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22 Apr 21. Military Leaders Discuss Defense Authorization Request, Future Years Defense Program. Army Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, the commander of the U.S. Africa Command, and Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the commander of the U.S. Central Command, testified today before the Senate Armed Services Committee in review of the defense authorization request for fiscal year 2022 and the Future Years Defense Program.
In prepared statements, McKenzie established three lines of effort in Centcom: deterring Iran, countering violent extremist organizations and long-term strategic competition with China and Russia. Townsend’s efforts focused on Chinese and Russian involvement in Africa and how it affects U.S strategic efforts in the region.
In the Centcom area of responsibility, extremist threats such as al-Qaida and ISIS remain in the region, as well as state players like Iran and outside influence from China and Russia.
“Iran currently possesses one of the most capable militaries in the Middle East,” McKenzie stated. “The Iranian regime demonstrated both the capability and willingness to employ all of these offensive weapons in complex attacks against Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities in 2019, and again against U.S. forces in Iraq in 2020.”
At a press conference held later at the Pentagon, McKenzie reiterated that the U.S. presence in Iraq deters Iranian interference in the region with “a capable force that they know we’re ready to use.”
He also stated, “I would argue since January 2020, the Iranians have had to recalculate our willingness to use force against them…. We’ve been able to keep a posture in the region that has also deterred Iran from acting against us in a state-to-state way.”
McKenzie emphasized the growing threat and influence of China and Russia in the region.
“The Centcom AOR is, and always has been, a crossroads of global interests and a historically prime arena for foreign powers to compete for influence, resources and access,” McKenzie said. “In 2020, China and Russia exploited ongoing regional crises, financial and infrastructure needs, perceptions of declining U.S. engagement and the COVID-19 pandemic to advance their objectives across the Middle East and Central and South Asia nations to gain or enhance influence in the region.”
McKenzie emphasized the need to work both militarily and diplomatically with partner states in the region to provide a stable Middle East as the United States works toward the September 11, 2021 deadline for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan set by President Joe Biden on April 14. The withdrawal will mark the end of nearly 20 years of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan.
While the military footprint may be removed in Afghanistan, McKenzie was quick to caution against any powers in the theater who may believe that Americans or allies in the region are weakened or vulnerable.
“I’m confident we will have the combat capability to provide an overwhelming response,” McKenzie said. “Should we be attacked, or our allies or partners be attacked as we execute the drawdown, I’m very comfortable with the combat power that General Miller will be able to bear in that circumstance.”
Outside of Afghanistan, the U.S. will work with other partners such as Israel to work towards peace in the Middle East. Israel, which currently falls under the U.S. European Command, is set to be realigned under Centcom later this year. McKenzie says there will be multiple benefits to the realignment, including normalizing relations between Israel and the Arab states in the region.
Earlier this month, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III traveled to Israel, meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. While there, Austin reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to stability in the region through partnerships in the region, especially with Israel.
Representing forces in Africom, Townsend emphasized the importance of a U.S. presence on the continent that is growing exponentially in economic size and impact, as well as in population.
“The African continent is important to the United States politically, economically and militarily,” Townsend said. “It is home to the fastest growing economies and populations in the world, sits at the crossroads of international commerce, trade and global force flow, and watches over important sea lines of communication. Our future security, prosperity and ability to project power globally rest on free, open and secure access in and around Africa. The U.S. must continue to work with our allies and partners to advance our mutual interests within the rules-based international system.”
Townsend broke Africom’s priorities into four goals: gain and maintain strategic access and influence; disrupt violent extremist organization threats to U.S. interests; respond to crises to protect U.S. interests; and coordinate action with allies and partners to achieve shared security objectives.
None of these objectives works through U.S. action alone and Townsend emphasized the importance of partnerships in the region, reinforcing that U.S. forces do not operate unilaterally in Africa.
“Our influence in Africa provides an advantage over competitors, deters conflict, [reassures] partners of our commitment and postures the U.S. to transition effectively to crisis or conflict if necessary,” he said.
