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D.C. National Guard leadership has restricted flight operations while it works to correct systematic problems with its aviation units, two years after the command was caught up in the controversy over the Trump administration’s response to racial justice protests in the nation’s capital.
Since early May, D.C. Army National Guard aviation units have limited flying to “maintenance operations,” meaning only test flights following aircraft maintenance are permitted, D.C. National Guard spokesperson Col. ROBERT CARVER told NatSec Daily.
The restriction was put in place “in order to concentrate on personnel training, safety and maintenance,” Carver said. The helicopters are available if needed for other assignments — emergency patient transfer, for example — although they are not routinely flying these missions.
The restrictions have had a significant impact on the unit’s operations, particularly aircrew training and medical evacuations in the D.C. area. Normally, the units’ Black Hawk and Lakota helicopters are on alert to respond quickly to threats to the National Capital Region, as well as to large gatherings and high-profile events. The helicopters also provide VIP transport and patient transfer.
The new limits also curtail training for the aircrews. Maintenance test pilots are doing most of the flights, which are shorter and less frequent than usual, according to one former D.C. Guard member.
“It’s almost impossible to overstate the need for constant training for aircrews,” this person said. “Maintenance can be done by any pilot who’ll just hop on the aircraft and turn it on for the mechanics to check systems as the bird remains on the ground. You ain’t getting valuable training doing this.”
Overall, the former D.C. Guard member said the decision is a “severe blow” to the unit, compounding D.C. National Guard aviation’s “persistent problem with talent attraction and retaining.”
The Guard expects to resume normal flight operations this summer, while still focusing on internal improvements over the next six months to a year, Carver said.
“Bottom line, the return to normal flying operations is conditions based, predicated on completing corrective actions and not on any given period of time,” Carver said.
The decision this May to restrict flying is part of an “organizational reset” after two years of pushing the D.C. Guard to its limit, Carver said. Local and federal officials have relied heavily on the unit — as have Guard units across the country — to deal with civil unrest on top of its usual missions. Units have deployed to respond to the protests against racial injustice and police brutality in summer 2020, the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6 and Covid-19 pandemic relief efforts.
The news of the command’s restrictions comes almost two years after the D.C. National Guard launched five helicopters on the night of June 1, 2020, to respond to massive protests in the nation’s capital over police officers’ role in GEORGE FLOYD’s death. Video captured that night showed a military helicopter flying low over a group of protesters in downtown D.C., kicking up wind and debris in a show-of-force tactic typically used only in combat zones. The strong winds caused buildings to vibrate, and witnesses reported windows breaking.
An investigation into the helicopter incident by the Pentagon’s inspector general determined that the decision to deploy the aircraft was “reasonable” based on the emergency nature of the situation. But the watchdog dinged Brig. Gen. ROBERT RYAN, the head of the D.C. Guard’s Joint Task Force on Civil Disturbance, for failing to give clear guidance to the aviators that night.
“No specific training, policies, or procedures were in place for using helicopters to support requests for assistance from civilian authorities in civil disturbances,” according to the IG report, released last May. “Prior to the night of June 1st, 2020, the DC [National Guard] did not have a prepared plan to maintain command and control of aviation assets used to support civil disturbances.”
Ryan is now the commander of the D.C. National Guard Land Component Command.
However, Lt. Col. JEFFREY WINGBLADE, the lead aviation officer who Ryan authorized to direct the helicopters to launch that night, is no longer with the Guard, Carver said. Carver did not say whether Wingblade was fired or reassigned.
NATO’CLOCK: The goal of the NATO summit in Madrid beginning tomorrow is clear, our own ANDREW DESIDERIO and PAUL McLEARY report: “Keep weapons and money flowing to Ukraine for many more arduous months of its battle with Russia.”
The leaders’ summit is arguably the most important for the alliance since the Soviet Union collapsed. All 30 member states will aim to show they will counter Russia’s invasion while at the same time preparing for any spillover effects of the war. There’s also a chance that Finland and Sweden will join NATO, even though their accession still faces resistance from Turkey.
Some in NATO, though, feel that there’s room for more action despite billions in aid and weapons delivered. The evidence so far “clearly indicates that when it comes to weapons aid, there is room to do 10 times more,” an Eastern European defense official told Desiderio and McLeary. “When it comes to sanctions, then there is room to do much more.”
We already have a bit of news in the hours before the summit: NATO Secretary-General JENS STOLTENBERG said the alliance will increase its high-readiness forces to “well over” 300,000 troops, an enormous jump from the current 40,000 posture.
KYIV WANTS WAR WON BY WINTER: Ukrainian President VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY told the leaders of G-7 countries over the weekend he wants their help to end the war by the winter, per multiple reports.
A person familiar with Zelenskyy’s comments told Euronews he “had a very strong message that we must do everything possible to try to end this war before the end of the year,” further stressing the importance of “not lowering the pressure and continuing to sanction Russia massively, heavily.”
National security adviser JAKE SULLIVAN, asked about those comments Monday, was careful not to confirm the reports directly. But he did say Zelenskyy “was very much focused on trying to ensure that Ukraine is in as advantageous a position on the battlefield as possible in the next months as opposed to the next years because he believes that a grinding conflict is not in the interest of the Ukrainian people, for obvious reasons.”
“So he would like to see his military and those in the West who are supporting his military make maximum use of the next few months to put the Ukrainians in as good a position as they can possibly be in with respect to the situation on the ground in both the East and the South,” Sullivan continued.
