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29 May 20. US joins G7 artificial intelligence group to counter China. The U.S. has joined an international panel for setting ethical guidelines for the use of artificial intelligence, a move previously dismissed by the Trump administration.
The White House’s chief technology officer, Michael Kratsios, told The Associated Press on Thursday it is important to establish shared democratic principles as a counter to China’s record of “twisting technology” in ways that threaten civil liberties.
“Chinese technology companies are attempting to shape international standards on facial recognition and surveillance at the United Nations,” he said.
The Trump administration had been the lone holdout among leaders of the Group of Seven — the world’s wealthiest democracies — in setting up the Global Partnership on AI.
The partnership launched Thursday after a virtual meeting between national technology ministers. It was nearly two years after the leaders of Canada and France announced they were forming a group to guide the responsible adoption of AI based on shared principles of “human rights, inclusion, diversity, innovation and economic growth.”
The Trump administration objected to that approach, arguing that too much focus on regulation would hamper U.S. innovation. But negotiations over the past year and changes to the group’s scope led the U.S. to join, Kratsios said.
“We worked very hard to make it clear that it would not be a standard-setting or policy-making body,” he said.
U.S. involvement is important because of the large role that American tech firms play globally and its historic advocacy for human rights, said Kay Mathiesen, an associate professor focused on computer ethics at Northeastern University in Boston.
“U.S. tech companies such as Microsoft, Google and Apple are all concerned about what guidelines they should be following to use AI responsibly,” she said. “Given their global presence, the fact that the U.S. wasn’t involved does not mean that they would not end up having to follow any regulations developed by the rest of the G7.”
The U.S. push to scrutinize AI-assisted surveillance tools built by China also fits into a broader trade war in which both countries are vying for technological dominance.
Beijing on Monday demanded that Washington withdraw the latest round of export sanctions imposed on Chinese tech companies accused of playing roles in a crackdown in its Muslim northwestern region of Xinjiang. (Source: Defense News)
29 May 20. US charges North Koreans in $2.5bn scheme to advance nuclear weapons technology. The U.S. Justice Department has accused a network of North Korean and Chinese citizens of secretly advancing North Korea’s nuclear weapons program by channeling at least $2.5bn in illicit payments through hundreds of front companies.
The indictment, unsealed Thursday in Washington’s federal court, is believed to be the largest criminal enforcement action ever brought against North Korea.
The 33 defendants include executives of North Korea’s state-owned Foreign Trade Bank, which in 2013 was added to a Treasury Department list of sanctioned institutions for transactions that facilitated the nuclear proliferation network, and cut off from the U.S. financial system.
According to the indictment, the bank officials — one of whom had served in North Korea’s primary intelligence bureau — set up branches in countries around the world, including Thailand, Russia and Kuwait, and used more than 250 front companies to process U.S. dollar payments to further the country’s nuclear proliferation program.
The defendants used a variety of tactics to cover their tracks, including coded conversations; listing false destinations and customers on contracts and invoices; and creating new front companies after the banks caught onto the association with North Korea, the indictment says. Banks were routinely tricked into processing transactions they wouldn’t have ordinarily done, according to prosecutors.
Five of the defendants are Chinese citizens who operated covert branches in either China or Libya. Others who were charged include individuals who served at times as the bank’s president or vice president.
“Through this indictment, the United States has signified its commitment to hampering North Korea’s ability to illegally access the U.S. financial system and (to limiting) its ability to use proceeds from illicit actions to enhance its illegal WMD and ballistic missile programs,” acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin for the District of Columbia said in a statement.
The U.S. has frozen and seized about $63m from the scheme since 2015, according to the indictment.
The case was filed at a time of delicate relations between the U.S. and North Korea. The rapprochement that President Donald Trump has tried to engineer over the past two years has stalled badly, with the last face-to-face meeting between senior officials from the two countries taking place in October in Stockholm.
Apart from recent speculation over North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s health, which prompted public expressions of concern from Trump, the administration has been almost completely silent on North Korea. U.S. officials say they remain eager to restart negotiations but have gotten no indication from the North that any resumption is imminent.
