Today's D Brief: Service chiefs on debt-default; Militias strike inside Russia; Army mulls SOF cut; USAF’s new-jet process; And a bit more.
From the U.S. military’s perspective, how damaging would a default on America’s debt be, should Republicans press their threat to prevent payment past next Thursday’s June 1 “hard deadline,” as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen described it this weekend? Each of the six service chiefs shared their thoughts during a rare Monday-evening event moderated by Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
“It would have an immediate and dramatic impact on readiness,” Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan said. That includes “everything from paying troops, of which the Coast Guard is the only service that had experienced those two missed paychecks back a couple of years ago [in 2019], to the kind of certainty on investments that you need for the acquisitions and the longer term investments.”
“Financial stability increases credibility, [that is] your ability to provide assurances that things are going to be okay,” Space Force chief Gen. B. Chance Saltzman said. “I think all that instability that might be created [from a default] causes problems on a global scale,” he added.
“I’d really boil it down to readiness, credibility, and morale,” said Air Force chief Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr. “It's all roughly the same when you're talking about not getting funding, whether it's on time or debt ceiling, it just impacts our ability to make sure we stay ahead of our pacing challenge,” which is China’s economic, political, and military clout.
“Of course, it has impacts on our sailors, servicemembers, and their families; but also on the arsenal of democracy across America that supports everything that we do,” Navy chief Adm. Michael Gilday said. “I think the confidence piece is absolutely critical here,” he added, “not just allies and partners as they look at the United States, but also our own confidence in ourselves, which is so important in a fighting force.”
“We need resources to do our job,” said Army chief Gen. James McConville. “And, you know, probably one of the best quotes I've ever heard was from a young specialist’s wife in the 101st Airborne Division. [During one of the last government shutdowns] When the government [said there might not be] paychecks, and [those officials] said [troops and their families] will get paid retroactively—what she said is, ‘My kids can't eat breakfast retroactively’.”
“If you believe that there is still a place for global leadership,” Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger said, “and that global leadership is the United States, this is one of those moments” to forge some sort of deal between Republicans and the White House.
Is the Ukraine war draining America’s own defensive readiness? “We're in very good shape,” Berger replied. “I think all of us are, [and] we have the resources that we need, if we get a budget on time, and [the] predictability comes along with it.” For the Army, “As far as readiness, we're ready to fight tonight,” McConville said. When it comes to the Navy, “We're extremely well-resourced,” Gilday said, but cautioned, “It's never something that you're quite satisfied with,” because “You never want to be overconfident.” For the Air Force, “I feel like we’re ready,” Brown said. However, “If you go back to what happened during sequestration, we shut down flying, which really did impact readiness. And we've dug ourselves out of a hole, which is why we don't want to go back to that.”
What has the Ukraine war revealed in terms of how warfare is changing? “The obvious one I would say right off the bat is that coalitions [and] alliances matter,” Berger said. For Air Force chief Brown, “The sharing of information going into this helped bring allies and partners together, the international community together.” For McConville, “To me, the key factor [in Ukraine] is their will to fight; and that has changed the dynamics and quite frankly, I would argue the support of the world in their endeavors.”
How should the military try to pull itself out of the current recruiting slump, which now affects at least three services for the second year in a row? For the Coast Guard’s Fagan, “I think we all need to talk more directly about what it means to serve, that it is an honorable profession to join the military or serve your government. That what we offer is priceless in many regards, right? That sense of community and belonging, work that's valuable and directly contributes to national security. And there's probably a narrative there for all of us.” Saltzman of the Space Force sees a kind of post-war-on-terror lull affecting all of the services. “There's not as many people that are veterans as there were in the past,” he said. “And that gulf is widening, and that creates lack of understanding, [and a] lack of familiarity. And if we can't talk about government service in positive terms, if we can't talk about the values of military service, I think that gulf is just gonna get larger.”
Brown was of a similar mind to Saltzman, when it comes to recruiting. “I believe that young people only aspire to be what they see,” he said. “And if they don't ever have a chance to see the opportunities in serving in the military, then they're not inclined.” And smartphones have revolutionized life in the years since 9/11, too, Brown noted. In terms of today’s youth, “I think they have a lot of options in the palm of their hand, and get bombarded with opportunities,” he said. Maybe the military should emphasize more that citizens can serve for short periods, that they don’t have to make a career out of it, Brown said.
The Navy’s Gilday highlighted “misinformation” online today and “a decline in trust in institutions and the government,” and added, “I think that's affected us in the recruiting world.”
For the Army’s McConville, serving in the military might just be too insular. For example, he said, “83% of the young men and women that come into the army come from military families.” And that, he said, shows “We are a military family business; [but] we really need to be an American family business.” How to do that? He agreed with Fagan and Brown. “We’ve got to expose more people to what the military is all about,” McConville said. “We’ve got to get outside of our gated communities [and] show people the value of service.”
Berger of the Marine Corps said he’s encouraged by the discussions that have been happening lately about the Pentagon’s current recruiting challenges. After all, he said in a line that drew a hearty reply from his colleagues, “Those of us who have been on the recruiting duty know it's not an all-volunteer force, it's an all-recruited force.”
