Home Uncategorised Pentagon steps up war on virus outbreak – Politico

Pentagon steps up war on virus outbreak – Politico

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With Connor O’Brien, Jacqueline Feldscher and Lara Seligman

Editor’s Note: Morning Defense is a free version of POLITICO Pro Defense’s morning newsletter, which is delivered to our subscribers each morning at 6 a.m. The POLITICO Pro platform combines the news you need with tools you can use to take action on the day’s biggest stories. Act on the news with POLITICO Pro.

Quick Fix

The coronavirus sparks a call-up of the National Guard as military drills are curtailed and the Pentagon institutes new steps to combat the outbreak.

The Navy’s multibillion-dollar IT overhaul is on hold in the face of two bid protests.

A full withdrawal plan from Afghanistan is premature, the top commander in the Middle East tells Congress.

HAPPY WEDNESDAY AND WELCOME TO MORNING DEFENSE, where we’re always on the lookout for tips, pitches and feedback. Email us at bbender@politico.com, and follow on Twitter @bryandbender, @morningdefense and @politicopro.

On the Hill

HEARINGS: Here are the highlights of today’s congressional testimony:

— 10 a.m.: Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday and Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger testify before the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

— 10 a.m.: House Armed Services hears from Kenneth Rapuano, assistant secretary of Defense for homeland defense and global security, Northern Command head Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy and Southern Command chief Adm. Craig Faller.

— 10 a.m.: The Senate Armed Services Seapower Subcommittee discusses Marine Corps ground modernization efforts.

— 2 p.m.: The HASC Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities panel holds a hearing on Pentagon science and technology programs.

— 2:30 p.m.: The HASC Seapower and Readiness panels hold a joint hearing with the heads of Transportation Command and Maritime Administration.

— 2:30 p.m.: The SASC Personnel Subcommittee hears testimony from Pentagon officials on personnel programs.

CODELs off: Most overseas congressional delegation trips slated for next week are canceled due to the coronavirus, The Hill reports.

ANGST OVER ARMY MODERNIZATION: Top House appropriators aren’t sold quite yet on the Army’s plan to cut short and cancel dozens of programs to funnel billions of dollars into weapons modernization accounts aimed at countering China and Russia.

At a budget hearing Tuesday, House Defense Appropriations Chairman Pete Visclosky told Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville he’s skeptical of canceling proven programs and doesn’t support “funding future programs in which the requirements have not been fully thought out.”

“You do need to convince this committee today that our continued support of modernization will eventually be a good investment,” Visclosky said. He and the panel’s top Republican, Ken Calvert, highlighted the service’s January decision to scrap the competition to replace the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, dubbed the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle.

The spending panel, which controls most of the $741 billion national defense budget, could overturn the cuts it doesn’t agree with. But McCarthy and McConville again argued those tough cuts were needed amid a flat defense budget, and said the service “learned early” on the OMFV, cutting the last competition short before dropping billions on the program.

Here’s the full Pro transcript from the hearing.

PENTAGON NOMINEES TESTIFY: The Senate Armed Services Committee held a nomination hearing on Tuesday for Matt Donovan to be undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness; Jordan Gillis to be assistant secretary of Defense for sustainment; and Victor Mercado to be assistant secretary of Defense for strategy, plans and capabilities.

Find their answers to advanced policy questions here.

And the full Pro hearing transcript here.

Also: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Asia, the Pacific and Nonproliferation Subcommittee held a hearing on the way forward in Afghanistan, while the House Appropriations Committee’s homeland security panel heard from Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz.

Coronavirus

CHAIN REACTIONS: The Defense Department’s global supply chain could be interrupted if the novel coronavirus continues to spread, Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist warned on Tuesday.

“There’s been very little disruption to date, but if this thing continues and expands, then we’ll potentially see some issues and we have to stay on top of this,” he told the House Budget Committee. The virus is rapidly spreading in more than 100 countries, including traditional military allies such as the United Kingdom and Japan. But so far, it has not affected F-35 production in hard-hit Italy, Defense News reports.

But Defense Secretary Mark Esper postponed a trip to India, Pakistan and Uzbekistan “out of an abundance of caution,” his spokesperson Alyssa Farah tweeted.

National Guard activated: The New York National Guard was deployed to New Rochelle for two weeks to help establish a one-mile radius “containment area” around the center of the state’s outbreak, POLITICO’s Nick Niedzwiadek reports, where it will “deliver food and clean public spaces.”

