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22 Jan 21. Day One Message to the Force From Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III.
I am honored to have this chance to serve again and to do so alongside you and your families. My wife, Charlene, and I know all too well the sacrifices you make to keep this country safe. That safety is job one, and I promise to work as hard as you do at it.
The way I see it, my job as Secretary of Defense is to make you more effective at doing yours. That means ensuring you have the tools, technology, weapons, and training to deter and defeat our enemies. It means establishing sound policy and strategy and assigning you clear missions. It means putting a premium on cooperation with our allies and partners. And it means living up to our core values, the same ones our fellow citizens expect of us.
Right now, of course, doing my job also means helping our country get control of the pandemic, which has killed more than 400,000 Americans. You have already come to the aid of our Nation’s health care professionals. You can expect that mission to continue. But we must help the Federal Government move further and faster to eradicate the devastating effects of the coronavirus. To that end, we will also do everything we can to vaccinate and care for our workforce and to look for meaningful ways to alleviate the pressure this pandemic has exerted on you and your families.
None of us succeeds at this business alone. Defending the country requires teamwork and cooperation. It requires a certain humility, a willingness to learn, and absolute respect for one another. I know you share my devotion to these qualities.
I am proud to be back on your team.
The Day One Message to the Force memo can be found here.
(Source: US DoD)
22 Jan 21. House to send impeachment article against Trump to Senate on Monday. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will deliver an article of impeachment against former president Donald Trump on Monday, clearing the way for a Senate trial. The House impeached Trump for “incitement of insurrection” for his role in the Jan. 6 takeover of the Capitol by a violent mob. (Source: Washington Post)
22 Jan 21. Lloyd Austin confirmed by Senate to lead Pentagon in the Biden administration, becoming the nation’s first Black defense secretary.
The Senate on Friday voted 93 to 2 to confirm Lloyd Austin to lead the Pentagon in the Biden administration, making him the nation’s first Black defense secretary.
Austin, who retired as a four-star Army general in 2016, served as head of U.S. Central Command and previously was commander of U.S. troops in Iraq.
Before the vote, Schumer noted the historic nature of Austin’s confirmation, calling it “a powerful symbol of the diversity and history of America’s armed forces.”
“I believe he will be an outstanding secretary of defense for everyone at the Pentagon,” Schumer said. “Lloyd Austin is the right person for the job.”
Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) were the only two senators to vote against the nomination.
Congress granted a waiver Thursday to a rule requiring former uniformed military personnel to be seven years removed from active service before they can become defense secretary.
The House approved the waiver first, with a vote of 326 to 78 — representing strong bipartisan support, despite the fact that several House Democrats and an official House Republican policy group had opposed the waiver. The Senate followed suit about an hour later, backing the waiver by a vote of 69 to 27. (Source: Washington Post)
22 Jan 21. Austin Signals Shift Back To Focus On Space Resilience.
The Biden team wants to “start to lean away from … the pugilistic aspects” of Trump-era space policy, says one well-placed insider.
: Resilience and norms of behavior and China. Put those three references in Lloyd Austin’s written responses to the Senate Armed Services Committee together and you’ve got a pretty idea of the (expected) shift in the Biden administration’s rhetoric.
What’s the shift? The language signals that the Biden team wants to “start to lean away from … the pugilistic aspects of what’s been articulated [by the Trump administration] to the ‘more resilience’ aspects,” said one space policy wonk in the know. “We all know that’s going to be the case; we don’t know how hard that lean will be, and how fast that lean will go.”
Interpreting written testimony from incoming administration nominees for DoD posts is an art — often reminiscent of Cold War era Sovietologists comparing photos of the Kremlin to see who is standing where at what time, and who has been brushed out. In most cases, the testimony and answers to written questions have been crafted by a committee, made up of both outgoing DoD officials as well as transition team members and even outside advisors, rather than the principals. Sure, the principal reviews the drafts, but unless there is an issue about which that person feels strongly, the word-smithing is crafted to be as vague as possible so as to hew the organizational line and offend no one on the Hill.
In reality, at this early stage for Biden nominees, “there’s no formulated policy; there’s no formulated direction,” one expert said.
But there are always clues and Austin’s Q&A is no different. For example, his responses use the word “resilience” five times, and the word “warfighting” four times. Further, one of those four mentions of warfighting is in a sentence explaining how “resilience” is key to maintaining US capabilities during any conflict; another is about how space capabilities support other services.
Of course, no one expects DoD and the Space Force to suddenly eschew taking up arms — indeed, Austin clearly articulated the current Pentagon stance that the US needs both defensive and offensive capabilities to counter Chinese and Russian threats. That said, Austin’s answers just as clearly represent a change in tonality toward a different balance in emphasis.
Space Force, Space Command roles
Asked about any changes to the 2018 National Defense Strategy regarding space he might recommend, Austin said: “Since the NDS was developed, the recognition of the central role space plays in supporting other services in their warfighting role (emphasis ours) continues to grow. If confirmed, I will ensure the space domain is carefully considered across the range of upcoming strategic reviews.”
The shout-out regarding the mission of Space Force and Space Command to support other services and other types of military operations is noteworthy, given the loud DoD public relations campaign during the Trump era — led by Gen. Jay Raymond who at one time commanded both — to assert a shift to space operations as warfighting operations. Raymond and other senior officers repeatedly stressed that the force was moving beyond its traditional support role.
Austin said that because the strategic environment, especially regarding space, is evolving rapidly, it would be advisable to consider policy shifts.
“For space in particular, I would account for the continued growth of adversary space and counterspace capabilities, as well as the adequacy of the steps the United States has taken to improve the DoD space enterprise to address growing threats and challenges in the domain. I would also emphasize the role of resilience in improving our warfighting capability, (emphasis ours) the role of allies and partners, and space-related information sharing. Lastly, I would highlight growing commercial activities in space which can both be threats to and opportunities for the United States.”
Further, in response to a question about his advice to Space Command about military space operations, Austin again stressed measures to protect US assets that don’t include offensive options for taking the fight to adversaries.
