Overnight Defense: Senate GOP coronavirus bill includes $29.4B for Pentagon | US, Australia focus on China in key meeting

Overnight Defense: Senate GOP coronavirus bill includes $29.4B for Pentagon | US, Australia focus on China in key meeting
© 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 would get nearly $30 billion under the Senate Republicans’ coronavirus relief plan, including $8 billion for weapons systems.

The $29.4 billion for the Pentagon is included in the $1 trillion coronavirus aid package Senate Republicans released Monday night.

Democrats have already declared the bill a non-starter, but it lays out Republicans and the White House’s priorities heading into negotiations.

GOP on the defense: Republicans are defending the funding for acquisition programs as supporting the defense industrial base at a time of economic hardship and job losses, but Democrats are blasting it as a giveaway to defense contractors.

"The pandemic continues to threaten the defense industrial base and thousands of vulnerable suppliers across the country who support it," Alyssa Pettus, press secretary for Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyOn The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire Negotiators hit gas on coronavirus talks as frustration mounts MORE (R-Ala.), said in a statement. "That puts thousands and thousands of jobs in jeopardy. The chairman believes Congress must act, not turn a blind eye."

What the money goes to: Of the military hardware included in the bill, $686 million would go toward the Air Force’s Lockheed Martin-made F-35A fighter jet. The Air Force would also get $720 million for Lockheed C-130J transport planes and $650 million for A-10 wing replacements, which Boeing is contracted to do.

The bill would also allocate about $1.1 billion for the Navy’s Boeing-made P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol planes, as well as $1.45 billion for four expeditionary medical ships, $260 million for one expeditionary fast transport ship, $250 million for amphibious shipbuilding and $250 million for the surface combatant supplier base program.

Backfilling from the wall grab: Several of the weapons programs that would get funding previously lost money when the Trump administration took Pentagon funding to use on the southern border wall earlier this year. In February, the Pentagon announced it was redirecting $3.8 billion from programs including the F-35A, the P-8A, the expeditionary fast transport ship, the C-130J and unspecified National Guard and reserves equipment.

The GOP Senate coronavirus bill would appropriate $800 million toward the National Guard and reserves’ equipment account.

"It is also no secret that earlier this year the Trump administration abused the reprogramming authority to divert funding from military equipment and modernization accounts to pay for the president’s vanity wall," House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Embattled Pentagon policy nominee withdraws, gets appointment to deputy policy job | Marines, sailor killed in California training accident identified | Governors call for extension of funding for Guard's coronavirus response The Hill's Coronavirus Report: iBIO Chairman and CEO Thomas Isett says developing a safe vaccine is paramount; US surpasses 150,000 coronavirus deaths with roughy one death per minute Overnight Defense: US to pull 11,900 troops from Germany | Troop shuffle to cost 'several billion' dollars | Lawmakers pan drawdown plan | Trump says he hasn't discussed alleged bounties with Putin MORE (D-Wash.) said in a statement Tuesday. "Now, Republican Senators are trying to capitalize on the urgency of the moment to backfill these accounts while in the same breath arguing that unemployment benefits should be cut in the name of fiscal responsibility."

Other hardware programs that benefit: The Army, meanwhile, would get $375 million to upgrade Stryker Double V-Hull armored fighting vehicles and $283 million for new Boeing AH–64 Apache helicopters.

The bill would also provide $319.6 million for a new battery of the missile defense system known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, as well as radars for the battery. Another $65.8 million would go toward hypersonic missile defense, $39.2 million for cruise missile defense, $200 million for the homeland missile defense system known as the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system and $290 million for a space-based missile sensor layer.

Funds related to the coronavirus: Apart from the hardware, the bill would also provide $11 billion to reimburse defense contractors for coronavirus-related expenses.

The coronavirus relief package Congress passed in March, known as the CARES Act, gave the Pentagon the authority to reimburse contractors over coronavirus-related delays and other issues, but did not appropriate any money toward that end. Defense contractors and the Pentagon have been pushing for the funding, warning the department could have to tap into other accounts that could jeopardize readiness.

