Defense & National Security — Austin huddles with counterparts on Ukraine
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with top military officials from more than 40 countries to discuss Ukraine’s war against Russia. We’ll break down the highlights.
Plus, a new report from a Senate subcommittee alleges a contractor mistreats servicemembers living in its housing.
This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Jordan Williams. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.
US defense chief rallies counterparts in Europe
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with top military officials from over 40 nations at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
The meeting comes as Russia’s invasion enters its third month, and Moscow launches an effort in the eastern part of the country.
Austin and his counterparts discussed aid for Ukraine, progress made in the conflict, and Ukraine’s postwar military needs.
Will be a monthly occurrence: The Pentagon chief also told reporters after the meeting that he will meet monthly to discuss Ukraine’s self-defense and “continue to build on our progress,” with gatherings to be in person, virtual or mixed.
Allies step up: Austin said officials are coming away from the meeting determined to help Ukraine win the war and build strength for future conflicts, noting that Germany earlier on Tuesday pledged 50 Cheetah anti-aircraft armored vehicles and Canada the same day announced it would also send armored vehicles.
That news follows the British government’s Monday announcement that it would give a small number of Stormer armored vehicles outfitted with launchers for anti-aircraft missiles, Austin added.
“That’s important progress. We’re seeing more every day. And I applaud all the countries that have risen and are rising to meet this demand. But we don’t have any time to waste,” he said.
Invasion threatens international security: Following the consultative meeting, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley told CNN that the “global international security order” put in place following World War II is being threatened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”
“If this is left to stand, if there is no answer to this aggression, if Russia gets away with this cost-free, then so goes the so-called international order, and if that happens, then we’re entering into an era of seriously increased instability,” Milley told the outlet.
“What’s at stake is the global international security order that was put in place in 1945,” he added.
Russia draws US rebuke after raising nukes
Russia’s most recent threats of escalating its attack on Ukraine into a nuclear conflict are “unhelpful” and “irresponsible,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Tuesday.
“You’ve heard us say a number of times that that kind of rhetoric is very dangerous and unhelpful,” Austin told reporters following a meeting with military leaders from more than 40 countries at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
“Nobody wants to see a nuclear war happen. It’s a war where all sides lose, and so rattling sabers and … dangerous rhetoric is clearly unhelpful and something that we won’t engage it.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov a day earlier said that the threat of nuclear war “should not be underestimated,” and that “the danger is serious.”
The comments were a response to the U.S. and other NATO countries supplying billions of dollars in aid and weapons to Ukraine, which Lavrov called “pouring oil on the fire” in the conflict.
Raytheon Technologies, the maker of the thousands of Stinger missiles sent to Ukraine amid its war with Russia, will not be able to quickly produce more of the weapons due to lack of parts and materials, the company’s CEO said Tuesday.
What’s going on: Raytheon won’t be able to ramp up production of Stingers anti-aircraft systems until at least 2023 as the company must “redesign some of the electronics in the missile and the seeker head,” due to some components no longer being commercially available, CEO Greg Hayes told investors during a Tuesday earnings call.
That redesign is “going to take us a little bit of time,” Hayes said.
In addition, Raytheon’s production line is only able to build a limited number of Stingers and will need a big commitment from the U.S. government to fund a sharp increase in production, factors that mean missile assembly won’t be ramped up until next year at the earliest, he predicted.
The elephant in the room: The U.S. has sent more than 1,400 Stingers, man-portable systems that can be used to shoot down aircraft and drones.
European nations have also pulled hundreds of Stingers from their stockpiles for Kyiv.
But until the war, the Army had been moving to retire Stingers, moving instead toward a new portable anti-air missile to be built by 2028.
That drawdown means a slowed timeline to replenish stocks.
Panel alleges contractor mistreating military families
One of the military’s largest private housing contractors continued to mistreat service members living in its housing units even as the contractor was under investigation, a Senate panel found.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) says that Balfour Beatty Communities continued to engage in many of the same misconduct after 2019, even when it knew it was under investigation by the Department of Justice.
The panel, chaired by Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), released a report detailing the allegations and held a hearing featuring testimony from servicemembers and representatives for the company.