“The command must be able to protect and defend US interests, and in particular be able to manage escalation and crises in space. I would also direct that DoD space activities contribute actively to shaping a space domain that is secure, stable, and accessible and to deterring threatening or irresponsible behavior in space. This would require that in addition to nurturing technology innovation in-house for resilience, SPACECOM work within the Department and across the government to build strong alliances in space, develop norms and standards of behavior, and increase partnerships with commercial space entities,” he said. “Lastly, the commander should emphasize not just wartime roles of space warfighting, but also peacetime roles of ensuring access to space for the US and our allies.”
Threats and DoD response.
To no one’s surprise, Austin stressed China as the “pacing threat” for US military space capabilities. But in the very next sentence, Austin called for development of norms of behavior to help staunch great power competition with China and Russia. (Interestingly, “China” and “norms” both appear four times in the Q&A.)
“Given the importance of space in affecting our economic competitiveness, it is essential to continue developing best practices, standards, and international norms of behavior in space. Development of global norms of behavior in space will also deter threatening behavior, and uphold the rights of all nations to use space responsibly and peacefully,” he said.
Austin went on to note that threats to national security space assets are not just from adversaries bent on degrading or destroying them — there are also threats from unregulated activities by non-hostile countries and commercial actors that could pollute orbital regimes or otherwise harm satellite operations.
“Other countries not considered adversaries or hostile to US interests are conducting space activities of concern, and there are few norms or guidelines to dictate how it should be done. This lack of transparency in the space domain is a risk to U.S assets and cause for concern,” Austin explained. “Last but not least, growing private activities in space (according to some projections, there will be as many as 54,000 new satellites in orbit in the next decade, mostly privately-owned and operated) are a risk to the United States in the sense that the government needs to ensure that they do not collide with expensive and exquisitely capable government assets.”
Wither Space Acquisition?
While Austin also addressed the long-burning question of how DoD will organize its myriad bureaucratic agencies/entities charged with space acquisition, his answers — written, we are told on good authority, by Shawn Barnes, who is remaining during the transition in his post as de facto space acquisition head –revealed little about what the Biden administration might actually do. As Breaking D readers know, DoD and the Air Force has yet to answer Congress’s call for an independent space acquisition authority under the Space Force to consolidate at least some of the 60 or so fiefdoms with some say in what space systems are bought when, using what acquisition methodologies.
“If confirmed, I would continue to work with Congress to refine the Department’s acquisition innovation initiatives, including the Adaptive Acquisition Framework, to accelerate delivery of operational capability, effectively reduce program risk, and enhance the nation’s ability to respond to an evolving and ever more capable threat,” Austin said.
That framework is the draft plan, never formally approved, sent to Congress by the Air Force in May and then rapidly withdrawn. It contains nine recommendations for space acquisition reform, three of which would require appropriators’ approval.
“The Department needs to give new space acquisition organizations (such as the Space Development Agency and the Space Rapid Capabilities Office among others) the opportunity to succeed, and at the same time, review the performance of and reorganize and improve legacy organization for management of space acquisitions (such as the Space and Missile Systems Center),” Austin added.
Up to now, the Air Force has pushed back on Congress’s mandate to fold the Space Development Agency (SDA) in particular into a new space acquisition organization — currently designated as Space Systems Command under the Space Force. Instead, it has suggested that SDA be able to remain independent until at least 2023. (Source: Breaking Defense.com)
20 Jan 21. DOD Succession Plan Remains in Effect Until Senate Confirms Biden Nominees. Deputy Defense Secretary David L. Norquist has been sworn in as the acting defense secretary and will serve in the position until the Senate confirms the Biden administration’s nominee for the position.
The change in administrations will have a cascading effect within the Defense Department. At noon today, the resignations of Trump administration political appointees became effective.
Yet, the missions of the department must continue, and officials made plans to place interim leaders in these crucial jobs. “The incoming Biden administration has reviewed these plans and reached out to officials across the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the military department to confirm the succession plan the new administration intends to implement for all presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed positions,” Norquist wrote in a memo to senior defense leaders.
These employees will serve in an acting capacity or in a “performing the duties of” capacity until new political appointees arrive.
Usually, the defense secretary is confirmed when a new president takes office. This year, President Biden’s nominee for defense secretary, Lloyd J. Austin III, did not get a confirmation hearing until January 19th – too late for the full Senate to confirm him. Austin’s case is further complicated by the fact that as a retired general he needs a waiver from both houses of Congress to serve in the position.
More than 50 positions will be filled on an interim basis. In addition to Norquist, they include John E. Whitley as Army secretary, Thomas W. Harker as Navy secretary, and John P. Roth as Air Force secretary.
In addition, Amanda J. Dory will perform the duties of undersecretary of defense for policy; Terence G. Emmert will perform the duties of undersecretary for research and engineering; Douglas Glenn will perform the duties of DOD comptroller/chief financial officer; and Virginia S. Penrod will perform the duties of undersecretary of personnel and readiness.
The duties of the undersecretary for intelligence and security will be performed by David M. Taylor, and Paul S. Koffsky will perform the duties of DOD general counsel.
Some of those who are “performing the duties of” will also hold other positions. For example, Dory will also perform the duties of assistant secretary for strategy, plans and capabilities.
Once a Biden political appointee is approved by the Senate, those serving in these positions will revert to their normal jobs. (Source: US DoD)
20 Jan 21. Acting Secretary of Defense David L. Norquist Statement on Inauguration Day. Today our nation swore in Joseph R. Biden Jr. as the 46th President of the United States and Commander in Chief of our military force, as well as Kamala D. Harris as the 49th Vice President of the United States.
The peaceful transition of power is a hallmark of our nation and our democracy. I send my sincere appreciation and gratitude to the roughly 28,000 National Guard and active duty military members who are assisting local law enforcement in maintaining our nation’s legacy and preserving our future.
More broadly, the Department of Defense remains ready to provide forces that deter war and protect the security of our nation. We look forward to seamlessly onboarding the incoming Administration so America may maintain its strategic advantage and vast partnerships. (Source: US DoD)
21 Jan 21. Trump’s final bid to expose Beijing’s underbelly. The Trump administration has taken one last swipe at Beijing, formally exposing the regime’s human rights abuses and accusing it of genocide.
