US military spouse dies of coronavirus; Stimulus bill has $$ for DoD; New anti-US group in Iraq; ‘Pandemic drones’; And a bit more.The D Brief: March 27, 2020
In a first, the spouse of an American soldier has died from apparent coronavirus complications. The soldier, who is assigned to Virginia’s Joint Base Langley-Eustis, has also tested positive for COVID-19 and is now receiving medical care in isolation. “Out of respect, the name of the deceased is being withheld to allow the family the proper time to grieve,” U.S. Army Col. Clint Ross, Langley-Eustis commander, announced Thursday on Facebook. The only other COVID-19 death within the Defense Department community to date has been a Crystal City-based contractor who passed away on Saturday.
A total of 309 U.S. troops have tested positive, according to this morning’s DoD COVID-19 fact sheet. That’s up from 280 yesterday, and an almost five-fold increase from one week ago (67 cases at the time).
Today: stimulus bill passes the House? Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on Thursday said she believed House lawmakers would pass the Senate’s $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill in a voice vote today.
Military plus-up: the bill includes $1.2 billion for personnel supporting the Army and Air National Guards; and $1.9 billion for operations and maintenance for the homeland response missions, Roll Call reports. But most of the money will go to individuals ($1,200 apiece), state and local governments ($150 billion total), and businesses through subsidized loans, grants and tax breaks, the Associated Press reports.
The Senate passed the bill, 96-0, late Wednesday, and President Trump said he is eager to sign it, AP writes. However, Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., is threatening to force lawmakers to vote in-person, which could help spread the virus and delay a vote until Saturday, AP reports.
And on Thursday, an emergency ventilator-production plan fell through after the White House balked at $1 billion cost. Context: Hospitals are desperate for ventilators to help thousands of critically ill COVID-19 patients whose lungs have filled with fluid. The White House was talking with General Motors about converting an Indiana plant to ventilator production, but the financial costs seemed too great, the New York Times reports.
Related: The cost of deep-cleaning in the Pentagon is $10 per square foot. Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams learned that Thursday thanks to data from a White House press conference. “That translates to $1,000 for a cubicle, and roughly $180,000 for an office,” she tweeted. More COVID-19 coverage after the jump.
From Defense One
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.
Pentagon Bracing for Weapon-Delivery Delays Due to Coronavirus // Marcus Weisgerber: Navy says it will “work out” the virus’ impact on projects with companies.
Russia Pushing Coronavirus Lies As Part of Anti-NATO Influence Ops in Europe // Patrick Tucker: The pandemic has provided the Kremlin with an ample opportunity to target nervous populations with fake news.
The US Navy Can, and Should, Do More Against the Coronavirus // Cmdr. Kevin Chlan: Aircraft carriers and big-deck amphibious ships can help — as they have often done in humanitarian-relief efforts overseas.
Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Coronavirus, defense industry collide; Supply chain disruptions; Trade shows canceled and more. //
The US Army’s Next Attack-Reconnaissance Helicopter Is Coming Into Focus // Patrick Tucker: Bell Textron and Sikorsky will build test models as the service seeks a replacement for the Kiowa and some Apache missions.
Welcome to this Friday 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 1794, President George Washington authorized the construction of six frigates — United States, Constellation, Constitution, Chesapeake, Congress, and President — effectively creating the U.S. Navy and launching the practices of gold-plating and spreading contracts across jurisdictions.
There’s a new anti-U.S. group in Iraq “calling itself the League of Revolutionaries,” the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, which is two weeks after “rockets fired at an Iraqi base on March 11 killed two American troops and a British soldier.” The League of Revolutionaries now claims that attack, the Journal writes.
So who are these guys? The group, or league, "incorporates elements of other Iran-backed militias" in its logo, and seems to involve “the same old actors organizing themselves differently,” a senior military official said.
Bigger picture: “By forming new groups, militants can attack U.S. troops while denying the involvement of established groups such as Kataib Hezbollah, which has vowed revenge for the killing of [Iranian] Gen. Soleimani and an Iraqi commander, who together oversaw militia groups in Iraq.”
One more thing: “Facing increased threats, the U.S. has begun moving troops out of smaller, vulnerable outposts to larger bases that can be more easily protected,” the Journal reported Thursday — a week after Al Qaim was handed over to the Iraqis, and the same day Q-West airfield changed hands, too. More on that last one, here.
Zero-days used against North Korea. A hacker group used five zero-day vulnerabilities in a cyber campaign against North Koreans last year, WIRED's Andy Greenberg reported Thursday, calling it “a sophisticated spying spree that some researchers suspect South Korea may have pulled off.”
A Space Force of One: The U.S. Space Force still has only one officer, Gen. Jay Raymond, the chief of space operations. While no other Air Force personnel have transferred into the newest branch of the military, plans are still on track to have several thousand in the Space Force by year's end, Raymond said Friday during a briefing at the Pentagon.
A group of 64 Air Force Academy cadets will directly commission into the Space Force in a few months, Raymond said. There are a number of other planned events for the Space Force, but officials are waiting to hold ceremonies, which are on hold due to the coronavirus outbreak. Those include the swearing on a senior enlisted leader and the renaming of Peterson, Patrick, Buckley and Schriever Air Force Bases.
Space Forcers? Raymond also said he’d have a decision on what to call members of the Space Force “in the very near future.”
The timeline question. Remember when President Trump said Tuesday that he wanted the country back open by Easter? Dr. Anthony Fauci, who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN Thursday evening that President Trump was making “an aspirational projection" to “give people some hope” when he picked Easter. “But he's listening to us when we say we really got to reevaluate it in real time, and any decision we make has to be based on the data.” Axios has more on alleged White House internal deliberations, here.
Newly cancelled for the U.S. military: Exercise Balikatan 20, which was an annual U.S.-Philippine drill that involved help from Australia. It was scheduled to run from May 4 to 15, but now it’s cancelled, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said today in a statement. “In light of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding COVID-19 pandemic and in the best interest of the health and safety of both countries’ forces, it is prudent to cancel Balikatan 2020,” said Indo-PACOM's Adm. Phil Davidson.
China has now banned entry of all foreigners as a temporary measure to continue slowing the spread and possible return waves of COVID-19.
Afghan prisoner release. It’s not the Taliban’s 5,000 prisoners the group demanded be released before entering talks with Afghan officials on a peace plan for the country — but 10,000 other Afghan prisoners have been ordered to be released over the next 10 days, Agence France-Presse reported Thursday.
Included in the release: “women, young offenders, critically ill patients and inmates aged over 55,” AFP writes. "The decree is not for those who have committed crimes against national and international security," Attorney General Farid Hamidi explained in a short statement. More here.
France will withdraw all 100 or so of its troops from Iraq for an indeterminate time to await the end of the current pandemic, Reuters reported Wednesday.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tested positive for the coronavirus, he said in a video posted to Twitter this morning.
And finally this week: Are you ready to be called out for coughing by a “pandemic drone”? Researchers in Australia are working on one such device whose “computer vision system…can monitor temperature, heart and respiratory rates, as well as detect people sneezing and coughing in crowds, offices, airports, cruise ships, aged care homes and other places where groups of people may work or congregate.” Compare that to China’s fever-sensing smart helmets, one of many gadgets whose profile is rising in this pandemic. There are also hands-free doorknob attachments you can purchase — though it’s unclear how soon a product like that might arrive. More from the coronavirus tech beat at the Guardian, here.
Be safe out there, everyone. And if you need some encouraging words on how to get by in quarantine with your sanity intact, Bloomberg’s Beijing-based Peter Martin has some ideas here. Cheers, and we’ll see you again on Monday!