Overnight Defense: Pentagon removes official from key role amid pandemic | Trump hints at bringing more F-35 production to US | Military being prepped to distribute possible vaccine

Overnight Defense: Pentagon removes official from key role amid pandemic | Trump hints at bringing more F-35 production to US | Military being prepped to distribute possible vaccine
© Greg Nash

Happy Thursday 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 official in charge of working with private industry to boost production of medical equipment needed in the fight against the coronavirus has been removed from her position, the Defense Department confirmed on Thursday.

“The Department can confirm that Ms. Jennifer Santos is moving from her current position as the Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Industrial Policy to the Department of the Navy,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Andrews said in a statement.

Politico first reported that Santos was fired from her job this week and announced in a tearful Thursday morning staff call that she would leave at 5 p.m. on Friday.

What happened? No reason was given for Santos’s firing. She will move to a role within the Navy, working “to support critical projects,” alongside James “Hondo” Guerts, the assistant secretary for research, development, and acquisition, according to Andrews. 

“The department’s commitment to closely partnering with the defense industry remains unwavering, and we will continue to identify and mitigate impacts from the COVID-19 national emergency to ensure readiness and modernization,” Andrews said.

The role: Santos, who had been in the job since June 2019, in the last few months has worked to use the Defense Production Act (DPA) to increase the U.S. supply of ventilators, personal protective equipment and testing materials as the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic has states scrambling for the vital and scarce gear.

Top Pentagon acquisition official Ellen Lord said in March that Santos and Kim Herrington, the director for defense pricing and contracting, “played key roles in really productive daily engagements with industry.”

A reminder: The Trump administration has faced criticism over the president's apparent hesitancy in the early months of the pandemic to fully use the DPA, which allows the government to demand its orders be given priority by manufacturers.

In other coronavirus news...

Latest figures: Cumulative coronavirus cases connected to the Pentagon stood at 8,297 on Thursday.

That includes 5,472 cases in the military, including 120 hospitalizations and 2,464 recoveries.


TRUMP HINTS AT BRINGING OVERSEAS PRODUCTION OF F-35 BACK TO US: President TrumpDonald John TrumpTwitter CEO: 'Not true' that removing Trump campaign video was illegal, as president has claimed Biden formally clinches Democratic presidential nomination Barr says he didn't give 'tactical' command to clear Lafayette protesters MORE on Thursday hinted that he may move to bring more of the F-35 supply chain to the United States, citing what he called the "stupidity" of having work done overseas.

Trump, who made the remarks during an interview with Fox Business Network’s Maria BartiromoMaria Sara BartiromoRudy Giuliani calls on Cuomo to remove Bill de Blasio Lara Trump: Twitter no longer 'a platform for free speech' Trump lashes out at Fox News after poll shows him trailing Biden MORE, was asked whether he would incentivize U.S. companies to do more work domestically instead of relying on supply chains abroad.

“I could tell you hundreds of stories of the stupidity that I’ve seen. As an example, we make a fighter jet. It’s a certain fighter jet, I won’t tell you which, but it happens to be the F-35,” he replied.

“It’s a great jet, and we make parts for this jet all over the world. We make them in Turkey, we make them here, we make them there," Trump added. "The problem is, if we have a problem with a country, you can’t make the jet. We get parts from all over the place. It’s so crazy. We should make everything in the United States.”

Limited details: Pressed by Bartiromo on whether companies would move production of the F-35 stateside, Trump said, “We’re doing it because I’m changing all those policies.”

He did not provide further details.

It was not clear whether or how Trump would be able to bring international work on the Lockheed Martin-made F-35 to the United States.

No comment: Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Andrews said the Pentagon “has no comment” on Trump’s remarks and referred questions to the White House.

But he said the Defense Department “remains fully committed to the F-35 program, and maintaining a competitive edge with its unique, unmatched 5th generation capabilities."

Lockheed Martin, meanwhile, referred all questions to the Pentagon.

A difficult task: Trump’s desire to shift all F-35 work to the United States would be particularly difficult as the Joint Strike Fighter program was designed to be collaborative effort among several countries.

The U.S. military originally partnered with eight other countries to produce the advanced aircraft for itself as well as participating nations: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey and the United Kingdom. The countries helped pay for developing the jet, producing parts and assembling the aircraft.

NATO ally Turkey was kicked out of the program last year after it took possession of the Russian-made S-400 anti-aircraft surface-to-air missile system, which the United States fears could be used to glean sensitive information from F-35 technology.


TRUMP SAYS HE’S MOBILIZING MILITARY TO DISTRIBUTE POTENTIAL VACCINE: Trump said Thursday he would prepare the U.S. military to disburse COVID-19 vaccines when they are ready.

“We're mobilizing our military and other forces, but we're mobilizing our military on the basis that we do have a vaccine,” Trump said in an interview with Fox Business's Maria Bartiromo.

"You know, it's a massive job to give this vaccine. Our military is now being mobilized so at the end of the year we're going to be able to give it to a lot of people very, very rapidly," he added.

Few details: Trump said the mobilization process for distributing the virus is "starting now" to get a head start once the vaccine is finished, adding, "We will have a tremendous force because assuming we get it, then you have to distribute it."

The president announced Wednesday that he would place Army Gen. Gustave Perna as chief operation officer for Operation Warp Speed, the administration's program targeting a fast development for COVID-19 vaccines.

Trump also said on Thursday that he expects a ready vaccine by the end of 2020. However, projections from the nation's leading infectious disease expert and coronavirus task force member Anthony FauciAnthony FauciOvernight Healthcare: Fauci says coronavirus task force activity 'intense' despite decreased visibility The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump juggles three crises ahead of November election Fauci: Coronavirus task force activity 'intense' despite decreased visibility MORE cautioned earlier this year that a vaccine could take 12 to 18 months.



The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments will hold a webinar discussion on the book “The Kill Chain: Defending America in the Future of High-Tech Warfare,” with author Christian Brose, former staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee at 11 a.m.

The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies will hold a webcast on "Nuclear Arms Agreements and Human Rights,” at noon.  

Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Asad Majeed will speak during a Woodrow Wilson Center webcast on Pakistan's response to the coronavirus pandemic, U.S.-Pakistan relations, and the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan, at 2 p.m. 



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-- Stars and Stripes: Military recruiting takes a digital turn during the pandemic

-- Military Times: DoD’s inspector general has received almost 300 tips for coronavirus-related issues