Now former president of the United States, Donald Trump, dealt a final blow in his stand-off with Chinese President Xi Jinping, with his administration formally condemning Beijing’s human rights abuses against local minorities.
According to a statement released by then secretary of state Mike Pompeo, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has “dramatically escalated” a long-standing “campaign of repression” against China’s Uyghur Muslims and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups, including ethnic Kazakhs and ethnic Kyrgyz.
The State Department’s “exhaustive documentation” of Beijing’s treatment of minorities in Xinjiang since March 2017 has identified what has been described as “morally repugnant, wholesale policies, practices, and abuses”, designed to discriminate against and surveil ethnic minorities; restrict travel, emigration, and school attendance; and deny other basic human rights of assembly, speech, and worship.
The Trump administration went further, accusing the CCP of committing crimes against humanity, long suspected by the international community, which include:
- forced abortions and sterilisations;
- torture of a large number of those arbitrarily detained;
- the arbitrary imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty of more than 1 million civilians;
- forced labour; and
- the imposition of draconian restrictions on freedom of religion or belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of movement.
Equating these abuses to atrocities committed by the Nazi regime, Pompeo said: “The Nuremberg Tribunals at the end of World War II prosecuted perpetrators for crimes against humanity, the same crimes being perpetrated in Xinjiang.”
As such, the US Department of State has concluded that upon careful examination of the available evidence, it has determined that Beijing, under the direction and control of the CCP, has “committed genocide” against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang.
“I believe this genocide is ongoing, and that we are witnessing the systematic attempt to destroy Uyghurs by the Chinese party-state,” Pompeo said.
“The governing authorities of the second most economically, militarily, and politically powerful country on earth have made clear that they are engaged in the forced assimilation and eventual erasure of a vulnerable ethnic and religious minority group, even as they simultaneously assert their country as a global leader and attempt to remould the international system in their image.”
The State Department condemned the CCP’s refusal to provide international observers with unhindered access to Xinjiang, and the party’s perpetuation of “fanciful tales” of Uyghurs participating in “educational, counter-terrorism, women’s empowerment, and poverty alleviation” projects.
Pompeo went on to demand that Beijing cease its internment, detention and population control program, and called on “all appropriate multilateral and relevant juridical bodies” to join US efforts to “promote accountability for those responsible for these atrocities”.
Pompeo directed the US Department of State to continue its investigation and collect evidence relating to the identified abuses in Xinjiang.
The State Department was also instructed to make evidence available to appropriate authorities and the international community.
“The United States, on its part, has spoken out and taken action, implementing a range of sanctions against senior CCP leaders and state-run enterprises that fund the architecture of repression across Xinjiang,” Pompeo said.
“The United States has worked exhaustively to pull into the light what the Communist Party and General Secretary Xi Jinping wish to keep hidden through obfuscation, propaganda, and coercion.”
He continued: “Beijing’s atrocities in Xinjiang represent an extreme affront to the Uyghurs, the people of China, and civilized people everywhere.
“We will not remain silent. If the Chinese Communist Party is allowed to commit genocide and crimes against humanity against its own people, imagine what it will be emboldened to do to the free world, in the not-so-distant future.”
The Trump administration’s final swipe at Beijing came just a day ahead of now President Joe Biden’s inauguration.
President Biden was already set to inherit a major diplomatic challenge, but efforts to ‘normalise’ relations with Beijing are now further complicated by the State Department’s condemnation of the CCP’s human rights abuses.
Amid Beijing’s encroachments on Hong Kong and Taiwanese independence, and reliable evidence of human rights abuses now formally identified by the Department of State, the Biden administration is set to have a serious moral dilemma on its hands. (Source: Defence Connect)
20 Jan 21. US Army prepares for incoming Biden appointees. The US Army is in the throes of modernising its weapon systems to better compete with Russian and Chinese forces, and incoming political appointees, both acting and Senate-confirmed, will have the opportunity to push the programmes forward or shake things up.
On 20 January at noon local time in Washington, DC, President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn into office and Trump administration appointees will step down. It will take weeks, and potentially months, for the Biden administration to vet candidates for top Pentagon and service slots, and for Senate lawmakers to vote on these appointees. For the army, ‘acting’ officials will temporarily fill civilian leadership posts.
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, for example, is stepping down, and John Whitley, the current service comptroller, will serve as the acting secretary. Army Undersecretary James McPherson is also vacating his office, and Christopher Lowman, the service’s current acting principal deputy assistant secretary for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, will step into the acting undersecretary spot, Janes has confirmed.
Bruce Jette, the service’s acquisition chief, is also leaving his post, and the current Principal Military Deputy Lieutenant General Bob Marion will temporarily fill in, according to an army spokesman.
This shake-up happens every time a new president comes to power. However, over the past four years, McCarthy, McPherson, and Jette have played significant roles in revamping how the army designs and acquires new weapon systems. During various parts of their Trump administration tenure, the trio were instrumental in ushering in the army’s modernisation priorities – long-range precision fires (LRPF), the next-generation combat vehicle (NGCV) programme, future vertical lift, the network, air and missile defence, and soldier lethality – and standing up the army’s Futures Command in Austin, Texas. (Source: Jane’s)
20 Jan 21. Challenges abound for Biden’s Asia-Pacific plans. For Joe Biden like much of the world, the post-Trump era is fraught with challenges, ranging from increasing great power rivalry, economic uncertainty, insecure allies and domestic challenges – nowhere is this more evident than in Australia’s own region, and no amount of a ‘return’ to pre-Trump policy will change this.
At the end of the Cold War, Australia, like much of the victorious US-led alliance, believed that the “end of history” was upon us, that the era of great power competition had forever been relegated to the pages of antiquity – we now know that to be wishful thinking.
While the nation’s geographic isolation, encapsulated by the ‘tyranny of distance’, has provided Australia with a degree of protection from the major, epoch-defining and empire ending conflagrations of the 20th century, the 21st century’s great power rivalry hits far closer to home.
