eight, … [or] it took me longer to make up the difference and that cost me extra, I had to expedite things, I had to air-freight stuff, so I’m requesting a request for equitable adjustment,'” Lewis said.
Part of the DCMA mission involves having representatives embedded in businesses who would witness the kinds of problems that might give rise to a request for equitable adjustment, Lewis said.
“We’re the ones that will say, ‘This is what happened on April 29 at a facility with this delivery,’ for instance,” he said. “So we provide the facts to the contracting activity, the buying activity, the company provides a request for equitable adjustment, and then the buying activity and the company negotiate that.”
While businesses in the defense industrial base can submit a request for equitable adjustment at this point, Lewis said he’s not aware that any company has done so.
Lord said that, as of last week, 93 of the companies that DCMA tracks are closed, and that’s down 13 from the week before. As a result of COVID-19, she said, a total of 141 of those companies had closed and then reopened. She said the trend now is that DOD is seeing more companies reopening from a closure, than new companies closing. Of the companies tracked by DLA, she said, 437 were closed last week, with 237 having closed and reopened, up almost 100 companies from a week before.
While any company within the defense industrial base suffers when it’s forced to close as a result of COVID-19, small companies are hit especially hard, Lewis said. But the worst case scenario, he said, is if a company is closed permanently as a result of COVID-19. It’s a loss for that business, and for those employees who are out of a job. It’s also, he said, a loss to DOD.
“A lot of our stuff is niche, specialty equipment,” he said. “If a company packs up, shuts down, and sends their people away, the question is how many other companies do that work? There might only be one, there might be just a couple. It would be a challenge if we couldn’t get the material that we needed to support the warfighter.” (Source: US DoD)
04 May 20. Esper Details Defense Readiness in Face of Pandemic. Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper discussed the immediate operations against COVID-19 and the second order of effects the pandemic will have on the U.S. military during a Brookings Institution webinar.
The secretary gave Brookings senior fellow Michael O’Hanlon an overview of the DOD’s actions during the pandemic during today’s virtual conversation, saying he is very proud of the role that more than 62,000 service members and Defense Department civilians have played so far.
Esper issued his first guidance on the coronavirus response in January, and he activated the global pandemic plan Feb. 1. “We’ve remained ahead of the curve at every turn, and I’m very proud of what we’ve done at this point in time as we start to see some light at the end of the tunnel.”
He noted the deployment of the Navy hospital ships USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy to New York and Los Angeles, respectively, and the more than 45,000 National Guardsmen at work in all states, territories and the District of Columbia. “We have thousands of medical professionals, doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists [and] others who are out on the frontlines,” he said. He also noted the more than 2,000 Army Corps of Engineers personnel working to expand hospital capacity.
Esper stressed that the U.S. military continues to work with allies and partners around the world.
But there are effects beyond the sickness brought on by the pandemic, and DOD officials are grappling with them, the secretary noted. “We’re very cognizant of the impacts that we see on the force and plotting the way ahead,” Esper said. “DOD has been very busy using all of our resources and our researchers to work hard on therapeutics and vaccines, … but we’re also cognizant about the impacts that this COVID-19 may have on the force.”
So far, the pandemic has had a low impact on readiness, Esper said. “But over time, we are anticipating what could be a greater impact … if we don’t see a change in the trajectory … of the virus or how we adapt ourselves,” he added.
The military has 2 million service members; fewer than 5,000 have been infected and fewer than 100 have been hospitalized. This is a testament to the overall health of the force and to them following CDC guidance, the secretary said. “So, at this point in time, we are in pretty good shape,” he said.
From an organization standpoint, the secretary said he is worried about the long-term impacts on recruiting and basic military training.
It carries over to training, the secretary said. Generally, the smaller the unit, the easier it is to preserve the integrity of the unit and training, he explained. Platoons are easier to test and quarantine, if needed, than brigades, destroyers are easier than aircraft carriers, and so on, Esper said.
“As you get higher in terms of the size and scale and scope of the exercise, the more challenging it becomes, and the more risk you absorb, that you may get soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines infected,” he said. (Source: US DoD)
04 May 20. DOD Maintains Watch Despite Pandemic. While the coronavirus pandemic has reshaped U.S. government priorities, Americans must remember that the world remains a dangerous place, Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper said during a Brookings Institution webinar.
Americans need to concentrate on the virus, but other threats and nations may take advantage of COVID-19 to further their interests, the secretary told Brookings senior fellow Michael O’Hanlon in today’s virtual conversation.
“We’re still seeing all the same bad behavior out there that we saw before,” Esper said.
