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OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Pentagon asked to hold migrant children at two Texas bases | Admiral warns China invasion of Taiwan closer than people think | North Korea tests missiles

OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Pentagon asked to hold migrant children at two Texas bases | Admiral warns China invasion of Taiwan closer than people think | North Korea tests missiles
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Happy Tuesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

THE TOPLINE: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has asked the Pentagon to temporarily house unaccompanied migrant children at two Texas military installations, the Department of Defense (DOD) confirmed Tuesday.

HHS sent a request for assistance to the Pentagon for specific use of a vacant dorm at Joint Base San Antonio, in Lackland, and vacant land at Fort Bliss outside of El Paso, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

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Limited details: Kirby could not say if the request included the number of children that would be housed at each location, saying he had not seen the document and referring further questions to HHS.

“We have just received this request so I don’t have much more detail than that. We’ll analyze it and evaluate it just like we would any other request for assistance,” he said.

A surprise: The two bases had previously not been disclosed as under consideration to house migrant children, who have increased in number at the southwestern border in recent months.

The Pentagon revealed in early March that the Biden administration was considering Fort Lee, Va., about 30 miles south of Richmond, as a possible location to place some children and had conducted a site assessment. DOD has not yet received a formal request for assistance from HHS to use the Army facility.

Strained facilities: While the Biden administration is deporting most single adults and families attempting to cross the border illegally, it is not doing the same to unaccompanied children.

HHS-run shelters typically house the minors before they can be released to parents or other sponsors in the United States, but the department’s facilities have become strained under the current flood of border crossings.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas acknowledged last week that the number of attempted crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border is expected to reach its highest level in 20 years.

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Read more here.

TOP ADMIRAL WARNS POSSIBLE CHINA INVASION OF TAIWAN CLOSER THAN WE THINK

The possibility of China trying to invade Taiwan could happen sooner than most people think, the admiral nominated to lead U.S. military forces in the Indo-Pacific region said Tuesday.

Adm. John Aquilino, the head of U.S. Pacific Fleet, made the comment while testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee for his confirmation hearing to become head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (Indo-Pacom).

Asked by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) about a recent prediction from the current head of Indo-Pacom that China could try to invade Taiwan in as little as six years, Aquilino declined to endorse that specific timeline, saying “there’s many numbers out of there” ranging from “today to 2045.”

Aquilino’s prediction: Aquilino did suggest he thinks it is liable to happen sooner rather than later, saying Beijing views annexing Taiwan as its “No. 1 priority.”

“The rejuvenation of the Chinese Communist Party is at stake” when it comes to Taiwan, Aquilino said.

“My opinion is this problem is much closer to us than most think, and we have to take this on,” he added, advocating that a multibillion-dollar fund known as the Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI) be put in place “in the near term and with urgency.”

More money, please: The current commander of Indo-Pacom, Adm. Philip Davidson, has proposed Congress provide the PDI with about $4.7 billion in fiscal 2022 and about $27 billion through fiscal 2027 to fund items such as an Aegis Ashore missile defense system on Guam, upgrades to training ranges and expanded wargames.


Pentagon weighs in: Asked later Tuesday about the Defense Department’s confidence in the military’s ability to prevent China from moving on Taiwan, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby declined to “speculate about potential future operations” but said “nobody wants this to result in conflict.”

“The secretary is concerned at the significant changes that have been taking place in the PRC’s strategic forces,” Kirby said, referring to the People’s Republic of China. “And he's also concerned about the lack of transparency by Beijing about what they're doing. We would certainly welcome greater transparency about both their intentions and their modernization program. But again, nobody's interested in seeing this resulting conflict of any kind.”

A rocky relationship: U.S.-Chinese tensions have picked up in recent weeks as the Biden administration raises concerns with Beijing's human rights and economic abuses and other aggressive behavior in the Indo-Pacific region.

The administration is also seeking to cooperate with China in areas of mutual concern, such as climate change.

But the Biden administration’s first meeting with Chinese officials, which took place last week in Alaska, quickly turned into a verbal sparring match.

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NORTH KOREA TESTS MISSILES

North Korea reportedly fired off multiple short-range missiles last weekend after it denounced Washington for going forward with joint military exercises with South Korea.

