Situation Report

FP’s Situation Report: Where’s the Navy’s CHINFO?

FP’s Situation Report: Where’s the Navy’s CHINFO?

By Gordon Lubold

Just hours after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel unveiled a budget yesterday that includes changes to the military’s compensation package, vets groups jumped on, taking a sort of any-change-is-unacceptable stance. The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America’s Paul Rieckhoff, in a statement: "Here we go again. Washington is trying to balance the budget on the backs of those who have sacrificed the most. We know the Defense Department must make difficult budget decisions, but these cuts would hit service members, making it harder for them and their families to make ends meet. Last week we learned that members of the military redeemed nearly $104 million in food stamps at commissaries in the previous year. Now the Defense Department wants to cut subsidies that service members use to pay for diapers for their kids and to put bread on the table."

But a senior defense official, hinting at the toxicity that surfaces any time any change to military benefits are discussed, at a Pentagon briefing yesterday, said: "My sense is that there is a growing recognition that we — every time that we are not able to achieve these modest changes to compensation, it continues to impact our ability to be ready and modern. And so the balance that we’ve got more details, I think, in this budget about between the quality of life and quality of service I feel is — it’s starting to be communicated effectively.  People are starting to understand that that’s a trade.  We can have the best quality in life as a service member, but if you report to you, your unit or your ship, and you can’t operate, you don’t have the spare parts, you’re undermanned, the reasons you got into the service in the first place are not fulfilled and our needs as a department are not fulfilled. So I think there’s growing recognition that this is a direct tradeoff, and I’m hopeful that that’s going to create more of an opportunity to talk about these… changes."

Reading Pincus: An elephant in the room is the rising cost of military health care. WaPo’s Walter Pincus: "A new series of critical reports highlights the need to speed up unification of the military services’ separate approaches to health care, which is one of the fastest-growing budget items but still lacks common standards for dealing with some medical issues. The Military Health System, which provides care to more than 9.7 million active, retired and service-family beneficiaries worldwide, cost $51.4 billion in fiscal 2012, or 9.7 percent of Pentagon spending. That was up from $19 billion in fiscal 2001, or 6 percent of spending.: More here.

Hagel’s budget includes a smaller Army. But a smaller Army, a bigger risk: The NYT’s Helene Cooper and Thom Shanker: "In shrinking the United States Army to its smallest size since 1940, Pentagon officials said Monday that they were willing to assume more risk the next time troops are called to war. But assuming more risk, they acknowledged, meant that more of those troops would probably die. ‘You have fewer troops, fewer ships, fewer planes,’ Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said at a Pentagon news conference on Monday as he formally unveiled the department’s $496 billion budget for the 2015 fiscal year. ‘Readiness is not the same standard. Of course there’s going to be risk.’ More here.

After years of war, career soldiers given one more order – you’re no longer needed. USA Today’s Gregg Zoroya: "For thousands of career-military troops who endured combat and family separations during a dozen years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the end of hostilities brings a new directive from the government – your services are no longer needed. Even as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Monday that future budget reductions cut "so deep, so quickly, that we cannot shrink the size of our military fast enough," pinks slip were already on their way to soldiers. In its first slice at reducing its force under budget pressure, the Army is letting 3,000 G.I.s go in order to thin ranks to 490,000 by the end of next year." Full story here.

Look on foreignpolicy.com a bit later for our story about the role Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, will play in the "accelerated drawdown" of the Army given Hagel’s announcement that the service will drop to 440,000 (and 420,000 under sequester if need be).

Speaking of which - the press briefing scheduled for 10:30 today at the Pentagon for Army’s budget planning has been cancelled.

Good-bye to Dragon Lady. FP’s own Dan Lamothe: "As the United States got its bearings after World War II, it began building a massive spy plane designed to slip into Soviet airspace without being detected to snap photos of military bases, government buildings, and other facilities of interest.

"Fifty years later, the Pentagon is pressing to retire the U-2 ‘Dragon Lady.’ Unveiling their controversial fiscal 2015 budget Monday, top Defense Department officials said they intended to basically replace the historic aircraft with more of the plus-sized Global Hawk drones. The drone can’t do everything the U-2 can – the drone doesn’t have as many sensors, for instance, so it can’t monitor as much from the sky at the same time as the plane – but Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the Global Hawk was a better option for the future." More here.

This is a cool set of charts by Pew Research on defense spending. Click here.

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A big day at the Pentagon yesterday for Hagel. A senior defense official tells us that Hagel yesterday was busy socializing the budget on the Hill and with veterans service organizations and all around town. He ended the day with a session with the Council of Governors about steps that he’s taking to prepare the Guard to become "a more relevant and effective operational reserve" for the future. Hagel, who aides say like to take challenges head on, is pushing the controversial budget to all stake holders "to look beyond parochial interests and look at core issues facing the nation’s security."