Far from the promise of the “end of history”, across the globe the US-led liberal-democratic and capitalist economic, political and strategic order is under siege, driven by mounting waves of civil unrest, the impact of sustained economic stagnation across the West, concerns about climate change and the increasing geostrategic competition between the world’s great powers.
Adding further fuel to the fire is the global and more localised impacts of COVID-19, which range from recognising the impact of vulnerable, global supply chains upon national security as many leading nations, long advocates of “closer collaboration and economic integration”, grasp at the lifeboats of the nation-state to secure their national interests.
Despite its relative isolation, Australia’s position as a global trading nation, entrenched in the maintenance and expansion of the post-Second World War order, has left the nation at a unique and troubling crossroads, particularly as its two largest and most influential “great and powerful” friends – the US and the UK – appear to be floundering against the tide of history.
Meanwhile, the turbulent nature of the ongoing political turmoil sweeping the US, both sides of the political spectrum, within the US and increasingly around the world, have taken up arms against one another, as is evidenced by mounting social, economic and political tensions in the aftermath of the 2016 and 2020 elections, respectively.
Each of these factors combined form part of an intricate and complex mosaic of challenges facing the incoming Biden/Harris administration and will play a pivotal role in the way in which the United States and its allies seek to navigate the new normal in an era of increased disruption.
While the outgoing-President has largely stood true to his word; moving to hold communist China more accountable for the economic manipulations and its bold strategic ambitions in the Indo-Pacific, and seeking to make long dependent US allies across Europe more accountable and invested in their collective security.
These actions have driven a wedge between the US and many formerly allied capitals, with many a strategic, political and economic commentator attributing Trump’s transactional approach to alliances to the decline of the post-Second World War order and the emboldening of rival powers, including China and a seemingly resurgent Russia.
Prepare for the multipolar world
For Hadrien Saperstein, a researcher at the Asia Centre think tank in Paris, no amount of resurgent US commitment to the post-Second World War order is going to account for the rapid changes sweeping the region and the broader global power dynamics, particularly for middle powers like Australia who are dependent upon the strategic stability provided by the US.
“In this new strategic environment, great and middle-power countries in the Asia-Pacific region will likely augment the total number and intensity of tit-for-tat and/or grey-zone operations to pursue political, strategic and operational ends without actually resorting to open conflict,” Saperstein explains.
Expanding on these points, Saperstein details further shifts in the approach many nations will take toward the Biden Administration’s approach to geo-strategic affairs, “With a surging number and intensity of tit-for-tat and grey-zone operations, small-to-middle powers in the region – especially in south-east Asia – will start the process of reassessing whether their overall security relationship with the United States is sufficient to maintain their own security priorities.
“As a result of this reassessment, some of those small-to-middle-powers will adopt a ‘dual policy’ of publicly showing the United States that they remain committed to standing security arrangements while the US prioritises its domestic issues, but also simultaneously aggressively hedging in private to better position themselves with other states.
“Similar to Australia, south-east Asian states will be divided on the best way to approach the relative strategic shift. While some will look cautiously outside of the Asia-Pacific region (e.g. the European Union, France, the UK and India), others will be forced to look at actors closer to home inside the region (e.g. China and Japan).”
These shifting relationships are particularly important for the region’s rising powers, like Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam, all of whom were to varying degrees overlooked or alienated during the Obama/Biden years, forcing the hands of many regional leaders to focus on closer relationships with Beijing, undermining the regional balance of power.
Saperstein explains, “Representing the latter group, Thailand, which sought to balance China through its historical friendship with the United States, will be put in a particularly difficult corner, as the multifaceted Chinese political and economic charm offensives through its ‘good neighbour-style foreign policy’ will face no serious counterweight.
“Thailand’s growing foreign policy imbalance between China and the United States has only accelerated further during the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, after China donated 1.3 million surgical face masks, 70,000 N95 face masks, 150,000 COVID-19 test kits and 70,000 personal protective equipment suits to support Thailand’s fight against the virus.”
But what about multilaturalism?
Many commentators have frequently spruiked the Biden’s election as a ‘return of the United States’ and ‘sanity’ when it comes to international relations and the post-War order, often overlooked precedent throughout the Obama years, combined with domestic challenges serve to undermine the legitimacy of the Biden administration’s foreign policy agenda.
Saperstein explains, “Some have forecast that Joe Biden’s multilateral approach will help rescue the Trump administration’s failed foreign policy approach across the Asia-Pacific region (notably in south-east Asia) and could reverse such a strategic shift.
“One of the tenets described in this return to a multilateral approach is the US (re)joining a host of international organisations and programs, including the World Health Organisation’s Covax initiative, which aims to provide 2 billion COVID-19 vaccines by the end of next year to underdeveloped countries.
“However, to the extent that US success within international organisations and with partners is undergirded by US soft power, Biden’s influence will be gravely weakened with each passing domestic crisis. Whereas in the past American soft power was systematically a strength towards aggrandising the United States’ authority abroad, it will now mostly have the reverse effect.
“Therefore, the Biden administration’s projected ‘no-frills’ or ‘business almost as usual’ approach (echoing the Obama-Clinton foreign policy era) is likely to be incompatible with a new international environment and this strategic shift.
“Consequently, in the coming years, the US government will heedlessly continue the process of militarising its foreign policy in an attempt to mitigate the diplomatic failure to reverse the slow-moving strategic shift that will occur in the Asia-Pacific region.
“The inability to project power beyond militarised means, elicited by intermittent domestic crises, will make allies and partners far less confident in the depth and durability of the US commitment to the Asia-Pacific region. The likely result will be that the United States is once again long on promises, but short on delivery.” (Source: Defence Connect)
20 Jan 21. Biden and Harris sworn in during historic inauguration. President Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States Wednesday, ushering in a new era of calm and comity to Washington after four divisive and tumultuous years under former President Donald Trump.
Standing at the Capitol just two weeks after a mob of insurrectionists invaded that building seeking to overturn the presidential election based on Trump’s lies about the results, Biden set out on the daunting task of uniting the nation by urging Americans to come together as they confront the deadly pandemic, an economic collapse that has left millions unemployed and deep divisions over issues of racial justice and police brutality.