Townsend stated that it is not solely a DOD, priority or mission to provide stability in Africa, but rather a whole-of-government approach that will provide lasting peace, stability, and strategic advantage in the region to counter the influences of Russia and China. He went on to clarify his strategy as “Lead with diplomacy. Follow with development. Secure with defense.”
Townsend concluded by emphasizing how much return on investment the American people get from the DOD’s investment in Africom.
“A small investment in Africa goes a long, long way,” he said. “What Africom accomplishes with a few troops and a few dollars, on a continent [more than three times] the size of the continental United States is a bargain for the American taxpayer. Africom remains ready to protect U.S. citizens, advance our interests and strategic access and [to] respond to crises in Africa.”
“Strategic access to Africa and its surrounding waters will be even more vital to U.S. national security in the future than it has been in the past,” he added. (Source: US DoD)
22 Apr 21. Nuclear Triad Modernization the Nation’s Highest Priority, Says Admiral. The nuclear triad, composed of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, submarines and strategic bombers, has been a credible deterrent to a “bolt out of the blue” attack, said the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, referring to an all-out nuclear attack on the United States.
Navy Adm. Charles Richard briefed the media at the Pentagon today.
“I do want to report that Stratcom remains ready to accomplish all of our assigned missions. That has not been easy, given the COVID environment and other things, but we’re fully mission capable,” he said.
While strategic deterrence is incredibly important, Richard said it’s also important to look at the totality of an appropriate response to any given threat, to include conventional deterrence in all domains.
Richard then took questions from the press, one of which was about the reliability of the ICBM leg of the triad.
The Minuteman III system is fully reliable today in terms of system performance and its ability to meet the threat, according to the Air Force, which is responsible for maintaining it, he said.
However, the system is old and it’s getting increasingly harder to maintain it, he noted. “I want us to recognize that you can’t indefinitely life-extend anything. You can’t take stuff that you got back at the end of the Cold War, and to think somehow, forever, you can continue to make it work. There’s a point where it becomes not cost effective to do that. And, there’s another point out there where it’s not possible at all.
“And, I want to make sure that we think through these decisions and recognize that those points exist and look for them,” he added.
The Minuteman III replacement is the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, which is a newer model of ICBMs in the early stages of development. Richard said that the GBSD is slated to replace the Minuteman III beginning in 2029, when initial operating capability is expected.
Richard also said he applauded the decision to stand up the U.S. Space Command. “I think it has been a great benefit to my mission sets.”
Spacecom will provide Stratcom with reliable missile warning, missile defense and space situational awareness, using its sensor suite of capabilities, he noted. (Source: US DoD)
20 Apr 21. US Navy reveals more on plans for sixth generation fighter jet. The US Navy has revealed more information on its plans for a sixth generation fighter jet, commonly referred to as F/A-XX.
The service branch is leading a development programme, called Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD), to replace its F/A-18 Super Hornets.
Gregory Harris, who leads the chief of naval operation’s air warfare directorate, has said the aircraft following the Super Hornets will “most likely be manned,” but the NGAD programme will include a mix of both manned and unmanned platforms.
The programme is separate to the US Air Force’s own NGAD programme, which includes an aircraft to eventually replace the F-22. Last week a report was published which included concept art of the US Air Force’s new fighter jet.
Harris said: “As we look at it right now, NGAD is a family of systems, which has as its centrepiece the F/A-XX… It’s the fixed-wing portion of the Next-Gen Air Dominance family of systems.
“But we truly see NGAD as more than just a single aircraft. We believe that as manned-unmanned teaming comes online, we will integrate those aspects of manned and unmanned teaming into that,” he continued. “Whether that – we euphemistically refer to it as our little buddy – is an adjunct air-to-air platform, an adjunct [electronic warfare] platform, discussion of could it be an adjunct advanced early warning platform. We’ll have to replace the E-2D [Advanced Hawkeye] at some point in the future, so as we look to what replaces that.”
Harris said the US Navy has divided work on the NGAD programme into two parts: increment one will determine the replacement for the Super Hornets, while increment two will assess the follow-on for the EA-18G Growler.
While the service has used F/A-XX to refer to the F/A-18 E/F replacement, NGAD refers to the family of systems as a whole.
