Overnight Defense: Air Force halts Turkish F-35 pilot training | Key Republican pushes for $17 billion defense boost | Trump planning to send more US troops to Poland

Overnight Defense: Air Force halts Turkish F-35 pilot training | Key Republican pushes for $17 billion defense boost | Trump planning to send more US troops to Poland
© Greg Nash

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: The Pentagon has put on hold a training program to teach Turkish pilots how to fly the F-35 fighter jet, less than a week after the Defense Department announced a plan to "unwind" the NATO ally's participation in the program, a department spokesman has confirmed.

Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., has pulled 26 Turkish military personnel from the training program, a direct connection to U.S. concerns over Ankara's plan to the Russian-made  S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system, Foreign Policy first reported.

Lt. Col. Mike Andrews told The Hill that "the department is aware" that Turkish pilots are no longer flying at Luke Air Force Base.

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"Without a change in Turkish policy, we will continue to work closely with our Turkish ally on winding down their participation in the F-35 program. This disengagement plan is completely reversible if Turkey chooses to forego delivery of the S-400," Andrews said.

The background: U.S. government officials are concerned that if Turkey operates both the American-made advanced fighter jet and the Russian missile system, Moscow will gain a backdoor into highly guarded technical information on the F-35.

Turkey for months has refused to back down on its plans to buy the Russian system, prompting acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanWhy Dave Norquist is the perfect choice for DOD's deputy secretary Five questions for Trump's new defense secretary on first major tour Trump says media is part of vetting his nominees: 'We save a lot of money that way' MORE to last week send a letter to Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, laying out the Pentagon's intent to suspend Ankara's participation in the F-35 program by July 31 if the nation takes delivery of the S-400.

"While we seek to maintain our valued relationship, Turkey will not receive the F-35 if Turkey takes delivery of the S-400," Shanahan wrote.

Shanahan added that the Pentagon would reverse its decision if Turkey changes course and decides not to buy the Russian system.

Who made the decision? A department official familiar with the matter said Luke's 56th Wing commander, Brig. Gen. Todd Canterbury, made the "operational pause decision" on Friday.

"The commander was focused on safety, which is what we rely on commanders to do," they said.

The official added that there was no intent to counter Shanahan's letter, which stated that Turkish pilots would be allowed to continue training at the base up until the July deadline.

Maintenance training continues elsewhere: Turkish military personnel are also training to be F-35 foreign maintainers at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., but that mechanical training is still ongoing.

"They're still continuing to train as they are actually in a classroom setting and do not have access to classified data," Andrews said.

 

THORNBERRY PUSHES $17B DEFENSE FUNDING INCREASE: The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday would not confirm whether he would vote for the annual defense bill if his push to increase the defense budget by $17 billion is not accepted.

Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryPentagon chief denies White House hand in 'war cloud' contract probe U.S. and U.K. divide increases on Iran Republican lawmakers issue dueling letters over Pentagon 'war cloud' contract MORE (R-Texas) unveiled an amendment early Tuesday that would increase the top-line figure in the House version of the bill to $750 billion but said he and his Republican colleagues have yet to "evaluate the good, the bad and the ugly" in the bill.

"I think without question all Republican members on the committee want to vote yes on this bill," Thornberry told reporters at a breakfast roundtable in Washington. "The question of whether we do is going to depend on that basic thing, does this continue to move us forward or does this take us backwards?"

Context: The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) as it currently stands would authorize a defense budget of $733 billion for fiscal 2020, which covers the Defense Department and the Department of Energy's nuclear programs.

The Trump administration, meanwhile, proposed a $750 billion budget, which Republicans argue is the minimum needed to ensure U.S. military readiness, citing defense officials' testimony on the need for 3 to 5 percent year-over-year budget growth.

Thornberry's argument: Thornberry argued that his amendment for the 3 percent increase "enables us to do very specific concrete things that are important to national security," including restoring personnel accounts, money for disaster funding, and restoring funding requests for hypersonic technology.

"The chairman's mark cut the request for the personnel accounts by about $1.2 billion, and so what I am doing with this amendment is to restore the funds to the level requested," he said. "I stayed away from the most controversial stuff. There's no wall money and other lightning rods because I wanted it to be core military capability."

The amendment is "directed to core military needs," Thornberry added.

Some controversy expected: But the amendment does include the controversial funding proposal to allocate $3.6 billion to backfill military construction funding President TrumpDonald John TrumpSarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor The US-Iranian scuffle over a ship is a sideshow to events in the Gulf South Korea: US, North Korea to resume nuclear talks 'soon' MORE plans to take to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Democrats did not include that amount in the NDAA because they consider it the administration's backdoor way for Congress to approve wall funding.

Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithWarren's pledge to avoid first nuclear strike sparks intense pushback Landmark US-Russia arms control treaty poised for final blow Young Democrats look to replicate Ocasio-Cortez's primary path MORE (D-Wash.) on Monday defended the $733 billion amount in the bill, saying that's what the Pentagon was planning for until shortly before the administration submitted its budget request.

Holding out until markup: The House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday will mark up the NDAA. Thornberry said he'll wait to see what amendments are adopted before he decides to vote on the bill.

"We've got amendments to come and go, it may get better it may get worse, we'll see," he said.

 

TRUMP TO ANNOUNCE US TROOP INCREASE IN POLAND: President Trump on Wednesday plans to announce an increased U.S. troop presence in Poland, administration officials indicated.

The "significant announcement," to be made during a meeting between Trump and Polish President Andrzej Duda at the White House, will be about the "new facet of our military-to-military relationship" between Washington and Warsaw, officials told reporters during a Tuesday background briefing. 

"This meeting ... is a great opportunity for us to highlight our deepening military-to-military relationship and our mutual commitment to NATO and its priorities," one official said.

Defense One reported later Tuesday that the Pentagon will deploy another 1,000 U.S. troops to Poland, with the additional forces to have logistical duties.

Limited details: The officials would not give details of any troop commitment – including whether the administration plans to have U.S. troops permanently stationed in Poland - or say whether the announcement will include a new U.S. military base in the European nation.

Asked whether Trump will visit Poland later this year as part of a new commitment, the officials declined to answer.

They said Trump and Duda will address questions at a joint news conference at the White House.

A refresher: U.S. troops have had a rotational presence in Poland since Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea from Poland's eastern neighbor, Ukraine.

Currently, 4,000 U.S troops rotate through Poland, but Warsaw's leaders want a stronger presence against an increasingly aggressive Russia. Polish officials have asked Washington for a permanent Army brigade and a headquarters to be stationed within the nation, offering to pay $2 billion for such a base.

Duda had joked that the U.S. military installation would be referred to as "Fort Trump."

Though a new base in uncertain, Poland has all but confirmed that the NATO ally will be hosting more U.S. forces. Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak last month told Polish reporters that "there will be an increase in the presence of U.S. troops in Poland."

A warm relationship: Trump has often praised Poland for being one of the handful of NATO countries that has reached or surpassed the 2 percent spending goal agreed to by NATO member nations in 2014.

"Poland is a particularly important part of this as they have stated their willingness to shoulder a greater share of the burden for their own security, and for the security of the region," one administration official said.

Poland has also sent an official letter of request to buy the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, administration officials confirmed.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The House Armed Services Committee will hold the full committee mark up its version of the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act beginning at 10 a.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2118.

Taiwan's Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Szu-chien Hsu will discuss the future of Taiwan-U.S. relations beginning at 10 a.m. at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. 

The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hear from Clarke Cooper, the State Department's assistant secretary, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, on the Trump administration's controversial arms sales to Saudi Arabia at 10 a.m. in Rayburn 2172. 

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hear from Pentagon and State Department officials on "NATO Expansion: Examining the Accession of North Macedonia," at 10:15 a.m. in Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 419.

The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe will hold a discussion on "Russia's Counterproductive Counterterrorism," with speakers including former Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary for Russia Michael Carpenter at 10:30 a.m. in Rayburn 2255. 

Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter will speak about his book "Inside the Five-Sided Box: Lessons from a Lifetime of Leadership in the Pentagon," at 1 p.m. at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. 

President Trump will hold a joint news conference with Polish President Andrzej Duda regarding the military relationship between Washington and Warsaw at 2 p.m. in the White House Rose Garden. 

A Senate Finance subcommittee will hear from officials and outside experts on "China's Belt and Road Initiative," at 3 p.m. in Dirksen 215.

The House Army Caucus and the Senate Army Caucus will hold the 244th Army Birthday Cake-Cutting Ceremony and Reception with Army Secretary Mark Esper, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, and Sgt. Maj. Daniel Dailey at 3 p.m. in the U.S. Capitol, CVC-200.

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Trump says he's received new letter from Kim Jong Un

-- The Hill: Shanahan calls on Pentagon leaders to 'reinforce the apolitical nature' of US military

-- The Hill: Turkey slams 'unfair' House resolution amid tensions

-- The Hill: Poll: Republican support for transgender service members rising

-- The Hill: Top Armed Services Republican plots push for $750B defense budget

-- The Hill: Lawmakers demand answers on Border Patrol data breach

-- The Hill: Russia intercepts US, Swedish jets over Baltic Sea

-- The Hill: North Korea demands US withdraw 'hostile policy'