National Security

Sequester happens; The Pivot underway: first LCS sets sail today; Who at The Post took the call?; Being Steve Warren, and a little more.

Sequester happens. The Pentagon has lost a spectacular fight  - one it was never supposed to lose. Congress and the White House appear to have failed to strike a deal. This, despite more than a year of dramatic pleas from top brass to do something to stop the automatic cuts in the name of national security and even the welfare and readiness of its service members. Outside the building, the fear often came across as breathless and overly hyped, but to many inside the Pentagon, used to getting whatever they have needed from Congress for years, it was real. Yet the Senate's bid to stop the cuts failed yesterday and the House has left town without a deal, leaving the inescapable conclusion that sequester is going to happen at midnight tonight. It's now a safer bet that the Pentagon will have to brace itself for $46 billion in automatic cuts over the next seven months, forcing, the Pentagon says, unpaid furloughs for as many as 800,000 civilian workers, delayed deployments and a decreased ability to perform maintenance on ships.  But perhaps most strikingly, the failure of Congress and the White House to strike a deal is an implied message to the chiefs at the Pentagon - your word is no longer unimpeachable.

The Band-Aid is coming off. Although President Barack Obama is expected to meet with Congressional leaders today, there seemed to be no way out. Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will meet with his chiefs for the first time in the secure E-Ring room known as "the tank" today, to hear what they are doing to get ready for the cuts. Each service has put forward its most striking issue: for the Marine Corps, it could be combat units that are unable to achieve high standards of readiness, for the Navy, it is the cancelation of the carrier Truman's deployment and the possibility that flying hours for its pilots could be reduced. Ditto for the Air Force. And the Army worries about less funding to conduct necessary training.

Hagel and the rest of the Pentagon will now have to prepare for the next crisis - the end of the continuing resolution under which it has been funded. Although the automatic cuts that are sequester get the most attention, it is the "CR," which ends March 27, that poses the greater problems to the Defense Department because it effectively prevents "new starts" of programs or maintenance and, according to defense officials, seriously hampers the ability of the department to do the business of national security. But that fight will be for another day. Today the Pentagon is scrambling to prepare its sequester plans, briefing reporters today at 3:30 and looking for ways to minimize the impact sequester will have on operations.

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com. Sign up for Situation Report here or just shoot me an e-mail and I'll put you on the list. And as always, if you have a report, piece of news, or tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease. If we can get it in, we will. And help us fill our candy dish: news of the military weird, strange trends, personnel comings-and-goings and whatnot.

Who at the Post took Private Manning's call? Pfc. Bradley Manning yesterday in federal court said he provided volumes of classified military and diplomatic information to the Web site WikiLeaks in what amounted to the largest leak of classified information ever. Manning, who faces up to 20 years in prison for doing what he is accused of doing, disclosed for the first time why he did it: "I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information... this could spark a domestic debate over the role of the military and our foreign policy in general," he told a judge. He said he never was pressured by the anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks to provide the information and in fact had first called The Washington Post and The New York Times. Manning also reportedly attempted to deliver the goods to Politico - though neither the Washington Post or the NYT's stories mention it - but a winter storm prevented him from getting there. The WaPo: "Staying with an aunt in the Washington area as a blizzard blanketed the region, Manning said he called The Post, seeking a journalist willing to examine documents detailing security incidents in Iraq. He said he spoke to a female reporter who didn't seem to take him seriously because she said she would have to discuss any information with a senior editor." Manning then called the ombudsman at the NYT, at the time Clark Hoyt, left a voicemail message, and never heard back. Hoyt has been quoted as saying that he doesn't recall the call. The WaPo: "Spokespeople for The Post and the Times said Thursday that the newspapers had no knowledge about any attempts by Manning to offer information." So did Manning perjure himself?