The secretary noted that Russia is probing air defenses in Alaska and over the North Sea and that the Chinese in the South China Sea are “more pushy” of late.
Both Russia and China are confronting COVID-19, but it is impossible to know the truth about the extent of the pandemic in those countries, Esper said. “They are not reporting it as much, but we know that they’re concerned about it,” he added.
His message to DOD personnel is to remain vigilant. “These are uncertain times. You don’t know how states or militaries will act,” he said. “So we [have] got to remain vigilant out there on the front lines.”
Esper noted that a key tenet of the National Defense Strategy is dynamic force employment. “It’s a way by which you maintain a degree of strategic predictability to ensure the readiness of your force, but garner a higher degree of operational unpredictability,” he explained.
The military — even as it’s countering the coronavirus — is still taking steps to implement the strategy, the secretary said.
Russia and China are the two main threats to the United States and its allies, followed by Iran, North Korea and violent extremism, Esper said.
To counter China, the United States has changed the bomber presence in Guam, has done more freedom-of-navigation floats and flights and simply has made things more unpredictable for the Chinese, he said. U.S. Indo-Pacific Command has “done a good job in terms of maintaining that show of force, that deterrence, that capability and readiness that we need in the … region,” Esper said.
Some of the Chinese provocations may be unprofessional conduct by pilots of sea captains, he said, but some bad behavior is “aggressive actions that are outside the norms of the international rules, whether they’re claiming territory or space that simply is not theirs.”
“We want to make sure that we maintain, again, the laws of the sea, and the international rules that have sustained us all very well for decades now,” the secretary said. “And we see the Chinese continue to try and bend those, to change those and then to shape them in their own favor.”
The Russians remain a problem in Europe, Libya and Syria, the secretary said. “I would say with regard to NATO, the alliance has held strong,” he said. “I’ve talked to many of my counterparts from Europe about their state of readiness, how we can help them, etc. But over the last few years, I think we’ve seen NATO readiness increase. I think overall, the trend for NATO readiness has been positive in terms of capacity, capability and the ability to deploy in a timely manner.”
Iran has been hit very hard by the coronavirus, and it’s had an impact on the economy and on society, Esper said. “As we’ve been saying, if they pay more attention to their people, divert their funds to helping the population instead of funding malign activities from Africa all the way through the Middle East, … if they focus their attention, resources on their people, it could be a much better place for the Iranians,” he said. (Source: US DoD)
03 May 20. Interview: NDIA’s Wesley Hallman on a liability shield and other defense priorities for the next stimulus
As the Pentagon works to defray the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on its network of suppliers, it’s worked hand-in-glove with defense and aerospace trade associations to find and address problems in the supply chain. The National Defense Industrial Association, whose members stretch into the lower tiers of the defense industrial base, surveyed more than 700 small businesses to find that cash-flow disruptions remained a problem as the Pentagon and major defense firms were increasing payments to suppliers.
Retired Air Force Col. Wesley Hallman is NDIA’s senior vice president of policy, charged with monitoring Capitol Hill on matters of concern to defense, including annual budgets, acquisition and procurement reform. This week, he spoke with Defense News about NDIA’s priorities as Congress mulls how to follow its third coronavirus response bill, worth $2.2trn and intended to speed relief across the American economy.
This interview was edited for clarity and length.
With NDIA’s finger on the pulse of the supply chain and recent survey, how do you interpret the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord’s numbers demonstrating more defense firms that have closed now reopening? What are you seeing among your members?
As you know, A&S has been holding a call on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and we’ve been participating in all of those. The Defense Contract Management Agency has really been the clearinghouse for all these companies’ challenges, and in fact we’ve been pushing our member companies that are seeing challenges to go to the web site and fill in information about what their challenges are what they’re seeing, et cetera. And DoD has been responsive when something has closed down for whatever reason. Undersecretary Lord herself has picked up the phone to make calls to state governors to explain that we work very hard to ensure that the defense industrial base is considered essential. That was a question when people were starting to call for shelters in place.
The very issues these companies have been seeing are things you’re expecting: the result of closures, and sometimes those closures aren’t state and local but on installations. Many contractors have to go to work on installations, and installation commanders are the mayors of their bases; they’re tasked with the safety and security of their installations, and sometimes they’ve made the call to close facilities that have an effect on those performing contracts.
