Overnight Defense: Trump threatens to 'shoot down and destroy' Iranian ships | Top general says Kim likely still 'in full control' of North Korea | 26 Navy ships have confirmed coronavirus cases

Overnight Defense: Trump threatens to 'shoot down and destroy' Iranian ships | Top general says Kim likely still 'in full control' of North Korea | 26 Navy ships have confirmed coronavirus cases
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Happy Wednesday 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. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

THE TOPLINE: President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump suggests some states may 'pay nothing' as part of unemployment plan Trump denies White House asked about adding him to Mount Rushmore Trump, US face pivotal UN vote on Iran MORE issued a new threat to Iran on Wednesday, saying he’s told the U.S. Navy to shoot Iranian vessels that harass American ships.

“I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea,” Trump tweeted.

Trump didn’t reference any specific incident in his tweet, but it comes a week after the U.S. military said 11 Iranian ships repeatedly made “dangerous and harassing approaches” of Navy and Coast Guard ships, including getting within 10 yards of a Coast Guard ship.

Iran blamed the United States for the incident.

The Pentagon’s take: Asked about Trump's tweet at a briefing later Wednesday morning, top Pentagon officials suggested it represented a warning to Tehran rather than a new order to the military.

"The president issued an important warning to the Iranians," Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist said. "What he was emphasizing was all of our ships retain the right of self-defense, and people need to be very careful in their interactions to understand the inherent right of self-defense."

Gen. John Hyten, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added that he "liked that the president warned an adversary."

"If we see a hostile act, if we see hostile intent, we have the right to respond up to and including lethal force, and if it happens in the Gulf, if it happens in any way we will respond with overwhelming lethal force if necessary to defend ourselves," Hyten said.

In other Iran news: Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps said Wednesday it launched its first military satellite into space.

In the past, Iran has repeatedly said its space program is entirely peaceful. But U.S. officials have long held that Iranian space launches are a cover for ballistic missile development.

Hyten, who said the U.S. military tracked the launch, would not characterize whether the launch was successful, but said the rocket "went a very long way, which means it has the ability once again to threaten their neighbors, our allies."

The U.S. military’s 18th Space Control Squadron later tweeted that it is tracking two objects in orbit, the satellite and the rocket body. 

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoHong Kong police arrest pro-democracy media tycoon: aide Trump, US face pivotal UN vote on Iran Trump puts trade back on 2020 agenda MORE said the United Nations should evaluate whether the launch was consistent with a Security Council in which Iran is “called upon” to refrain from ballistic missile activity.

“I don't think it remotely is, and I think Iran needs to be held accountable for what they've done,” Pompeo said at a State Department briefing.

Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnTrump's missed opportunities: The top three blunders of the past year Overnight Defense: Most VA workers find racism 'moderate to serious problem' at facilities l Trump advisers were wary of talking military options over fears he'd accidentally start war Trump advisers were wary of talking military options over fears he'd accidentally start war: report MORE WATCH: There’s still no word from North Korean state media on Kim Jong Un’s whereabouts, meaning speculation about his health continues.

But Hyten on Wednesday said he has no reason to believe Kim is not still "in full control" of the country.

Hyten said military intelligence doesn’t “have anything to confirm or deny” reports that Kim is in poor health following heart surgery. 

“So I assume that Kim Jong Un is still in full control of the Korean nuclear force and the Korean military forces,” Hyten continued. “I have no reason not to assume that.”

AND IN CORONAVIRUS NEWS: The Navy has 26 warships with confirmed coronavirus cases aboard, a service official confirmed Wednesday.

The 26 ships are all in port and each have a “very small number of cases aboard,” the official told The Hill.

Another 14 Navy vessels have had COVID-19 cases in the past but the sailors have since recovered, they said.

Out of the Navy’s 297 active duty warships, there are currently 90 at sea with no reported coronavirus cases.

CNN first reported on the affected ships, which the Navy is not naming. The service also will not release the number of total cases across the vessels due to Defense Department policy put in place late last month to withhold such numbers, citing operational security concerns.

Air Force plans for cyclical virus: The Air Force is preparing for the coronavirus to be cyclical until a vaccine is developed, the service’s top general said Wednesday.

