This is CSIS’s weekly roundup of major updates on the military and the novel coronavirus since Friday, April 24. It explores how the military has stepped up to combat Covid-19 and how the military has in turn been affected by the virus.
Active duty deployments have reached a plateau as the surge medical capability they provide has generally proved unneeded. National Guard activations continue to increase with personnel providing a wide variety of support activities, especially for testing. As with society in general, the Department of Defense (DoD) is tentatively beginning the process of reopening activities.
Context: The World and Nation
As of this Friday morning, the United States has had 1,070,032 confirmed cases of Covid-19, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. The worldwide total stands at 3,276,373.
Military Cases of Covid-19
- May 1: As of Friday, there are 9,497 confirmed cases of coronavirus within the Department of Defense. Of the current cases, 4,704 were military service members, 887 dependents, 1,123 civilians, and 431 contractors. 284 of these cases required hospitalization, and there have been 27 deaths. 2,325 have recovered. How DoD cases have been trending over time is broken down below, by total cases; active cases in the DoD; and across the military services.
Impact of Covid-19 on Ongoing Military Operations
- April 27: The President reportedly wants to accelerate the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan due to concerns related to Covid-19. It is likely that cases in Afghanistan are underreported, but military officials believe that they can isolate service members on several bases to mitigate the risk. DoD officials also do not want to set a precedent for withdrawing troops based on their location alone, citing that such a decision could prompt similar examinations of troop presence in Italy.
- April 27: Aircraft carrier USS Nimitz has successfully deployed, indicating that the Navy’s precautions were successful. These precautions included a 27-day quarantine and complete testing of the crew. That portends well for future deployments.
- April 28: The guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd has been sidelined in San Diego from its deployment in the Pacific due to an outbreak of more than 60 cases of Covid-19. This is the second deployed Navy ship to have cases of Covid-19, after the carrier USS Roosevelt. Last week there were 26 Navy battle force ships that had positive cases, although apart from the Roosevelt and Kidd none of them were deployed. However, there are concerns about other cases emerging on deployed ships (that have been staying away from shore), as the first positive case on the USS Kidd developed symptoms 30 days after the ship’s last port call in Hawaii.
- April 29: Sailors are beginning to return to the USS Theodore Roosevelt after nearly a month of quarantine in Guam. Some 4,000 sailors are expected to return to the ship over the next few days after they complete their respective periods of isolation. The carrier has been waylaid at Guam for 35 days since it first arrived there on March 27. The ship has become an unfortunate but valuable laboratory for analyzing infection patterns.
- April 29: The 4th Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) activated at Ft. Carson on Tuesday, and it will go the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) in June, in preparation for an ensuing rotation to Afghanistan. This will be one of the first ‘resets’ of the Combat Training Center (CTC) rotations, that was previously disrupted by Covid-19. The training will involve around 800 soldiers and, like the deployment of the USS Nimitz, will be an important test of whether the Army can deploy units during the global pandemic.
Active Duty and Reserve Covid-19 Operations
- April 30: The hospital ship Comfort is returning to homeport at Norfolk, VA. Mercy remains at Los Angeles with few patients but about 40 medical personnel deployed ashore. Neither ship treated many patients, and their deployments have had more of a symbolic value than an actual medical capacity value.
- April 24: The U.S. Coast Guard is monitoring at least two dozen oil tankers anchored off the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach as demand for oil slows due to Covid-19. The Coast Guard ensures the safety and security of the vessels within anchorages.
National Guard Covid-19 Operations
National Guard units are being activated in a state role (Article 32) to combat the coronavirus and enforce order. Nationalization (Title 10) is ruled out for now. The Guard has maintained its supporting role and not engaged in law enforcement.
- May 1: 45,000 Army and Air National Guard activated to assist with Covid-19 response efforts. This is a 3 percent (1,300) increase from the week before. Still, this represents a small part of the 443,000 servicemembers in the Army and Air Force National Guard.
- A broader list of recent state National Guard efforts can be found here.