The Washington Post first reported the missile tests, citing unnamed sources familiar with the situation.

Everyone is mum: North Korea has yet to comment on the missile launches, which the Post notes is unusual for the country which typically boasts of such developments as a sign of its military might. 

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby was asked about the reported tests Tuesday afternoon during a Department of Defense press conference.

“I have nothing for you on that right now," Kirby said.

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Last week: News of these missile tests come about a week after Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Ungave a vague warning to the U.S. regarding its approach to North Korea.

“We take this opportunity to warn the new U.S. administration trying hard to give off powder smell in our land,” she said according to the North Korean state news agency. “If it wants to sleep in peace for [the] coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step.”

No luck: The Biden administration has reportedly attempted multiple times, through several different avenues to get in contact with North Korea, but has been ignored so far.

First vice minister of Foreign Affairs for North Korea, Choe Son Hui, also said last week that the isolated nation will not discuss denuclearization until the U.S. stops its “hostile policies.”

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

A Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on Preparing for Future Crises: Examining the National Response Enterprise,” at 10 a.m. in Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 342. https://www.hsgac.senate.gov/subcommittees/etso/hearings/preparing-for-future-crises-examining-the-national-response-enterprise

The National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations will hold a webinar on the new report: “Changing Military Dynamics of the Middle East North Africa Region,” at 10 a.m. https://ncusar.org/?utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20032321_03/23/2021&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393

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The National Defense Industrial Association will hold its Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Conference and Exhibition, with Tom Cartledge, branch chief of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency's Nuclear Detection Division, at 10 a.m. https://www.ndia.org/events/2021/3/24/cbrn-quarterly-forum?utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20032321_03/23/2021&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393

Acting Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Director Peter Highnam will speak at the National Defense Industrial Association’s virtual National Security and Artificial Intelligence Conference and Exhibition, at 10 a.m. https://www.ndia.org/events/2021/3/23/1se1-national-security-ai-conference-and-exhibition?utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20032321_03/23/2021&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393

The Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress will hold a virtual discussion on “Lessons from New START and the Road Ahead for Nuclear Arms Control,” with former government officials, at 11 a.m. https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_7vnYTzJ3T1Wt3CBi40GUjA?_x_zm_rtaid=uz0IK1IYSlmbch2igtzNEg.1615824459262.6742b124cb8dda01014e1eaa2cb2dc48&_x_zm_rhtaid=727&utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20032321_03/23/2021&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393

Retired Army Gen. Vincent Brooks, former U.S. Korea commander, and retired South Korean Lt. Gen. In Bum Chun will speak at the Hudson Institute virtual event on “North Korean Threat Perception and the US-South Korea Alliance: Political-Military Dimensions,” at 12 p.m. https://www.hudson.org/events/1930-virtual-event-north-korean-threat-perception-and-the-us-south-korea-alliance-political-military-dimensions-part-1-of-2-32021?utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20032321_03/23/2021&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393

A Senate Armed Services subcommittee will hold a hearing on “Sexual Assault in the Military,” with a panel of survivors of sexual assault in the military and survivor advocates, and two subsequent panels with Brenda Farrell, director, Defense Capabilities and Management, Government Accountability Office; and retired Air Force Col. Don. Christensen, president of Protect Our Defenders, at 2:30 p.m. in Dirksen 106. https://www.armed-services.senate.gov/hearings/21-03-24-sexual-assault-in-the-military?utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20032321_03/23/2021&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393

And coming up next week: Former Defense Secretaries Chuck Hagel and Leon Panetta, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville and Michèle Flournoy will participate in The Hill's Future of Defense Summit at 12:30 p.m. March 29. RSVP today for event reminders. (https://futureofdefense.splashthat.com/)

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Second Marine officer fired after investigation into deadly sinking of assault vehicle

-- The Hill: White House confirms new round of talks with Iraq on US troop presence

-- The Hill: Opinion: We cannot let America's eyes go dark by ending drone intelligence

-- The New York Times: Foes in Afghan War See a Common Threat of Islamic State’s Return

-- The Washington Post: Facing sweltering soldiers and flooded ports, NATO to focus on climate change

-- Military Times: Skepticism surrounds VA promise to draw down backlog of compensation and pension exams