Today, Hagel is wheels up. The Defense Secretary is headed first to the Norfolk, Va. area, to Fort Eustis, to deliver remarks about the Army’s future force structure, today at 4 p.m. Then he’ll visit U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command HQ to meet soldiers and talk with Army leaders there, where training happens for the Army’s future force. Then he his headed to Brussels for the NATO defense ministerial for the next couple of days. Unclear if there would be big news on Afghanistan during the meeting, but the war there will be Topic A.

Staffers on a plane -Wendy Anderson, deputy chief of staff; Lt. Gen. Abe Abrams, senior military assistant; James Eby, Director of Travel Operations, Derek Chollet, assistant secretary of Defense for International and Security Affairs; Jim Townsend, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO; Michael Dumont, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia; Rear Adm. John Kirby, press secretary; Carl Woog, assistant press secretary; Jacob Freedman, chief speechwriter.

Reporters on a plane ­- AP’s Bob Burns, Reuters’ Phil Stewart, Bloomberg’s Gopal Ratnum, NYT’s Helene Cooper, WSJ’s Julian Barnes, LAT’s David Cloud, CBS’ Cami McCormick, AFPS’s Cheryl Pellerin, WaPo’s Karen DeYoung, Military Times’ Andrew Tilghman and Stripes’ Jon Harper.

Buck McKeon: Obama needs to talk about Afghanistan more. Stripes’ C.J. Lin: "Continuing his criticism that President Barack Obama isn’t talking enough about the Afghan War, the retiring chairman of the House Armed Services Committee on Monday lauded the progress troops have made there while emphasizing the need for more support. Obama ‘has talked about Afghanistan only a handful of times during his presidency,’ Rep. Howard ‘Buck’ McKeon (R-Calif.)  said at a National Press Club luncheon.

McKeon: "And each time, President Obama praised his run for the exits or pitied our wounded, instead of lauding the accomplishments of our troops and the importance of the mission they were given to fight." Read the rest here.

Page One: Obama hesitates to unleash cyberweapons on Assad. The NYT’s David E. Sanger: "Not long after the uprising in Syria turned bloody late in the spring of 2011, the Pentagon and the National Security Agency developed a battle plan that featured a sophisticated cyberattack on the Syrian military and President Bashar al-Assad’s command structure. The military’s ability to launch airstrikes was a particular target, along with missile production facilities. ‘It would essentially turn the lights out for Assad," said one former official familiar with the planning.’
"For President Obama, who has been adamantly opposed to direct American intervention in a worsening crisis in Syria, such methods would seem to be an obvious, low-cost, low-casualty alternative. But after briefings on variants of the plans, most of which are part of traditional strikes as well, he has so far turned them down.
"Syria was not a place where he saw the strategic value in American intervention, and even such covert attacks – of the kind he had ordered against Iran during the first two years of his presidency – involved a variety of risks.
"…But to many inside the administration, who declined to speak for attribution about discussions over one of America’s most highly classified abilities, Syria puts the issue back on the table. Mr. Obama’s National Security Council met Thursday to explore what one official called ‘old and new options.’" More here.

Arms deal brings Baghdad closer to Tehran. Reuters’ Ahmed Rasheed: "Iran has signed a deal to sell Iraq arms and ammunition worth $195 million, according to documents seen by Reuters – a move that would break a U.N. embargo on weapons sales by Tehran. The agreement was reached at the end of November, the documents showed, just weeks after Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki returned from lobbying the Obama administration in Washington for extra weapons to fight al Qaeda-linked militants.
"Some in Washington are nervous about providing sensitive U.S. military equipment to a country they worry is becoming too close to Iran. Several Iraqi lawmakers said Maliki had made the deal because he was fed up with delays in U.S. arms deliveries. A spokesman for the Iraqi prime minister would not confirm or deny the sale, but said such a deal would be understandable given Iraq’s current security troubles." More here.

A standoff in Venezuela. FP’s Daniel Landsberg-Rodriguez: Ángel Vivas is a retired former general from Venezuela’s armed forces. He’s also, increasingly, a thorn in the regime’s side, first drawing ire as a blogger, then as an opposition Twitter star, and now as a modern day Lamarque. Vivas has holed himself up in his Caracas home, which is currently under siege by authorities looking to arrest him over allegedly treasonous tweets. But a swelling crowd of his neighbors and supporters has interposed itself between the general and the police, blocking his arrest. The arrest was ordered on Saturday and, since that time, he has remained bunkered inside." Full story here.

A North Korean ship crosses into South Korean waters. The WSJ’s Jeyup S. Kwaak: "South Korea said Tuesday a North Korean warship strayed into South Korean waters late Monday, in the first reported maritime incursion of 2014. South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said a 420 metric-ton vessel made three cross-border trips during the night and left after 2 a.m. without responding to warnings given by the South’s navy. There wasn’t an exchange of fire." More here.

War on the Rocks has a conversation with Marty Dempsey. And they usually always ask a question about booze. Listen to the new bit here.