Military drills affected: Military leaders have also decided to “modify the size and scope” of Africa Lion, a military exercise drawing the United States, Morocco, Tunisia and Senegal, our colleague Lara Seligman reports.

It was the latest exercise to be curtailed. Last week, the U.S. and Israel scrapped the remaining portion of Exercise Juniper Cobra 20 and canceled a separate joint drill. The U.S. and South Korea also nixed a training exercise in late February. But so far NATO’s Defender Europe 2020, which is set to draw 20,000 alliance troops, is still on for April 20 to May 20.

Air Force measures: The Air Force — which is housing exposed passengers from the Grand Princess cruise ship at three of its bases — also took a variety of new steps to minimize risk.

The Child Development Center at Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado was closed for cleaning after a family member tested positive, while the Air Force Academy has restricted cadet travel outside the country until the end of March, including “personal/leisure travel to countries with a CDC Level 2 or higher rating,” according to a statement.

And like the Navy, the service also suspended attendance at graduation ceremonies for basic training. Meanwhile, the Air Force’s Spark Collider and Pitch Bowl, which was set to take place next week in Austin, will now take place virtually.

Trade shows scrapped: The Association of the U.S. Army canceled its Global Force Symposium and Exposition slated to begin next Tuesday in Huntsville, Ala., while the Counter Terror Expo expected to take place in London in May has been rescheduled for September.

Keep your distance: The outbreak is prompting additional precautions at the Pentagon, where chairs in the press briefing room were spaced farther apart to ensure reporters minimize physical contact.

Sign up for POLITICO Nightly: Coronavirus Special Edition, your daily update on how the illness is affecting politics, markets, public health and more.

War Report

NOT SO FAST: “The general in charge of all U.S. forces in the Middle East says he has no plans yet to reduce troop levels in Afghanistan below 8,600, despite the recent U.S.-Taliban peace deal that laid out a timeline for all forces to withdraw within 14 months,” Seligman reports.

“We have not developed military plans to that end yet,” Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, told the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, as the French Press Agency reported that some initial U.S. troops began withdrawing from two bases.

Asked if he thinks the Taliban will live up to its end of the deal, McKenzie responded, “I’m not optimistic or pessimistic. I’m just going to be driven by the facts.” But he also acknowledged that “to date, Taliban attacks are higher than we believe are consistent with an idea to actually carry out this plan.”

The enemy of my enemy is my friend: McKenzie also dropped this news nugget during his testimony: the U.S. military is giving “very limited support” to the Taliban to fight the Islamic State terrorist group.

Crash program: The general also called for a more aggressive effort to develop countermeasures for armed drones, which he said is a growing threat to U.S. troops in war zones akin to roadside bombs, Bloomberg reports.

Read the full Pro hearing transcript.

Related: Afghanistan to release 1,500 Taliban prisoners, via Reuters.

And: Hillary Clinton tells UN peace deal must include Afghan government, women, also per Reuters.

Industry Intel

NEW PROTEST OF $7B IT DEAL: The Navy’s $7.7 billion information technology contract awarded to Leidos last month is now the focus of a second bid protest. Perspecta, which is an existing vendor for the service’s IT infrastructure, is protesting the Next Generation Enterprise Network-Recompete, or NGEN-R, program, an effort to integrate the Navy’s communications networks, your Morning D correspondent reports.

The protest lodged late Monday comes just days after General Dynamics IT, which has also been a primary vendor for Navy network management, also filed a protest of the NGEN-R award.

“Like we do with any protest that is lodged, we will provide information to the Government Accountability Office while they adjudicate the merits of the protest,” a Navy spokesperson said. “Meanwhile, all work is stopped.”

Related: The Navy takes a risky leap into the unknown with NGEN-R, via Real Clear Defense.

Making Moves

Brian Fitzpatrick, a former executive at Northrop Grumman and DXC Technology, will replace Dave Zolet as interim president and CEO of LMI, the government consulting firm specializing in defense.

Speed Read

— For Navy fleet, 435 is the new 355: Real Clear Defense

— Air Force reviewing classified space data, Barrett says: POLITICO Pro

— U.S., Canada intercept Russian bomber over Alaska: The Hill

— Putin backs constitutional amendment so he can run again in 2024: The Associated Press

— U.N. report savages Iran on human rights violations: Fox News

— House leaders strike deal to renew surveillance law: POLITICO Pro

— Recovery of Marines killed in Iraq was slowed by unforgiving terrain: The Washington Post

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