Overnight Defense: Air Force nominee threads needle on F-35's future | Senate panel advances historic Army secretary pick

Overnight Defense: Air Force nominee threads needle on F-35's future | Senate panel advances historic Army secretary pick
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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: President BidenJoe BidenChinese apps could face subpoenas, bans under Biden executive order: report OVERNIGHT ENERGY:  EPA announces new clean air advisors after firing Trump appointees |  Senate confirms Biden pick for No. 2 role at Interior | Watchdog: Bureau of Land Management saw messaging failures, understaffing during pandemic Poll: Majority back blanket student loan forgiveness MORE’s nominee to lead the Air Force on Tuesday walked a fine line on the future of the F-35 fighter jet program, expressing concern about sustainment costs and future upgrades but also calling the jet the “best tactical aircraft of its type in the world.”

“The F-35 is the best tactical aircraft of its type in the world and will be so for quite some time,” Frank Kendall, the Air Force secretary nominee, said at his Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing. “It's a complex, expensive weapon, unfortunately, but it is a dominant weapon when it goes up against earlier-generation aircraft.”

The history: Kendall previously served in the Pentagon as its top weapons buyer during the Obama administration.

In that job, Kendall had some harsh words for the F-35 program, saying in 2012 that the decision to put it into production before flight tests was “acquisition malpractice.” However, later on in his tenure in 2016, Kendall said there had been “continuing progress in all aspects” of the program.


Long-held issues: Known as the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons system ever, the F-35 program is expected to cost $1.7 trillion over its lifetime, and flying one right now costs $36,000 per hour.

The program has been plagued by a host of cost overruns and technological issues, and as of January, just 69 percent of the completed jets can meet at least one assigned mission, far below the military’s 80 percent goal.

Lawmakers at odds: Earlier this year, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithThe tale of the last bipartisan unicorns Congress must stop the march toward war with China Pelosi floats Democrat-led investigation of Jan. 6 as commission alternative MORE (D-Wash.) said he wants to “stop throwing money down that particular rathole,” raising the prospect of political fights over whether to make cuts to the program in this year’s defense budget.

Since Smith’s comments, Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense: Biden participates in NATO summit | White House backs 2002 AUMF repeal | Top general says no plans for airstrikes to help Afghan forces after withdrawal Top Republican proposes leaving 1,000 US troops in Afghanistan into next year The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Citizens' Climate Lobby - Biden floats infrastructure, tax concessions to GOP MORE (R-Okla.) has been pushing those who appear before his panel to voice support for the program.

Also during the hearing: Kendall also said Sen. Kirsten Gillbrand (D-N.Y.) has made “some persuasive arguments” for her proposal to overhaul the military justice system, but stopped short of endorsing her plan.

“You made some persuasive arguments, but I’d really like to hear from the Air Force leadership, as well, on that before having a final opinion on that,” Frank Kendall, the nominee for Air Force secretary, told Gillibrand at his Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing.

While Kendall said he hasn’t had a chance to look into Gillibrand’s bill specifically, he appeared to endorse reforms in prosecuting military sexual assault more generally.

“We’re on the brink of some important change that I hope will be very beneficial in this area,” he said. “Change is necessary, and hopefully we can move forward.”



The Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday advanced President Biden’s nominee to be Army secretary, Christine Wormuth, who would be the first woman in the job if she is confirmed.

In a voice vote at the top of an unrelated hearing, the committee approved Wormuth’s nomination to be Army secretary, sending it to the full Senate for a vote. Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerSenate confirms Radhika Fox to lead EPA's water office GOP senator introduces constitutional amendment to ban flag burning Trump dismisses climate change, calls on Biden to fire joint chiefs MORE (R-N.D.) asked that he be recorded as abstaining from the vote.

Her background: Wormuth worked in the Pentagon during the Obama administration and most recently has served as the director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corp.

Wormuth also served as the head of Biden’s Pentagon transition team, a role she took over after Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks stepped aside to focus on her own confirmation process.


Easy sailing: Tuesday’s committee vote comes after Wormuth sailed through her confirmation hearing earlier this month.

During her hearing, Wormuth expressed concern about whether National Guard and reserve forces are being overused.



Former Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist will join Covington’s Aerospace and Defense Industry practices as senior advisor in Washington, the company announced on Tuesday.