Hey so where IS the Navy’s new CHINFO? Good question. Situation Report has learned that the Navy promotion board scheduled last month to pick the Navy’s new Chief of Information, or CHINFO, a one-star admiral, was scrubbed at the last minute, cancelled – with no explanation given as to why. For those who follow this sort of thing, Rear Adm. John Kirby, who had been the CHINFO, was tapped to become Hagel’s press secretary. That left an opening at the top of the Navy’s massive public affairs pyramid, the person who is both the Navy’s strategic communicator and manager of more than 250 public affairs officers and 1,200 enlisted sailors who serve as "mass communication specialists." Navy Captain Dawn Cutler is now in the acting position of CHINFO. But the special board to pick Kirby’s permanent successor for the coveted job was cancelled and the more than dozen Navy captains to be considered are in limbo. RUMINT indicated that Navy leadership was thinking about scrubbing not only the board – but the job itself. Perhaps, the Navy was re-thinking the job and would install a civilian to run Navy public affairs. We’re told by a senior Navy official that that’s not the case – CHINFO is not going anywhere. But with Kirby’s unexpected departure, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert decided to revaluate the job before they give a nod to the new one to make sure the precept for the job – part strategic communicator for the Navy, part manager of the public affairs "community" is the right mix. "This is a complicated job," said a senior Navy official. But, the person said, "there’s no consideration to dumping that position."

Clarifying – We referred to a report published yesterday on Afghanistan but it should be clear that it was completed by ATR Consulting, and the Center for National Policy only just hosted a discussion about it yesterday. Link to its findings here.

Lawmakers are threatening to put brakes on Michelin’s Pentagon contracts because of an Iran visit.  The Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin: "International firms racing to do business with post-sanctions Iran could jeopardize their contracts with the United States military. Three Republican lawmakers who serve on the House Armed Services Committee warned French firms last week that dealings with Iran could make it impossible to do business with the Pentagon in the future… The lawmakers noted that over 100 French business executives traveled to Iran in early February, including representatives from Safran, Airbus, Total, GDF-Suez, Renault, Alcatel, Alstom, Amundi and L’Oréal. Iranian President Rouhani’s chief of staff said during the visit, ‘A new chapter has begun in relations between Iran and Europe.’… The lawmakers singled out Michelin and called their participation in the Iran trip ‘greatly troubling.’" Read the full story here.

Wall Street has it’s own @natsecwonk – kinda-sorta. Remember @natsecwonk, the nasty tweeter who called out folks in the national security world and made snarky comments about people and policies anonymously? He was finally revealed to be Jofi Joseph, a well-known and up until then a reasonably well respected National Security Council staffer. When he was found out he was fired and to our knowledge, has all but disappeared. Turns out Wall Street had one of its own, at least a little bit, The NYT reports today on Page One. @GSElevator repeated anonymously all kinds of stuff thought to be overheard in the elevators of Goldman Sachs in New York. Choice tweets of what @GSElevator heard Goldman employees apparently saying: "I never give money to homeless people. I can’t reward failure in good conscience," and here’s another: "Groupon… food stamps for the middle class."

The NYT’s Andrew Ross Sorkin: "…The Twitter account, which has an audience of more than 600,000 followers, has been the subject of an internal inquiry at Goldman to find the rogue employee. The tweets, often laced with insider references to deals in the news, appeal to both Wall Street bankers and outsiders who mock the industry. Late last month, the writer sold a book about Wall Street culture based on the tweets for a six-figure sum. There is a good reason Goldman Sachs has been unable to uncover its Twitter-happy employee: He doesn’t work at the firm. And he never did. The author is a 34-year-old former bond executive who lives in Texas. His name is John Lefevre. He had tried to remain anonymous, scrubbing the Internet of mentions of his name and pictures of himself on all but a handful of sites. Some people had already speculated that @GSElevator was not hanging around the halls of Goldman." More here.

Pentagon budget preview wins two cheers, not three. FP’s own Kori Schake: "…Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel deserves considerable credit for owning up to the fiscal reality that defense spending will no longer have galloping rates of increase. Specifically, he deserves credit for bringing the department’s budget into compliance with the law. An obvious point, one would think, is that the budget request ought to be in line with the Defense Department spending cap legislated in the 2011 Budget Control Act. Not something we loyal opposition should applaud, since it ought to be standard practice.
"…The second cheer is for attempting to curtail the rate at which benefits are being expanded for troops. By DOD’s own calculations, the average pay and benefits for the military have increased from $44,200 per person in 2001 to $81,600 in 2014. The country simply cannot afford to continue raising the salary and benefits packages to its forces at anything like that rate — the all-volunteer force is becoming unaffordable.
"…I withhold a third cheer, though, because it does not appear that Hagel has done the essential spade work to get authorization and appropriation for anything near what the Department of Defense is asking. "Cutting benefits to our troops" — even though DOD’s proposal continues to increase benefits — is woefully unpopular in Congress, especially in an election year." More here.