Biden decided to run for the White House after Trump’s shocking reaction to the 2017 White supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, centering his presidential campaign on a promise to restore the “soul of the nation.”
As he was sworn in, he had his hand on the Biden family Bible, which has a Celtic Cross on the cover and has been a family heirloom since 1893. The President-elect has used the Bible each time he has taken an oath of office, both as a senator from Delaware and as vice president, and his son Beau Biden used the Bible when he was sworn in as attorney general of Delaware in 2007.
Vice President Kamala Harris made history Wednesday when she was sworn in as the first female, the first Black and first South Asian vice president of the United States.
After a tumultuous year that began a new chapter of the civil rights movement as Americans took to the streets to protest against racial injustice and police brutality after the death of George Floyd, the swearing in was a remarkable achievement for a country that has often struggled to live up to its ideals of equality for all.
Harris was sworn in on two Bibles — one that belonged to former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, one of her heroes who inspired her to pursue a career in the law, and that of Regina Shelton, a neighbor who cared for Harris and her sister Maya when they were growing up and attended church with her, where she was introduced to the teachings of the Bible. Harris has described Shelton as a “second mother to us.”
Trump, who was the first president in more than 150 years to refuse to attend his successor’s swearing-in ceremony, had arrived in Florida by the time Biden was sworn in.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, who was in the Capitol when it was stormed by a violent mob earlier this month, and second lady Karen Pence walked out onto the inaugural stands to bipartisan applause.
More than 25,000 National Guard troops were in place to ensure that the nation’s transfer of power could take place peacefully.
Trump leaves Washington
Trump left the White House as president for the last time Wednesday morning, flying to Florida with first lady Melania Trump, dispensing with the tradition of greeting the incoming President and first lady at the White House and riding with them to the Capitol. CNN’s Kate Bennett reported that White House chief usher Timothy Harleth will meet the Bidens later at the White House.
On his way out of the Washington area, Trump — who was not wearing a mask — again used the racist term “China virus” to describe the coronavirus, describing it in the past tense, and touted his administration’s work on developing a vaccine.
He thanked his staff and family and wished the next administration “great success” but did not mention his successor by name.
“We love you, this has been an incredible four years,” Trump said in unscripted remarks at Joint Base Andrews shortly before leaving for Florida. “We’ve accomplished so much.”
“I will always fight for you. I will be watching. I will be listening.”
The task of the incoming president has been complicated by the fact that Trump has still not conceded the election, has impeded the transition between administrations and was consumed in his final days with planning his own departure ceremony and weighing whom to pardon. But Trump left the White House as a disgraced and diminished figure. CNN’s White House team has reported that although dozens of current and former officials had been invited to the Wednesday morning farewell ceremony, many declined to attend. Pence said his final goodbyes to Trump on Tuesday.
Biden and Harris attended a service at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in DC ahead of the inaugural ceremonies with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, in a show of unity and Biden’s intent to work with leaders from both parties.
Honoring the victims of Covid-19
Biden has largely ignored Trump’s final slights against the democratic process in the final hours before the inauguration as he demonstrates what a different president he will be.
After a year in which Trump denied the seriousness of the pandemic — often brushing aside the painful loss of life with erroneous boasts that the US death rate was better than in many other countries — Biden’s first act upon arriving in Washington Tuesday afternoon was to honor the victims of the coronavirus in a solemn ceremony, making it clear that offering compassion and understanding to Americans will be just as central to his mission as preventing more tragedy.
Moments before 400 columns of light were illuminated on the edges of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool to honor the lives lost, Biden invited Americans to mourn as he grieved alongside them — a moment that was extraordinary because there has been nothing like it during the Trump administration. The President has long been defined by his innate ability to comfort strangers he has met throughout his journey in politics, because of his experience working through tragedies in his own life — from the loss of his first wife and his infant daughter in a 1972 car accident to the death of Beau Biden in 2015.
He encapsulated the lessons of those personal experiences in his tribute to Covid-19 victims on the eve of taking the oath of office: “It’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal,” he said at the memorial. “It’s important to do that as a nation.”
Biden turns his focus Wednesday to his plans to unite the country, to broker compromise with political opponents, and turn the Trump administration’s overly politicized response to the pandemic into a functional operation that can accelerate the delivery of vaccines to Americans and right the flagging US economy.
He wants to show that he will move swiftly to undo Trump’s legacy, with aides readying about a dozen executive actions that Biden can take as soon as he is sworn into office that include rejoining the Paris climate agreement and ending Trump’s ban on travel from predominantly Muslim countries. The President plans to extend the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures for families affected by Covid-19 and to sign an order requiring masks on federal property and during interstate travel.
Inauguration Day looks different this year
Plans for the inauguration itself have been reshaped not only by the pandemic, but also by the stunning security breach at the US Capitol on January 6. There will be no crowds in the streets or on the National Mall as the city remains in lockdown.
Biden plans to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, joined by former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, along with their spouses.
But in an empty and heavily guarded city, the rest of the traditional inaugural festivities will be geared toward an audience that will be livestreaming at home.
The inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue to honor the incoming administration will be largely a virtual one. Biden and Harris will have a presidential escort from 15th Street to the White House including the US Army Band, a Joint Service Honor Guard and the commander in chief’s Guard and Fife Drum Corps. And the drumlines from the University of Delaware and Howard University will join that event to honor the alma maters of the incoming president and vice president.
The parade will be hosted by “Scandal” actor Tony Goldwyn and will feature comedian Jon Stewart, New Radicals and DJ Cassidy’s “Pass the Mic” with performances by Earth Wind & Fire, Nile Rodgers, Kathy Sledge, The Trans Chorus of Los Angeles, The Washington Chorus and The Triumph Baptist Church Choir.
Several Americans who sought to lift spirits of their neighbors in the midst of the pandemic will also take part, including Dr. Jason Campbell — a Portland, Oregon, doctor who became known as the “TikToc Doc” with his uplifting dance performances in scrubs from the hospital — and Jason Zgonc, a 12-year-old trumpeter from Atlanta who played during hospital workers’ break times throughout the summer. (Source: CNN)
19 Jan 21. Secretary Nominee Says Defense Resources Must Match Strategy. Lloyd J. Austin III, President-elect Joe Biden’s choice to be defense secretary, told the Senate Armed Services Committee today that Defense Department resources and strategy must match.
