This update provides CSIS’s roundup of the major ways the military has stepped up to combat the novel coronavirus over the past week and how the military in turn has been affected by the virus.
The military continues its support to civil authorities with National Guard personnel, the provision of supplies, and some deployments of active-duty units. Within the last week, a major new theme has arisen: military readiness and operations versus force protection. The military services have tried to maintain core military training and overseas deployments. However, as cases of infection rise, some voices have argued that in order to protect its people the military should implement the same shelter-in-place restrictions that the civilian society has implemented.
Context: The World and Nation
As of this Friday morning, the United States has 245,573 confirmed cases of Covid-19, up from 86,000 last Friday, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. The worldwide total of confirmed cases has nearly doubled since last Friday, reaching 1,030,628. The White House has now extended social distancing guidelines to the end of April, while presenting projections of 100,000 to 240,000 deaths as a result of the pandemic.
Military Cases of Covid-19
- April 3: There are 1,648 current cases of novel coronavirus within the Department of Defense. Of these, 978 were military service members, 256 dependents, 306 civilians, and 108 contractors. 84 of these cases required hospitalization, and there have been six deaths.
Impact of Covid-19 on Ongoing Military Operations
- March 31: Marine Rotational Force-Darwin deployment to Australia is delayed due to a Secretary of Defense stop move. Australia is a key ally in efforts to counter/deter Chinese aggression. This could create potential ripples for global force management.
- April 1: While the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt is in Guam, 2,700 of 4,800 sailors aboard are being disembarked and put into isolation. As of April 1 there were 93 cases of Covid-19 among sailors with 1,300 sailors tested. However, about 1,000 sailors will need to stay on the ship to perform essential tasks. This experience has captured the tension between military readiness/operations and force protection, as the ship has headed to port in Guam but not been recalled. Because the Roosevelt was one of the first ships to be affected by the disease, it is a test case. If it is recalled, then the Navy may end up ceasing most or even all its global naval deployments.
- April 2: The captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt is relieved of command for not following the chain of command in making his concerns known.
Active Duty Covid-19 Operations
- March 27: The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences plans on graduating 170 medical school students and 60 graduate nursing students early to assist efforts against coronavirus.
- March 30: US hospital ship USNS Comfort arrived in New York City to relieve pressure on the city’s hospitals, and its sailing up the Hudson had additional symbolic significance. “We needed this boost, we needed this hope,” said Mayor Bill De Blasio on ship’s arrival. Its sister ship, the USNS Mercy, arrived in Los Angeles last Friday, March 27. However, both ships have received only 20 patients so far, who must be referred from local hospitals and tested for Covid-19 before transfer.
- No joint task force yet established. Such operational headquarters, under Northern command which has oversight of operations within the continental United States, have been standard in the past.
- March 30: The U.S. Army opened a hospital on the grounds of the Javits Center in NYC. Nearly 600 active duty medical personnel and support staff will be working there. Initially constructed with a 1,000-patient capacity, the Army reports it will be up to 3,000 beds by next week. The facility is designed to handle non-Covid patients.
- March 31: Army Corps of Engineers (which comes under the Secretary of the Army but is not part of DOD’s military budget) is further planning to build other temporary hospitals, reportedly looking at 341 facilities across the country. The Army Corps of Engineers is essentially a contracting organization that uses civilian companies to do national security construction. After the National Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers will be the face of most military support to civil authorities.
- April 1: The U.S. Coast Guard’s Seventh District Commander issued a Marine Safety Information Bulletin providing guidance to foreign cruise vessels operating in the district’s area of responsibility, which includes Florida. Vessels were directed to increase medical capabilities and prepare to hold sick individuals indefinitely because local hospitals are becoming overwhelmed. The Coast Guard will still medically evacuate individuals if deemed necessary and if shoreside resources are arranged prior to the operation.
- April 2: The cruise ships Zaandam and Rotterdam arrived in Port Everglades on Thursday afternoon after lengthy debate about their intention to berth in Florida with sick passengers. As with other ship arrivals, the Port Everglades Unified Command (federal, state, and local agencies) reviewed and approved the safety and security plan submitted by Holland America that meet strict entry requirements.
- April 2: Transportation Command is stepping up efforts to bring U.S. citizens home from countries hit hard by Covid-19, beginning with transporting 150 passengers from Nigeria to Washington Dulles Airport, VA.
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) ruled out for now.
- March 30: Responses to Army’s Covid-19 call for volunteer medical personnel now top 17,000.
- March 31: The National Guard is Guard sticking with its supporting role and not engaging in law enforcement, but Secretary of Defense Esper suggests it could enforce quarantine if governors directed.
- April 3: More than 19,700 Army and Air National Guard have been activated to assist with Covid-19 response efforts, with 11 states approved for federal funds. This is a doubling from the week before but still 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.
The readiness theme of the last few weeks has been the effect on training and skills as the military services moved to remote operations and canceled large exercises and conferences. The effect was of the same magnitude as the 2013 sequestration and furloughs resulting from the Budget Control Act of 2011. Suspension of basic training and some deployments threaten to take damaging effects on readiness to a new level.
- March 26: General Berger, Commandant of the Marine Corps, stated that the Marine Corps has a statutory requirement to be “the force in readiness” and therefore cannot suspend core military operations.
- March 26: 1,900 sailors on the San Diego-based Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group have been ordered to stay on their ships for 14 days pier-side before leaving San Diego.