“We’re going through the study portions of what Inc two will be to replace the EA-18G Growler. And we expect that that family of systems will be a combination of manned and unmanned,” Harris said.
“Right now – notionally – looking at driving towards an air wing that has a 40-60 unmanned-manned split and overtime shift that to a 60-40 unmanned-manned split. So to try to drive an air wing that is at least 50% or more unmanned over time,” he added.
The NGAD programme is currently in the “concept refinement phase,” which is when the US Navy will work with industry partners to determine the latest technology and whether it could pursue an unmanned fighter aircraft. Harris expects the Navy to have “a better idea” within the next two or three years as to whether it will buy a manned or unmanned fighter to follow the Super Hornets.
“That concept refinement phase and the teams that we have with our prime air vehicle vendors will start to advise what’s in the realm of possible, has autonomy and artificial intelligence matured enough to be able to put a system inside an unmanned platform that has to go execute air-to-air warfare,” Harris said. “I think air-to-air warfare is one of, if not the most, complex ones to try to put into autonomy.” (Source: News Now/https://www.aero-mag.com/)
20 Apr 21. U.S. Plans to Keep Threats in Check Even After Afghanistan Withdrawal. By Sept. 11, 2021, all U.S. forces must be out of Afghanistan. But that doesn’t mean that the U.S. will be at the mercy of groups like ISIS, al-Qaida or the Taliban if they want to create problems and threaten U.S. interests, the commander of the U.S. Central Command said.
While the 3,500 troops currently in Afghanistan will leave that country by the end of the summer, some will remain in the region, Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr. said during a hearing today before the House Armed Services Committee.
“I think some of the forces are going to remain in Central Command, because we are going to look at offshore, over-the-horizon options,” he said.
Right now, McKenzie said, he’s figuring out how the U.S. will be able to conduct counter-terrorism activities in the area without being in Afghanistan.
“I’m actually conducting detailed planning, by the direction of the secretary, to look at those options right now. I will report back to him by the end of the month with some alternatives,” he said.
Broadly, McKenzie said, if a crisis arises in Afghanistan and the U.S. needs to go back in, three things will need to happen that the U.S. can still do — though with more difficulty than it can do right now.
“You need to find the target, you need to fix the target and you need to be able to finish the target,” he said. “So those three things all firstly require heavy intelligence support. And if you’re out of the country and you don’t have the ecosystem that we have there now, it will be harder to do that. It is not impossible to do that. It will just be harder to do it.”
For intelligence assets in the region, he said, U.S. diplomats are working now to find new places to base them, he said.
“There are ways to get to the find and the fix part,” he said. “The fix part is very important though, because if we’re going to strike something, we’re going to strike it in concert with the law of armed conflict and the American way of war.”
It’s the striking of a target — if need be — that’s going to be an even bigger challenge than it is now, McKenzie told lawmakers.
“It’s difficult to do that at range — but it’s not impossible to do that at range,” he said.
The general said long-range precision fires, manned raids and manned aircraft are all possibilities for strike options, if need be. All are on the table, and all are doable — though with increased risks and costs.
“There are problems with all three of those options, but there’s also opportunities with all three of those options,” he said. “I don’t want to make light of it. I don’t want to put on rose-colored glasses and say it’s going to be easy to do. Though I can tell you that the U.S. military can do just about anything and we’re examining this problem with all of our resources right now to find a way to do it in the most intelligent, risk-free manner that we can.”
When forces do leave Afghanistan, McKenzie said, there’s the risk that there could be attacks at that time. He said he’s confident, however, that while such a redeployment is complex, U.S. forces will be safe.
With the Afghanistan withdrawal, he said, equipment will need to leave the country, installations will need to be turned over and people will need to leave.
McKenzie said discussions with Army Gen. Austin Miller, commander of the Resolute Support mission and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, have left him assured that redeployment can be done safely.