“DOD needs resources to match strategy, a strategy matched to policy, and policy matched to the will of the American people,” he said.
The retired Army general also dealt with reservations by some about his status as a recently retired military officer who has been nominated to become the DOD leader. Austin would require a waiver to serve in the position.
“The safety and security of our democracy demands competent civilian control of our armed forces, the subordination of military power to the civil,” Austin said. “I spent my entire life committed to that principle. In war and peace, I implemented the policies of civilians [who were] elected and appointed over me.”
However, Austin knows that being a member of any president’s cabinet requires a different perspective and carries unique duties from a career in uniform. “I intend to surround myself with empowered, experienced, capable civilian leaders who will enable healthy civil-military relations grounded in meaningful oversight,” he said.
If confirmed, I will carry out the mission of the Department of Defense, always with the goal to deter war and ensure our nation’s security.
Lloyd J. Austin III, Defense Secretary nominee
He told the committee that he will include the DOD undersecretary for policy in top decision-making meetings. This will ensure that strategic and operational decisions are informed by policy, he said. Austin also said he wants to rebalance collaboration and coordination between the Joint Staff and the Office of the Secretary of Defense to ensure civilian input is integrated at every level of the process.
Finally, Austin assured the senators that he will emphasize that the Pentagon must work hand-in-glove with the State Department.
The nominee also assured the senators that he will consult with members of Congress and respect the oversight responsibilities that Congress has on the executive branch. “We will be transparent with you,” he said. “I will provide you my best counsel, and I will seek yours.”
Austin told the committee he sees China as the pacing threat for the United States. The Indo-Pacific must be the focus of the department. “I know I’ll need your help in tackling these problems and to give our men and women in uniform the tools that they need to fight and win,” he said.
Austin said his most immediate challenge will be the coronavirus pandemic. “If confirmed, I will quickly review the department’s contributions to coronavirus relief efforts, ensuring that we’re doing everything that we can to help distribute vaccines across the country and to vaccinate our troops and preserve readiness,” he said.
As part of that, he said he will ensure that the department is supporting military families fighting the virus. “They, too, are educating kids at home and losing their jobs and trying to stock the pantry,” he said. “We owe them our best efforts to lighten that load.”
Austin also addressed the enemy in the ranks, saying service members deserve a working environment free of discrimination, hate and harassment. “I will fight hard to stamp out sexual assault and to rid our ranks of racists and extremists and to create a climate where everyone fit and willing has the opportunity to serve this country with dignity,” he said. “The job of the Department of Defense is to keep America safe from our enemies, but we can’t do that if some of those enemies lie within our own ranks.”
In other points, the nominee supports overturning the ban against transgender people serving in the military.
He also wants a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan, but he said it was likely that some U.S. counterterrorism capabilities will remain in the country.
Austin noted the importance of naval power and said he will study the Navy recommendations to increase the size of the fleet.
The nominee said he personally supports the nuclear triad.
Austin said he did not seek the job of DOD secretary, but he thinks being considered is an honor. “If confirmed, I will carry out the mission of the Department of Defense, always with the goal to deter war and ensure our nation’s security,” he said. “I will uphold the principle of civilian control of the military, as intended. And I would not be here asking for your support if I felt that I was unable or unwilling to question people with whom I once served in operations, that I once led, or [be] too afraid to speak my mind to you or to the president.
“I was a general and a soldier, and I’m proud of that,” he said. “But today, I appear before you as a citizen, the son of a postal worker and a homemaker from Thomasville, Georgia, and I’m proud of that, too. If you confirm me, I am prepared to serve now as a civilian, fully acknowledging the importance of this distinction.” (Source: US DoD)
19 Jan 21. US Navy halts deliveries of Freedom-class littoral combat ship. The U.S. Navy has halted deliveries of Lockheed Martin’s Freedom-class littoral combat ship, citing a design flaw with the ship’s transmission.
In a statement to Defense News, the Navy pointed to “a material defect” with the ship’s combining gear, a complex transmission that transmits power generated by the ship’s engines to its waterjet propulsion system, and said it is working to design a fix for in-service littoral combat ships while holding off on taking delivery on new ships.
The Freedom LCS was designed by Lockheed Martin and built by Fincantieri’s Marinette Marine shipyard. The combining gear with the defect was designed by the German firm RENK AG. The Navy, Lockheed and RENK AG have worked together on a fix, which will likely take months to install for each ship, according to a senior Navy official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The acknowledgement of the design flaw — early failure of the ship’s high-speed clutch bearings — confirms the Navy’s suspicions first reported by Defense News in December. Navy officials have expressed confidence, however, that the service is on a good path to fixing the defect and getting the ships to a useful place.
In a statement, the Navy said it is working to ease the burden on commanders and enable them to still make use of the ship, even as the Navy works through the process of testing the proposed fix.
“A design fix has been developed and is in production, to be followed by factory and sea-based testing,” a Navy statement read. “The Navy is determining the plan to install this fix on ships in the Fleet.
“The fix will be installed and tested on new construction ships prior to the Navy taking deliveries of those ships. Measures have been implemented to mitigate risk to the in-service Freedom variant ships while the Navy moves swiftly to correct the deficiency and minimize operational impacts.”
The modified combining gear will be tested at the RENK AG factory and on a new ship at sea before it is accepted, said Rear Adm. Casey Moton, the head of the unmanned and small combatants office at Naval Sea Systems Command.
“The planned redesign of the defective bearings will be rigorously tested both on land at the manufacturing facility and at sea on a new construction ship before it is accepted and installed in-service,” Moton said in a statement.
The Navy told Lockheed Martin it believes the combining gear issue was a “latent defect,” meaning the service expects the company will be responsible for the repairs, according to a senior Navy official. Lockheed has not yet responded to the the Navy and no agreement has yet been reached over how those repairs will be paid for.
But just how much those repairs will cost is not yet know, said Capt. Danny Hernandez, spokesman for the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition.