The indictment also reflects ongoing concerns about sanctions violations related to North Korea. Last month, for instance, United Nations experts recommended blacklisting 14 vessels for violating sanctions against North Korea, accusing the country in a report of increasing illegal coal exports and imports of petroleum products and continuing with cyber attacks on financial institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges to gain illicit revenue. It was not immediately clear whether any of the defendants had lawyers. (Source: Defense News)
29 May 20. Final SFAB activates with upcoming missions in Asia, as Army plans a Pacific Pathways restart. The Army chief of staff and the service’s Pacific-based regional commander hope to complete the remaining Pacific Pathways exercises they have scheduled for the year. The training missions were halted amid the coronavirus pandemic, the two generals said May 20.
About a week later, the Army’s 5th Security Force Assistance Brigade out of Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington, also activated and announced that it will begin a series of six-month deployments to the Indo-Pacific region following a certification event in November.
“With today’s activation of 5th SFAB, the Army can make good on its promise to align each SFAB with a Geographic Combatant Command — and 5th SFAB will align with United States Indo-Pacific Command,” said Army Forces Command leader Gen. Michael Garrett during a ceremony Wednesday.
Officials said in a release that the 5th SFAB has hired 90 percent of its required troops. The brigade was also the last of the Army’s six planned SFABs to activate. The milestone comes as the Army tries to not just restart its Pacific Pathways series of exercises, but also expand them.
“Our intent is to get back with these exercises as soon as the conditions allow,” said Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville during a virtual Indo-Pacific land power conference that included representatives from 20 armies in the region.
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said earlier this year that he wants to send U.S. troops to Asia for two to three months longer than past Pacific Pathways rotations and have the exercises involve more countries.
The last U.S. soldiers from 25th Infantry Division to participate in Pacific Pathways departed Thailand in April, several weeks earlier than planned, to get ahead of the growing coronavirus pandemic in the region, unit officials said at the time.
“Things will normalize,” said Army Pacific commander Gen. Paul LaCamera during the land power conference last week. “We will either return to a normal or adapt to a new normal, but either way we will figure it out as a team of allies and partners.”
The Pacific Pathways iteration that returned a few weeks early was the first of the year. The second iteration start date was intended to coincide with Exercise Balikatan 2020 in the Philippines on May 4. However, that was cancelled in late March by U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.
An exact date for the 5th SFAB’s Pacific mission hasn’t yet been released. However, the brigade will hold a culminating training event at the Joint Readiness Training Center on Fort Polk, Louisiana, in November.
While there, they will be joined by the 2nd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade to simulate advising “a highly-capable and well-trained partner in a conventional fight against a peer adversary,” a 5th SFAB press release reads.
That JRTC rotation will serve as the unit’s certification event. Afterwards, 5th SFAB advisers will begin a series of six-month deployments into INDOPACOM area of responsibility and will plan to always maintain a third of its adviser teams there, the release added.
While the use of SFABs to train foreign militaries appears to overlap some with Army Special Forces’ foreign internal defense mission, Gen. McConville has said previously that the focus areas are different.
“Special Forces is very good at training tactical-type units; They’re very good at accompanying tactical-type units,” McConville said during a Washington, D.C. roundtable with reporters in February. “But SFABs build a professional military force, which is different. How do you do logistics. How do you maintain vehicles. How do you build a professional military that will provide security.” (Source: Defense News)
29 May 20. The Pentagon has spent 23% of its COVID-19 response funds. Congress is asking why not more.
The Pentagon has spent less than a quarter of the $10.6bn Congress gave it in March to protect military personnel and marshal American industry to procure face masks, ventilators and other products hospitals need in their fight against the coronavirus.
Citing the Trump administration’s most recent reports to Congress, Democratic senators say the Pentagon has placed on contract 23 percent of the funds it was provided nine weeks ago as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act of 2020. It’s the latest criticism in a sharp back and forth between congressional Democrats and the Pentagon over the latter’s response to the global pandemic.
As the nation surpassed 100,000 deaths from COVID-19, nine Senate Democrats wrote to Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Thursday, calling for him to provide Congress with a spending plan for the remaining funds. Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Vice Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., led the letter, which was obtained by Defense News.
“We are concerned by the delays in providing this important information, the lack of transparency in the use of emergency funds appropriated to the Department, and troubling signs the funds will instead be spent for other purposes,” the letter read. “Lacking a spend plan, we are not even sure what those purposes may be.”
Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jack Reed, D-R.I., signed the new letter with Durbin, Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Patty Murray, D-Wash.; Jon Tester, D-Mont.; Tom Udall, D-N.M.; Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii; and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.
Though the coronavirus rescue package included more than $1bn for National Guard deployments requested by the administration to support state authorities, the Guard didn’t need the money because the Federal Emergency Management Agency has since taken responsibility for reimbursing states. “We do not understand why the Department requested these funds … nor do we know what they will be used for now,” the lawmakers wrote.
The Pentagon has thus far obligated $167m of the $1bn Congress granted under the Defense Production Act, a Korean War-era law that the president recently invoked, to have industry produce key items such as N95 respirator masks and swabs needed for coronavirus testing, ventilators and other items.
“Lacking further information from the Department on its plans for these funds, we are unable to answer simple questions such as whether the U.S. Government is doing everything in its power to address shortfalls in supplies which are not only needed at this moment, but also in preparation for a predicted second wave of coronavirus infections,” the lawmakers wrote.
In a statement, chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Rath Hoffman said the department “remains committed to legally and responsibly executing these funds on the highest priorities to protect our military and their families and safeguard our national security capabilities. As we have seen, this is an evolving and dynamic situation where priorities and requirements change, which is why it is so important that we remain faithful and accountable stewards of the taxpayer dollar.”
“As the Members know, the spend plan is due per the CARES Act in four weeks, on June 26th. The plan is currently in final review and approval, and we expect it to be on the Hill by close of business [May 29], a full month prior to the required due date,” Hoffman added.
“In the interim, the Department has shown its commitment to transparency through daily and weekly updates from senior DoD leaders to multiple Congressional committees — both staff and members. In addition, DoD has provided hundreds of responses to Congressional COVID queries, and will continue to do so.”
The Department of Defense announced its first use of the Defense Production Act on April 13 in the form of $133m in contracts to 3M, O&M Halyward, and Honeywell to boost domestic production of N95 respirator masks.
On Thursday, the DoD announced its latest: $2.2m to Hollingsworth & Vose for 27.5m N95 ventilator filters and 3.1 m N95 respirators per month, starting in August ― all to “relieve manufacturing bottlenecks and will expand N95 mask production and ventilator use.”
The letter comes just weeks after the Pentagon made a surprise decision to move its point person for the Defense Production Act, Jen Santos, into a new job. But it’s also as Democrats have urged President Donald Trump to dramatically increase domestic production of personal protective equipment and testing supplies.
“Throughout this crisis, you have continued to lay blame for the public health response on others, from members of the previous administration to those who report to you now,” Schatz, Durbin, Tester and Baldwin wrote in a letter to Trump on May 15. “Your dismissal of the Pentagon’s senior industrial policy official appears to be the latest example of removing a knowledgeable and well-regarded technocrat for no reason but to cover for your failure to fully invoke and utilize the DPA authorities.”
In early May, Esper clapped back at accusations the DoD had not been transparent in its response to COVID-19. A letter from Senate Armed Services Committee member Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and nine Democratic colleagues, which accused the Defense Department of failing to adequately respond to the pandemic, contained “a number of misleading, false, or inaccurate statements,” Esper said.
“Our commitment is to ensure that we provide Congress complete, accurate and timely information which we are doing on weekly basis,” he said, adding that he speaks with committee leaders on a weekly basis. “We recognize Congress has an important oversight role, but it should be an informed oversight role, and we are committed to doing that.” (Source: Defense News)
29 May 20. F-35 Costs Drop for Building Jets But Rise for Operating Them. The Pentagon’s costliest program, Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35, is starting to look a little less expensive, with the latest estimate for development and procurement down 7.1% to $397.8 billion.
Less encouraging for the lawmakers who craft defense budgets and for taxpayers: Operating and maintaining the fleet for 66 years is projected to cost $1.182trn, a 7.8% increase over the estimate from the Pentagon’s F-35 office last year, according to the Defense Department’sannual assessment of the jet obtained by Bloomberg News.
The lower acquisition estimate produced by the F-35 program office is the latest in a string of good news that also includes improved on-time delivery of aircraft, the elimination of all flaws that were considered life-threatening to pilots and a steady reduction since 2018 in the number of potentially mission-crippling software deficiencies.
