Overnight Defense

Defense & National Security — Pentagon chief addresses deaths on Navy ships

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin gives an opening statement during a House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense hearing to discuss the President’s FY 2023 budget fo the Department of Defense on Wednesday, May 11, 2022.
The Hill, Greg Nash

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has acknowledged that there’s a “problem” in terms of how Navy sailors are housed aboard ships in need of repair, such as the USS George Washington. 

We’ll break down the comments. Plus, we’ll look at what top Defense officials said about Russia’s use of hypersonic missiles in its attack on Ukraine and new legislation that would create a Space National Guard. 

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 Ellen Mitchell. Did a friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here

Austin acknowledges ‘problem’ on US Navy ships

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at a congressional hearing on Wednesday acknowledged that there’s a “problem” in terms of how Navy sailors are housed aboard ships in need of repair — his first about living conditions on the USS George Washington, where seven sailors have died in the past year. 

How it came up: The Pentagon chief was pressed about the living conditions during questioning from Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) at a hearing of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the Defense Department. 

  • Kaptur said she was worried that the time being taken to repair ships is creating a “dispirited situation” for sailors assigned to them. 
  • “For hundreds of sailors, they have no access to housing or a car, and they’re stuck on the ship,” Kaptur said. “This is really demoralizing.” 

Austin’s response: In response, Austin acknowledged that some sailors had been assigned to stay on ships going through repairs and that while there were reasons for those decisions, “there’s a problem there.” 

“We’ve got to understand what that problem was a bit more, and then we have to figure out what to do so we don’t have these kinds of problems in the future,” he added. 

The background: Three of the deaths on the USS George Washington were suicides within a week of each other in April. Sailors assigned to the ship have spoken out about the harsh conditions they have to work in. 

The service has allowed sailors currently living on the ship to temporarily relocate, and the service is conducting two investigations into the deaths. Austin said he looked forward to seeing the results of the probe and added that Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro is scheduled to visit the command of the ship on May 17. 

The USS George Washington is currently undergoing a midlife overhaul near the city of Newport News, Va., which has been ongoing since 2017. The typical four-year project is still undergoing repairs. 

Read the full story here

Pentagon: Hypersonic weapons not a game-changer 

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley on Wednesday said Russia’s use of hypersonic missiles in Ukraine has not had “significant or game-changing effects” in the war.   

“The Russians have used several hypersonic missiles,” Milley told lawmakers during a House Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing.  

“Obviously, the distinguishing factor of a hypersonic missile is the speed at which it travels … but other than the speed of the weapon — in terms of its effect on a given target — we are not seeing really significant or game-changing effects to date with the delivery of the small number of hypersonics that the Russians have used,” he noted. 

A known event: A day earlier, a senior U.S. defense official told reporters that Russia has used about 10 to 12 hypersonic weapons in Ukraine since its attack on the country began on Feb. 24. The official did not give specific dates and locations of the launches.   

U.S. European Commander Tod Wolters in late March told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Russia has launched “multiple” hypersonics in Ukraine, with most directed toward military targets. 

A first: On Wednesday, Milley said the use of the hypersonic weapons was the first time such munitions had ever been used in combat.  

He noted that Pentagon officials “have analyzed each of these shots that they’ve taken,” but he would only discuss such details in a classified session with lawmakers.   

Austin’s assessment: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who testified alongside Milley, also confirmed Russia had used hypersonic weapons several times in the conflict. He noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin used such weapons “weeks ago,” but that the launches were “not a major game-changer to this point.” 

Read more here

Senators introduce Space National Guard legislation

A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday introduced a bill that would create a Space National Guard under the newly-established U.S. Space Force. 

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in a press release that the Space National Guard Establishment Act pairs with legislation in the House from Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.) and corrects a bureaucracy issue in which National Guard troops are working on space missions within the Air Force instead of within their own branch. 

Their reasoning: “Without a National Guard component for Space Force, we risk losing many talented individuals who want to keep serving their country and their states after they leave active duty, and that is simply unacceptable,” Feinstein said in a statement. “Creating a Space Force National Guard would also save money and ensure a smoother process in the event we need to activate personnel. Not establishing a Space National Guard was a mistake when Space Force was created, and this bill will remedy that.” 

Earlier: Former President Trump signed into law a bill creating the Space Force in December 2019, which became the first new branch of the U.S. military in 73 years. 

Senators said when the Space Force was created, active-duty troops working on space missions in the Air Force were transferred to the new military branch. But there was no such authorized transfer for National Guard troops. 

What the bill would do: About 1,000 National Guard troops work on space-related missions within the Air Force. If the bill became law, it would simply transfer them to the Space National Guard to create a more efficient bureaucracy. 

Rubio said creating a Space National Guard would boost our military readiness and increase efficiency.” 

Read the full story here

ON TAP TOMORROW

  • President Biden welcomes leaders of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries and the ASEAN Secretary General Lim Jock Hoi to the White House for a dinner as part of the U.S.-ASEAN Special Summit. 
  • Navy leaders will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on “The Posture of the Department of the Navy in Review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2023 and the Future Years Defense Program,” at 9:30 a.m. 
  • The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on “U.S. Efforts to Support Ukraine Against Russian Aggression,” at 9:30 a.m.  
  • Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz will testify before a House Appropriations subcommittee on “Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Request for the United States Coast Guard,” at 10 a.m. 
  • Army Secretary Christine Wormuth and Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville  will testify before the House Armed Services Committee on “Department of the Army Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Request,” at 10 a.m. 
  • A House Intelligence subcommittee will hold a hearing on “Fiscal Year 2023 Military Intelligence Program Budget,” at 10 a.m.  
  • A House Appropriations subpanel will hold a hearing on “Army Installations and Quality of Life,” at 10:30 a.m.  
  • United Kingdom Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace will speak at a Washington Post Live event on how “NATO allies can ‘outgun and outnumber’ Putin,” at 10:30 a.m. 
  • A House Armed Services subcommittee will hold a hearing on “Air Force Projection Forces Aviation Programs and Capabilities related to the FY2023 President’s Budget Request,” at 2 p.m.   
  • Another House Armed Services subpanel will hold a hearing on “Reviewing Department of Defense Science and Technology Strategy, Policy, and Programs for Fiscal Year 2023: Accelerating the Pace of Innovation,” at 4:30 p.m. 

WHAT WE’RE READING

That’s it for today. Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!

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Tags Carlos Del Toro George Washington Lloyd Austin Marcy Kaptur Mark Milley

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