“The cost of the repair will be determine once a government-approved solution has been identified,” Hernandez said.
Lockheed Martin said in a statement that it is committed to fixing the combining gear issue.
“In partnership with the U.S. Navy, Lockheed Martin is aggressively pursuing a resolution to the gear issue the Freedom-variant Littoral Combat Ship is currently experiencing,” the statement read.
The Navy has put out a class advisory on the Freedom variant, which restricts some operations of the ship. But a source familiar with the issue told Defense News that as designed, it can operate up to 34 knots even with restrictions in place in various configurations. The advisory restricts certain configurations that put stress on the failing clutch bearings, two sources confirmed to Defense News.
The Freedom-class LCS has been bedeviled by issues with its combining gear, which is arguably an imperfect solution engineered to meet the 40-knot-plus speed requirement.
The string of combining gear casualties dates back to at least late 2015, when the LCS Milwaukee broke down on its maiden voyage to its home port in Mayport, Florida, and had to be towed into the Little Creek base in Hampton Roads, Virginia. Early the next year, the LCS Fort Worth suffered a casualty to the combining gear in port when sailors accidentally ran the system without lube oil running through it.
The early issues, however, are likely not the same as the clutch bearing failures that prompted the Navy to halt deliveries, however.
Early in 2020, LCS-9 (USS Little Rock) suffered a breakdown of its combining gear, which was followed in October by the casualty to LCS-7 (USS Detroit). Detroit was forced to hobble back to port from a deployment to Latin America, but a power failure en route, forcing the Navy to have it towed to port. (Source: Defense News)
19 Jan 21. Biden’s Pentagon Ready To Take Hard New Look At Navy Plans. The Trump administration’s belated – and very expensive – plans to reinvent the Navy are about to get a scrubbing by the Biden team.
The Pentagon will take a hard new look at the Trump Administration’s last-minute shipbuilding plans, presumptive Defense Secretary nominee Lloyd Austin’s said in written responses to questions before today’s nomination hearing.
A new 30-year Shipbuilding Plan is due with the 2022 budget submission expected in March or April, while the Future Naval Force Study (FNFS) would require tens of billions more to be pumped into the Navy’s shipbuilding account — a plan that might end up being a non-starter for the new administration saddled with billions in Covid costs and a skyrocketing debt.
Austin said as much in his written responses, confirming he will “review both the Future Naval Force Study and shipbuilding plan in detail and work with Navy leadership to develop a well calibrated shipbuilding plan,” while taking a fresh look at the “Navy’s assessment of current and future risks in performing its assigned missions, and in supporting the requirements of the joint force, and work with Navy leadership to address those risks.”
Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper famously held up the Navy’s 30-year Shipbuilding Plan and the Future Naval Force Study (FNFS) in February 2020 after determining they didn’t go far enough in transforming the force.
Both plans were delivered one month after Trump lost the presidential election to Joe Biden, relegating them to placeholder status until the new team came in.
The path to finally getting Esper and the White House’s sign-off of those two documents was a months-long process for the Navy, and saw two Navy secretaries try to get it done while Congress grew increasingly angry about having their demands for a plan ignored.
“If you’re the new administration you’re coming in, you’re saying the Navy is kind of in a mess right now,” said Bryan Clark of the Hudson Institute. “They just put out this completely unaffordable shipbuilding plan and they’ve got a fleet architecture that has some strong thematic elements, but is not necessarily sustainable over the long term.”
The Biden administration’s foreign policy and defense priorities are beginning to come to light, with Austin and Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken today testifying that China is the biggest challenge militarily and diplomatically.
Austin wrote in his responses to the question that “China’s military modernization, coupled with its aggressive and coercive actions, presents an increasingly urgent challenge to our vital interests in the Indo-Pacific region and around the world.” and the Biden administration “will view China as our most serious global competitor and, from a defense perspective, the pacing threat in most areas.”
In recognizing this, the US must invest to maintain American technological dominance and develop “new concepts and capabilities to counter China across the spectrum of conflict; updat[e] U.S. force posture in the region, including through the Pacific Deterrence Initiative; and strengthening our alliances and partnerships,” Austin wrote.
The big question, however, will be how much of the belated $147 bn shipbuilding plan announced in December will be tossed over the side once the 2022 budget is unveiled.
Trump called for a whopping $27bn shipbuilding budget in 2022, a huge increase from the $19bn requested in 2021, and a top line of $33bn by 2026. All that extra cash would build 82 new ships between 2022 and 2026 — a staggering increase from the Navy’s previous plan to build 44 new ships between 2021 through 2025 at a price tag of $102bn.
It’s not at all clear that the Navy is wedded to that vision. The service’s distancing began with its Dec. 10 rollout by several admirals who requested anonymity to describe it to reporters. It would take weeks before the CNO Adm. Mike Gilday or Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite uttered a single word of support for it, a profound reaction for a plan that would add billions to their budget and supply dozens of new ships.
The work on a new budget and shipbuilding plan will have to come alongside critical decisions over what posture to take in the Pacific, where the 7th Fleet has been running more Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS) in the Taiwan Strait. The Dec. 31st transit by two Japan-based destroyers marked the 13th mission through the sensitive strait in 2020, and came as China was kicking off a major war game in the South China Sea. (Source: Breaking Defense.com)
15 Jan 21. Army Leaders Bracing for Budget Reductions. The Army is prepared to sacrifice near-term readiness for modernization if bleak budget forecasts come to pass, according to one senior official.
The service has ambitious plans to develop a variety of new systems. Its top six modernization priorities include: long-range fires, next-generation combat vehicles, future vertical lift, the network, air-and-missile defense, and soldier lethality.
“We’ve been well resourced” in recent years, said Lt. Gen. James Pasquarette, deputy chief of staff, Army G-8. The service received a topline of $180bn for 2020.
But based on feedback from economists and think tank experts, officials are bracing for the possibility that budgets will be tighter in coming years.
“We asked them their thoughts on the future DoD topline, given the impacts COVID was having on our economy and the associated outlays … from Congress,” Pasquarette said during an online event hosted by the Association of the United States Army.
There were two schools of thought, he said. One was that the economic fallout would only lead to “perhaps a minor topline hit.”
