Overnight Defense: Pentagon eyes billions for firms | Army resumes sending recruits to basic training | Russia disputes US account of air incident

Overnight Defense: Pentagon eyes billions for firms | Army resumes sending recruits to basic training | Russia disputes US account of air incident
© Greg Nash

Happy Monday 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 will ask for billions of dollars in the next version of a stimulus package to help defense contractors hit by closures amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer said Monday.

“We’re talking billions and billions on that one,” Ellen Lord, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and sustainment, said at a Pentagon briefing.

Lord declined to get into more specifics on the number, saying it has yet to be worked out with the White House Office of Management and Budget.

What the money would do: Under the last coronavirus relief bill, known as the CARES Act, the Pentagon can reimburse contractors for delays and other added costs due to the pandemic. The new billions would be used to pay for that authority.

Delays and closures: Major weapons programs are expected to be delayed by about three months due to the coronavirus crisis, Lord said.

The main contractors being hit are those in aviation and shipbuilders, said Lord, who also expressed concern about small space launch companies.

Out of 10,509 primary Pentagon contractors, 106 are closed and 68 companies have closed and then reopened, she said.

Of 11,413 subcontractors, 427 are closed, with 147 having closed and reopened, she added.

Lord said there “isn’t a particular program” that might be slowed but said a slowdown could hit major programs in general.

 

In other coronavirus news...

Army to resume sending recruits to basic training: The Army on Monday resumed sending new recruits to basic training, albeit with stipulations, after a two-week pause due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The service is moving forward cautiously, only allowing recruits from areas considered low-risk to continue on to the Army’s four training bases.

“Those who are in high risk areas will be rescheduled for future dates,” the Army said in a statement. 

Basic Combat Training and One-Station Unit Training courses also will temporarily operate at a reduced capacity “in order to protect the health and safety of new recruits, while adhering to social-distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Army on April 6 stopped sending new recruits to basic training to ensure coronavirus mitigation measures were working at training centers.

The service now moves to resume the new recruit pipeline even though about 50 trainees in a single Basic Combat Training battalion at Fort Jackson, S.C., have been diagnosed with coronavirus.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville said on Thursday that despite the outbreak at Fort Jackson he is confident with the protocols the service has established to create a “safety bubble where there is minimum exposure to other soldiers.” 

RUSSIA DISPUTES US ACCOUNT OF ‘UNSAFE’ AIR INCIDENT: Russia on Monday disputed the U.S. Navy’s account of an “unsafe and unprofessional” incident Sunday in which a fighter jet from Moscow intercepted an American spy plane over the Mediterranean Sea.

“For the second time in four days, Russian pilots flew in an unsafe and unprofessional manner while intercepting a U.S. Navy P-8A Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft in U.S. Sixth Fleet,” U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa and the 6th Fleet said in a statement on Sunday.

What happened: The Russian SU-35 jet came close to the Navy aircraft twice as they were flying in international airspace over the Mediterranean Sea.

The first intercept was deemed safe and professional but the second intercept was not “due to the SU-35 conducting a high-speed, high-powered maneuver that decreased aircraft separation to within 25 feet, directly in front of the P-8A," according to the statement, which added that it exposed "the U.S. aircraft to wake turbulence and jet exhaust.” 

"The unnecessary actions of the Russian SU-35 pilot were inconsistent with good airmanship and international flight rules, seriously jeopardizing the safety of flight of both aircraft," the Navy said. “While the Russian aircraft was operating in international airspace, this interaction was irresponsible. We expect them to behave within international standards set to ensure safety and to prevent incidents.”

Moscow’s claims: The Russian Defense Ministry said that the incident was “in strict accordance with the international rules for the use of airspace over international waters.”

Moscow said its jets took off from Khmeimim air base in Syria to identify the American plane, claiming it was approaching the base.

“The pilot of the Russian fighter after approach identified the tail number of the aircraft belonging to the US Navy, and took it for escort," Russia said in a statement, according to the state news service Tass. The Navy plane then changed course and the Russian jet returned to its base.

A repeat: Last week a Russian fighter jet came within 25 feet of a Navy reconnaissance aircraft while inverted, putting the U.S. "pilots and crew at risk," the Navy said in a statement about the incident. The incident came exactly a week after Air Force jets intercepted two Russian patrol aircraft near Alaska.

Testing US defenses: The incident adds to a growing number of actions where adversaries are probing America's defenses as the world is preoccupied with the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

In the past two weeks, Russia, China, Iran and North Korea have all moved to test Washington in the sea, in the air and on land as U.S. forces have become more restricted in movement amid concerns over the spread of COVID-19.

“Exactly how distracted is the U.S. military? They want to know,” said Susanna Blume, the director of the defense program at the Center for a New American Security, referring to foreign countries.

On Tuesday, North Korea launched ground cruise missiles and air-to-surface missiles from fighter jets into the sea, the first time in three years Pyongyang had launched such projectiles. That followed a slew of short-range ballistic missile tests in March as the hermit nation took part in large-scale live-fire military training.

The on Wednesday,11 ships from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy repeatedly came close to U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships in “dangerous and harassing approaches” in the Gulf.

China, meanwhile, has been showing its force in the Pacific region, sinking a Vietnamese fishing boat in the South China Sea on April 2 and sending its aircraft carrier near Japan's and Taiwan's territorial waters. Read the rest here.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Hudson Institute will hold a webcast “Missile Defense and Stability,” with speakers including Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary for Nuclear and Missile Defense Policy Robert Soofer and former Defense Undersecretary for Policy Jim Miller, at 9 a.m. 

 

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Pentagon to extend troop movement freeze to June 30

-- The Hill: Pence travels out West to address Air Force Academy graduates

-- The Hill: Russia quarantining as many as 15,000 troops who rehearsed for canceled Victory Day parade

-- The Hill: Trump says he'd be willing to give coronavirus aid to Iran

-- The Hill: Trump says he'll deliver commencement address at West Point

-- Military Times: Initiative opens medical records from tens of thousands of outside clinics to DOD, VA physicians

-- The Associated Press: Iran’s Guard says it has higher range anti-warship missiles