The Selected Acquisition Report, which hasn’t been released to the public, also said the F-35 program anticipates sales over time of 809 aircraft to international partners, up from the 764 projected last year. (Source: defense-aerospace.com/Bloomberg News)
28 May 20. Inhofe, Reed back new military fund to confront China. As the U.S. Congress hardens against Beijing, two key lawmakers publicly added their support for a new military fund to boost deterrence against China in the Pacific, virtually assuring a Pacific Deterrence Initiative of some kind will be in the next defense policy bill.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and ranking member Jack Reed, D-R.I., announced their new stance in a War on the Rocks op-ed Thursday. They said their version will back investments in land-based, long-range strike capabilities, but also “theater missile defense, expeditionary airfield and port infrastructure, [and] fuel and munitions storage,” to enable new modernized platforms, rather than buying more of the platforms themselves.
“With the stakes so high, the time for action is now,” Inhofe and Reed wrote. “The Pacific Deterrence Initiative will enhance budgetary transparency and oversight, and focus resources on key military capabilities to deter China. The initiative will also reassure U.S. allies and partners, and send a strong signal to the Chinese Communist Party that the American people are committed to defending U.S. interests in the Indo-Pacific.
“The Pacific Deterrence Initiative will focus resources on these efforts and others with the aim of injecting uncertainty and risk into Beijing’s calculus, leaving just one conclusion: ‘Not today. You, militarily, cannot win it, so don’t even try it.’”
The Senate leaders follow House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., and ranking member Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, in supporting the idea of a PDI. Smith has backed the idea in concept but has not publicly disclosed his priorities for the fund, while Thornberry has proposed spending $6bn in fiscal year 2021 on priorities that include air and missile defense systems and new military construction in partner countries.
As Congress looks to replicate the multi-year European Deterrence Initiative — which consumed $22bn since its inception after Russia invaded Ukraine and illegally annexed Crimea in 2014 — it has yet to be negotiated how much could be spent in the Pacific, what it would buy there and how long the fund would endure. Those questions will likely be part of talks within the Armed Services and Appropriations committees.
“I expect to see some new money applied to these priorities in the budget,” said Center for New American Security analyst Eric Sayers, who has advocated for the fund. “The real challenge now will be convincing the appropriators to join them and then the Pentagon building it into their 2022 budget.”
Speaking in the afternoon at a Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments event, Heino Klinck, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, said that he personally thinks the idea of a PDI is one that will work.
“Obviously when the National Defense Strategy came out, it very clearly stated that the priority theater is, for us, the Indo-Pacific,” Klinck said. “But all of us also recognize that strategy is budget, and budget is strategy, and the budget numbers have not supported, to date, the Indo-Pacific’s role as the primary theater.”
Though Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said China tops DoD’s adversaries list, the Pacific spending proposals reflect some frustration within the Armed Services Committees that the Pentagon has not prioritized the region in line with the National Defense Strategy’s emphasis on great power competition. Inhofe and Reed’s op-ed criticized the Pentagon’s emphasis on platforms when they argue it should be emphasizing missions and the force posture, capabilities and logistics that would enable those missions.
To that end, Inhofe and Reed are seeking funding in categories similar to the EDI: Military construction, fuel and munitions storage and deployable air-base kits. That is to say, runways and fuel depots a war plane might need, but not extra planes.
“It doesn’t matter how many F-35s the military buys if very few are stationed in the region, their primary bases have little defense against Chinese missiles, they don’t have secondary airfields to operate from, they can’t access prepositioned stocks of fuel and munitions, or they can’t be repaired in theater and get back in the fight when it counts,” Reed and Inhofe wrote.
Whatever final shape the fund takes will likely draw from a landmark report Congress required from Indo-Pacific Command, delivered to Congress in early April. That report, penned by the command’s chief, Adm. Phil Davidson, called for $1.6bn in funding in FY21 and an additional $18.46 bn over FY22-FY26.
That funding was broken into five categories: Joint force lethality, force design and posture, strengthen allies and partners, exercises, experimentation and innovation, and logistics and security enablers. It included a 360-degree persistent and integrated air defense capability in Guam, for $1.67bn cost over six years, new radars and the development of small bases around the Pacific to break up large targets for Chinese weapons.
