This is CSIS’s weekly roundup of major updates on the military and the novel coronavirus since Friday, April 3. It explores how the military has stepped up to combat Covid-19 and how the military has in turn been affected by the virus.
The military continues its support to civil authorities with National Guard personnel, the construction of expeditionary field hospitals, and some deployments of active-duty units. The tension between military readiness and operations and force protection continues, but there has been no move to shut down all operations and training, though both have been severely restricted.
A new theme arising across society as a whole is the tension between civil liberties and the need for quarantine and social restrictions. With DoD, this will play out in the defense industry and with the National Guard’s role in restricting civilian movement.
Context: The World and Nation
As of this Friday morning, the United States has 466,299 confirmed cases of Covid-19, nearly double the 245,000 total from last Friday, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. The worldwide total has climbed to 1,619,495 confirmed cases.
Military Cases of Covid-19
- April 10: There are 3,366 total cases of novel coronavirus within the Department of Defense. Of the current cases, 2,031 were military service members, 493 dependents, 325 civilians, and 205 contractors. 146 of these cases required hospitalization, and there have been 13 deaths. 299 have recovered.
Impact of Covid-19 on Ongoing Military Operations
- April 3: Navy deploys Makin Island three ship amphibious ready group. This will be a test case of whether new deployments are possible under pandemic conditions. If Navy precautions are successful, and the deployment goes forward, then U.S. global engagement will be able to continue at some level. If these ships suffer the same fate as the USS Roosevelt and must return to port to deal with illness aboard, then global deployments will likely cease.
- April 8: U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff predicts Stop Movement order will be extended past May into July. One of the biggest concerns is moving families to be in place before school starts, while limiting the spread of Covid-19.
Active Duty Covid-19 Operations
- April 3: U.S. Coast Guard Cutter HAMILTON (WMSL 753) offloaded more than 20,000 pounds of illegal drugs in Port Everglades, FL ahead of a recently announced surge of ships and aircraft to U.S. Southern Command’s area of responsibility to counter increased cartel drug running amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
- April 4: The U.S. Coast Guard oversaw the disembarkation of 250,000 cruise ship passengers from 120 vessels over the past three weeks. Additionally, the Coast Guard enabled 31 medical evacuations from cruise ships. 114 cruise ships, carrying 93,000 crew members, remain in or near U.S. ports and waters. The Coast Guard continues to conduct medical evacuations and has asked cruise ships to bolster their medical capacity to lessen the load on overwhelmed shore-side medical services.
- April 5: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues work in NYC. Army Corps of Engineers is working with FEMA to construct a 200-bed temporary hospital in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. Unlike other hospitals constructed by USACE, this hospital is intended to receive positive cases of Covid-19. The hospital is due to open in a few weeks.
- April 7: USNS Comfort is now allowing coronavirus patients aboard. Ambulances can also take patients directly to the ship, although there is a preference to go to the Javits Center first. The Comfort is limited to 500 beds for the more contagious Covid-19 cases. As of April 10, the Comfort is treating 64 patients and the Javits Center is treating 255 patients.
- April 8: Days after the Army’s 627th Hospital Center set up at the CenturyLink Field Event Center, Governor Jay Inslee said that the State of Washington no longer needs the hospital, and is returning it to FEMA. In comments commending the unit for its responsiveness and service, Gov. Inslee said that “it’s become apparent that other states need them more than we do.” The rapid change of mission demonstrates how much the U.S. government is still trying to forecast peaks in and among the states, and perhaps exacerbated by the lack of widespread testing.
- April 8: Army Corps of Engineers continues to take the lead in providing logistics through contracting for services from the public sector. The Army Corps of Engineers has 17 temporary hospitals under construction, with more sites awaiting approval. Construction is taking on the aspect of a race against time to get the ad hoc hospitals built before capacity at regular hospitals runs out.
- April 10: The USNS Mercy in Los Angeles is currently treating 15 patients.
National Guard and Reserve 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 is sticking with its supporting role and not engaging in law enforcement.
- April 10: A total of more than 28,000 Army and Air National Guard have activated to assist with Covid-19 response efforts. This is about a 40 percent (8,300) increase from the week before, rising by about 1,000 per day. Still this represents a small part of the 443,000 service members in the Army and Air Force National Guard. The drop of 1,400 from April 9 to April 10 comes from members of the Wisconsin National Guard finishing their mission related to the recent elections.
- April 8: 34 states approved for federal funds, up from 11 last week but the approval process has been slow, and 16 states are still not authorized. Controversy has arisen because some Guard members do not receive the full set of benefits that active-duty personnel receive as a result of their different activation status. This has been a long-standing problem, but it receives attention during crises.
- A broader list of recent state National Guard efforts can be found here.
April 3: Army Futures Command adjusts its modernization priorities. Certain Army modernization priorities, such as IBCM (integrated battle command system) and Air and Missile Defense, may require adjustments in the program to keep them on schedule. General John Murray, head of Army Futures Command, is most concerned about the latter, since the program’s maintenance pace may need to slow due to the need to mitigate the transmission of Covid-19.
Personnel, Bases, and Infrastructure
All services attempted to keep their basic training open as cases of infection began to be discovered, but those efforts have mostly failed. Last week the Marine Corps and Navy paused arrival of new recruits. This week it was the Army and Coast Guard. Only the Air Force basic training remains open. As reported last week, the Air Force is opening a satellite basic training facility at Keesler AFB to allow more social distancing. The services will begin to shrink at the rate of about 2 percent per month as enlistments end, but replacements do not arrive unless DoD institutes “stop-loss” (see below).