“Under that scenario, the Army leadership would not have to make any real tough choices. We could essentially head down the same path we’ve been on: slow growth, continuing to fully modernize while also remaining highly ready,” he said.
The majority opinion was bleaker: the Pentagon should be preparing for significant budget cuts.
Faced with a much lower topline, the Army would be forced to make tradeoffs between modernization, readiness and end strength, he noted.
During past budget crunches, the service prioritized near-term readiness and took a “modernization holiday,” he said. “We do have a bad track record.”
However, “it’s going to be different this time around if and when we receive a significant topline reduction,” he said. “We will look at continuing to fully resource … efforts that are deemed especially critical.”
Pasquarette said several trends give him confidence that the latest plans to revamp the force will stay on track. The Army has established a Futures Command led by a four-star general dedicated to developing the highest priority capabilities. The service has also shown an ability to shift funding within its own topline through program reviews known as the “night court” process, through which it has freed up more than $39 bn to reinvest in its top modernization efforts. Additionally, the threat posed by advanced adversaries such as China will continue to be a strong motivator for acquiring new technology, he noted. (Source: glstrade.com/NDIA)
17 Jan 21. Pence Lists Administration’s Accomplishments, Thanks Service Members. In what amounted to a valedictory speech, Vice President Mike Pence touted the Trump administration’s defense achievements and thanked sailors at Lemoore Naval Air Station, California, for their service.
Pence urged the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden to keep a watchful eye on China to ensure a free and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.
“Today, the People’s Republic of China is determined to expand Beijing’s influence across the region through military provocations and debt diplomacy,” Pence said during a speech on the air station’s flight line. “And so I urge the incoming administration to stay the course, do what we’ve done, stand up to Chinese aggression, and trade abuses, stand strong for a free and open Indo-Pacific and put America and our freedom loving allies first.”
Pence spoke about how the administration helped the military recover from the damage caused by sequestration and budget shortfall. He emphasized budget increases that provided pay raises for personnel, new military capabilities, improved maintenance and spare parts and the uptick in readiness.
“History teaches that weakness arouses evil,” Pence said. “And our history has proven that a strong America deters. Our administration has always understood that if you want peace, prepare for war. With that renewed American strength, we’ve defended this nation and America’s vital national interests around the world. I’m proud to say with just a few days left in this administration, that this is the first administration in decades, not to get America into a new war.”
Pence touted efforts in the Middle East, including the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights — captured from Syria in the 1967 war. He also spoke of the four Arab nations — Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Morocco — that recognized Israel.
The vice president also pointed to the success of the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. In 2017, the terror group controlled an area in Iraq and Syria the size of Pennsylvania. U.S. forces working with Iraqi and Syrian allies devastated the group taking back all the territory lost. “I’m proud to report now [that] more than a year ago, we crushed their caliphate, captured the last inch of territory under the black flag of ISIS and took down their leader without one American casualty,” he said.
“As my time in office draws to a close, allow me to thank you for the privilege of serving as your vice president these past four years,” he said. “It’s been the greatest honor of my life. And it’s been a special privilege to serve men and women like all of you, the members of the armed forces of the United States.
“I truly believe as long as we have men and women like you with the courage and the selflessness to step forward and serve, as long as we have heroes willing to put your lives on the line, as long as we have patriots willing to defend our nation, I know our country will be safe. Our freedom will be secure. And the best days for the greatest nation on Earth are yet to come.” (Source: US DoD)
15 Jan 21. DOD Aims to Bring Industrial Base Back to U.S., Allies. While the defense industrial base is healthy, there are single points of failure and dependencies on overseas suppliers that must be addressed, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment said.
“Over a period of years, we have offshored many, many sources of supply,” Ellen M. Lord said during an online discussion Thursday with the Hudson Institute. “It’s not for one reason; it’s for a variety of reasons, whether it be regulations, whether it be labor costs, whether it be government support of different industries.”
The deindustrialization of the U.S. over the last 50 years, the end of the Cold War and the focus it gave the U.S. on defeating the Soviet Union, digital technology and the rise of China have all created challenges to national defense.
In the newly released Fiscal Year 2020 Industrial Capabilities Report to Congress, Lord said the department looked into those challenges and their effects on the defense industrial base and proposed key actions to address them.
“What we did in this report was try to really capture those risks, look at the opportunities and come up with some specific steps that we can really take to reform how we go about looking at that supply chain and, in the endgame, really get capability downrange to the warfighter as quickly and cost-effectively as possible,” she said.
First, Lord said, the U.S. must re-shore more of its industrial base — bring it back to the U.S. and U.S. allies.
“There are a couple [of] key areas there with shipbuilding, as well as microelectronics — fundamental to our capability,” she said.
Development of a modern manufacturing and engineering workforce along with a more robust research and development base is also critical. Declines in U.S. science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and industrial jobs hurt the ability of the defense industrial base to innovate, Lord said.
“We want to make sure that we have modern manufacturing and engineering expertise,” she said. “We do not have nearly the number of scientists and engineers as China has. We need to make sure that we develop our talent to be able to leverage on these critical areas.”
The department must also reform and modernize the defense acquisition process to better meet the realities of the 21st century, Lord said.
“We’ve started with a number of those, but there’s much further to go,” she said. “We want to make sure that our traditional defense industrial base is widened to get all of those creative, innovative companies. We know the small companies are where most of our innovation comes from, and the barriers to entry — sometimes to getting into the Department of Defense — are rather onerous.”
Lord said part of modernizing and reforming defense acquisition is the recently announced Trusted Capital Marketplace, which will match potential defense suppliers — many of them small companies that have never done business with DOD — with the investors they need to keep operating and innovating. The Trusted Capital Marketplace will vet investors to ensure foreign ownership, control and influence is nonexistent.
Finally, Lord said, the department must find new ways to partner private sector innovation with public sector resources and demand.
“We, as the government, I believe, need to work with industry to make sure that we diversify that industrial base and, also, that we much more quickly translate technological capability into features of current platforms and weapon systems, as well as incorporate it in new ones,” Lord said. (Source: US DoD)
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