Thornberry’s plan featured similar categories, but increased the near-term funding request dramatically. One congressional staffer said that Thornberry, who is retiring come January, has been 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 account, in hopes it can grow moving forward.
Smith hasn’t made his own proposal, but his spokesperson said last month that he favors an account to “responsibly fund activities that are fully supported by DoD, avoid budgetary gimmicks, and require DoD to provide additional information to ensure DoD is strategically aligning resources toward the challenges and objectives in the Indo-Pacific.” (Source: Defense News)
28 May 20. Trump seeks new arms deal with Saudi Arabia, says key senator. The Trump administration is pursuing a new deal to provide precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia, as prior sales to the kingdom are facing new scrutiny, a top Senate Democrat said Wednesday.
The news has sparked a backlash from multiple high profile Senate Democrats. It comes after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday confirmed that he knew his department’s inspector general, Steve Linick, who the president fired this month, was investigating a massive arms sale to Saudi Arabia made last year.
In a CNN op-ed Wednesday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob Menendez said he discovered that the administration is pursuing a previously undisclosed arms sale to Saudi Arabia, which includes “thousands more precision-guided bombs to the President’s ‘friend,’ Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.”
“Before we went into pandemic lockdown, I received draft State Department documentation that it is now pursuing this previously undisclosed sale ― details of which have not yet been made public ― even though the Saudis seemingly want out of their failed and brutal war in Yemen, and despite the fact that a bipartisan majority in Congress rejected previous sales of these weapons,” Menendez, D-N.J., wrote.
“The administration has refused to answer our fundamental questions to justify this new sale and articulate how it would be consistent with US values and national security objectives,” he added.
Last year, Menendez blocked a sale of U.S. arms to Saudi Arabia, leading to the Trump administration declared an emergency in May 2019 that helped the president bypass Congress and to make those sales, with an estimated price tag of over $8bn, go through. The House and Senate passed 22 resolutions aimed at disapproving the sales, but Congress couldn’t muster the votes to overturn the president’s veto.
The Daily Beast broke the news that the administration was considering a new arms sale to Riyadh.
Trump fired Linick late Friday, in what lawmakers have suggested was a move to preempt investigations into Pompeo’s personal conduct or possible impropriety in the Saudi arms sale.
“I have learned that there may be another reason for Mr. Linick’s firing. His office was investigating ― at my request ― Trump’s phony declaration of an emergency so he could send weapons to Saudi Arabia,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel said in a statement this month. “We don’t have the full picture yet, but it’s troubling that Secretary Pompeo wanted Mr. Linick pushed out before this work could be completed.”
Engel and Menendez have opened an investigation into Linick’s removal, which Menendez called an apparent, “politically motivated act of retaliation designed to protect Pompeo.”
“The question remains: why is the President and his top diplomat working so hard to prop up one of the world’s worst despots? Until we have an answer, Congress must reject this new multi-million dollar sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia,” he said. (Source: Defense News)
28 May 20. Virus restrictions spark concerns over Columbia schedule. Shipbuilding workforce changes meant to slow or prevent the spread of Covid-19 in shipyards have raised questions about the potential effect of any yard slowdowns on meeting the tight US Navy (USN) schedule for building and deploying the service’s first Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine (SSBN).
“Operations at the submarine shipyards and/or supplier firms could be affected by the Covid-19 situation if workers remain home rather than report to work because they are either positive for the virus, are remaining home as part of an effort to maintain social distancing, are taking care of children who have been sent home from school for the same reason, or are taking care of family members who have become ill as a result of the virus,” the Congressional Research Service (CRS) noted in its 14 May report update on the Columbia-programme.
Shortly after the release of the CRS report, James Geurts, the assistant navy secretary for Research, Development and Acquisition, underscored the USN’s efforts to keep the Columbia acquisition on track.
“We are working very aggressively with the shipyard to come to an agreement and lock in options,” Geurts said during a 20 May telephone press conference.
While the USN has already been negotiating prices for the first two Columbia ships,” he pointed out, “We do not have funding to start full production until 2021. My goal is to be aggressive, but disciplined, in getting those contracts negotiated and ready to roll.”
