DoD braces for weapons delays; ‘Paper hearing’ on Army posture; Russia’s 3-month plan to beat COVID-19; Are lower stock prices a security risk? And a bit more.

By Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston

March 26, 2020

Since the U.S. military can’t seem to flatten its curve just yet, it’s gonna limit its COVID-19 updates to the public, Defense Secretary Mark Esper tells Reuters today. 

What we want to do is give you aggregated numbers,” Esper said, one day after U.S. military coronavirus infections rose by 30 percent to 227 cases on Wednesday before rising to 280 cases this morning. “But we’re not going to disaggregate numbers because it could reveal information about where we may be affected at a higher rate than maybe some other places.” 

Still unknown: “precisely what information would be withheld or when the plan would be implemented,” Reuters reports.

Esper’s explanation: “I’m not going to get into a habit where we start providing numbers across all the commands and we come to a point six, seven weeks from now where we have some concerns in some locations and reveal information that could put people at risk.” 

Notable: With an organization as large as the U.S. military (three million or so employees), one can imagine how a correction to infection numbers could be embarrassing and even counterproductive to public health. However, the changes also call to mind the public-affairs guidance of “maximum disclosure, minimum delay.”

Said a spox for U.S. Africa Command: “If [the number of quarantined U.S. forces are] advertised, numbers can be used by adversaries to their advantage.” Read on, here.

Reconstructing the Pentagon's response: As public-health officials sounded alarms about COVID-19 in February and early March, lower-echelon commanders wondered what to do to protect their forces and their people. But there was little guidance from top Defense leaders until March 9, when DoD announced social-distancing guidelines, and March 11, when the first travel ban was ordered. At the time, the commander in chief was still saying, “It will go away,” and some servicemembers blame leaders who took their cues from the White House. Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams has this report.

Pentagon braces for slowing weapons deliveries. Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber reports: “In separate briefings with reporters on Wednesday, the top weapons buyers for the Department of Defense and the Navy said that they are working with industry to assess the impact of the virus on their workforces, but that already some aircraft production has been halted.”

Said James “Hondo” Geurts, the Navy’s top weapons buyer: “I do expect there will be some delay and disruption…We’re seeing a tightening on the supply base as smaller shops deal with their local situations.”

Said Ellen Lord, defense undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment: “I will say that the bulk of the defense industry is working today,” but she did not know how many industry employees could not come to work — sick, quarantined, or closed job sites, like two Boeing warplane plants.

If anyone’s counting, Russia says it’s planning on a three-month disruption to normal life in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Reuters reports from Moscow. In addition, “Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said the ministry was building 16 infectious diseases centres and planned to complete a first batch of eight by April 30 and the rest by May 16.” More here


From Defense One

Pentagon Bracing for Coronavirus to Delay Weapons Deliveries // Marcus Weisgerber: Navy says it will “work out” the virus’ impact on projects with companies.

Inside The Pentagon’s Lurching Efforts To Protect Its People from the Coronavirus // Katie Bo Williams: As the alarms rose in February and early March, lower-echelon commanders wondered what to do. Some servicemembers blame leaders who took their cues from the White House.

Marine Is First Known Service Member Assigned to the Pentagon with COVID-19 // Katie Bo Williams: A U.S. Marine has become the first disclosed case of coronavirus among the thousands of people who work in the world's largest office building.

As Stocks Sink, Pentagon Fears Foreigners Will Buy Control of US Defense Firms // Marcus Weisgerber: The coronavirus pandemic has made vetting foreign investment more important than ever, officials say.

Trump Could Have Led the World Against the Coronavirus // Kevin Baron: We have to isolate ourselves from the virus. He doesn't have to isolate us from the world.

Chinese Hackers Attacked Foreign Health Care, Military, Oil Networks as Coronavirus Hit China // Patrick Tucker: In January, the ‘widespread’ assault targeted a vulnerability in virtual desktops, cloud computing, and network applications, FireEye announced.

America’s Allies Are Becoming a Nuclear-Proliferation Threat // Pete McKenzie: Some of the United States' oldest allies are considering the once-unthinkable: building their own nuclear weapons.

