Overnight Defense: Air Force outlines plan for biggest force since end of Cold War | Trump admin slashes refugee cap | Mattis accuses Russia of meddling in Macedonia's NATO bid

Overnight Defense: Air Force outlines plan for biggest force since end of Cold War | Trump admin slashes refugee cap | Mattis accuses Russia of meddling in Macedonia's NATO bid
© Greg Nash

Happy Monday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Rebecca Kheel, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond.

THE TOPLINE: The Air Force wants to add 74 squadrons and 40,000 airmen to the service.

That growth would make the service the largest it has been since the end of the Cold War, when the Air Force had 401 squadrons.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson outlined the vision in a speech at an Air Force Association conference Monday.

"To face the world as it is, with a rapidly innovating adversary, the Air Force we need should have about 25 percent more operational squadrons in the 2025 to 2030 time frame than the Air Force we have," Wilson told attendees at the conference in National Harbor, Md.

Wilson, the service’s top civilian official, said the significant increase is needed because the Air Force is currently too small to meet its missions under the national defense strategy, with encroaching threats from Russia and China.

By the numbers: Right now, the Air Force has 312 operational squadrons.

Wilson says the Air Force instead needs 386, an almost 25-percent increase. The figure was based on internal studies conducted over the past six months.

Among the additions would be five new bomber squadrons, seven new fighter squadrons, 22 new command and control and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance squadrons, 14 new tanker squadrons, seven new special operations forces squadrons and seven new space squadrons.

Cyber and missile squadrons would be modernized but have no size increase.

The dollars: Before any of this growth can happen, Congress would need to approve funding.

Todd Harrison, a defense budget expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Friday the pay and benefits for 40,000 airmen would be about $5.2 billion.

Increasing the number of squadrons, meanwhile, could add $13 billion per year in operating costs, he said on Twitter.

PRICE TAG FOR SPACE FORCE: Speaking of Air Force cost estimates, a new memo from the service has priced President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP senator introduces bill to hold online platforms liable for political bias Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally MORE’s proposed Space Force at $13 billion over its first five years.

The estimate, first reported by Defense One, breaks down to $3 billion for the first year and $10 billion over the following four years.

An Air Force memo, dated Aug. 14 from Wilson, also estimates Space Force would need about 13,000 new personnel.

Why it matters: Cost has been one of the outstanding questions about Trump’s Space Force plans since Vice President Pence outlined the administration’s vision for the new military service at a Pentagon speech in August.

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who has been tasked with leading plans to establish the service, has said only that it could cost “billions.”

Proponents of the new service say that it is necessary to counter Russia and China, which have taken steps to create their own space military branches, saying the Air Force has not given space the attention it deserves.

Opponents of the plan, however, say creating a new service would cost too much and add more bureaucracy that could make the problem worse. They also argue that Congress has already taken steps to tackle the problem, such as this year’s defense policy bill’s direction to create a U.S. Space Command.

Wilson’s stance: Wilson opposed the idea of a separate branch of the military for space when Congress proposed a similar plan last year.

But since Trump’s new push on Space Force, Wilson has refrained from criticizing the proposal, saying earlier this month that she is in “complete alignment” with the president.

“As airmen, we have a responsibility to develop a proposal for the president that is bold and that carries out his vision,” she said Monday during a speech at an Air Force Association conference, in which she also laid out a plan to have the biggest Air Force since the end of the Cold War.

The Air Force is currently in charge of about 90 percent of the military’s space portfolio. Much or all of that could go into the new Space Force.

ADMIN SLASHES REFUGEE CAP: Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Shanahan exit shocks Washington | Pentagon left rudderless | Lawmakers want answers on Mideast troop deployment | Senate could vote on Saudi arms deal this week | Pompeo says Trump doesn't want war with Iran Progressive nonprofits sue White House over missing notes from Putin meeting Progressive nonprofits sue White House over missing notes from Putin meeting MORE announced Monday that Trump administration will cap the number of refugees that can be resettled in the United States at 30,000 for fiscal year 2019.

