May 08, 2020

Keith's Congressional Corner

"It is not enough to fight the fight. It is the spirit that we bring to the fight that decides the issue. It is morale that wins the victory."
- The Honorable George C. Marshall, Secretary of Defense

Despite a military encompassing two million service members, the mortality rate of those in uniform succumbing to the COVID-19 pandemic remains far below that of the U.S. average. A true testimony to the health of and care for, the force. Perhaps, that is why the Chief of Staff of the Air Force recently attributed this to, “the ability to survive and operate in a CBRNE environment is in our DNA.”

Yet, the health of our nation extends beyond health care.
One of the biggest concerns is how military readiness will have suffered when this is behind us, because the Department of Defense (DOD) paused most of its training and other operations. DOD extended its hold on the domestic and international movement of troops through June 30th.
It has been estimated that our nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) declines by five percent for every month of partial economic shutdown. During the past two months alone, mitigation measures cost $2.14 trillion (10 percent loss).
30-million Americans have lost their jobs in less than two months—more rapidly and in magnitude than during the Great Depression! Energy and health care industries have been devastated. Sixty-two percent of small businesses, key job producers, are experiencing cash flow problems. It’s important to remember that more than 50,000 small businesses drive innovation support to DOD.
Analysts expect a 60-percent decrease in air travel when the pandemic travel restrictions end. The auto industry will be depressed, and containers are piling up at terminals. Possible border, travel, and export restrictions will affect economies for quite some time.
There is little wonder why our nation pivoted toward the Asia Pacific and potential conflict against China and Russia in the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS).
It is indisputable that our nation has grown too dependent on China. Perhaps the most destabilizing force in the world, China is a threat militarily, economically, geopolitically, and as it turns out, a threat to our nation’s health and well-being.
General Terrence O'Shaughnessy, Commander, U.S. Northern Command leads DOD’s active-duty operations in support of COVID-19 stabilization efforts and deployed more than 14,400 people, including 4,400 medical personnel. Almost 50,000 National Guardsmen are supporting COVID-19 response under control of their governors.

There will be a new normal that we will have to adapt to for an extended period of time at least until we have a vaccine that we’re confident in.”
- Dr. Mark Esper, Secretary of Defense

One thing is clear. DOD is not planning for this to be over any time soon. During a virtual event on Monday, May 4, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper opined that DOD is planning on sustaining operations while affected by the coronavirus pandemic that could stretch on for the next six to 12 months. 

The new abnormal I’m defining as living and operating with a cyclical virus until we get a vaccine. All the projections are no vaccine for upwards of a year.”
- Gen. David Goldfein, Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force

COVID-19 Poses Key questions for the Department of the Air Force:
   - Will DOD and Congress recognize the U.S. is an Aerospace Nation where freedom of operation in air, space and cyber is a vital national interest?
   - Will Congress be supportive of the department’s needs for budget reprogramming?
   - What are the long-term impacts to recruiting and training?
   - Will the pandemic affect retention?
   - How will critical programs fare such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter; KC-46 tanker; B-21 bomber; and the T-7A trainer jet program?
   - How soon will the small businesses/subcontractors recover in order to resume the needed production of the sixth generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter?
   - If air travel remains depressed long after travel restrictions are loosened, how will this affect the pilot shortage in the Air Force? It remains approximately 2,000 pilots, or 10 percent, short of what it needs to conduct missions. Yet, the national airline industry has been tremendously slowed, and may remain that way for some time.
   - Could it adversely impact hypersonics research and development because several smaller contractors/suppliers will be affected? 

After more than $3 trillion in stimulus spending, and more on its way, there will be fiscal pressures to tighten federal spending. As a result, the growing deficit will be crippling. I share the concern that national security will be the bill payer for the next several years making it even more difficult for the Air Force and Space Force to grow and modernize, and further challenge the fledgling Space Force to achieve a “higher orbit” of capability in the warfighting domain of space. That will mean that the two services will be taxed to fulfill the NDS. Tighter budgets will mandate a re-prioritization of programs and the elimination of legacy weapons systems. To date, the Air Force has been forced to trade off aging systems, so it can invest in future weapons systems. Yet, the Air Force needs to get larger to execute all the missions our nation requires, and it’s difficult to grow through cutting.
General Charles Brown, Jr., nominated as the next Chief of Staff, US Air Force, answered in his confirmation hearing’s advance policy questions, that he will argue for a new examination of the Air Force’s roles and missions. AFA strongly agrees.
There will be time for lessons learned. However, one lesson is that military healthcare shouldn’t be downsized. This recent pandemic highlights the defense health as the nation’s surge capability. We need to invest in Defense Health, not divest it.
We remain concerned about the impacts to family readiness. Each summer, approximately one-third of the force—and their families—change assignments and move (permanent change of station). There is concern about retention and other issues if families aren’t able to move with the family members or families can’t get settled for the start of the new school year.

We’re beginning the next phase of activities to really build out the Space Force.”
- Lt. Gen. David Thompson, vice commander of the Space Force

SPACE FORCE: Starting May 1, the fledgling U.S. Space Force (USSF) started accepting applications and transfers. Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett recently announced that Air Force units will transfer to the Space Force over the next 180 days. The force expects to incorporate more than 7,000 enlisted and officer space professionals this year.
Their budget focus remains on creating resilient, defensible space systems and systems providing command and control (C2). The USSF halted its renaming of Air Force bases to Space Force bases until the local communities can participate. Like those challenges for the Air Force, COVID-19 has made small space companies vulnerable to an economic downturn, and it is important to not lose this vital part of the industrial base if we want to be competitive.
VA: Along with other Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs), I meet weekly with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA). In last three weeks, the VA has been on a hiring spree. It hired 9,400 personnel—mostly in healthcare and several thousand are in the pipeline. According to the secretary, none of the VA’s hospitals have run out of supplies. The VA has the lowest infection rate of any health system in the world. In the U.S. and Canada, the infection rate in the hospitals is 2-10 percent. In the VA’s hospitals, it is ½ of 1 percent.
We also met recently with the Deputy Director of the Defense Health Agency’s (DHA). Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist recently approved a 90-day pause the transition of military treatment facilities (MTFs) to the DHA. AFA has argued that because the Defense Health system is our nation’s surge capability, we should 1) not restructure or realign the MTF; and 2) delay the proposed downsizing of 18,000 military medical personnel billets.
AFA Advocacy: During the past couple months, AFA advocated for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES). We also supported P.L.116-128, to ensure VA-funded students don’t suffer any change to their tuition benefits or housing allowance if their school converts to online learning during the pandemic. In addition, we supported Arthritis research, the Military Families Readiness Bill, and a bill to temporarily eliminate Co-pays for Mail Order Prescription Drugs for TRICARE beneficiaries forced away from MTF pharmacies.
CAP: AFA advocates for the Total Force, and Civil Air Patrol (CAP) is an important member and contributor. Despite the pandemic, many of their missions have continued. With a volunteer force of approximately 61,000, they maintain the world’s largest fleet of Cessna aircraft (about 550). Yet, each year, the administration and Department of the Air Force submit a yearly budget that is approximately two-thirds the size needed for them to conduct their Homeland Security missions, search and rescue, aerospace education, cadet activities, and incentive flights for cadets and ROTC students. They rely on the generosity of the Congress to plus-up each budget.
Recently, President Donald Trump announced his intent to nominate Shon Manasco as the Undersecretary of the Air Force. A West Point graduate and U.S. army officer, he is the current Air Force assistant secretary of manpower and reserve affairs.
AFA hopes you, your family and your friends are safe and well. We remain optimistic that, in time, this will make us stronger as a nation, family, and community.

Air Force and Space Force Highlights

8 steps to fully funding our Air and Space forces | 30 Apr 2020 | by Lt. Gen. Bruce “Orville” Wright (ret.) and Col. Keith Zuegel (ret.)  
Amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic, one steadying force has been our nation’s military. U.S. troops have rallied to construct and man emergency health centers in cities from coast to coast, transported vital medical supplies, and continued operating around the globe.
Meanwhile, the great power competition that pits the United States against China and Russia has taken on new meaning. China and Russia have used the pandemic crisis as an opportunity to increase their influence around the globe, offering both material and financial aid. Competition has intensified during this crisis.
America’s dominance in the air, space and cyber domains has been our asymmetric advantage for decades. Yet, this dominance can no longer be taken for granted. The National Defense Strategy Commission highlighted the nation’s need to recapitalize and modernize our forces 17 months ago to meet the National Defense Strategy. That report particularly emphasized the importance of modernizing our Air Force.
[Note: Recently, AFA sent letters to Capitol Hill’s defense oversight committees and congressional leadership to advocate for critical priorities for the Air Force and Space Force.]
Snapshot: DOD and COVID-19 - Number of COVID-19 cases in DOD, as of May 7th. | 7 May 2020 | by Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory
Esper: Flat budget could speed cutting of legacy programs | 30 Apr 2020 | by Aaron Mehta
If the Pentagon faces tighter budgets in the coming years, departmental planners should look to cut legacy programs first in order to preserve funding for modernization requirements, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters Tuesday.
“Frankly, my inclination is not to risk any in the modernization programs; it’s to go back and pull out more of the legacy programs,” Esper said in response to a question about what modernization priorities, such as shipbuilding, might be on the table. 
“We need to move away from legacy [programs] and we need to invest those dollars into the future. We have a lot of legacy programs out there right now. I could pick dozens out from all branches of the services. So that is where I would start,” he continued. 

This has resulted in continuous under funding of the USAF and has done real damage to the Air Force’s ability to modernize the force and prepare for the challenges of the future.
- Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE), House Armed Services Committee

‘Pass-Through’ Reform, Modernization Among Aerospace Priorities in 2021 NDAA | 30 Apr 2020 | by Rachel Cohen
Lawmakers are preparing their aerospace priorities for the fiscal 2021 defense policy bill, in which the Air Force hopes to see an endorsement of its modernization-heavy, $154.6 billion budget request.
One provision that could have big ripple effects for the service is a push to remove “pass-through” funding from the Air Force’s budget, which critics say makes it seem larger in comparison to the other services.
Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) in March introduced the Air Force Budget Transparency Act with the goal of ending pass-through. Of the $207.2 billion total requested for 2021, the Air Force budget includes $38.2 billion that the service doesn’t control. Instead of keeping those funds in USAF’s budget, the legislation would require the Pentagon to move it under defense-wide spending.
Air Force Will Have Answer on Pilot Cancers Next Year, Study Goes on Despite COVID-19 | 24 Apr 2020 | by Tara Copp
The Air Force has finalized the terms of a groundbreaking study sought by former fighter pilots to determine whether military aviators are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer.
For more than a year, retired Air Force fighter pilots have pressed the service to look at the number of aviators who have either died from, or are fighting various types of cancers, and to look for potential causes.
Pentagon’s stop movement order extension a hardship for some PCS’ing families | 23 Apr 2020 | by Diana Stancy Correll
The military was on the brink of PCS season. Some families had started packing up, others were set to close on homes at their new duty stations. Then coronavirus struck.
To keep military personnel in place and mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the Pentagon unveiled a stop movement order to temporarily suspend almost all permanent-change-of-station moves — a decision that has come at a price for service members and their families as their PCS plans have been completely upended.
CSAF Goldfein’s Top COVID-19 Supply Chain Worry: F-35 | 22 Apr 2020 | by Theresa Hitchens
A few weeks ago the service went through what he [CSAF] called a “reset to the new normal” as senior officials worked out methodologies to ensure its highest priority missions could be maintained “despite a 15 to 20 percent infection rate.”
Those key mission sets, he said, are “the nuclear mission, the space mission and certain elements of the cyber mission,” as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Finally, he said, “Air mobility is critical — they’re becoming, with our medical professionals, the MVPs of the COVID response.”
Goldfein said he has been in running conversations with his overseas counterparts about how to ensure that the supply chain, especially for the F-35 program, can be maintained during the pandemic.

The Department continues to support domestic 5G options, but not at the risk of crippling our GPS networks. Nearly a dozen other federal agencies have joined us in opposing this proposal.”
-  The Honorable Dr. Mark Esper, Secretary of Defense

Feds, DoD & Lawmakers Oppose FCC’s Ligado 5G Plan | 21 Apr 2020 | by Theresa Hitchens
The FCC’s ruling yesterday to approve Ligado’s controversial plan to create a 5G mobile communications network has dismayed much of the federal government and congressional defense committees, but it garnered praise from elsewhere, including from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
While it is as yet unclear how DoD will move to counteract the FCC ruling to minimize affects on GPS, sources say the House and Senate Armed Services Committees are considering a wide range of options that include hearings, language in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and/or other legislation designed to limit future FCC powers on issues involving DoD. However, given strong White House support (see Pompeo) for the FCC ruling as part of its effort to counter China’s dominance in the use of 5G, it is questionable whether Congress could muster a veto-proof course of action.

Key Dates to Watch


  • May 8 - 75th Anniversary of WWII Victory in Europe (V-E Day)
  • Sep 12-13 - AFA's National Convention, Gaylord Conference Center, National Harbor, MD
  • 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)