On a “more traditional programme”, he said, appropriations would be authorised before negotiations would begin, with a contract awarded later in the year. (Source: Jane’s)
26 May 20. Senate’s NDAA markup is two weeks away. How will the pandemic change things? The Senate Armed Services Committee will mark up its annual defense policy bill the week of June 8, mostly in closed sessions, its leaders announced Tuesday.
The Military Personnel Subcommittee set an open markup June 9 for its section of the National Defense Authorization Act, and the other subcommittee markups will be closed, per the panel’s custom. The full committee markup is set for June 10, said SASC Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and ranking member Jack Reed, D-R.I.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the committee to practice social distancing at hearings and hold some closed teleconferences with Pentagon leaders instead of in-person meetings, but Inhofe said Tuesday the NDAA would proceed, as it has for 59 years.
“The pandemic just makes it all the more important that we care for our service members and their families, maintain peak readiness and continue modernizing and preparing for the future — just as the National Defense Strategy urges,” Inhofe said in a statement. “We’ve faced some unique challenges getting to markup this year, but, together with Senator Reed and the entire Armed Services Committee, in our traditional, bipartisan fashion, I am eager to move this year’s NDAA closer to enactment for the 60th straight year.”
The House Armed Services Committee announced in March that its markup, initially set for late April, would be postponed due to COVID-19 concerns. The committee has yet to announce a new date, though Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., said it is his goal to complete the bill by October without truncating the committee’s process, which is traditionally open.
“We’re going to get it done this year like we get it done every year, and obviously the challenges are significant as we figure out how we’re going to do that,” Smith told reporters on an April 29 call. “But there’s a bipartisan desire to to our job, and we’re committed to doing that.”
The HASC was expected in the coming weeks to introduce and mark up a draft of the defense authorization bill that is in line with the $740bn top line set by the 2019 budget deal, but a public debate has surfaced.
Twenty-nine House Democrats are calling for spending cuts to address the COVID-19 pandemic, while the HASC’s influential top Republican, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, has said cutting defense would be shortsighted.
“My bottom line is: This pandemic is changing a lot in this world, and I do not want the United States to come out of it in a weaker military position than we went into it,” Thornberry said in a May 7 call with reporters.
SASC announced it would consider the NDAA on the following dates:
Monday, June 8:
2:30 p.m. – Subcommittee on Readiness – Russell SR-232A (CLOSED)
4 p.m. – Subcommittee on Strategic Forces – Russell SR-232A (CLOSED)
Tuesday, June 9:
9:30 a.m. – Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities – Russell SR-232A (CLOSED)
11 a.m. – Subcommittee on Airland – Russell SR-232A (CLOSED)
2 p.m. – Subcommittee on Personnel – Dirksen SD-G50 (OPEN – see below for press RSVP info)
3:30 p.m. – Subcommittee on Seapower – Russell SR-232A (CLOSED)
5:30 p.m. – Subcommittee on Cybersecurity – Russell SR-232A (CLOSED)
Wednesday, June 10:
9:30 a.m. – Full Committee – Dirksen SD-106 (CLOSED)
Thursday, June 11:
If needed: 9:30 a.m. – Full Committee – Dirksen SD-106 (CLOSED)
(Source: Defense News)
26 May 20. Pentagon Reservation Plan for Resilience and ‘Aligning With National Guidelines for Opening Up America Again.’ Today the department unveiled the “Pentagon Reservation Plan for Resilience and ‘Aligning with National Guidelines for Opening Up America Again’” for returning to normal operations. The Pentagon Reservation resilience plan places the health and safety of our workforce first. Building upon the three-phased White House Opening Up America Again plan, and applying guidance from OMB, OPM, and the CDC, the Office of the Chief Management Officer, in collaboration with the under secretary for personnel and readiness, the Joint Staff, the military services and the DOD COVID Task Force, has developed a five-phased plan that reflects our priority on the health safety of our workforce as we enable them to return in a controlled and steady manner.
Since mid-March we have taken aggressive steps to stop the spread of COVID-19 among our people, implementing health protection measures that resulted in a sustained transmission rate below that of the region at large. With the support of Secretary Esper and other leaders in the organization, we have been able to isolate, trace, and mitigate any spread. To date, teams have deep cleaned and sanitized over 1 million square feet of office space on the Pentagon Reservation to CDC standards. And, for the first time ever, maximized telework options have enabled more than two-thirds of the Pentagon Reservation workforce to continue to deliver the mission at alternate work locations. We could not have achieved these results without the flexibility, cooperation, and support of the thousands of government employees, contractors, and vendors who are following the force health protection measures.