Additional reading for this week’s GOP-White House debt ceiling negotiations:
- “White House, Republican negotiators to resume debt ceiling talks Tuesday,” Reuters reported Tuesday;
- “Biden Has No Good Options in Debt-Ceiling Fight,” the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday;
- “Dow Drops Over 100 Points as Debt Ceiling Deadline Looms,” the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday morning;
- “As funds run short, Treasury asks agencies if payments can be made later,” the Washington Post reported Tuesday;
- “Why we may need a stock market plunge to solve the debt ceiling crisis,” CNN speculated Monday;
- House Speaker Rep. Kevin “McCarthy’s PR strategy on debt ceiling gets results,” The Hill reported Monday, citing two surveys (Harvard/Harris, and Economist/YouGov) published in the last week and a half;
- “Democrats voice regrets over botched debt ceiling strategy,” Axios reported Monday;
- “The Media Is Normalizing Debt-Ceiling Extortion,” Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine wrote last week;
- “Finger-Pointing Won’t Save Anyone if Default Leads to Economic Collapse,” the New York Times reported over the weekend;
- And “These are some of the people who'll be impacted if the U.S. defaults on its debts,” via NPR, reporting Monday.
From Defense One
Army Mulls 10-20% Cut to Special Operations Forces // Caitlin M. Kenney: Lawmakers and Army officials have discussed cuts through decade’s end, including to Green Berets, psyops, and enablers.
Air Force Working Closely with New-Jet Designers, Secretary Says // Audrey Decker: Service engineers are “living in the same design space” as the two companies doing NGAD development, Frank Kendall said.
F-16s Would Make No ‘Fundamental Change’ in Ukraine’s War Effort, USAF Secretary Says // Audrey Decker: Biden’s decision to start training Ukrainian pilots on the jet is more about setting up Kyiv’s long-term capabilities, Kendall said.
GEOINT Conference Wire 2: All Eyes on AI // Lauren C. Williams: Many of the discussions on Day 1 of the geospatial-intelligence conference centered on generative artificial intelligence.
Bringing GPS to the Moon Is the Next Frontier // Lauren C. Williams: The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is part of a government collaboration to bring precise navigation to the lunar surface.
Defense Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense Business Brief: Digital-design disappointments; Debt-ceiling doubts; JADC2 agility; and more
Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad and editing by Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1939, U.S. Navy submarine USS Sailfish (SS-192) sank during tests off the coast of New Hampshire; 26 members of the crew perished in the incident, and 33 were rescued.
Developing: Russia’s military says it launched airstrikes and artillery on its own soil after alleged armed dissidents claimed to have “liberated” three villages inside the western Russian border region of Belgorod on Monday. The fighting there has continued into Tuesday, according to Reuters, which described it as “one of the biggest incursions of its kind” during Russia’s 15-month-old Ukraine invasion.
Involved: Two groups calling themselves the Freedom of Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps. “Both say they comprise armed Russian fighters seeking to overthrow President Vladimir Putin,” Reuters writes. The New York Times reported three months ago on the little-known Free Russia Legion.
Troops from U.S. Africa Command and more than a dozen allies are participating in an annual joint exercise that’s set to run through mid-June. This year’s iteration of the African Lion drills—which span Ghana, Morocco, Senegal, and Tunisia—will feature activity on the land, by sea, and in the air, including three humanitarian response events or two chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear response exercises, the U.S. Army’s Southern European Task Force, Africa, said late last week.
About 8,000 troops from 18 countries are teaming up for African Lion 2023. And the U.S. has brought several different aircraft to assist, including a C-130J Super Hercules, KC-135 Stratotanker, F-16 Fighting Falcons and bombers.
Meanwhile on the other side of Africa: The U.S. military conducted an airstrike against alleged al-Shabaab militants Saturday in Jilib, southern Somalia, U.S. Africa Command announced Tuesday. As usual, officials at AFRICOM don’t believe any civilians were hurt or killed in the attack. But somewhat uncharacteristically, it remains unclear how many militants AFRICOM targeted or believes were killed in the strike.
For a window into the recent history of U.S. airstrikes in Somalia, you can review year-by-year statistics (2019 was the most violent) maintained by analysts at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Long War Journal, here.
This week in mythbusting: “Veterans Don't Support Extremist Groups Any More Than the Public Does,” researchers from RAND Corporation say in a new study. It’s a common complaint heard most recently in the context of the failed insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, which led to some of the first sedition charges in decades, and several of those charged had military backgrounds.
Among the findings: “One percent of veterans reported support for white supremacy, compared to nonveterans at 7%,” NPR’s Quil Lawrence reports from the new data. And “Vets voiced support for the far-right Proud Boys at 4%, compared to nonveterans at 9%.” And in terms of Antifa, “About 10% of the general public said they support the far-left movement, while only 5.5% of veterans said they support Antifa,” Lawrence reports.
“Those initial reports spurred a lot of fear and concern,” one of RAND’s researchers told NPR. “But no one's actually looked at the numbers” until now, he said. Read over the study for yourself over at RAND, here.
And lastly: Speaking of veterans, PBS Frontline is airing a new episode this evening returning to “one of the defining episodes of the Iraq War,” which is the battle for Fallujah—featuring many of the vets, Iraqis, and surviving family members two decades later. That airs at 10 p.m. ET. Catch a 30-second trailer, here.