The JSF program is cleared for takeoff. The Pentagon announced that it would soon resume flights of the F-35 fighter jet after grounding them last week when a half-inch tear was found in one plane of the ‘A' variant. The Pentagon said that no other cracks were found in any of the other planes or engines. A spokesman for engine maker Pratt & Whitney said tests over the last week showed that the crack in the blade of the engine came from the "unique operating environment" of flight testing instead of a design flaw that would have had a much bigger impact on the already troubled program.

The Pivot Underway: The first LCS sets sail for Singapore today. The first of four Littoral Combat Ships leaves San Diego for Singapore today, the E-Ring's Kevin Baron reports. It's, as he says, one of the Pentagon's "most visible signs to date" that the pivot to Asia is real. Pentagon officials say sequestration, which is expected to hit, like a storm, at around midnight tonight, could have an effect on the Pentagon's so-called pivot to Asia. The USS Freedom sets out on the same day sequestration comes - a coincidence. Baron: "But it is no accident that the Pentagon, while searching for ways to meet mandated budget cuts, has kept the LCS program fully funded and on schedule. Adm. Cecil Haney, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, in a statement: "Even in the face of potential budget cuts, there should be no doubt that the U.S. Pacific Fleet remains on watch and that we will continue to deploy our most capable units forward to operate with our allies and partners."

Steve Warren became a full-bird this week. Lt. Col. Steve Warren, the director of the Pentagon's press operations, pinned full-bird this week. He tells us it's humbling. "Those eagles are heavy and carry with them a lot of responsibility. I hope I'm up to the task," he tells Situation Report. Warren, who takes the job but not himself seriously, wondered if he might be afforded better treatment at home. After breakfast he told his wife, Mikyong, he thought that she should take out the trash from now on. Didn't happen, not happening. "Turns out colonel only gets you treated differently in some circles," he told us.

It's a week of firsts for Hagel. Yesterday, he approved his first deployment orders for combat arms and combat arms support units to replace existing units in Afghanistan.

Gordon Adams takes on John Kirby over the Pentagon's decision not to send a second carrier to the Gulf. This week, the chief public affair officer for the Navy, Rear Adm. John Kirby, laid out the Navy's explanation for why it announced it wasn't deploying the Truman to the Gulf in a piece in the Virginian Pilot. It wasn't done to make a point, he wrote, it was done because the Navy didn't have any more options. "Without a spending bill this year and no flexibility to supplement our operating accounts, those options were pretty simple: Either send the Truman on time and maintain a dual-carrier presence in the Gulf region through this year and not much longer; find some other non-Navy way to source the requirement; or delay the Truman's departure and deploy it some months later under a single-carrier plan we could safely support well into 2015," Kirby wrote. Gordon Adams sees it differently. Writing on FP, Adams wrote that the Navy had more flexibility than it has suggested it has, and that while the operating budgets it uses to fund such a deployment are targeted in sequester, it is also the most "flexible target" of sequester. To Kirby's piece: "That is nonsense. The Navy does have the flexibility Adm. Kirby says they lack -- the whole operations account is trade space under sequester. And what cost to readiness where? The Navy doesn't tell us what the cancellation of this deployment allows it to protect." Asked to respond to Adams, Kirby told Situation Report: "I'll let my op-ed speak for itself."

Noting

  • Killer Apps: Chinese surface-to-air missiles are being used by Syrian rebels.
  • Slate: (Kaplan): Why sequester for the Pentagon is worse than you think.
  • Defense News: Contractors for F-35 push back on criticism.  
  • NYT Room for Debate: Cyber: We have an antiquated framework. 
  • Stripes: DoD, VA, divided over seamless system for medical records.
  • NightWatch: News and comment on Japan and China; North Korea. 

 

National Security

Hagel remembers the ‘jarring gong’; Sequester a day away; Ooh-rah, Hoo-ah: the Marines, Army draw down quicker than expected; Why is the Air Force going old school? Farewell to Mike Evans, and a little more.