China’s Defense Spending Is Larger Than It Looks // Frederico Bartels: Accounting for true purchasing power, Beijing’s military budget is about 87% of America’s.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 2010, North Korea torpedoed a South Korean navy vessel, the ROKS Cheonan, killing 46 of its 108 personnel. 


Happening today: Marine Corps leaders brief the press, and that began at 10 a.m. ET. Attending: Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly; Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger; and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Troy Black. Catch that live or in reruns at DVIDS, here.
And in the afternoon, it’s Army leaders — including Secretary Ryan McCarthy, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville, and Army National Guard Director Lt. Gen David Hokanson brief the press on the latest COVID-19 developments at 1 p.m. ET. Catch that live, here.

Also happening today: A “paper hearing” on the U.S. Army’s posture. It’s new territory for the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is effectively hearing today from Army Secretary McCarthy and Chief of Staff McConville — even though neither man will be attending this particular posture hearing in the Senate. 
What’s a “paper hearing,” anyway? According to SASC’s explainer posted Wednesday, it is “the public posting of all witness testimony as well as the SASC Chairman and Ranking Member opening statements on the scheduled hearing date and time,” which for the Army today is 9:30 a.m. ET.
How it works: “The committee will collect questions from all SASC members related to the hearing topic, to be transmitted to the Department of Defense at the date and time of the scheduled hearing. The committee intends to post Member questions and witnesses within one week of posting opening statements, though the committee may exercise discretion and flexibility to ensure the Department of Defense is able to fulfill mission-critical duties, especially those related to COVID-19 response and national security.” 
That means we can expect to learn more about the Qs in response to today’s opening statements — find ArmySec McCarthy’s (PDF) here — in exactly one week. So stay tuned… 

A retired FBI agent who went missing in Iran back in 2007 has died, his family announced Wednesday. “We don’t know when or how he died, only that it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the family wrote. According to the Washington Post, Robert “Levinson disappeared under murky circumstances in March 2007 while on Kish Island, a tourist spot off the coast of Iran, during an unauthorized trip for the CIA to gather intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program.” 
It’s unclear how the U.S. concluded Levinson has died. But the Post reports “high-level [U.S.] officials briefed the family several weeks ago, presenting them with ‘the facts for them to draw their own conclusions,’ according to a senior official.”
And on Wednesday, President Trump seemed to doubt his own officials’ conclusion — saying, “I won’t accept that he’s dead. They haven’t told us that he’s dead. But a lot of people are thinking that is the case.”
According to a spokesman for Iran’s mission to the UN, “Iran has always maintained that its officials have no knowledge of Mr. Levinson’s whereabouts, and that he is not in Iranian custody. Those facts have not changed.”
Said the Levinson family in its statement Wednesday: “We expect American officials, as well as officials around the world, to continue to press Iran to seek Bob’s return, and to ensure those Iranian officials involved are held accountable.” More at the Post, here

And finally today: Go back to a time before GPS to get smart on how “some of the major naval battles of World War I and World War II turned not just on firepower but also on computational power.” That’s the gist of a non-coronavirus #LongRead from Ars Technica that digs through the first four decades of the last century of naval warfare and navigation. It’s a long comparative history involving plotting tables, pens, paper, uneasy waters, and almost perpetually-elusive enemies. Begin your journey, here.


By Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston // Ben Watson is news editor for Defense One. He previously worked for NPR's “All Things Considered” and “Here and Now” in Washington, D.C. Watson served for five years in the U.S. Army, where he was an award-winning combat cameraman and media advisor for southern Afghanistan's special operations command during the 2010-11 surge. // Bradley Peniston is deputy editor of Defense One. A national security journalist for two decades, he helped launch Military.com, served as managing editor of Defense News, and was editor of Armed Forces Journal. His books include No Higher Honor: Saving the USS Samuel B. Roberts in the Persian Gulf, now part of the Chief of Naval Operations' Professional Reading Program.

March 26, 2020

https://www.defenseone.com/news/2020/03/the-d-brief-march-26-2020/164133/