We are currently at Phase Zero. Transitions between phases are tied to local conditions, not to specific dates. And if we detect a resurgence in the spread of COVID-19, we will reassess our protection measures and workforce phase and respond appropriately. The plan provides phase-by-phase guidance to commanders, supervisors and employees to safely and effectively return to Pentagon Reservation offices. Along with guidelines for in-office and telework targets; vulnerable populations; entrance screening; and the status and cleaning of common areas, food courts, gyms and other facilities, the plan includes mandatory requirements regarding face coverings, social distancing, and symptomatic personnel throughout each phase.
You can find the plan here: https://media.defense.gov/2020/May/26/2002305810/-1/-1/1/PENTAGON-RESERVATION-PLAN-FOR-RESILIENCE-AND-ALIGNING-WITH-NATIONAL-GUIDELINES-FOR-OPENING-UP-AMERICA-AGAIN.PDF (Source: US DoD)
22 May 20. Senators Lankford, Hassan, Shaheen Call for Oversight of KC-46 Aircraft Delays. Senators James Lankford (R-OK), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) today called on the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate ongoing delays to the KC-46 aircraft program that are preventing the aircraft from being used in operational missions.
Lankford and Hassan serve on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee—the top Senate oversight committee—and the GAO prioritizes requests from this committee.
The delays to the KC-46 aircraft program are due to a variety of issues, including several critical deficiencies with the remote vision system and the refueling boom, which affect aerial refueling operations. Until the KC-46s are operational, the Air Force may need to continue using refueling aircraft that are more than 60 years old to complete its missions.
In the letter the Senators wrote, “The KC-46 aerial refueling tanker modernization program, currently assessed at a cost of about $43bn, is one of the Air Force’s highest acquisition priorities… The Air Force started accepting aircraft in January 2019 with these critical deficiencies. While the Air Force has already accepted over 30 aircraft, US Transportation Command has decided not to use the aircraft in operations until the critical deficiencies are fixed, which is not expected to occur until 2023.”
The Senators call on GAO to review the status of Boeing’s efforts to fix these deficiencies as well as the steps that US Transportation Command is taking to lessen the impact that the KC-46 program delays are having on the Air Force’s operations.
Last year, Altus Air Force Base welcomed its first KC-46 tanker, and Lankford joined state and federal leaders at the Base to commemorate the important day in the Base’s ongoing mission. Lankford worked to secure funding for the KC-46 in one of the two federal funding packages., which included funds for 12 more tankers in the next fiscal year for programs important at both Tinker and Altus Air Force Bases. Lankford also supported the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which included authorization for the tankers.
To read the Senators’ letter, see below or click here https://www.lankford.senate.gov/download/kc46-request-to-gao
Dear Mr. Dodaro:
The KC-46 aerial refueling tanker modernization program, currently assessed at a cost of about $43bn, is one of the Air Force’s highest acquisition priorities. The Air Force contracted with Boeing in 2011 to develop, test, and produce up to 179 aircraft.
The first 18 KC-46 tankers were expected to be delivered by August 2017. However, the program experienced significant delays due to a variety of issues, including several critical deficiencies with the remote vision system and boom that affect aerial refueling operations.
The Air Force started accepting aircraft in January 2019 with these critical deficiencies. While the Air Force has already accepted over 30 aircraft, U.S. Transportation Command has decided not to use the aircraft in operations until the critical deficiencies are fixed, which is not expected to occur until 2023.
Instead, it plans to use legacy KC-10 and KC-135 aircraft, some of which are over 60 years old.
I am concerned about the progress Boeing is making on fixing the critical deficiencies and the effect program delays are having on aerial refueling operations. Therefore, the committee requests that GAO provide periodic assessments of the program until the critical deficiencies are fixed.