- April 24: The U.S. Coast Guard initiated a “Campaign to Retain” to stem readiness impacts associated with Covid-19. As the Covid-19 pandemic limits its recruiting and training throughput, the Coast Guard seeks to retain talented workforce members that planned to separate in 2020.
- April 29: The Navy announced that it will scale back its biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise this August in Hawaii to just two weeks of at sea only events to minimize the potential spread of Covid-19.
Personnel, Bases, and Infrastructure
Basic training in the services (except the Navy) has restarted after a pause. However, it will take several weeks before it is clear whether the new force protection procedures are working.
- April 28: The United States Military Academy’s (USMA) graduating class of 2020 has been recalled to West Point for June 13th commencement ceremonies presided over by President Trump. The cadets will move back to West Point in waves, and will all be tested and then quarantined, based on test results. The Army, which has come under criticism for potentially exposing the future officers to the coronavirus with the decision, is also examining ways to continue with normal operations, albeit with force protection measures in place.
- April 28: Services will likely not meet target end-strength at the end of the year due to Covid-19 impacts. Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Matt Donovan, described how the stop movement order has caused a drop in the number of recruits coming into basic training, an effect that will be felt for years.
Supplies and Logistics
Army Corps of Engineers
The Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) comes under the direction of the Secretary of the Army but is not part of DoD’s military activities or the DoD military budget.
FEMA Mission Assignments: 46 (down from a high of 51)
Alternate Care Facilities (ACFs): 34 under construction, 24 complete.
- April 25: States continue to scale back construction of alternate care facilities, but they are still preparing for the worst. Due to some low occupancy rates at existing surge sites, such as the Javits Center in New York and other sites, most states are modestly scaling back plans, while retaining the option to surge in 10 to 14 days if needed. The reduction in positive cases is largely attributed to social distancing measures, but state officials and medical professionals stress that forecasts and models for Covid-19 continue to evolve.
- April 28: President Trump used the authorities of the Defense Production Act to keep meat plants open and protect the nation’s food supply.
- April 29: DoD is investing $75.5 million through the Defense Production Act to further raise testing swab production by 20 million per month beginning in May, awarding the contract to Puritan Medical Products.
The American Enterprise Institute’s Covid-19 Manufacturing Tracker, which lists hundreds of companies responding to the pandemic, shows 2,254 Covid-19 related federal contracts, of which 478 are medically related. The tracker still shows just two instances of the government’s use of Defense Production Act authorities (three when the latest use is added) but notes that contracting officers can use priority ratings to accelerate deliverables or otherwise amend contracts and that these ratings are not being captured in the database.
DoD has asked defense industry to continue working but allows those that wish to close to do so. A few companies have closed but most continue operating, though at reduced levels because of sickness and inefficiencies caused by employee protections.
- April 24: Lockheed Martin has taken additional steps to preserve the functions of its workforce, suppliers, and communities.
- April 24: Defense firms continue to operate with assistance from DoD, including accelerated payments, accelerated contracts, and help managing international supply chains.
- April 30: Only 20 firms have applied for the special $17B loan program for business critical to national security by the May 1 deadline.
No new events. DoD still considering funding items unrelated to Covid-19 in future stimulus legislation but justified by helping employment and providing direct funding support to defense industry.
Speculation has begun about the effect that the pandemic will have on the future of the defense budget, with the consensus being that there will be a turning away from external threats and a focus on homeland security. However, if Congress passes the FY2021 appropriation during the pandemic crisis, before fiscal constraints reappear, DoD may avoid this reckoning until FY2022, when there will be a new administration.
What to Look for Next Week
Watch for whether any more Navy ships become infected. Once some crew members are infected, it seems nearly impossible to control the spread of the infection, and ships must then tie up at the pier for an extended period.
This weekly update is made possible by the International Security Program at CSIS. The authors particularly thank James Dailey, Jason Gresh, Andrew Hunter, and Mark McDonnell for their contributions to the update.
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)