Gitmo needs $200 million in upgrades; Guardsmen called up in Oklahoma; an ICBM test planned for today; Hagel meets with a Russian; What North Korea could do to the U.S.; Baron, out; and a bit more.
By Gordon Lubold
The Pentagon is considering a request from U.S. Southern Command to spend about $200 million renovating some of the buildings at Gitmo. President Barack Obama is expected to make a major speech Thursday at National Defense University about his administration's drone policy as well as an update of his plans to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where detainees have been held since 2002. But the complex, designed as a temporary facility to last only three or four years, is now 11 years old, and some of the buildings there, including medical and legal facilities, barracks, the cafeteria and other buildings, have to be fixed or replaced.
"The mess hall, the barracks for my military personnel down there are just ramshackle," Gen. John Kelly, commander of Southern Command, told Situation Report in an interview in his Miami office last week. "No one thought [Gitmo] would be open this long, so they didn't build any accommodations for the troops." Southern Command's request is for approximately $197 million to repair or replace medical and mess hall facilities, the high value detainee facility, a communications network facility, and others, for eight separate projects in all. The proposal will be seen as politically troubling for at least two reasons: critics will be concerned that the construction projects are aimed to make life better for detainees; and, at a time of budgetary woe, spending millions on a facility that is supposed to be closed doesn't make much sense, others will argue. But none of the projects "will improve the lifestyle of the detainees," Kelly said, and even when Gitmo is closed, the new facilities can be used for other purposes, such as a logistics point for humanitarian relief in the wake of a natural disaster, like an earthquake or hurricane.
Such a disaster could also pose a massive migration, like what a Southern Command official told Situation Report occurred in the early 1990s, when more than 40,000 Haitian and Cuban migrants took to the seas. The facilities at Gitmo, after it was closed, could be used to handle a mass migration until those people were repatriated or transferred somewhere else, the official said.
The Pentagon is weighing whether the projects should be paid for out of existing funds, which would allow the money to be obligated by September and work to begin shortly thereafter, or put in a request for new military construction funding that would put the improvement projects there on a one-to-three year timetable, like other military construction projects, said a Pentagon official.
There are 166 detainees at Gitmo currently. Of those, there are 103 identified as hunger strikers, and 30 of them are being forced fed. The hunger strike is thought to have begun in early February, reportedly in response to searches and a new guard force. A hunger strike timeline, from RT, here.
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Hagel meets with Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev today. He'll also host Australian Minister of Defense Stephen Smith at noon. Smith arrives at the Pentagon's River Entrance for an "honor cordon" before the two slip into the building for a series of meetings. Then he's off to the White House for a meeting with POTUS.
There are more than 240 Oklahoma National Guard on active duty following the massive twister that killed more than 90 people, including 20 children. A Pentagon official told Situation Report this morning that the Guardsmen have been deployed to assist first responders with search and rescue, security, and logistical support as officials in Oklahoma City and environs scramble in response to the huge tornado that left a two-mile-wide swath of destruction. Obama will speak on the disaster this morning at 10 a.m.
WaPo's slide show of the destruction, here.
Weather.com's video of the "huge, deadly tornado," here.
There's a test launch scheduled for this morning at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The Air Force announced there would be an operational test launch of an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile between 3:01 and 9:01 a.m., West Coast time. The missile's unarmed single re-entry vehicle is expected to travel approximately 4,190 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, according to a press release from Air Force Global Strike Command. "Data collected further validates and verifies the effectiveness, readiness and accuracy of the weapon system while providing valuable information to assist the Air Force in sustaining and modernizing the Minuteman III through 2030," according to the statement.
The test comes as an op-ed paints a dark picture of what North Korea could do to the U.S. Former CIA Director James Woolsey and Peter Vincent Pry, executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, write today that North Korea needs only one ICBM that is capable of delivering a single nuclear warhead in order to pose an "existential threat to the U.S." The Congressional Electromagnetic Pulse Commission, the Congressional Strategic Posture Commission, and other U.S. government studies "have established that detonating a nuclear weapon high above any part of the U.S. mainland would generate a catastrophic electromagnetic pulse," the two write. "An EMP attack would collapse the electric grid and other infrastructure that depends on it -- communications, transportation, banking and finance, food and water -- necessary to sustain modern civilization and the lives of 300 million Americans."