If Balfour sounds familiar: Balfour, which operates housing communities at 55 military bases across the country, ultimately pled guilty to defrauding the military late last year.
It was ordered to pay over $65 million in December 2021 after pleading guilty to defrauding the Army, Air Force and Navy by submitting false reports to get performance bonuses between 2013 and 2019.
The report: The 51-page report comes after PSI investigated the allegations for eight months. The panel focused its investigation on Fort Gordon in Georgia and Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas.
Among other things, the report found that Balfour’s staff frequently ignored or delayed responding to urgent requests from military families to address conditions such as mold and roof leaks at Fort Gordon. In several cases, these delays led to families seeking care for skin conditions and respiratory symptoms.
The panel also found inaccuracies and omissions in Balfour’s internal work order database, which the military services use in-part to determine the company’s performance award fee.
Panel hears from service members: Two U.S. service members, a military spouse and a military housing advocate testified before the panel on Tuesday to discuss their experiences with Balfour.
Capt. Samuel Choe, who is currently stationed at Camp Humphreys, South Korea, flew in to share his experiences living in a Balfour-managed home at Fort Gordon from 2019 to 2021. He alleged that the company ignored mold growing in his home, causing his 8-year-old daughter to live with severe eczema.
Tech Sgt. Jack Torres of the Air Force testified that Balfour repeatedly ignored mold that was growing in his home and said he had been displaced twice because his concerns were not taken seriously.
Balfour defends itself: In a separate panel, company representatives Richard Taylor and Paula Cook were confronted about the testimony they heard and defended the steps Balfour has taken to improve amid the $65 million settlement.
Taylor, who is the president of Facility Operations, Renovation and Construction at Balfour, told the panel that while things can go wrong, he rejects the notion that the issues detailed in the panel’s report are systemic.
“What’s important for us is that we understand where our shortcomings are and we take action to correct those deficiencies,” he said.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
- President Biden will attend the funeral of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at 11 a.m.
- Defense One will host an event entitled “The Path to Marine Corps Modernization” at 1 p.m.
- Armed Services Committee holding a hearing on the Air Force budget at 10 a.m.
- Transportation Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation will hold a budget hearing at 10 a.m.
- Budget Committee will hold a hearing on the DOD’s 2023 budget at 10:30 a.m.
- Appropriations Committee will hold a closed hearing on the NSA and Cyber Command’s budget at 10:30 a.m.
- Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces will hold a hearing on “Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Request of the Department of Defense for Fixed-Wing Tactical and Training Aircraft Programs” at 2 p.m.
- Veterans’ Affairs’ Subcommittees on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs and Oversight and Investigations will host a hearing at 2 p.m.
- Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies will hold a hearing on “FY 2023 Budget Request for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation” at 2:30 p.m.
- Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces will hold a hearing on “Department of the Navy Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Request for Seapower and Projection Forces” at 4:30 p.m.
- Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities will hold a hearing on U.S. Special Operations Command’s “efforts to sustain the readiness of special operations forces” against future threats at 2 p.m.
- Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel will hold a hearing on “Military and civilian personnel programs” for the 2023 budget at 3 p.m.
- Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs will hold a hearing on the State Department’s budget at 2 p.m.
- Foreign Relations Committee will hold a closed hearing on “Recent Developments in China’s Nuclear Capabilities” at 2:30 p.m.
- Veterans’ Affairs Committee will hold a nomination hearing at 3 p.m.
- Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces will hold a hearing on “Department of Energy’s atomic energy defense activities and Department of Defense nuclear weapons programs” in the 2023 budget at 4:30 p.m.
WHAT WE’RE READING
- Lawmakers return from Poland with resolve to help Ukraine
- McCarthy’s comment on Trump pardon could be key for Jan. 6 panel
- Austin says he ‘does not’ believe Russian invasion will end in nuclear war
- State uses first Biden-era emergency declaration to approve ammunition sale to Ukraine
- Dems struggle to contain fallout over Trump-era immigration rule
- Supreme Court wrestles with Trump’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy
- The Hill Opinion: Putin’s war sparked an urgent need to expand the US military-industrial base
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