This is CSIS’s weekly roundup of major updates on the military and the novel coronavirus since Friday, May 1. It explores what the military has done to combat Covid-19 and how the military has in turn been affected by the virus.
Active duty deployments have begun to decline as the surge medical capability they provide becomes less necessary with civilian facilities generally able to handle patient loads. National Guard activations are increasing but at a much slower rate, with personnel providing a wide variety of support activities, especially for testing. Global deployments by Navy and Coast Guard units continue, but planned Marine and Army unit deployments are pending.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper says that the U.S. military is preparing to operate under pandemic conditions for the foreseeable future.
Context: The World and Nation
As of this Friday morning, the United States has had 1,256,972 confirmed cases of Covid-19, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. The worldwide total stands at 3,871,718.
Military Cases of Covid-19
- May 8: As of Friday, there are 11,009 confirmed cases of coronavirus within the Department of Defense (DoD). Of the current cases, 5,171 were military service members, 926 dependents, 1,277 civilians, and 452 contractors. 259 of these cases required hospitalization, and there have been 27 deaths. 3,156 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
- May 4: USS Kidd provides a Navy model for dealing with shipboard infections. When infected sailors were discovered, the ship headed for port and offloaded most of the crew, who were isolated and tested. The quick action limited infection but stopped the deployment.
- May 6: The Navy continues ship deployments with the sailing of CVN-76 USS Ronald Reagan from its home port in Yokosuka, Japan.
- May 6: The Marine Corps announced that it will resume deployments to Australia after implementing quarantine and testing precautions.
- The saga continues with the USS Roosevelt as the carrier is still tied up at pier, with more than 1,000 sailors testing positive, even as the ship takes initial steps to prepare to return to sea. The decision on the fate of former ship Captain Brett Crozier has been deferred while DoD and the Navy do a more extensive investigation. This looks like a stalling tactic to avoid a confrontation with the president.
Active Duty and Reserve Covid-19 Operations
- May 4: The U.S. Coast Guard is enhancing presence in the Caribbean in anticipation of an uptick of illegal migration caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. While the U.S. Coast Guard has not yet observed an increase in migration by sea, it will increase patrols to deter people from making the dangerous voyage and prevent the transmission of Covid-19.
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 8: 46,700 Army and Air National Guard activated to assist with Covid-19 response efforts. This is a 4 percent (1,700) increase from the week before. Still, this represents a small part of the 443,000 servicemembers in the Army and Air Force National Guard.
- May 5: 86 percent of those National Guard troops who have been called up to mitigate the effects of Covid-19 are now on orders for which the federal government is providing funding. (The remaining 14 percent are on state-funded orders). The new status also comes with health care benefits and other benefits equal to that of active duty troops, so long as they are deployed for 31 days or more.
- A broader list of recent state National Guard efforts can be found here.
Personnel, Bases, and Infrastructure
Basic training. All services except the Navy have resumed accepting new trainees with quarantine up front, social distancing, testing, and personal protective equipment. Precautions slow the flow of training, however. New cases in training also continue to emerge, as a Marine Corps West Coast training facility at San Diego reported an infection outbreak in one recruit company, which has been isolated.
- May 5: DoD has increased testing capacity to 30,000 a week. DoD aims to have a testing capacity of 60,000 a week by early June. This is part of DoD’s four-tiered testing plan to test the force, beginning with strategic forces and deployed troops. DoD also plans on randomly testing some units among the fourth, lowest tier of the force to begin identifying asymptomatic cases. Demonstrating DoD’s testing capacity is critical to continue operations through the pandemic.
- May 6: Military Entrance Processing (MEP) stations have reportedly received guidance that individuals with a history of Covid-19, even if recovered, would be disqualified from joining the military. Therefore, even Covid-19 survivors may not be permitted to join. The guidance exemplifies the uncertainty surrounding the novel coronavirus, but, if the restriction becomes permanent, it will limit an already small pool of potential recruits.
- May 6: An Army Garrison in Italy will take a methodical approach to resuming operations. Colonel Daniel Vogel, the Army Italy Garrison commander, announced a rolling and weekly “risk assessment” to evaluate whether and how to resume normal operations. The garrison will wait a minimum of 72 hours following any Italian government decision concerning easing of restrictions and also looks to transition many services to a virtual setup where possible.
- May 6: 30,000 military families are being allowed to begin relocating, despite the stop motion order in effect through June 30. Although overall movement is still largely frozen due to the stop motion order, these exceptions indicate DoD is allowing some flexibly in managing the force.
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: 38 (down from a high of 51)
Alternate Care Facilities (ACFs): 37 under construction, 27 complete.
- May 2: In an attempt to solve the high ratio of patients to medical providers, Air Force Research Laboratory has modified existing combat technology for peacetime utility. The technology allows a medical provider to monitor up to twelve patients simultaneously. The ability to monitor remotely and to respond to individual patient’s needs reduces exposure and the need for disposable Personal Protective Equipment, which is scarce.
- May 4: The Army solicits bids for a wearable ‘Covid-19’ detector via expedited contracting procedures. The Army has dedicated $25 million through the Medical Technology Enterprise Consortium to the effort, with plans to make at least 10 awards. The device should meet the Technology Readiness Level 3 or 4, meaning that it has undergone testing in a laboratory environment, and is intended to be worn in a manner that permits “continuous physiological monitoring.” The Army wants the device to permit an early/pre-symptomatic detection of Covid-19.
- May 6: DoD has given a $126 million contract to 3M to increase its production of N95 masks. The contract is to increase production of the critical masks by 312 million annually, beginning with an additional 26 million per month in October. This deal is funded through the CARES Act.
- April 29: Boeing and Airbus suffer steep quarterly losses as the Covid-19 crisis continues to hammer the commercial aviation industry. Boeing indicated that it may layoff 10 percent of its workforce to mitigate future losses. Spillover effects from the aviation sector are likely to affect the defense supply chain.
- May 2: More US defense contractors are re-opening than closing for first time since the coronavirus struck.
- May 4: GE Aviation announced it would layoff 25 percent of its workforce mostly affecting its commercial programs.
- May 6: Secretary of Defense Mark Esper sent a letter thanking the defense industrial base for its contributions during the Covid-19 crisis.
- May 6: Pentagon officials indicate they are seeing evidence of an increase in predatory activity toward U.S. national security firms during the Covid-19 crisis.
- May 6: Defense industry M&A activity is on hold during the Covid-19 crisis but is likely to pick up again after the crisis abates.
- May 7: Huntington Ingalls Industries’ workforce is operating at 70-75 percent attendance due to worker absences, primarily due to parents with school-age children.
- May 4: Secretary Esper says that DoD will ask for supplemental funding to replace medical equipment and stimulate the industrial base. House Armed Services Committee chairman Adam Smith says that he would back money for the supplies but not for the industrial base.
What to Look for Next Week
The Navy has developed processes for deploying forces during the pandemic. However, watch for whether the Navy is able to return the USS Roosevelt to its deployment after its long stay in Guam. Also watch for Army and Marine Corps deployments of units.
National Guard activations are likely to plateau soon as civilian capabilities catch up with demands of the pandemic.
Watch for reports of increased DoD testing capacity, which remains an important component of the DoD’s ability continue operations during the pandemic.
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)