April 21, 2020

Keith's Congressional Corner

“Airmen, Space Professionals, and Department of the Air Force civilians and families, today our nation faces an unprecedented threat. COVID-19 presents a challenge we have not faced before. We will get through this, together, just as we have every other obstacle our nation has faced…Over the past few weeks, we have witnessed the country working together with our entire government, and with allies, industry, and community partners to tackle this pandemic. Already Airmen and Space Professionals have been called to action…What you are doing goes beyond the core mission of the Air Force and Space Force, and I thank you. Wherever you are working today, you play an important role …”
- The Honorable Barbara Barrett, Secretary of the Air Force

Our war with the invisible enemy COVID-19 continues with no definitive end in sight. 184 nations have been affected, and the global GDP faces a cumulative loss of more than $9 trillion--greater than the economies of Japan and Germany combined.

These are unprecedented times

We haven’t experienced a comparable epidemic in this country since 1918’s Spanish Flu. Few remember that more people died from the 1918 Spanish Flu than in World War I as it affected about a quarter of the world’s population at the time. In fact, more Americans died from that pandemic than all wars in the 20th century. Contrary to today, more young than old perished last century.

To date, Americans have lost 22 million jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One in four businesses are at least temporarily shuttered. Millions have sacrificed their hard-fought freedoms to protect thousands of fellow citizens. The number of suicides has spiked, and so has the dependence on opioids.

Some speculate that this pandemic will lead to the worst recession since the Great Depression.  

“The U.S. military is very, very capable to conduct whatever operations are necessary to defend the American people. We will adapt ourselves to operating in a COVID-19 environment. We are already doing that."
- Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Meanwhile, the Air Force continues its mission-essential training, however, they have had to adhere to social distancing and have reduced by 60 percent the number of recruits sent to basic military training. It has been estimated that for each month of a training stand-down, it will take a year to recover.

Readiness in the Air Force and Space Force will be challenged.

The president and his COVID-19 Task Force have outlined three criteria before recommending the governors open up their states, so that the nation slowly restores to normal. Regardless of the plan, it will likely be a slow and painful return to normalcy.

Despite being on a prolonged recess, Congress is debating a fourth coronavirus stimulus bill. The Republicans have wanted to focus on small business, since the previous stimulus funding for small business was exhausted. Democrats wanted to target health care and small businesses. We hear that they are close on another half trillion dollar stimulus to support small businesses.

There is increasing pessimism that Congress will complete the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) before the November elections, but more disconcerting is the status of fiscal year (FY) 2021 appropriations. Despite an agreement on the spending caps for this next year, there is a growing sense that another continuing resolution (CR) will result. That would be devastating on top of disaster for the overused and under-resourced Air Force and fledgling Space Force.

FY 2021 legislation and appropriations are increasingly important.  After three recent rounds involving trillions of dollars in stimulus spending as a result of COVID-19, and at least another stimulus bill pending, future-years defense spending is likely to be adversely impacted.

On the good news side, the majority of the Pentagon’s defense contractors have avoided widespread closings or “major impacts” so far. Also, the Pentagon was able to transform very quickly to remote work.  

[“It would be a] terrible, tragic mistake if they thought that … [they] can take advantage of any opportunities ... at a time of crisis."
- Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

In closing, it’s difficult to address COVID-19 without addressing its origin of China.

Coincidentally, the administration steered the focus back to the Asia Pacific from the Middle East when it released its National Defense Strategy in December 2017. China is not a competitor but an adversary. Its’ an aggressor. Retired Army General Jack Keane called China a predator because it is an economic, geo-political, and military threat. Meanwhile, China continues its disinformation campaigns.

AFA has written extensively about the dangers of China and why it is more important than ever to advocate for a dominant Air Force and Space Force. They both should be properly sized and funded to defend our nation, our they won’t be ready in the next decade, if needed against a peer-enemy threat.

The health of our nation and restoring American life is first and foremost. However, Congress is currently working defense bills for the next fiscal year, and the Air Force and Space Force need attention—and priority. Neither can afford a CR appropriations bill. Next year’s defense budget remains a concern, because it is inevitable that the Defense Department will be the bill payer in future-years’ defense bills in order to pay for today’s pandemic and resulting stimulus bills. The Department of the Air Force needs a higher budget topline, otherwise, the Air Force will get older and less capable, and the Space Force will not maintain dominance in the space domain.
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The internet is awash with stories of our fellow citizens and good Samaritans stepping up on behalf of others. Our military members remain heroes, and quietly during this fight, Airmen and Space Professionals all over are answering the call to defend our nation. Despite personal risk, those in the fight against this invisible enemy include healthcare professionals. Nurses, doctors, technicians, and medics are selflessly serving others during this scary time.
Thank you for your service.

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On April 18th, Vice President Mike Pence delivered an in-person address at the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The commencement ceremony was closed to the public and graduates’ families due to the coronavirus.

Congratulations to the USAFA Class of 2020, epitomizing 65 years of academic excellence and adding to the 51,000 graduates who have earned a commission as Second Lieutenants. Of the 967 graduates, 86 became the first graduates to enter the U.S. Space Force.
We salute the USAFA Class of 2020.

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AFA is working diligently on ways to take care of Airmen and Space Professionals. We continue to pray for those who are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially because one-third of the hospitalized Department of Defense patients are in the intensive care unit. 


Air Force and Space Force Highlights

"While I understand the impact this has on our troops and their families this is a necessary measure to keep our people safe and our military ready to act.
- Dr. Mark Esper, Secretary of Defense

 
Snapshot: DOD and COVID-19
AirForceMag.com | 20 Apr 2020 | by Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory
 
Number of COVID-19 cases in DOD, as of April 20.
 
Airmen and space professionals fight COVID-19
AirForceTimes.com | 16 Apr 2020 | by Barbara Barrett, SECAF
 
If ever there was a time to say thank you to the men and women in the Department of the Air Force and their families, this is the moment.
 
The United States Air and Space Forces, like other branches of the military, train with a focus and commitment that makes them ready, capable and professional. Those core qualities contribute mightily to the COVID-19 fight. 

"I'm absolutely confident that we are very ready to handle any mission that comes our way…Why is that? It's because our commanders and NCOs have taken measures to protect our members."
- Dr. Mark Esper, Secretary of Defense

Goldfein on How USAF Is Generating Airpower in the ‘New Abnormal’
AirForceMag.com | 15 Apr 2020 | by Brian W. Everstine
 
The impact of the new coronavirus outbreak has been mixed for USAF flying units, with many close to the fight maintaining a high operations tempo, while training at home takes a major hit that could have lasting impacts to readiness.
 
USAF to Launch Search for Flying Cars This Month
AirForceMag.com | 14 Apr 2020 | by Rachel S. Cohen
 
The Air Force will kick off its effort to encourage the development of flying cars with a virtual launch event featuring product presentations and government briefings from April 27 to May 1.
 
Space Force Is Now Fighting Coronavirus. Here's How
Military.com | 14 Apr 2020 | by Oriana Pawlyk
 
The months-old service is working to protect the missions of the Navy's hospital ships Mercy and Comfort, now operating on the East and West coasts in support of the COVID-19 pandemic response, officials said.
 
The military’s travel ban is getting an extension, SECDEF confirms
MilitaryTimes.com | 14 Apr 2020 | by Meghann Myers
 
60-day ban on all non-essential domestic and international Defense Department travel is going to be extended, Defense Secretary Mark Esper confirmed to reporters Tuesday.
 
While the travel ban has halted deployments, permanent change-of-station moves, training and temporary duty for schooling, officials have stressed it has been necessary to stop the spread of coronavirus throughout the force and throughout the communities with which troops interact.
 
That has included canceled deployments, extended deployments and hundreds of families stuck in limbo as they prepared to move duty stations ― sometimes having sent their families and household goods ahead, then spending the last month on their own without their belongings.
 
Air Force weighs in on stop-loss policy: ‘We’re not at that point yet’
AirForceTimes.com | 11 Apr 2020 | by Diana Stancy Correll
 
The Air Force isn’t ready to implement any stop-loss orders yet, but the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted the service to seek volunteers to remain in uniform beyond their current planned separation dates.
 
The response to the coronavirus has forced the service to cut down the number of trainees who report for duty at Basic Military Training, raising some concerns about the ability to maintain the manpower needed to execute missions around the world.
 
But, even though the Pentagon is considering the possibility of “stop-loss” orders to involuntarily keep service members in the military longer than their contracts afford, the commander of the Air Education and Training Command said the Air Force won’t move in that direction quite yet.
 
Pandemic could deepen Air Force’s pilot shortage, general says
Stripes.com | 10 Apr 2020 | by Corey Dickstein
 
Air Force leaders are concerned a reduction in flight training could deepen the longstanding pilot shortage in the service if the coronavirus outbreak in the United States drags on for months, a top general said Friday. The Air Force has continued training its future pilots, designating flight training as mission essential in the early days of the outbreak, Gen. Brad Webb, the service’s training chief, told reporters Friday in a telephone news briefing. But the pandemic has forced the service to cut back the size of its undergraduate pilot training courses and cut the amount of time pilot-trainees spend in the cockpit, he said.
 
Commercial aircraft industry’s woes could help Air Force pilot retention
AirForceTimes.com | 10 Apr 2020 | by Valerie Insinna

It’s too early to know how the new coronavirus pandemic could impact ongoing Air Force efforts to decrease the pilot shortage, the head of Air Education and Training Command said Friday. “Well, it’s not helping,” said AETC Commander Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, who acknowledged that the service’s undergraduate pilot training capacity has been reduced due to the spread of COVID-19. Though the production of new pilots could suffer, there is a silver lining: Usually during times of crisis, the Air Force is able to retain a greater number of experienced pilots who might have retired and moved to the commercial sector, Webb said during the teleconference with reporters.


Key Dates to Watch

2020

  • Sep 14-16 - AFA’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference, Gaylord Conference Center, National Harbor, MD

If you have questions, please contact:

Keith Zuegel, (Ret.), USAF
Senior Director, Government Relations
Air Force Association (AFA)

GRL@afa.org