Overnight Defense

Defense & National Security – Pentagon delays missile test again

The Department of Defense has delayed a planned intercontinental ballistic missile test launch for the second time amid increased tensions with China over Taiwan.  

We’ll break down the second delay. Plus, we’ll get to know the Pentagon’s new press secretary — Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder.   

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.

Pentagon delays test over China-Taiwan tensions 

The Pentagon for a second time will hold off on a planned intercontinental ballistic missile test launch amid increased tensions with China over Taiwan, the White House confirmed Thursday.  

‘Destabilizing’ actions around Taiwan: “A long-planned Minuteman III ICBM test, scheduled for this week, has been rescheduled for the near future,” John Kirby, the National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, told reporters at the White House daily briefing.   

“As China engages in destabilizing military exercises around Taiwan, the United State is demonstrating instead the behavior of a responsible nuclear power by reducing the risks of miscalculation and misperception.”   

The last delay: This is the second delay for the Minuteman III test. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in early March ordered a planned test to be pushed back to cool tensions with Russia over its attack on Ukraine. 

Prior to the latest delay, as was first reported by The Wall Street Journal, the Air Force was planning to fire an unarmed missile from Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif., to land in the waters around the Marshall Islands, a former U.S. territory. 

Kirby later said the test was not canceled and could take place in “a couple of weeks” as “it’s not being postponed for an exorbitant amount of time.” He added it only was delayed “in light and in context of the tensions that we’re seeing right now, and they’re pretty escalated, . . . [the] temperature’s pretty high.” 

Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan: The decision comes as China earlier on Thursday fired missiles into the Taiwan Strait and deployed planes and warships in the area. The activity is part of Chinese wargames to last through Sunday in response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) visit to the island earlier this week.   

  • The trip sparked Beijing’s rage, as it views the independent island as its territory under its “One China” policy.   
  • The U.S., meanwhile, accepts the One China policy but has pursued strategic ambiguity toward Taiwan, committing to aiding the island in defending itself against Beijing. 

About the Minuteman III: Minuteman III ICBMs, located in underground silos in five Western states, are tested several times a year and can be ready to launch in minutes should the president order it.  

Biden slams Griner’s nine-year sentence

President Biden on Thursday called on Russia to release WNBA star Brittney Griner immediately, condemning a newly announced nine-year prison sentence for Griner as “unacceptable.” 

“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney,” Biden said in a statement. “It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates.” 

Biden said his administration would continue its efforts to bring Griner and Paul Whelan, another American detained in Russia, back to the United States “as soon as possible.” White House officials have said they are in regular contact with Griner’s family. 

A judge in Russia on Thursday sentenced Griner to nine years in prison on charges that she illegally brought drugs into the country. 

Read more here.  

Pentagon names Patrick Ryder new press secretary

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday announced Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder will be the Pentagon’s next press secretary, the first uniformed officer to fill the position since 2015.  

Ryder, the current Air Force public affairs director, steps into the role following the departure of John Kirby, who left the Defense Department in May join the White House as National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications. 

About Ryder: Ryder is no stranger to the podium, as he served as head spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2017 to 2019.  

He also worked for Austin from 2013 to 2016 as the top spokesman at U.S. Central Command when Austin was commander. 

An unusual choice: Austin’s choice to have a uniformed Pentagon spokesperson, first reported by CNN, is unusual given that service members are meant to be apolitical.   

The last uniformed officer in the role was then-Rear Adm. Kirby, who was appointed by then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in 2013.    

The following Defense Secretary, Ash Carter, replaced Kirby with former journalist Peter Cook when he entered the Pentagon in 2015.  

Next steps: Austin said Ryder will spend the next few weeks closing out his Air Force and Space Force responsibilities before assuming his new role later this month.   

Read the full story here.

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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