Norquist, who was deputy from 2019 to 2021, was also the Pentagon’s comptroller and even served as the acting Defense secretary at the start of the Biden administration while the Senate considered the nomination of current Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense: House votes to repeal 2002 Iraq war powers | Pentagon leaders press senators to reimburse National Guard | New pressure on US-Iran nuclear talks Top US general: Chinese military has 'ways to go' before it can take Taiwan Pentagon leaders press senators to reimburse National Guard for Capitol deployment MORE.


“Serving as the Pentagon’s number two civilian leader, David is uniquely positioned to understand the challenges and priorities facing clients in the defense industry,” Doug Gibson, Chair of Covington’s Management Committee, said in a statement. “His addition is a significant resource for our clients and adds further depth to our practice at a time when national security issues continue to receive significant attention from all levels of government.” 

Another hire: Covington also recently added former Acting General Counsel of the Army Michele Pearce to the firm’s public policy practice.



The American Security Project will hold a virtual discussion on “ Maintaining a Strategic U.S. Presence in the Persian Gulf,” at 10 a.m. https://www.americansecurityproject.org/event/maintaining-a-strategic-u-s-presence-in-the-persian-gulf/?utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20052521_05/25/2021&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393

The Middle East Institute will hold a webinar on “Deal or No Deal: U.S.-Iran Talks and Implications for the Middle East, with former Iraqi Ambassador to the United States Rend Al-Rahim, at 10 a.m. https://www.mei.edu/events/deal-or-no-deal-us-iran-talks-and-implications-middle-east?utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20052521_05/25/2021&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393

The Center for American Progress will hold a webinar on “A New Era for Cooperation? The U.S.-Republic of Korea Alliance After the Moon-Biden Summit,” at 10 a.m. https://www.americanprogress.org/events/2021/05/17/499558/new-era-cooperation/?utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20052521_05/25/2021&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393

The United States Institute of Peace will hold a webinar on “In Search of Peace for Afghanistan: Historical Perspectives,” with former UN Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Syria Lakhdar Brahimi; former U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Olson; and former Afghanistan Ambassador to Pakistan and China Janan Mosazai, among others, at 10 a.m. https://www.usip.org/events/search-peace-afghanistan-historical-perspectives?utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20052521_05/25/2021&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393

The Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association will hold its virtual Spring 2021 Intelligence Symposium, beginning at 10 a.m. https://www.afcea.org/event/siregister?utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20052521_05/25/2021&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyOvernight Defense: House votes to repeal 2002 Iraq war powers | Pentagon leaders press senators to reimburse National Guard | New pressure on US-Iran nuclear talks Milley downplays report of 1,900 lost or stolen military firearms Top US general: Chinese military has 'ways to go' before it can take Taiwan MORE will deliver the commencement address at the Air Force Academy’s class of 2021 graduation ceremony in Colorado Springs, Colo., at 11:30 a.m. 11:30 a.m. https://www.usafa.edu/about/traditions/graduation/?utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20052521_05/25/2021&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393

The Heritage Foundation will hold a webinar on “This Budget Doesn't Add Up: How Biden's Spending Plan Misses the Mark for Both Defense and Education,” at 12 p.m. https://www.heritage.org/budget-and-spending/event/virtual-budget-doesnt-add-how-bidens-spending-plan-misses-the-mark-both?rid=78393&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20052521_05/25/2021

Marine Corps Combat Development Command head Lt. Gen. Eric Smith will speak at the Government Executive Media Group’s webinar on “The Future of Navy Modernization," at 2 p.m. https://www.defenseone.com/feature/the-future-of-navy-modernization-1/?oref=ge-events-upcoming&utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20052521_05/25/2021&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393

The Senate Armed Services Committee will receive testimony on space force, military space operations, policy and programs from Gen. David Thompson, vice chief of space operations; John Hill, performing the duties of assistant secretary of defense for space policy; and Darlene Costello, acting assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology, and logistics, at 4:30 p.m. in Russell Senate Office Building, room 232A. https://www.armed-services.senate.gov/hearings/to-receive-testimony-on-space-force-military-space-operations-policy-and-programs?utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20052521_05/25/2021&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393 


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