Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: Biden Air Force nominees | Iranian ships harassing US vessels

Gina Ortiz Jones

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: President Biden will nominate Frank Kendall, who served as the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer in the Obama administration, to be secretary of the Air Force, the White House announced Tuesday.

Biden will also nominate Gina Ortiz Jones, a former Democratic congressional candidate in Texas, to serve as the Air Force’s No. 2 civilian official, the White House added in a news release.

Kendall’s background: Kendall previously served as under secretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics from October 2011 to January 2017, focusing on acquisition reform through his Better Buying Power initiatives.

Kendall, a West Point graduate, is an Army veteran but worked frequently with the Air Force as the Pentagon’s acquisition chief.

During his previous tenure at the Pentagon, Kendall was highly critical of the F-35 fighter jet program, calling the decision to put it into production before flight tests “acquisition malpractice” in 2012.

During the 2020 presidential campaign, Kendall advised Biden on defense issues.

Jones’ resume: Jones is an openly gay Filipino American Air Force veteran who would be the first woman of color to serve as under secretary of the Air Force if she’s confirmed.

During her active-duty military career from 2003 to 2006, Jones served as an intelligence officer, deploying at one point to Iraq.

Jones later served as an adviser at U.S. Africa Command and the Defense Intelligence Agency before holding positions in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative from 2016 to 2017.

Jones ran to represent Texas’s 23rd congressional district in both 2018 and 2020 but narrowly lost both races to her Republican opponents.

Other nominations: In addition to Kendall and Jones, the White House announced Biden will nominate Heidi Shyu, the Army’s former top acquisitions official, to be under secretary of Defense for research and engineering; Meredith Berger, a former Pentagon and Environmental Protection Agency official, to be assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and environment; and attorney Caroline Krass to be Pentagon general counsel.

Read more about the nominations here.



Three Iranian ships harassed a U.S. Navy and a U.S. Coast Guard vessel on Monday in the Persian Gulf, drawing so close at one point the Americans fired warning shots, the Navy revealed Tuesday.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) boats came to “an unnecessarily close range” of the U.S. ships in the second such interaction between the U.S. and Iran in the region this month. The Navy earlier on Tuesday revealed a similar incident that took place on April 2.

What exactly happened: In the April 26 incident, three IRGCN fast inshore attack craft “failed to exercise due regard for the safety of other vessels as required under international law as they came into close proximity to U.S. naval vessels in international waters of the north Arabian Gulf,” U.S. 5th Fleet said in a statement.

The Iranian armed speed boats rapidly approached U.S. Navy patrol coastal ship USS Firebolt and U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat USCGC Baranoff, coming as close as within 68 yards to both U.S. ships.

The two American crews — who were conducting routine maritime security operations in international waters at the time — issued multiple radio warnings and loud-hailer devices, but the Iranian ships continued their maneuvers.

“The crew of Firebolt then fired warning shots, and the IRGCN vessels moved away to a safe distance from the U.S. vessels,” according to the statement.

Second time this month: On April 2 three Revolutionary Guard ships provoked two U.S. Coast Guard patrol boats over three hours, repeatedly crossing in front of their bows at “extremely close range,” according to the Navy. 

The earlier incident, which the Navy described as “unsafe and unprofessional,” was not previously disclosed until Tuesday. 

Read more about the incidents here. 



A House Appropriations Homeland Security subpanel will hold a hearing on “Coast Guard Readiness,” with Adm. Karl Schultz, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, at 10 a.m. 

Air Force Research Laboratory commander Brig. Gen. Heather Pringle; and Joel Mozer, chief scientist of the U.S. Space Force will hold a roundtable discussion with media at 10 a.m. 

The House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on “The Department of Defense’s Financial Improvement and Audit Readiness Plan: FY2020 Audit Results and the Path Forward,” at 11 a.m. in Rayburn House Office Building, room 2118. 

The Institute for Defense and Government Advancement will hold Day 1 of its virtual 2021 Hypersonic Weapons conference beginning at 11 a.m. 

A Senate Armed Services subcommittee will hold a hearing on “Defense acquisition programs and acquisition reform,” at 2:30 p.m. in Russell Senate Office Building, room 222. 

Another Senate Armed Services subpanel will hold a hearing on “U.S. Special Operations Command’s efforts to sustain the readiness of special operations forces and transform the force for future security challenges,” at 2:30 p.m. in Russell 232A.

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will speak at a Johns Hopkins University virtual seminar on Subtle Dimensions of National Power — The U.S. in a Post-Pandemic World,” at 5 p.m. 

President Joe Biden will deliver his first address to a joint session of Congress at 8 p.m. in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol.



— The Hill: Nigerian president calls on US to relocate Africa Command headquarters

— The Hill: DHS to review process for responding to domestic extremism

— The Hill: State Department ordering some staffers out of Kabul

— The Hill: Lawmakers tout bipartisan support for resolution criticizing Iran’s government

— Bloomberg: The Hill: Kerry denies allegations from leaked Iran tapes

–The Associated Press: Islamic State degraded in Afghanistan but still poses threat

— Reuters: Shaken U.S. Capitol on high alert for Biden’s first address to Congress

— Military Times: US troops now ‘commuting to work’ to help Somalia fight al-Shabab

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