“I’m confident that we will have the forces necessary to protect our forces should the Taliban decide to begin attacking us on [May 1] or any other date,” he said. (Source: US DoD)
20 Apr 21. U.S. Facing Increasing Nuclear, Space-Based Threats, Leaders Say. Two Defense Department leaders discussed threats to the U.S. from China and Russia and the DOD’s steps at providing a credible deterrent during a Senate Armed Services Committee budget hearing today.
“For the first time in our history, the nation is facing two nuclear-capable strategic peer adversaries at the same time,” Navy Adm. Charles A. Richard, commander of U.S. Strategic Command said.
Stratcom is responsible for maintaining the nation’s nuclear triad, which consists of strategic bombers, submarines and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
“Chinese and Russian advances are eroding our conventional deterrence,” he said.
Regarding China, they are rapidly expanding their strategic capabilities and are on pace to double their nuclear weapons stockpile by the end of the decade, Richard said.
The admiral mentioned that Chinese ICBMs can be mounted on trucks so their location can be concealed. They also have modern, sixth generation nuclear-capable strategic bombers and submarines.
“China is capable of executing any plausible nuclear employment strategy regionally now and will soon be able to do so at intercontinental ranges,” Richard said.
Russia, however, remains the “pacing nuclear strategic threat,” aggressively engaged in conventional and nuclear capability modernization, which is around 80% complete, he said, adding that the U.S. nuclear modernization effort has not yet started.
Given these threats, modernization of the nuclear triad is the department’s top priority, he said.
“We’re at a point where end-of-life limitations and [the] cumulative effects of underinvestment in our nuclear deterrent and supporting infrastructure, against the expanding threat, leave me no operational margin. Our nation simply cannot attempt to indefinitely life-extend leftover Cold War weapon systems and successfully carry out the assigned strategy,” Richard said.
Army Gen. James H. Dickinson, the commander of U.S. Space Command, said that China’s space enterprise continues to mature rapidly, presenting a “pacing challenge for us.”
They invest heavily in space with more than 400 satellites in orbit today. China is building military space capabilities rapidly, including sensing and communication systems, and numerous anti-satellite weapons, he said, noting that they are doing all this while maintaining their public stance against the weaponization of space.
Similarly, Russia’s published military doctrine calls for the employment of weapons “to hold us and allied space assets at risk,” Dickinson said.
Facing these threats, Spacecom is focused on enhancing existing and developing new space awareness capabilities that will provide better insight into activity throughout the space domain, including potential adversary activities, he said.
“Our intent is to build the appropriate space operational architecture designed to achieve full operational capability, backed by a team of warfighters who can outthink and outmaneuver our adversaries,” he added.
(Source: US DoD)
20 Apr 21. No 5-Year POM Likely In DoD’s 2022 Budget. The focus solely on 2022 was hinted at by an internal memo issued by Deputy Defense Secretary Kath Hicks. The Biden administration’s first budget this year won’t include a five-year spending plan, keeping with precedent set by the last three administrations in their first term.
The annual Future Years Defense Plan is a key piece of forward-looking planning that helps Congress and the defense industry gain a degree of transparency into the Pentagon’s acquisition plans and priorities. The POM also helps the military get a clearer idea of how it will make its strategy real. While the absence of the POM may create some friction on Capitol Hill, it is hardly out of the ordinary.
Neither the Trump, Obama or Bush administrations included the FYDP in their first budgets after taking office, as the new administration evaluates a range of acquisition programs ands tries to align them with the priorities of the new team.
In 2022, lawmakers are closely watching a wide variety of issues, including the Biden team’s appetite for big purchases of the F-35, the future of big-deck aircraft carriers, investments in hypersonic missile programs, Army ground vehicle modernization and plans for long range precision weapons.
“While it is understandable to skip sending a FYDP, given the delayed transition and compressed timeline,” Mackenzie Eaglen, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute said, “this team’s marquee budget is FY 2023. Everyone knows they inherited the last administration’s draft budget, and they’ll only have enough bandwidth to make changes at the edges.”
Regardless of any one administration’s priorities, the Pentagon is entering what Eaglen called the “terrible 20s,” a decade in which a host of weapons systems and platforms will reach the end of their operational lives leading to a need for more money to buy new ships, aircraft, helicopters and vehicles — and upgrade the nation’s nuclear weapons — all at the same time. Not having a long-range plan for those investments will only put more pressure on the 2023 budget to lay out some major decisions.