The new figure represents another dramatic reduction in the count of refugees that the U.S. plans to admit. Trump slashed the cap to a historic low of 45,000 in September.

In remarks at the State Department, Pompeo announced that the U.S. expects to process up to 30,000 refugees and 280,000 asylum seekers in fiscal year 2019.

Administration’s argument: Pompeo cited national security as a major factor in setting the new refugee ceiling, describing the previous asylum system as “defective” in not properly vetting foreign nationals for potential terrorist ties or other security risks. He also stressed the need to return “integrity” to the overall U.S. asylum system.

“The improved refugee policy of this administration serves the national interest of the United States,” Pompeo said. “We are and continue to be the most generous nation in the world.”

Pompeo also stressed that the proposed figure “must be considered in the context of the many other forms of protection and assistance offered by the United States.”

“Moreover, the refugee numbers should not be viewed in isolation from other expansive humanitarian programs,” Pompeo continued. “Some will characterize the refugee ceiling as the sole barometer of America’s commitment to vulnerable people around the world. This would be wrong.

Backlash: Unsurprisingly, humanitarian groups panned the administration’s new refugee cap.

Human Rights First’s Jennifer Quigley said in a statement that it represented a “shameful abdication of our humanity.”

Nazanin Ash, vice president of policy and advocacy at the International Rescue Committee, said in a statement the administration is “undermining a powerful tool to help the most vulnerable populations, aid the most unstable regions, and advance U.S. security and strategic interests.”

Ryan Mace, grassroots advocacy and refugee specialist at Amnesty International USA, said in a statement that “compounded by this administration’s history of creating road block after road block for refugees to arrive, this must be perceived as an all-out attack against our country’s ability to resettle refugees both now and in the future.”

MATTIS TRAVELS: Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisShanahan drama shocks Capitol Hill, leaving Pentagon rudderless Top nuclear official quietly left Pentagon in April Top nuclear official quietly left Pentagon in April MORE was on another one of his reassurance missions Monday.

This time it was a trip to Macedonia, where he sought to assure the country that the United States stands with it as it works to join NATO.

While there, Mattis accused Russia attempting to interfere in a referendum that would clear the path for Macedonia’s accession to NATO.

“We do not want to see Russia doing there [in Macedonia] what they have tried to do in so many other countries,” Mattis told reporters after speaking with Macedonia’s leaders in its capital of Skopje, according to reporters traveling with him.

Mattis appeared to be referring to U.S. concerns about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and other votes.

At issue: Macedonia is set to vote Sept. 30 on a name change as part of a deal with Greece.

The vote, if successful, would change the country’s name to the Republic of Northern Macedonia. In exchange, Greece would lift its opposition to the nation joining NATO and the European Union.

Russia opposes Macedonia’s to join NATO. Its ambassador in Macedonia has said the country could become “a legitimate target” if relations between NATO and Moscow continue to fall apart.

Still, Moscow has denied that it is meddling in the referendum campaign.


The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a business meeting to vote on several nominations at 10 a.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 419. https://bit.ly/2QDGqJu

The Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on the status U.S.-Russian arms control agreements with testimony from the State and Defense departments immediately following its business meeting at Dirksen 419. https://bit.ly/2D20N0b

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein will speak at the Air Force Association 2018 Air, Space and Cyber Conference at 10:45 a.m. Goldfein and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson will participate in a town hall at the conference at 2:10 p.m. https://bit.ly/2PRihPp

A Senate Armed Services Committee subpanel will hold a closed briefing on interagency coordination to protect critical infrastructure at 2:30 p.m. at the Senate Visitor’s Center, room 217. https://bit.ly/2xuWZ1E

The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee will hold a business meeting to vote on two nominees. The meeting will happen off the Senate floor at the same time the chamber holds its first votes of the day. https://bit.ly/2MB4nOp


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