- April 3: The U.S. Coast Guard announced that it suspended shipment of new recruits to Training Center Cape May for three weeks. It will graduate 64 new recruits, and the remaining 254 recruits will continue training under modified conditions.
- April 6: Army hits pause on basic training. General Paul Funk, commander of Training and Doctrine Command, said that delaying the movement of initial trainees to basic training “for two weeks will allow leaders to focus on setting conditions so movement can be conducted in a safer manner in the future.” Other trainees already in the training pipeline are continuing their training, albeit with social distancing. The Army has four locations for its basic training (Ft. Leonard Wood, Ft. Jackson, Ft. Benning, and Ft. Sill).
- April 6: DoD orders everyone to wear masks when they cannot maintain six feet of social distancing.
- April 7: USAF Basic Military Training (BMT) is making changes to keep pace with Covid-19 impacts. All graduations are live streamed, BMT has been dispersed to increase distancing, and to cope with the potential delays from the mitigation measures, BMT will be shortened from 8.5 weeks to 7 weeks.
- April 6: The Commander of U.S. Forces Japan (USFJ), Lt Gen Schneider, declared a public health emergency for all U.S. installations on the Kanto Plain in and around Tokyo. By doing so, it gives the proper authorities for local commanders to take measures against the spread of Covid-19. Kanto Plain installations include Yokosuka Naval Base, which is on lockdown because of positive cases there; Yokota Air Base, home of USFJ and 5th Air Force; Naval Air Facility Atsugi; Camp Zama, home of U.S. Army Japan; and the Marine Corps’ Camp Fuji training area. The order is in effect until at least May 5th.
- April 8: DoD considering stoploss but only “if absolutely necessary.” Stop-loss prevents service members from leaving at the end of their term of service but has been controversial in the past as a “back door draft.”
Supplies and Logistics
- April 3: Cobham, a company that manufactures oxygen systems for fighter aircraft, has modified its existing hardware to create an air pressure regulator, which can be used within a ventilator system to precisely control the flow of oxygen to the patient, increasing the availability during this period of high demand.
- April 8: Air Force using 3-D printing to create N95 masks and shields for medical personnel. The purpose of the face shield is to extend the use of the face mask. The goal is to reduce the number of masks being used and thrown out after one use.
Defense industry reflects the tension within DoD between military readiness and force protection as some facilities stay open while others close.
- April 5: Boeing closed its production line in Washington state until further notice, extending its initial decision to pause production for two weeks. The pause in production will continue to affect the thousands of companies in Boeing’s supply chain around the United States and around the world, also affecting the P-8 and KC-46 programs. Boeing also paused its 787 production line in South Carolina
- April 5: President Kevin Graney of the General Dynamics Electric Boat shipyard announced he had tested positive for coronavirus. Social distancing is a huge challenge in the confined spaces common in shipyards, and he is one of six known cases at the shipbuilder. Electric Boat is putting in place protocols for safety and continues building submarines, though amid some controversy.
- April 7: Aircraft carrier shipbuilding schedule appears to remain on track with employees conducting social distancing, wearing personal protective gear, and maximizing telework as much as possible. Other shipyards may be experiencing more difficulty in maintaining their schedules. For example, a civilian employee assigned to Submarine Maintenance Engineering, Planning and Procurement Activity at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in New Hampshire died as a result of Covid-19. The local union leader is advocating for closure to slow Covid-19.
- April 7: HASC Chairman Adam Smith calls for more support for the defense industrial base in the next Covid-19 response bill currently under consideration in the House of Representatives, particularly for small and medium manufacturers in the defense supply chain.
- April 8: DoD issued a class deviation for CARES Act implementation for industry assistance to cover paid leave and sick leave for the defense industry workforce. The deviation immediately implements the law’s provisions providing for the federal government to reimburse industry expenses for this leave for those engaged in direct labor.
- April 9: Concerns emerged over differences between the CARES Act guidance issued by the Director of National Intelligence and the guidance issued by the Pentagon, sowing especial confusion for those firms that do work for both DoD and the intelligence community including elements of the intelligence community within DoD. The intelligence community guidance makes it harder to seek payment for costs incurred before the CARES Act passed on March 27. OMB may end up settling the differences in forthcoming guidance.
With funds from the stimulus bill, DOD has the resources to do whatever is needed, but there has been some controversy about its ability to get the money out, for example, to states to pay for National Guard operations.
- April 8: Congress is discussing a “phase four” pandemic response bill, expanding many of the protections and initiatives in the “CARES” stimulus bill. This is unlikely to affect DoD very much, but such bills tend to take on the attributes of a “Christmas tree,” so DoD might get some funding, perhaps for military construction or similar activities.
- April 8: DoD has paused some internal budget processes (submission of the service “POMs”) so that service staffs can focus on pandemic response. DoD will likely combine the program review and budget review, conducting both in the fall. However, the value of this effort is unclear given that this is an election year. No hint yet about any governmentwide budget process changes. This will enable fewer people to come into the Pentagon.
- April 8: The military services have been granted an extension to submit their FY 2022 budget request due to concerns about Covid-19. The budget submission and review process is lengthy, detailed and requires a lot of coordination. Without a change to the schedule, people were coming to the Pentagon when they were told to stay home.
What to Look for Next Week
Two major questions to watch for: will DoD implement stop-loss as a recognition that the recruiting pipeline will be shut for some time? Will recent Navy ship deployments be successful?
This weekly update is made possible by the International Security Program at CSIS. The authors particularly thank Jeffery Benson, James Dailey, Jason Gresh, Andrew Hunter, and Mark McDonnell for their contributions to the update.
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)