Situation Report

Sequester happens; The Pivot underway: first LCS sets sail today; Who at The Post took the call?; Being Steve Warren, and a little more.

Sequester happens; The Pivot underway: first LCS sets sail today;  Who at The Post took the call?; Being Steve Warren, and a little more.

Sequester happens. The Pentagon has lost a spectacular fight  – one it was never supposed to lose. Congress and the White House appear to have failed to strike a deal. This, despite more than a year of dramatic pleas from top brass to do something to stop the automatic cuts in the name of national security and even the welfare and readiness of its service members. Outside the building, the fear often came across as breathless and overly hyped, but to many inside the Pentagon, used to getting whatever they have needed from Congress for years, it was real. Yet the Senate’s bid to stop the cuts failed yesterday and the House has left town without a deal, leaving the inescapable conclusion that sequester is going to happen at midnight tonight. It’s now a safer bet that the Pentagon will have to brace itself for $46 billion in automatic cuts over the next seven months, forcing, the Pentagon says, unpaid furloughs for as many as 800,000 civilian workers, delayed deployments and a decreased ability to perform maintenance on ships.  But perhaps most strikingly, the failure of Congress and the White House to strike a deal is an implied message to the chiefs at the Pentagon – your word is no longer unimpeachable.

The Band-Aid is coming off. Although President Barack Obama is expected to meet with Congressional leaders today, there seemed to be no way out. Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will meet with his chiefs for the first time in the secure E-Ring room known as "the tank" today, to hear what they are doing to get ready for the cuts. Each service has put forward its most striking issue: for the Marine Corps, it could be combat units that are unable to achieve high standards of readiness, for the Navy, it is the cancelation of the carrier Truman’s deployment and the possibility that flying hours for its pilots could be reduced. Ditto for the Air Force. And the Army worries about less funding to conduct necessary training.

Hagel and the rest of the Pentagon will now have to prepare for the next crisis – the end of the continuing resolution under which it has been funded. Although the automatic cuts that are sequester get the most attention, it is the "CR," which ends March 27, that poses the greater problems to the Defense Department because it effectively prevents "new starts" of programs or maintenance and, according to defense officials, seriously hampers the ability of the department to do the business of national security. But that fight will be for another day. Today the Pentagon is scrambling to prepare its sequester plans, briefing reporters today at 3:30 and looking for ways to minimize the impact sequester will have on operations.

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Who at the Post took Private Manning’s call? Pfc. Bradley Manning yesterday in federal court said he provided volumes of classified military and diplomatic information to the Web site WikiLeaks in what amounted to the largest leak of classified information ever. Manning, who faces up to 20 years in prison for doing what he is accused of doing, disclosed for the first time why he did it: "I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information… this could spark a domestic debate over the role of the military and our foreign policy in general," he told a judge. He said he never was pressured by the anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks to provide the information and in fact had first called The Washington Post and The New York Times. Manning also reportedly attempted to deliver the goods to Politico – though neither the Washington Post or the NYT’s stories mention it – but a winter storm prevented him from getting there. The WaPo: "Staying with an aunt in the Washington area as a blizzard blanketed the region, Manning said he called The Post, seeking a journalist willing to examine documents detailing security incidents in Iraq. He said he spoke to a female reporter who didn’t seem to take him seriously because she said she would have to discuss any information with a senior editor." Manning then called the ombudsman at the NYT, at the time Clark Hoyt, left a voicemail message, and never heard back. Hoyt has been quoted as saying that he doesn’t recall the call. The WaPo: "Spokespeople for The Post and the Times said Thursday that the newspapers had no knowledge about any attempts by Manning to offer information." So did Manning perjure himself?

The JSF program is cleared for takeoff. The Pentagon announced that it would soon resume flights of the F-35 fighter jet after grounding them last week when a half-inch tear was found in one plane of the ‘A’ variant. The Pentagon said that no other cracks were found in any of the other planes or engines. A spokesman for engine maker Pratt & Whitney said tests over the last week showed that the crack in the blade of the engine came from the "unique operating environment" of flight testing instead of a design flaw that would have had a much bigger impact on the already troubled program.

The Pivot Underway: The first LCS sets sail for Singapore today. The first of four Littoral Combat Ships leaves San Diego for Singapore today, the E-Ring’s Kevin Baron reports. It’s, as he says, one of the Pentagon’s "most visible signs to date" that the pivot to Asia is real. Pentagon officials say sequestration, which is expected to hit, like a storm, at around midnight tonight, could have an effect on the Pentagon’s so-called pivot to Asia. The USS Freedom sets out on the same day sequestration comes – a coincidence. Baron: "But it is no accident that the Pentagon, while searching for ways to meet mandated budget cuts, has kept the LCS program fully funded and on schedule. Adm. Cecil Haney, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, in a statement: "Even in the face of potential budget cuts, there should be no doubt that the U.S. Pacific Fleet remains on watch and that we will continue to deploy our most capable units forward to operate with our allies and partners."

Steve Warren became a full-bird this week. Lt. Col. Steve Warren, the director of the Pentagon’s press operations, pinned full-bird this week. He tells us it’s humbling. "Those eagles are heavy and carry with them a lot of responsibility. I hope I’m up to the task," he tells Situation Report. Warren, who takes the job but not himself seriously, wondered if he might be afforded better treatment at home. After breakfast he told his wife, Mikyong, he thought that she should take out the trash from now on. Didn’t happen, not happening. "Turns out colonel only gets you treated differently in some circles," he told us.

It’s a week of firsts for Hagel. Yesterday, he approved his first deployment orders for combat arms and combat arms support units to replace existing units in Afghanistan.

Gordon Adams takes on John Kirby over the Pentagon’s decision not to send a second carrier to the Gulf. This week, the chief public affair officer for the Navy, Rear Adm. John Kirby, laid out the Navy’s explanation for why it announced it wasn’t deploying the Truman to the Gulf in a piece in the Virginian Pilot. It wasn’t done to make a point, he wrote, it was done because the Navy didn’t have any more options. "Without a spending bill this year and no flexibility to supplement our operating accounts, those options were pretty simple: Either send the Truman on time and maintain a dual-carrier presence in the Gulf region through this year and not much longer; find some other non-Navy way to source the requirement; or delay the Truman’s departure and deploy it some months later under a single-carrier plan we could safely support well into 2015," Kirby wrote. Gordon Adams sees it differently. Writing on FP, Adams wrote that the Navy had more flexibility than it has suggested it has, and that while the operating budgets it uses to fund such a deployment are targeted in sequester, it is also the most "flexible target" of sequester. To Kirby’s piece: "That is nonsense. The Navy does have the flexibility Adm. Kirby says they lack — the whole operations account is trade space under sequester. And what cost to readiness where? The Navy doesn’t tell us what the cancellation of this deployment allows it to protect." Asked to respond to Adams, Kirby told Situation Report: "I’ll let my op-ed speak for itself."

Noting

  • Killer Apps: Chinese surface-to-air missiles are being used by Syrian rebels.
  • Slate: (Kaplan): Why sequester for the Pentagon is worse than you think.
  • Defense News: Contractors for F-35 push back on criticism.  
  • NYT Room for Debate: Cyber: We have an antiquated framework. 
  • Stripes: DoD, VA, divided over seamless system for medical records.
  • NightWatch: News and comment on Japan and China; North Korea.