- March 27: The F-35’s Joint Simulation Environment and cyber testing were suspended. Flight operations at Edwards Air Force Base have also reportedly been paused.
- March 31: 1st Marine Division units to train only at their home station: Ground units will not be able to train at the premier live fire ranges in the Twentynine Palms, CA desert.
Bases and Infrastructure
- All services attempt to keep their basic training open as cases of infection begin to be discovered. If basic training stops, then the services will begin to shrink at the rate of about 2 percent per month as enlistments end, but replacements do not arrive.
- March 30: The Marine Corps has “paused” sending recruits to its Parris Island boot camp in South Carolina after at least 20 individuals there tested positive for Covid-19. Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, has so far not been affected.
- March 30: Air Force opens a satellite facility at Keesler Air Force Base, MS, for its basic training to allow more social distancing.
- March 27: Ft. Belvoir, VA issued a youth curfew from 2000 to 0600.
- March 27: Two sailors tested positive for Covid-19 at the Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan, the home of the 7th Fleet. The base was put on lockdown for at least 48 hours to all non-essential tasks.
- March 31: Citing the need for operations security, Ft. Bragg, NC officials said that they will no longer release Covid-19 infected numbers and will start limiting access to the base on April 6th.
- March 31: Commander General of Ft. Sill, in Lawton, OK, has enacted a curfew and reported that subsequent positive cases of coronavirus will be reported to DOD, not country officials
- April 1: U.S. Air Force Academy scheduled to graduate cadets more than a month early. This move follows the deaths of two cadets in the span of three days. The academy also loosened social distancing restrictions for the 1000 cadets that remain on campus (the other 3000 have been sent home).
- March 27: Pres. Trump issues order allowing extensions on active duty (“stoploss”) and recall of reservists from retirement and the Individual Ready Reserve (an inactive reserve status). So far, the services have not used these authorities, relying on volunteers instead, but may if certain skills become short, like medical personnel, or if end strength begins to decline because basic training has ceased.
- April 1: Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein speculated that the Covid-19 pandemic may help address the U.S. Air Force’s persisting pilot shortage by improving U.S. Air Force pilot retention. With the pandemic devastating civilian airlines, more USAF aviators may choose to stay in the active service longer while more Air National Guard pilots may be available as with diminishing civilian airline jobs.
Supplies and Logistics
- March 28: The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) is currently helping to deliver 3 million novel coronavirus test kit swaps to U.S. medical professionals.
- March 31: The Defense Logistics Agency modified an existing contract to procure 8,000 ventilators for $84.4 million, with an initial delivery of 1,400 in May.
- April 3: DOD delivered 5 million N95 masks to New Jersey distribution centers outside of New York City.
- March 27: President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act (DPA) to order General Motors to begin making ventilators. The DPA had previously been invoked two weeks ago to delegate authorities to Health and Human Services (HHS) but had not been used yet. There remain questions on the extent to which the administration has enforced the order. This past Thursday the White House expanded its use of the DPA, ordering six other companies to produce ventilators.
- March 27: Lockheed Martin indicated that it will provide financial assistance to its supply chain to help keep the supply chain intact during the Covid-19 Crisis, make financial assistance available to employees impacted by the virus, and use its corporate jets for logistical support. Disruption of global supply chains has become a major industry problem.
- March 31: DOD’s Director of Defense Pricing and Contracting issued a memo directing acquisition officials to work “hand in hand” with contractors to make “equitable adjustments” on contracts under existing contract clauses where work is being affected by Covid-19 to keep the industrial base healthy. In the same memo DOD indicated that it is preparing implementing guidance for provisions in the recently enacted stimulus bill, the CARES Act, to reimburse contractors for providing paid leave to workers unable to work due to Covid-19. Services acquisition leaders are issuing similar guidance to the workforce.
- March 31: Raytheon and United Technologies received final approval for their merger which is scheduled to close on April 3. Neither regulatory issues nor the market turmoil surrounding Covid-19 derailed the transaction, which will make the new Raytheon Technologies (RTX) a dominant player in multiple defense markets.
- April 1: The Navy is working to award shipbuilding contracts several months early, including for the next LPD-31 San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship. These efforts are aimed to help the shipbuilding industry and suppliers amid state and local shutdowns.
- Defense industry, like the military services it supports, is trying to maintain production operations while taking precautions. This will come under strain as more employees become sick and demands to close increase.
- March 27: Lockheed Martin states it “remains committed to continuing to deliver critical capabilities” – i.e., will remain operating.
- April 2: Bath Iron Works has a second case of Covid-19 and half its workforce is not working. The union is demanding that the facility close.
- Boeing had previously announced it was closing its production facilities in Washington state.
- March 27: Pres. Trump signs the $2 trillion CARES Act, which contains $10.4 billion for defense.
What to Look for Next Week
National Guard activations will continue. Support from active duty forces will likely increase but be limited since these forces are focused on overseas operations and coping with the disease themselves.
The tension between military readiness and force protection will build as DOD copes with more and more infections. Virtually all military training could cease.
If civilian personnel restrictions are applied to the military and training ceases, then global military deployments will also cease and with it a large element of U.S. global presence. Presence arising from permanent bases will continue.
This weekly update is made possible by the International Security Program at CSIS. The authors particularly thank Jeffery Benson, James Dailey, Jason Gresh, Timothy Goyer, Andrew Hunter, Mark McDonnell, and John Schaus for their contributions to the update.
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)