An internal Pentagon memo from new Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks underscored the urgency the civilian leadership faces to make short-term decisions on major acquisition programs while rethinking force posture in an era where defense budgets are expected to be flat at best.
The Biden team’s focus, Hicks hinted, would be solely on the 2022 budget, pushing long-term decisions to next year’s budget build. The short time between senior officials moving into their offices and the budget submission, she wrote, means “the process to re-evaluate existing decisions will focus on a very small number of issues with direct impact on FY 2022 and of critical importance to the President and the Secretary.”
Tellingly, Hicks directed the Office of the Director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) to review a handful of critical acquisition efforts:
- Shipbuilding: current FY 2022 shipbuilding additions
- Nuclear Enterprise/Nuclear Command, Control, and Communications (NC3): lower-yield weapons and select NC3 topics
- Long Range Fires: current FY 2022 long range fires additions
- Aircraft: F-35, Air Force tanker aircraft and MQ-9
- Climate: initial options for investment and set ground work for additional investments during the FY 2023 to FY 2027 review cycle
- Build Back Better: extant FY 2022 investments and FY 2023 opportunities
Those programs will all fall under a $715bn request to fund the Pentagon in 2022 released by the White House recently. That budget would represent a slim 1.7% increase from the 2021 spending plan.
That number, when combined with inflation, would actually represent a slight decrease in defense spending in 2022. That dip has drawn criticism from Republicans who want several percent increase over inflation for the budget, but has also been criticized by some Democrats who want to see the defense budget shrink in order to spend more on domestic programs.
“To have out years in the first year of an administration, you’d really have to have a running start” before taking office, said Mark Cancian, a senior advisor with the Center for Strategic and International Studies and former defense expert at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. The Biden administration has said the obstruction it faced in the weeks after the election set it’s work back somewhat.
Even senior lawmakers from the president’s own party are growing frustrated by the lack of movement and detail available from the new administration.
“I am deeply concerned about the Biden administration dragging their feet on getting us the damn budget,” chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Adam Smith, said recently. “The White House itself is not doing the job they should be doing.”
It looks like the adumbrated budget will arrive some time in late May or early June. (Source: Breaking Defense.com)
14 Apr 21. U.S. lawmakers to ‘review’ UAE arms sale after Biden opts to go ahead. The Democratic chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee said on Wednesday he and other lawmakers were concerned about the Biden administration’s decision to go ahead with a weapons sale to the United Arab Emirates and would review the transactions.
Reuters reported on Tuesday that the Democratic president’s administration had told Congress it was proceeding with more than $23bn in weapons sales to the UAE, including advanced F-35 aircraft, armed drones and other equipment. read more
The sale was reached in the last weeks of former Republican President Donald Trump’s administration and finalized only about an hour before Biden took office on Jan. 20, and the Democrat’s administration had “paused” it in order to conduct a review.
“I still have many questions about any decision by the Biden Administration to go forward with the Trump Administration’s proposed transfers of F-35s, armed UAVs (drones), munitions and other weapons,” Foreign Affairs Chairman Gregory Meeks said in a statement.
“Fortunately, none of these transfers would occur any time soon, so there will be ample time for Congress to review whether these transfers should go forward and what restrictions and conditions would be imposed,” he said.
Rights groups also had concerns about the sale, in light of the UAE’s involvement in the war in Yemen, one of the world’s greatest humanitarian disasters.
“United States drones could be responsible for UAE attacks that violate international humanitarian law and kill, as well as injure, thousands of Yemeni civilians,” Philippe Nassif, advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International USA, said in a statement.
The New York Center for Foreign Policy Affairs non-profit filed lawsuit over the UAE sale. Its principal director, Justin Thomas Russell, said the weapons could fall into the wrong hands and that his group had hoped the Biden administration would make humanitarian concerns a higher priority.
“We had hoped for better things out of the Biden Administration … and now those hopes have been dashed,” he said in a statement.
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