John Kerry announced this morning that the Syrian opposition will receive direct aid from the U.S. for the first time. CBS: "U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that the Syrian Opposition Coalition was the "legitimate voice of the Syrian people," and for the first time will receive direct, non-lethal support from Washington. He warned that Syria's long-time dictator, President Bashar Assad, was an individual "out of time, and who must be out of power."

Sequester is but a day away. The inevitability of it all -- big cuts totaling $46 billion between now and October -- has beset the Pentagon as defense officials, including Chuck Hagel, scramble to figure out how to deal with it all. For months, there was no plan as the Obama administration assumed this manufactured crisis would never happen. But despite a big meeting at the White House tomorrow between President Barack Obama and top congressional leaders, it's increasingly likely sequestration will hit, especially now that the Hill has begun to see the Pentagon doomdayers as Chicken Littles, a significant development with long-term implications beyond Pentagon budget cuts. Nevertheless, from decreased carrier operations in the Gulf to fewer burials at Arlington, the military has begun to prepare for the worst. Some Pentagon officials liken the last few weeks to watching a car wreck happen in slow motion: you can see it happening and you have time to do something about it, but you can't. Hagel may have been sent to the Pentagon for a specific reason -- to oversee cuts to the military -- whether through sequestration or otherwise. As a former sergeant, he may be seen as the man with the credibility to cut fat and even, in some cases, the muscle, as needed.

At the all-hands meeting in the Pentagon auditorium yesterday, Hagel told defense employees: "If there's one thing America has stood for more than any one thing, is that we are a force for good. We make mistakes. We've made mistakes. We'll continue to make mistakes. But we are a force for good. And we should never, ever forget that, and we should always keep that out in front as much as any one thing that drives us every day. As difficult as our jobs are with the budget and sequestration -- I don't need to dwell on all the good news there -- that's a reality. We need to figure this out. You are doing that. You have been doing that. We need to deal with this reality."

Interesting: Politico this morning prints the e-mails  between Bob Woodward and White House Economic Adviser Gene Sperling about "the orgins of sequester."

Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report, where we welcome the debut of a Dick Tracy "smartwatch" since it means we'd be notified every time our readers told us what's really happening -- or sent us candy. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com. Sign up for Situation Report here or just shoot me an e-mail and I'll put you on the list. And as always, if you have a report, piece of news, or tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease. If we can get it in, we will. And help us fill our candy dish: news of the military weird, strange trends, personnel comings-and-goings and whatnot.

The new Pentagon chief made a stop at the building's 9/11 memorial. The E-Ring's Kevin Baron reports that yesterday morning, Hagel's first day, he stopped by the memorial on the building's west side, where he remembered where he was on that day in 2001. "That was a ‘jarring gong,' that event," Hagel said during his remarks at the auditorium, invoking Winston Churchill, "that set in motion dynamics that we are living with today."

George Little is staying. Pentagon press secretary George Little will stay on as Chuck Hagel's spokesman and head of the Pentagon's massive press operation, at least for now, according to Kevin this morning. Baron: "Hagel began his tenure on Wednesday and the ex-senator arrived with few staffers in tow looking for top slots - including a spokesman. But Little and Hagel appear to have bonded well already, and plans remain on the table to expand the Pentagon press shop under Little's guidance as head of public affairs."

Hagel doesn't own a walnut farm. It's not clear where the new secretary of defense gets his R&R, but unlike his predecessor, Leon Panetta, Hagel doesn't own a walnut farm in California and won't be returning to it each weekend. Hagel lives in Northern Virginia, we're told. Hagel, who yesterday looked tanned, ready and rested, recently returned from an undisclosed "warm, sunny winter" destination with his family, we're told.