There’s also a growing concern on liability. There’s uncertainty surrounding contractors’ liability during the crisis for heeding calls to keep everything turned on. They also have to make sure that they’re keeping their workforces safe and secure, and sometimes that’s an issue as you look at reopening everything. Our last NDIA survey was really about what kind of things do you need to reopen to get to a new normal, where we’re producing on contracts. Access to personal protective equipment is a concern, safety is a concern and more.
DCMA has been following up with those companies to see what those issues are and what would allow them to reopen. We all know the supply chain―and I’m sure you remember our report on the health of the defense industrial base at the beginning of the year―but one of the things we highlighted is we have a relatively fragile supply chain already. This is a concern of the associations, the Pentagon and particular House Armed Services Committee
Cash flow was also identified as an issue in NDIA’s survey, and it’s been a feature of DoD’s press conferences. Ellen Lord said she was relying on the trade associations to help DoD understand how its accelerated progress payments are trickling down the supply chain to smaller firms, from the primes. How detailed is the information the associations are providing, and are the primes doing what’s expected of them?
What I have is anecdotal. It’s proprietary data, and our members don’t necessarily share that with us. I did get calls from all of the majors asking about accelerating payments through the supply chain, and one company was very explicit that ‘we have access to capital to get through this, but our supply chain doesn’t.’ So, my sense is―and Lockheed Martin has been very public with their commitment, and I know they’re worried, and they’re incentivized to keep their supply chain healthy because they’ve got to produce. The companies know their supply chains better than anyone else, so they’re incentivized to push those dollars. It’s not the amount of money but the velocity, and they understand that.
This is me talking, but what the Pentagon wants to show―and you’ve seen multiple groups saying, ‘not a dime for defense’―is that the money that’s being accelerated to these companies is not going to line anybody’s pocket. This is to allow folks to survive. And beyond the national security aspect of this, which we could talk about forever, these are real companies with real people, doing real jobs that are key to our economy. They’re as valid as any of the other small businesses that apply for the Paycheck Protection Program. So, ‘not a dime for defense’ is I think a very shortsighted bumper sticker, because these are real people developing real capabilities for the defense of our nation.
There have been some progressive lawmakers, as well as the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee who have already pushed back on the Pentagon’s upcoming request for funding. But more broadly, what would NDIA like to see legislatively in the next stimulus package, including policy―or are your priorities being addressed directly through the Pentagon?
So there’s only so much the Pentagon can do without appropriations. What we’re looking at―and we are a 501(c)3, non-lobbying organization, though we engage when asked what we think―is we think, first off, there needs to be a plus-up in appropriations for FY20. We all know that there’s a lot of challenges to performing on contracts right now that are going to extend the length of those contracts. There’s been a slowdown in the ability to perform on contracts because of this, and in some cases it has made made delivery on contract more expensive.
We believe that should be reflected in appropriations, and that shouldn’t steal from the future. You know, we have a National Defense Strategy, we have a future-years defense program, there’s already president’s budget in. We don’t think that the FY21 should be paying the increased cost for FY20. So it would be a defense supplemental to cover the extra expense to produce on contract because of COVID-19. That’s first and foremost.
The other thing is―and you may know the Defense Logistics Agency and others, they pay out of a working capital fund. Back in November, DLA stopped following the accelerated payment policy passed by Congress because their working capital fund didn’t have the liquidity to make that happen. They backed off to a 30-day instead of a 15-day payout. Well, that was hard enough in November, December, January, February―but you start getting to March with COVID-19, these folks that have already performed on contract and are waiting to get their money, you know they’re waiting an extra 15 days because of the lack of liquidity in the working capital funds. That’s not acceptable. So another thing we’d like to see is a bump up in the working capital fund so those accelerated payments can start happening the way that Congress intended.
You referenced liability issues. There’s been a movement afoot to shield companies from lawsuits as they seek to reopen that’s met with partisan pushback. Are liability protections something NDIA favors?
You have to be very careful because you don’t want companies to do something that is not smart or not safe, but you do have to look at it because there’s a potential that this is a ripe avenue for liability suits. We would rather see that stemmed up front so we can focus on producing for the warfighter.
On a positive note, are you seeing companies employing any novel solutions to problems stemming from the pandemic?
The Defense Department has a Joint Acquisition Task Force where companies can go and say what they can produce. We have worked with a lot of companies who can do harnesses for parachutes or other things where they can shift production to make you masks or other PPE. So it’s been kind of heartening to see. A lot of small businesses are saying, ‘Hey, we can do this.’ And we direct them over to the Joint Acquisition Task Force, which can look at their capabilities and explore those. (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Defense News)
02 May 20. USAF celebrates milestone for F-35A operational stand-up. The US Air Force’s first combat-coded F-35A Lightning II wing is sending aircraft to the Air Force’s newest F-35A wing to help speed its stand-up, which marks a major milestone for the delivery and operational capability of the fifth-generation fighter.