Of course, there are also many skeptics to what Woolsey and Pry believe. Many other scientists and other experts think it's highly improbable that this would actually work, that the North Koreans are capable of putting an efficient, EMP-producing nuclear weapon on a missile and launching it to produce that effect.
The best defense against any of this is a hardening of the grid, in what most believe is an expensive proposition all around. Writing in Politico last week, Reps. Trent Franks, Yvette Clarke and James Arbuthnot believe that it could be done relatively cheaply, however. "According to the studies, hardening the grid would provide the best protection, and estimates suggest the cost would be low. Of course, building a plan to protect the grid will take time, and implementing it will take a dedicated, serious public-private partnership. With the U.S. power grid mostly under private corporate ownership and control, finding an optimum mix of corporate, legislative and regulatory initiatives won't be easy. Is it worth it? Is there anything wrong with a ‘let's just wait and see' approach?"
Sorry to see him go, wishing him luck, sorta-kinda. We're sorry to report that Foreign Policy National Security's own Kevin Baron, owner and author of our E-Ring blog, is moving on. Baron has been hired as the executive editor of a start-up defense pub, Defense One, by Atlantic Media, which will theoretically compete with a number of other defense publications, including FP National Security. Baron came to FP from another Atlantic publication, National Journal, but is returning to the mother ship to help create the new publication, launching this summer. Mashable had the story: "Baron has just a few weeks to contract staff writers and contributors and to launch the title. It will start with just a handful of writers and editors, borrowing stories from other Atlantic Media publications and drawing on the company's existing technical and production resources, Baron said in a phone interview with Mashable on Friday. A spokesperson for Atlantic Media said the size of the Defense One team will eventually match or surpass those of other core Atlantic brands such as Quartz or Government Executive, which each have between 15 and 20 employees working on content and production."
Where will China train its carrier-based pilots? Glad you asked. Killer Apps' John Reed has the answer, here. Reed, on the image he found: "As you can see in the Google Maps image above, the airfield (located about 300 miles from Qingdao, the homeport of China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning) is freshly built and the northern end of the runway features a fake carrier flight deck that appears to be used to practice carrier landings (there are clear skid marks on the landing area). The southern end of the runway features two ‘ski-jump' ramps that are likely used by pilots to rehearse taking off from Liaoning's bow-mounted ramp. (Notice how only one of these ramps is complete in the imagery above while the southernmost ramp appears is shown being built in an older satellite image of the base.)"
Today on a Senate panel's agenda, Syria. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will debate Syria, the U.S., and options going forward today. Specifically, they'll talk about "The Syrian Transition Support Act of 2013," a bipartisan piece of legislation introduced by chairman and New Jersey Democrat Sen. Robert Mendendez. The Foreign Policy Initiative's Bobby Zarate wrote yesterday that the bill, co-authored by Menendez and Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker would seek to boost support for Syrian rebels, impose new sanctions on arm sales and oil, and create a $250 million post-Assad Syrian transition fund.
Zarate: "While the Syria Transition Support Act expressly restricts the transfer of anti-aircraft defensive systems to Syrian armed opposition groups, it would permit the President to waive this restriction on national security grounds, if he certifies to Congress that either (a) anti-aircraft defense systems transferred to Syrian rebels can be tracked or remotely disabled, or (b) their end-use can be effectively monitored by the United States." And: "Efforts by Senate lawmakers to advance Syria legislation are timely, given the reported success of the Assad-regime's latest attacks against rebel-held territory and growing uncertainty over President Obama's renewed diplomatic initiatives to resolve the conflict. Although the Obama administration is working to organize negotiations in Geneva next month, the prospect for serious Syrian peace talks appears increasingly bleak." Zarate's piece, here. Deets for SFRC's "business meeting" today at 2:15, Senate Dirksen 419, here.