Situation Report

Hagel will furlough civilians 11 days; Is the Air Force ready in Europe? Dempsey, not big on mil intervention in Syria; Why carrying pens is an occupational hazard for journos at Karzai’s palace; and a little bit more.

Hagel will furlough civilians 11 days; Is the Air Force ready in Europe? Dempsey, not big on mil intervention in Syria; Why carrying pens is an occupational hazard for journos at Karzai’s palace; and a little bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Hagel will announce later today that DOD will furlough civilian employees for 11 days this year. At a "town hall" meeting at the Pentagon later today, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will announce that after trying to find a way to eliminate furloughs altogether, he will have to force defense civilians on unpaid leave for 11 days. But he will give the services the option of exempting some employees from the furloughs as needed. That will be welcome news for the Navy, which had complained that it was having to force shipyard workers on unpaid leave even though the service could save the money in other ways. "He’s reducing the number of furlough days from 14 to 11 and tried to reduce the number even more," a senior defense official told Situation Report, confirming an AP story that popped earlier this morning. "But after several rounds of meetings on sequestration and asking for different furlough scenarios, he decided that we really don’t have a choice but to save money for the remainder of FY13 to support military readiness, operations, and training," the official said. "No one is happy with having to make this tough decision, especially him."

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Apologies – For the erratic arrival time of Situation Report the last few days. Technical difficulties have been holding us up recently. We apologize on behalf of the ^&*&%$!* technology that holds us captive and makes us say mean things to no one in particular.

If the U.S. decides to act in Syria — or anywhere else — the pilots it might need to fly the missions could be a little rusty. Budget cuts are dampening readiness rates across the services. For the Air Force in Europe, that means fewer fighter squadrons at the ready. As of April 8, U.S. Air Force, Europe command had to ground three of their six fighting squadrons. The Air Force was able to get half of one of the grounded squadrons ungrounded, but budget cuts are still forcing pilots from 2½ squadrons in Europe to sit on their hands. That will quickly become a readiness problem, says Col. Jeff Weed, deputy director of operations for the command in an interview last week with Situation Report. If the Air Force there is called up to do something in the region, there won’t be as many fighter squadrons at the ready. "If you have something that happens that would require four fighter squadrons in Europe, you don’t have that right now," Weed said, adding that the grounded squadrons could still be tasked if need be, but there would be additional risk because they wouldn’t be as ready as the squadrons that have been flying.

Because of where it sits, at a number of bases across Europe, USAFE has the assets that are likely to be considered for being called into action if the administration were to intervene militarily in Syria or, say, in North Africa. But grounding the squadrons, which include F-15s and F-16s, means less training time for those pilots — and fewer flying hours with coalition partners, as well, Weed said. Typically there are between five and six such training opportunities with partner nations, which fall under what’s known as the Tactical Leadership Program. This year, two of those classes, of about two weeks each, have been cancelled due to sequestration, Weed said, preventing pilots from practicing as mission commanders — a critical task. "For two of the classes, we didn’t have the money."

Weed says that the squadrons who are training are ready, but it’s a question of how much the ones that aren’t flying can be prepared. "For those squadrons that have flying hours, we’re as ready as we ever were. For those squadrons that don’t have flying hours, they are doing everything they can to be ready without playing the game."

His comments flesh out what Air Force leaders have been saying for a while. Air Force Secretary Mike Donley, to the Senate Armed Services Committee, May 7: "We’ve been consuming Air Force readiness for several years and will continue to focus resources available to meet combatant commander requirements. But with the steep and late FY ’13 budget reductions brought on by sequestration, the readiness hole that we’ve been trying to climb out of just got deeper."

When a squadron has stood down, what do the pilots do?

"Literally, they are not flying," he said. There is still a little to do, and some pilots can fly in the "sims," or simulators, but otherwise, there is not much to do, Weed said. "You don’t need to be flying to learn more about your airplane, to study the tactics manuals, but just like playing a professional sport, the longer you don’t fly, the more your skills atrophy."

CSIS Tony Cordesman says that it’s "awfully early" to say if cuts have yet had an impact on readiness. And, he said, as far as reducing training opportunities with coalition partners, it’s unclear if an initial mission, say in Syria, would go forward without the U.S. taking the lead anyway. A strike mission in Syria would be a very "complex and technologically challenging" one the U.S. might go alone at first anyway, he said.