Four F-35A Lightning IIs from Hill Air Force Base’s 388th Fighter Wing took off on a four-hour flight across the Pacific north-west for Eielson AFB, Alaska, on 27 April. They will become part of the 354th Fighter Wing’s inventory for the next two months.
The Hill AFB aircraft join the first two F-35As Lockheed Martin delivered to Eielson AFB last week. Eielson AFB is scheduled to receive two or three F-35s per month from the factory until they reach a total of 54 aircraft in two squadrons by early 2022.
Colonel Steven Behmer, 388th Fighter Wing commander, said, “From our experience here, we know that when you’re standing up a new program, every day is critical. By loaning them these four airplanes, we hope it helps fast-forward their ability to train and bring more capability to the Air Force as a whole.”
The loan, which the operations and maintenance groups at both wings have been planning for a while, is a welcomed boost.
Colonel David Skalicky, 354th Operations Group commander added, “We’re in the initial stages of F-35 operations here, and right now I’ve got more pilots than aircraft. We’ve been going TDY to get the sorties and hours we need, but COVID-19 put an end to that. So, the timing of this loan couldn’t be better.”
While the pilots need the aircraft to fly four-ship combat training sorties, the maintainers also need hands-on training time. The extra aircraft will allow the groups to better prioritise those opportunities.
The synergy built into the F-35’s maintenance systems allowed the 388th FW maintainers to look across their current fleet and select four aircraft that were not likely to require any routine maintenance downtime, said Colonel Michael Miles, 388th Maintenance Group commander.
The jets are also close in production to the jets Eielson AFB will receive from the factory, so they will have the same parts and components in supply.
Providing aircraft isn’t the only (or even the most important) support that Hill AFB has provided to Eielson AFB – those are people – experienced maintainers from the 388th who have been added to the cadre in the 354th MXG.
Once Eielson AFB’s F-35A stand-up is complete, Alaska will be an even more robust training environment for the Air Force.
Col Skalicky added, “We’re getting the benefit in the short term from this aircraft loan, but in the long term, this is going to enable us to give back to Hill (AFB) and the rest of the F-35 community. We’ve got a rare training airspace and a range with some of the most high-tech threat emitters.
“We’ve got the space you need to have to be able to effectively train with fifth-generation aircraft. We’ve got in-house aggressors here and Air National Guard tankers. At Elmendorf (AFB) we’ve got F-22s and AWACS. We’ve got everything you need in Alaska to train for that fight of the future.”
The 388th FW’s work got the Air Force to initial operational capability with the F-35A, and with this jet loan, Hill AFB is playing a large part in another milestone before the Air Force can declare full operational capability, COL Skalicky said.
“Our vision as the first combat-coded maintenance group has been owning the future and shaping the future, and this effort is in line with that. It is a win for us to help them get in the fight faster, and to no longer be the only combat-coded F-35A unit. In the long term, this provides us a brother in arms, who is going to take the fight to the enemy with us,” Col Miles added. (Source: Defence Connect)
30 Apr 20. Only 20 defense firms sought $17bn in COVID loans. Now the Trump administration is weighing a fix. Because fewer than 20 firms sought to apply for $17bn in federal loans for Defense Department suppliers hurt by the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration is weighing how to broaden the eligibility requirements, a top Pentagon official said Thursday.
“The challenge is that this $17bn worth of loans comes with some fairly invasive kind of riders, and I think companies have to think very carefully about whether that makes good business sense for them,” Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord said at a Pentagon news conference.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, whose agency is implementing the loans, is requiring public companies seeking a share of $17bn in coronavirus-related relief offer an equity stake to the government.
“It may not be as interesting as for private companies, so that’s one of the differentiators I see,” Lord said.
The loans were intended for companies operating top secret facilities and with DX-rated contracts, which means the Pentagon deems them of highest national priority.
“I am not sure that companies with DX-rated contracts are the ones that have the most critical needs. They have had a little less than 20 companies reach out to date,” Lord said.
The Treasury Department has been in consultation with the Pentagon, and it’s been open to ways the loan program could be expanded ― potentially to firms the Pentagon designates, Lord said.
“So I’m hoping that early next week, between the Treasury Department and the Department of Defense, we can come back with a little bit more fidelity to the defense industrial base to better identify who might most benefit from this particular money,” Lord said. (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Defense News)
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