The bill also includes $705 million for defense health programs to boost manufacturing of therapeutic drugs and buy more medical personal protective equipment; $2.6 billion for operations and maintenance funding intended to be used to build temporary facilities to house U.S. troops deploying to or returning from overseas who need to isolate; and $5.3 billion for the Pentagon to use for the Defense Production Act.

 

CHINA AT CENTER OF US-AUSTRALIA MEETING: The U.S. and Australia are working together to confront challenges posed by COVID-19 and the Chinese Communist Party, Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Air Force general officially becomes first African American service chief | Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure | State Department's special envoy for Iran is departing the Trump administration State Department offers M reward for foreign election interference information State Department's special envoy for Iran is departing the Trump administration MORE said Tuesday after meeting with his Australian counterpart.

“Our two great democracies face immediate crises like the COVID-19 pandemic and longer term challenges like the Chinese Communist Party's ambitions,” Pompeo said, “and we need to deal with each of these challenges simultaneously.”

Background: Trump administration officials have ratcheted up rhetoric against China in recent weeks alongside actions meant to punish Beijing for what they say is a campaign of covert and coercive behavior threatening U.S. national security. This comes on top of the administration's criticism that China is responsible for the spread of COVID-19 and its condemnation of Beijing’s actions in Hong Kong.

The talks: “We started this morning by talking at length about the Chinese Communist Party's malign activity in the Indo-Pacific region, and indeed all around the world,” Pompeo said, speaking alongside Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperPentagon sends 3 cargo planes to Lebanon filled with aid as questions on blast remain Overnight Defense: Esper says 'most believe' Beirut explosion was accident, contradicting Trump | Trump later says 'nobody knows yet' what happened in Lebanon | 61-year-old reservist ID'd as fourth military COVID-19 death Trump tempers his description of Beirut explosion as an attack: 'Nobody knows yet' MORE, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Australian Defense Minister Linda Reynolds.

Australia, while one of the U.S.’s closest allies and intelligence-sharing partners through the Five Eyes agreement, is seeking to balance confrontation with China alongside cooperation on areas of trade and the economy.

“As my prime minister put it recently, the relationship that we have with China is important, and we have no intention of injuring it,” Payne said. “But nor do we intend to do things that are contrary to our interests, and that is the premise from which we begin.”

The two delegations met over two days as part of the 30th annual U.S. and Australian Ministerial Consultations. The face-to-face meetings are notable for taking place amid the pandemic, where the U.S. has the highest case count in the world with over 4 million cases — though numbers are rising across the globe, including in Australia.

Up against China and Russia: Payne announced that the U.S. and Australia would partner on a working group “to monitor and respond to harmful disinformation.”

While not specifically naming China and Russia, both countries are seen as leading states in campaigns of disinformation and influence operations, called out by the European Union, the State Department and tech companies that have pulled down networks made up of tens of thousands of inauthentic users.

Pompeo further commended Australia on confronting Chinese telecommunications companies that have come under U.S. scrutiny as being a front for collecting private information for the Chinese Communist Party.

“We also addressed the CCP's attempts to dominate the technology space,” Pompeo said. “Australia was ahead of us in awakening to the threat of untrusted vendors like Huawei and ZTE. We look forward to nations becoming clean countries together.”

On the defense side: Both sides also accused China of violating international norms in the South China Sea and pledged to uphold freedom of navigation and the rule of the law in the region, though officials were cagey with details as to how their countries would do so.

Esper sidestepped questions on whether the officials had discussed deploying additional U.S. troops or intermediate-range missiles on Australian soil, only telling reporters that they “had a very wide-ranging discussion about the capabilities that the United States possesses and the capabilities that Australia possesses and our desire to enhance them - whether they are hypersonic [missiles] or any other type of capability.”

He added that the discussions also touched on deterring “bad behavior in the Indo-Pacific ... specifically with regard to China.”

Esper last year while visiting Australia said that he hoped to soon place ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles in Asia as such a weapon would be “important” to have in the Asia-Pacific region.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

A House Armed Services Committee subpanel will hold a hearing on “The Military’s #MeToo Moment: An Examination of Sexual Harassment and Perceived Retaliation in the Department of Defense and at Fort Hood,” at 10 a.m. 

 

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