The ground services are so far beating their own targets when it comes to drawdown. The Army and Marine Corps are in the midst of drawing down their so-called end strength to get to a more appropriate force size in this "post-war" world. The Army, for example, is contracting from about 570,000 troops to about 490,000 by fiscal year 2017, and the Marines are decreasing from 202,100 to 182,100 by the end of fiscal 2016. So far, both services are doing better than they expected, voluntarily separating Marines and soldiers at a faster rate than their plans called for. The Corps, for example, is about 195,200 Marines strong, and is more than on target for reaching its goal at the end of this fiscal year of 193,500. In fact, the Corps may drop another 1,000 Marines below that goal, Situation Report is told. Likewise, the Army is ahead of track, losing personnel through normal attrition. It's current end-strength sits at about 541,000. But Congress has stipulated that no service can draw down much faster than its goals, dipping no less than .5 percent or Congress will send them a nasty-gram.

The Corps has a number of authorities and measures in place to use to achieve a successful drawdown, from temporary early retirement authority to time in grade waivers, all with the understanding that the Corps will maintain "faith" with its Marines, manpower officials tell Situation Report. The Army is achieving its draw down through normal attrition, but multiple sources have said it will take a new approach on drawing down since using only normal attrition as a way to reduce the force is considered an ineffective approach since it can allow good personnel to get out even when the Army wants to keep them. 

By the way: The current Air Force end-strength is about 329,400, which represents a reduction of about 3,300 airmen from fiscal 2012. The Air Force hasn't been specific about what size it will be in the future, but has said it will be a smaller force. Only the Navy is growing -- the service's end-strength sits at 318,000 and must grow to 322,700 sailors by October 1.

But the big fear among the services: additional troop cuts. Although personnel costs dominate the service's budgets -- more than 60 percent for the Marine Corps and somewhat less for the Army -- few want to cut below the existing goals of 490,000 soldiers and 182,100 Marines. But depending on what happens with sequester or with other mandatory budget cuts, depending, they may have to. A report co-authored by former CNO Gary Roughead and Hoover Institution fellow Kori Schake calls for a further reduction of the military's size, arguing in part that the Marine Corps could shrink by another 10,000 Marines. But Lt. Gen. Robert Milstead, who heads the Marines' manpower division, said he doesn't see it. "There's no lack of opinion in this town, especially by former flag officers that are now wearing a suit," Milstead told the Marine Corps Times' Dan Lamothe after testifying on the Hill yesterday. "That's his opinion, and he's certainly entitled to it.... If someone really wants to say that it could be 10,000 less, show me the beef. Show me the beef. Where's the analysis?"

Farewell to Mike Evans of the Times of London. The reporter is returning to the U.K. after three years covering the Pentagon here in Washington. He classed up the joint -- we wish him well.

The Air Force went old school. The service just bought 20 propeller-driven attack planes, the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano, the first such planes the Air Force has bought in decades, Killer Apps' John Reed reports. But they're not for the Air Force, he tells us: "Why on Earth is the Air Force buying planes that strongly resemble World War II fighters equipped with modern bombs and cockpit displays? Because it plans on turning them over to the nascent Afghan air force to fight the Taliban. The logic goes like this: the Afghans don't need and certainly can't afford to buy, operate, and maintain modern jet fighters (some of which burn more fuel on takeoff than the Super Tucano would use in an hour). Instead, the Afghan military needs a simple, rugged plane that can carry lots of bullets and bombs and stay over targets for long periods of time."

Noting

  • Fox opinion (Eaglen): Will Obama, Pentagon do the right thing on sequester?
  • Wonkblog: Absent a deal, sequester must begin at 11:59pm tomorrow.
  • AFP/Global Post: U.S. military may take over part of CIA drone war. 
  • NYT: $60 million in aid for Syria.  
  • Al-Monitor: No end in sight for Iraq oil dispute.
  • Afghan Analysts Network: Controlling the uncontrolled: the NSC's decision on Wardak.
  • Iran Primer: Iran talks: Is new momentum enough?    
  • Dawn: APC calls for immediate peace talks with Pakistani Taliban.
  • Haaretz: What's troubling Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah?