The Pentagon's big problem: How to prepare for war during a pandemic

The main concern is the spread of the virus itself, which on Friday met sailors on a second aircraft carrier As the Pentagon reported on military coronavirus cases involving 300 troops, new questions have been raised as to whether some of the military’s front-line units may not be fully prepared for an attack or may fail altogether.

“We can recover when it’s three months, four months, five months,” said Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), A former Pentagon official and member of the House Armed Services Committee’s Readiness Panel, said in an interview. “What we cannot allow is a considerable spread of our active armed forces at home and abroad.

“That would be a real problem if you had units that were unable to perform, surface, and deploy,” she added. “Then we’ll start talking differently. I think the secretary [of Defense] tries to fend it off because he knows that this would mean a kind of erosion of his strength. “

While the confirmed cases of the virus in the ranks are only in the hundreds, the numbers are expected to continue to rise, although countermeasures are taken to limit the spread.

An alarming situation can be observed on board the USS Theodore Roosevelt, an aircraft carrier that was stationed in the Pacific and is now at the pier in Guam and on which two dozen sailors tested positive. No one has been hospitalized or seriously ill, but the Navy is working to test all 5,000 seafarers aboard the warship – an arduous process that can take weeks. And then, on Friday, Fox News reported that sailors on a second carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan, based in Japan, had tested positive for coronavirus.

“We take this day after day,” said Mike Gilday, Chief of Naval Operations Adm., In a statement on Thursday to the Roosevelt. “Our top two priorities are taking care of our people and maintaining operational readiness. Both go hand in hand. We are confident that our aggressive response will enable the USS Theodore Roosevelt to respond to any crisis in the region.”

But Defense Department leaders have raised concerns over the week about how long it might be before they are unable to make the same promise.

“If the pandemic continues to the extent and scale some predict, over time, readiness may have an impact,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told reporters Tuesday.

On Thursday, Esper said the military would no longer reveal as much detail about where the coronavirus was infecting the ranks to avoid pointing out opponents.

“We want to give you aggregated figures. But we won’t disaggregate the numbers as this could reveal information about where we may be more affected than in some other places, “Esper told Reuters.” I’m not going to get used to where we start delivering numbers across all orders, and we’ll get to a point in six or seven weeks where we have concerns in some places and disclose information that could endanger people. “

Army chief of staff, James McConville, was confident Thursday that the service has not suffered major setbacks so far.

“It was only a few days, so to speak,” he said when asked if a series of training exercises should be canceled or canceled this month, including a freeze in the Army’s three main training centers in California, Louisiana and Germany.

But he said the army had to plan for that to change.

“I mean ideally we want to keep people from doing the missions they have to do,” he said. “You can still train at the lower levels and use the right procedures to limit exposure. But, you know, we will definitely be doing reviews in the next few weeks. “

Meanwhile the army placed a new order Personnel called for more aggressive measures to prevent the spread of the virus on Thursday, warning that “measures taken by the army to curb the spread of COVID-19 have proven to be inadequate”.

Air Force General Arnold Bunch, in a public message to his armed forces At Air Force Materiel Command on Thursday, he also said, “As we continue our critical missions because of the ingenuity, ingenuity, and flexibility of our staff, there are likely to be future implications for the mission.”

“We will continue to monitor the situation and take appropriate measures to minimize this impact to ensure our Air Force’s willingness to respond to the nation’s call,” he added.

The virus places a heavy burden on the daily operations of the military. And like the rest of the country, the creeping virus threat has reached many areas of the military.

It started with preventive steps such as canceling a large-scale military exercise with NATO countries in Europe and banning all non-business-critical domestic trips. This week, the Pentagon took an unprecedented move to stop almost all overseas military operations for 60 days, affecting approximately 90,000 soldiers.

At the weekend, the army announced that it had halved the number of basic recruits after six soldiers had contracted the virus.

Some readiness specialists are particularly concerned about the impact on the boot camp for new recruits, as the military relies heavily on newcomers.

“When services close the boot camp, it stops the flow of personnel to the military,” said Mark Cancian, a retired naval colonel who is now a senior advisor to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The military loses about 25 percent of its strength every year. That means it loses two percent of its strength every month.”

He said, depending on how long the pandemic lasts, “this could really affect military capabilities.” Canceling or postponing war games or field exercises is one thing, but “if people don’t go to basic training, there’s nothing.

“The military has to think about how to deal with its training facility,” he added. “I would honestly expect something pretty soon.” That could be a shutdown. You could redesign the workout, make it smaller, and keep people busy. This affects very basic aspects of military capabilities.

The need for the military to crouch and take additional measures to minimize the outbreak could have a positive impact on military readiness, said Michael O’Hanlon, a military specialist at the Brookings Institution.

He pointed out that the military readiness is supported by many elements, not just the daily preparations and training. It is also based on the mental health and well-being of the family.

“So use this moment to rest,” said O’Hanlon. “Most parts of our military can probably take a month or two to rest.”

But ultimately, the military may have no choice but to accept a lower level of readiness and at least temporarily take more risk, he said.

“Maybe you just accept that a particular entity is more likely to be ill,” said O’Hanlon. “But if you don’t really think you need to send 3rd Infantry Division to Korea, you are actually letting this unit go to a slightly lower level of readiness.”

“We have to have a strategy to get the military to do higher training by fall,” he added. “And I don’t know if it will be people who wear face masks. I don’t know if it will be that we give the military the first vaccines. I don’t know if it’s just that we’re turning, so Sure units are ready or have a higher number of people who are sick and other units, we keep them healthy and we don’t train quite as hard at the same time. “

Some like Slotkin are concerned about what these opportunities mean in the long run, especially if potential opponents think they could somehow take advantage of them.

“My voters ask me: ‘Are we now at greater risk of attack? Will our military be able to handle it if one of our opponents decides to take this opportunity to somehow punch us in the stomach? ‘”, She said.” While I still think the military is very capable of chewing gum and walking on it at the same time the secretary [of Defense] must think about what it could mean if he had outbreaks in his active armed forces. “

Cancian, the retired naval colonel, said it was of the utmost importance that the US security guard who signaled his armed forces was ready so that potential enemies, while struggling to control the virus, would not wrong the situation assess.

“Opponents may not see things the way we do,” he said.

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