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Overnight Defense: China aims to double nuclear arsenal | Fort Hood commander removed after string of deaths

Overnight Defense: China aims to double nuclear arsenal | Fort Hood commander removed after string of deaths
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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: China is expected to double the roughly 200 nuclear warheads it currently has over the next decade, the Pentagon said in a report released Tuesday.

“Over the next decade, China’s nuclear warhead stockpile—currently estimated to be in the low 200s—is projected to at least double in size as China expands and modernizes its nuclear forces,” the Pentagon said in its annual report on Chinese military power.

Within the overall force, the number of warheads for China’s intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of threatening the U.S. is “expected to grow to roughly 200 in the next five years,” the report added.

Not the first warning: The Pentagon report is not the first U.S. warning about Chinese efforts to double its nuclear arsenal, but it is the first time the Defense Department has disclosed numbers.

The Pentagon’s projection is based on an assessment that China “probably” has enough nuclear material to double its warheads without producing new fissile material, according to the report.

Context: Tuesday’s report comes amid particularly high tensions between Washington and Beijing, as the Trump administration blames China for the COVID-19 pandemic and increasingly confronts China over issues such as Hong Kong and the South China Sea.

The new report also comes as the Trump administration is seeking to replace the last nuclear treaty between the United States and Russia with an agreement that also includes China.

The New START treaty between Russia and the United States caps the number of deployed nuclear warheads at 1,550 a piece. It is set to expire in February.

No arms control talks on horizon: China has repeatedly rejected joining arm control talks, calling U.S. invitations insincere and highlighting the much larger U.S. nuclear arsenal. In July, a Chinese diplomat said Beijing would be “happy” to join talks if Washington slashes its warheads to China’s level, in a comment widely seen as facetious given the unlikelihood of the United States agreeing to that.

The Trump administration, though, has warned of intelligence assessments on China’s work to increase its nuclear arsenal in arguing for the necessity of a trilateral nuclear treaty.

After a meeting in Vienna with Russia last month, Trump’s arms control envoy, Marshall Billingslea, said he would recommend Trump extend New START “if we do so in a way that is extensible to China ultimately,” suggesting the possibility of a separate framework to set the stage for China’s future inclusion.

The Pentagon’s concerns: The Pentagon said its concern is not just with the numbers, but what China’s ability to increase its stockpile signifies about its long-term intentions.

“An ability to double the stockpile not only demonstrates a move away from their historical minimum deterrence posture, but places them in a position where they can readily grow their force beyond this number, which is part of the point,” Chad Sbragia, deputy assistant secretary of defense for China, told a small group of reporters at an off-camera briefing, according a transcript released by the Pentagon.

Tuesday’s report also warned that China is approaching the ability to be able to deliver nuclear warheads in three ways: by land, sea and air. 

Specifically, the report said China is upgrading bomber aircraft with two new air-launched ballistic missiles, “one of which may include a nuclear payload.” 

FORT HOOD COMMANDER LOSES POSITION FOLLOWING STRING OF DEADLY INCIDENTS: Army leadership on Tuesday removed the commander of Fort Hood from his role and barred him from a position at another Texas base following multiple high-profile deaths under his tenure.

Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, who had been set to take over as commander for the 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss, will instead remain at Fort Hood to serve as deputy commanding general for support.

“The Army will announce the name of a new commander for the 1st Armored Division, which Efflandt had previously been designated to lead. That announcement is expected in the coming days,” according to a service statement.

A deadly pattern: The announcement comes after three Fort Hood soldiers went missing in the last year before later being found dead.

Sgt. Elder Fernandes, 23, was found hanging in a tree last week in Temple, about 28 miles from the base. His family attorney has said he was “humiliated” after reporting sexual abuse and his death is under investigation. 

Pfc. Vanessa Guillen, 20, went missing in April before her body was discovered in July. Army officials suspect another soldier, Aaron David Robinson, was involved in her disappearance before he ended his own life.  

And Pfc. Gregory Morales, 24, went missing exactly one year before Fernandes. His remains were discovered in June in Killeen, Texas, and his death remains under investigation.

In addition, three members of the military, including soldiers stationed at Fort Hood, were among a group of men arrested in August in a prostitution sting in central Texas.

Who will take over: In Efflandt's place, U.S. Army Forces Command head Gen. Michael Garrett directed Maj. Gen. John Richardson IV to assume command at Fort Hood on Wednesday. 

Another investigation ordered: Garrett also intends to appoint Gen. John Murray, commanding general of U.S. Futures Command, “to lead an in-depth investigation into the chain of command actions related to Spc. Vanessa Guillen,” according to the statement.

The new investigation adds to the several other open inquiries at Fort Hood, including one directed by Army Secretary Ryan McCarthyRyan McCarthyOvernight Defense: National Guard says no federal requests for election security help | Dems accuse VA head of misusing resources | Army official links COVID-19 to troop suicides Esper ducks questions on military involvement in election Army secretary: No request for military intervention in election unrest MORE in July to independently review the command climate at the installation.

Murray “will roll those efforts into a more complete and comprehensive investigation” that take a larger look at base activities and leadership.

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear and Missile Defense Policy Rob Soofer will speak at the Air Force Association Mitchell Institute Nuclear Deterrence Forum at 10 p.m. https://www.mitchellaerospacepower.org/aerospace-nation?utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20090120_09/01/2020&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393

 

The Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Center for a New American Security will host a virtual discussion on “Toward a More Proliferated World?" at 11 a.m. https://www.csis.org/events/online-event-cnas-csis-report-release-toward-more-proliferated-world?utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20090120_09/01/2020&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393

 

The Association of the U.S. Army will hold a virtual discussion on racial issues and diversity in the Army with Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point; Maj. Gen. John Evans, commanding general of Army Cadet Command and other defense officials at 12 p.m. https://www.bigmarker.com/ausaorg/AUSA-Noon-Report-An-Army-Discussion-on-Race-Part-4?utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20090120_09/01/2020&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393

 

Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies will hold a virtual discussion on "Addressing Veteran Underemployment,” with retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, former vice chief of staff of the Army, at 12 p.m. https://sais.jhu.edu/campus-events?trumbaEmbed=view%3Devent%26eventid%3D451499287&utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20090120_09/01/2020&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393

Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Biden nets military family endorsements | Final debate features North Korea exchange | Judge refuses to dismiss sexual assault case against top general Israel signals it won't oppose F-35 sale to UAE Our troops in the Sinai are a small force with outsized importance MORE and Adm. Phil Davidson, Commander of United States Indo-Pacific Command, will take part in the official 75th World War II Commemoration Ceremony on the fantail of battleship Missouri memorial at 3 p.m. in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

ICYMI

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-- The New York Times: Taliban Violated Afghan Deal With Shelling of American Bases, U.S. Officials Say

-- Defense News: US nuclear weapons budget could skyrocket if Russia treaty ends