CSBA’s Todd Harrison says you can’t cut spending in Afghanistan so training and other areas are always going to be vulnerable to cuts. "What is the real impact on readiness, we won’t necessarily know until they stand back up and start flying again," he said. "You’re telling them to stop burning the gas for a period of time, but you’re accepting a readiness hit because of that."
Situation Report corrects — In an item in yesterday’s edition, we said that Juliette Kayyem won the Pulitzer. She was a finalist, and we regret the error.

When no means no. (And we’re not talking about sexual assault.)  The E-Ring’s Kevin Baron assembled all the times Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey has said he does not want to get mired in the Syrian conflict. Of course, he knows it’s not up to him and he’ll salute smartly and take that hill if the administration decides to move out. But in the meantime, his best military advice, at least publicly, is to steer clear.  February 12, 2012 – On CNN: "I think it would be premature to exclusively decide that the time for a military option was upon us." February 14, 2012 – To the Senate Armed Services Committee: "It is a much different situation than we collectively saw in Libya. I think that’s an important point to make, because we don’t have as clear an understanding of the nature of the opposition." May 28, 2012 – On CBS "This Morning": "I think diplomatic pressure should always precede any discussions about military options. And that’s my job by the way is options, not policy. And so we’ll – we’ll be prepared to provide options if asked to do so." here.

Smuggle a decent pen into a Karzai presser and you could be banned. The notoriously security-conscious guards at Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s palace — who once vanished temporarily with one reporter’s prosthetic leg to X-ray it — have now prohibited reporters from carrying their own pens into press conferences. Instead, reporters are required to check their pens along with their mobile phones and other items and collect them when they leave. The reporters are instead required to use pens distributed by Karzai’s people. Problem? The pens are crappy. So at last week’s presser, two regular reporters got creative.  The NYT’s Matthew Rosenberg and Rod Nordland sneakily slipped their own writing instruments into their shoes. Great plan until they were caught. The two were escorted out to check their pens, they were handed two Afghan pens, and returned to the presser, we’re told. We suspect Afghan security at the palace will be asking everyone to remove their shoes from now on.

Did Ash Carter bring his own pen? Deputy SecDef Ash Carter met with Karzai at the Presidential Palace and also visited ISAF forces in Jalalabad and met with U.S. troops. It’s unclear what the two talked about, even as pressure grows on the U.S. to make a public commitment to security force levels after 2014. From a readout: "Deputy Secretary Carter congratulated President Karzai on the progress of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) that is enabling the Afghan Forces to take the lead in security in over 90 per cent of the country. Deputy Secretary Carter reiterated the strong U.S. partnership with Afghanistan and emphasized the continued U.S. commitment to support the ANSF into the future.  Deputy Secretary Carter expressed his admiration for the performance and professionalism of the ANSF."

Erdogan arrives in Washington this week — and CAP is concerned. The Center for American Progress is out with a report this morning that raises concerns about U.S.-Turkey relations — and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s visit here this week. As important as the bilateral relationship is, the U.S. must note the way in which Erdogan has pushed back on criticism at home. "[T]he Obama administration places strategic concerns at the heart of the U.S.-Turkish bilateral relationship. The United States did not explicitly sideline issues of democratization, but these issues were superseded by more pressing concerns," the new report says. "The sidelining of press freedom, minority rights, and judicial reform now threatens to impact the joint strategic project being advanced by the United States and Turkey to establish secure and democratic governance in the region and foster economic growth. The fact that Turkey has regressed on issues of press freedom and stalled on judicial reform undermines the persuasive power of the Turkish democratic model on the wider region." Full report here.

Noting

  • Real Clear Defense: No more blank checks for DOD.
  • AP: Navy to launch first drone from carrier.
  • Defense News: Stimson Center: DOD could trim $1 trillion without eroding combat power.
  • Stripes: Osaka mayor: "Wild Marines" should consider using prostitutes.
  • Military Times: Hagel open to all options to address sexual assault.
  • Haaretz: Netanyahu meets with Putin to discuss Syria, Iran.