In a conference call with reporters, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said his service is preparing for a “new reset” June 1 to be able to continue to operate in a “new abnormal” environment until a coronavirus vaccine is ready.

“All the predictions are no vaccine for upwards of a year, so that means we've got to refine our ability to survive and operate and do the missions the nation require,” Goldfein said. “And we've got to bring back those missions that we slowed down, so we can get back to some kind of a sense of new normalcy in an abnormal world.”

Top experts, including National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony FauciAnthony FauciPublic health expert: 50 percent effective coronavirus vaccine would be 'better than what we have now' Overnight Health Care: Trump to take executive action after coronavirus talks collapse | Vaccine official says he'd resign if pressured politically Fauci's DC neighbors put up 'thank you' signs in their yards MORE, have warned of the need to prepare for COVID-19 being a cyclical disease.

While Goldfein focused on the effects a cyclical virus would have on Air Force readiness, he said all military leaders are “looking at the future, studying the models, studying the science.”

“Until we have a vaccine, we're going to be living with this virus and the potential for it to come back in some cyclical way is likely,” he said. “So if that's the world we're living in, how do we as an Air Force operate in that environment and do the nation's business, especially those key tasks that we should not expect any relief.”

Latest numbers: The Pentagon reported Wednesday a total of 5,734 coronavirus cases, including 3,578 service members. Of the service members, 85 have been hospitalized.

The Pentagon’s death toll stands at 25, with an additional dependent and two more civilians reported dead Wednesday.

The Navy said Wednesday that 99 percent of the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier crew has now been tested for coronavirus. There have been 777 positive cases so far, and 63 sailors have since recovered. Also, six Roosevelt sailors are in the hospital, with none in intensive care.

A total of 4,196 sailors from the Roosevelt’s 4,800-person crew have moved ashore.

Progressive groups fight additional Pentagon funding: A group of 61 progressive organizations led by Win Without War sent a letter to congressional leaders Wednesday urging them not to include additional Pentagon funding in the next coronavirus relief bill.

The letter comes after the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer said Monday the department would ask for billions in the next coronavirus stimulus package to help defense contractors hit by closures or other effects of the pandemic.

“As every family around this country has had to do, the Pentagon should not be immune from making tough decisions on how to reallocate its resources in light of this crisis,” the groups wrote in the letter to House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiWhite House officials, Democrats spar over legality, substance of executive orders Sunday shows - Trump coronavirus executive orders reverberate Pelosi: 'Of course there's room for compromise' on 0-per-week unemployment benefit MORE (D-Calif.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthySunday shows preview: White House, congressional Democrats unable to breach stalemate over coronavirus relief A trillion stimulus, but Kevin McCarthy for renewable energy — leading businesses want to change that When will telling the truth in politics matter again? MORE (R-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump signs executive orders after coronavirus relief talks falter Coronavirus deal key to Republicans protecting Senate majority Coronavirus talks collapse as negotiators fail to reach deal MORE (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerWhite House officials, Democrats spar over legality, substance of executive orders Schumer declines to say whether Trump executive orders are legal: They don't 'do the job' Schumer: Idea that 0 unemployment benefit keeps workers away from jobs 'belittles the American people' MORE (D-N.Y.)

“If taxpayers are being asked to adjust their budgets, surely the recipient of three quarters of a trillion of our tax dollars can be asked to do the same,” the letter added. “Appropriating a dollar more to the Pentagon in FY 2020 would be throwing good money after bad.”


The Atlantic Council will host an online event to discuss European military mobility with U.S. Army Europe commander Lt. Gen. Christopher Cavoli at 11 a.m. https://bit.ly/2VPcygB

The Heritage Foundation will host a webinar on whether to extend the New START Treaty at 1 p.m. https://herit.ag/3bvO6HP

Former national security advisor H.R. McMaster will discuss geopolitical and geoeconomic effects of COVID-19 in a Hoover Institution virtual briefing at 2 p.m. https://hvr.co/2VOSc7g

The Korea Economic Institute of America will host a webinar on “Diplomacy or Readiness? U.S.-South Korea Military Exercises and Denuclearizing North Korea” at 2 p.m. https://bit.ly/34UNUzp


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