The assessments should include topics such as: (1) the status of Boeing’s efforts to fix critical deficiencies; (2) steps US Transportation Command is taking to mitigate the operational effects of delays in KC-46 full operational capability; (3) considerations the Air Force is receiving from Boeing because of the delays; and (4) any other topics the Comptroller General believes would be useful for subcommittee consideration. (Source: defense-aerospace.com/Senator James Lankford)
20 May 20. Army Braces For Post-COVID Cuts: Gen. Murray.
“I’ve heard some people talk about [going] back to a BCA [Budget Control Act] level of funding,” Gen. Murray says, referring to the steep cuts also known as sequestration. “And I’ve heard some people say that it’s even going to be worse than BCA.”
Over the last two years, the Army has cut or cancelled more than 240 programs to free billions for its 34 top priorities, from hypersonic missiles to new rifles. Some of those 34 may have to die as the economy and budget reel from the COVID-19 pandemic, .
“I start off with what Secretary Esper and Secretary McCarthy have said consistently, across DoD: three to five real growth is what we need,” said Gen. Mike Murray, chief of Army Futures Command. “Given what’s going on in this country over the last two or three months…. my personal expectation is we’re not going to see three to five percent growth. We’ll be lucky to see a flat line.”
While the Army is still working on its long-term spending plan for 2022-2026, the future topline is very much in doubt. “I’ve heard some people talk about [going] back to a BCA [Budget Control Act] level of funding,” Murray told an online AOC conference yesterday, referring to the steep cuts also known as sequestration. “And I’ve heard some people say that it’s even going to be worse than BCA.”
“I do think budgets are going to get tighter,” Murray said. “I do think that decisions are going to get harder.”
Across its actual and projected budgets for 2020 through 2025, despite a slight drop in its topline, the Army has moved $40bn from lower-priority programs to the 34 “signature programs.” Murray’s Futures Command runs 31 of the 34, grouped in six portfolios: long-range rocket and cannon artillery is No. 1, followed by new armored vehicles, Future Vertical Lift aircraft, an upgraded battlefield network, air & missile defense, and soldier gear. Meanwhile, three most technologically demanding programs – including hypersonics and high-energy lasers – are handled by the independent Rapid Capabilities & Critical Technology Office.
“We’re prioritizing what I call the 31 plus 3,” Murray said. “We have fully funded those priorities in the program at the expense of a lot of other things.”
But Army leaders have already warned that the Big Six will need more funding as they move from concept to prototype to mass production. Even a flat budget topline will be tight — and COVID makes flat the best-scare scenario.
When and if the budget shrinks, Murray warned, “I do think we’re going to have to make some tough decisions.” Hypothetically, he said, the choice may come down to something like, “Is it 31 plus three, or is it 24 plus two?”
Considering the agonies the Army went through in its multiple rounds of “night court” cuts to find money for the 34 priority programs in the first place, cancelling any of them will be painful – but not impossible.
Yes, the Army needs capabilities from each of its six modernization portfolios to work together in what’s called Multi-Domain Operations against a future foe like Russia or China. Long-range precision firepower blasts holes in enemy defenses for aircraft, armor and infantry to advance; then they hunt out enemies too well-entrenched or mobile for artillery to destroy. Meanwhile air and missile defense protects the entire force, and the network passes intelligence and targeting data.
But each of the Big Six includes multiple programs, and the Army has never expected all 34 to succeed. That’s a crucial difference from the service’s last major modernization drive, the Future Combat Systems cancelled in 2009, which depended on each of its 20 component technologies working as planned.
“Is there room for failures? Yes,” Murray told reporters at an Association of the US Army conference last year. “This concept does not count on any specific piece of capability.”
That doesn’t make cuts painless or easy, however. “Our priorities are our priorities for a reason,” Murray said yesterday. The Army’s current weapons, from missiles to tanks to helicopters, largely entered service in the Reagan era. They’ve been much upgraded since, but there’s only so much add-on armor, souped-up horsepower, and advanced electronics a 40-year chassis can take. The Army says it needs new weapons to take it into the next 40 years.
“The kids running around on armored vehicles today are riding… fundamentally the same vehicles I rode around in as a company commander, way back when,” Murray said. “My now five-year-old granddaughter [lives] up the road at Fort Hood, Texas… I’ve got eight grandchildren, and out of all of them, I have absolutely no doubt that she is my infantry company commander wearing an Airborne Ranger tab at some point in the future. So that makes it personal for me.” (Source: Breaking Defense.com)
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