‘LOW EXPECTATIONS’ FOR IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS IN QATAR: ROB MALLEY, the U.S. special envoy for nuclear talks with Iran, is headed to Qatar today for a resumption of indirect discussions about ways to revive the 2015 deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, per our own NAHAL TOOSI and STEPHANIE LIECHTENSTEIN.
The likelihood of a breakthrough is low, but these are the first such negotiations in months. The talks are coming together following efforts by European officials to get both sides — but Iran, in particular — back on board.
Until now, most of the discussions on reviving the deal had been held in Vienna, but those have been stalled since March. Iran, meanwhile, has advanced its nuclear program significantly, including its enrichment of uranium, and it’s been removing or turning off cameras that international inspectors rely upon to monitor its program.
The latest talks — expected to be mediated by European officials because Iran refuses to engage directly with the U.S. — are likely to start Tuesday, a U.S. official familiar with the issue said. “Very low expectations,” the official added.
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GRINER’S DETENTION GETS EXTENDED: The so-called criminal case against American basketball star BRITTNEY GRINER will officially start on July 1, per the Associated Press’ JIM HEINTZ.
“She could face 10 years in prison if convicted on charges of large-scale transportation of drugs. Fewer than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted, and unlike in the U.S., acquittals can be overturned,” he wrote.
Griner, first arrested at an airport in Moscow four months ago, had her detention extended Monday for another six months.
On Sunday, Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN said securing Griner’s release was a “priority” for the administration, though he didn’t detail any plan to get her out. “I have got no higher priority than making sure that Americans who are being illegally detained in one way or another around the world come home,” he told CNN’s JAKE TAPPER Sunday.
RUSSIA ALLEGEDLY HITS MALL WITH 1,000 PEOPLE INSIDE: A Russian missile struck a shopping mall in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk — far from any front lines — that had about 1,000 people inside, Zelenskyy said. (Here’s the disturbing footage distributed on the president’s official Telegram channel.)
Ukrainian officials said two people were killed and another 20 were injured in the attack, though that’s not the final count.
As the Wall Street Journal’s YAROSLAV TROFIMOV noted on Twitter, the strikes “may be the deadliest Russian missile strike since the war began.”
Speaking to reporters just minutes after the video was released, Sen. JIM RISCH (R-Idaho), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said “You can’t understand what the Russians are thinking. … I don’t know why they’re trying to terrorize.”
IRANIAN STEEL COMPANY COMES UNDER CYBERATTACK: Iran’s state-owned Khuzestan Steel Company announced today that experts had determined the plant had to halt production until further notice “due to technical problems” following “cyberattacks,” per the Associated Press’ ISABEL DEBRE, as the company’s website also went offline.
The semiofficial Mehr news agency reported that AMIN EBRAHIMI, the company’s CEO, called the attack “unsuccessful” and predicted operations would be back to “normal” by the end of the day. The company didn’t blame any specific group for the alleged cyberattacks.
The Khuzestan Steel Company incident comes after a cyberattack last year on Iran’s fuel distribution network “paralyzed gas stations across the country,” according to the AP. In addition, Iranian train stations “have been hit with fake delay messages,” surveillance cameras “have been hacked,” state-run websites “have been disrupted,” and video footage “showing abuse in the country’s notorious Evin prison has leaked out.”
THE PENTAGON’S BIG RECRUITING PROBLEM: Every branch of the U.S. military is struggling to meet its fiscal year 2022 recruiting goals, report NBC News’ COURTNEY KUBE and MOLLY BOIGON, who obtained an internal Defense Department survey showing that only 9 percent of young Americans eligible to serve had any inclination to do so — the lowest number since 2007.
“More than half of the young Americans who answered the survey — about 57% — think they would have emotional or psychological problems after serving in the military,” Kube and Boigon write, while “[n]early half think they would have physical problems.” Furthermore, “[a]mong Americans surveyed by the Pentagon who were in the target age range for recruiting, only 13% had parents who had served in the military, down from approximately 40% in 1995.”
According to Kube and Boigon, multiple U.S. military and defense officials say Defense Secretary LLOYD AUSTIN and Deputy Defense Secretary KATHLEEN HICKS “consider the shortfall a serious issue … and have been meeting on it frequently with other leaders.”
LOCKHEED LOSES HYPERSONIC INTERCEPTOR DEAL: Our friends at Morning Defense (for Pros!) note that Northrop Grumman and Raytheon remain in the running to develop a hypersonic interceptor for the Missile Defense Agency, or MDA, but have already beaten out competition from Lockheed Martin.
The three companies were awarded design contracts in November 2021 for the Glide Phase Interceptor, intended to be launched from Aegis radar-equipped ships to shoot down hypersonic missiles.
The plan is for the project to culminate in a fly-off in fiscal 2028. But the Government Accountability Office recently criticized MDA’s acquisition approach as making proper oversight difficult.
SENATORS FRUSTRATED BY GLOBAL FOOD AID DELAY: Senators of both parties are growing irritated about the Biden administration’s delay in delivering global food aid funding from the Ukraine aid bill Congress passed this spring, per our own MEREDITH LEE, and they’re now privately venting their frustrations to administration officials.
More than a month after Congress approved the emergency measure, USAID and the administration have yet to send out a dollar, even as Biden and his top officials increase their public warnings about the war’s impact on food prices and growing world hunger. Exasperated lawmakers say they can’t get any explanations for the delay, and as Congress considers its spending bills for the next fiscal year, some Republicans are questioning why USAID and global aid programs need more money.
Senators are now voicing their alarm directly to USAID Administrator SAMANTHA POWER and other administration officials in meetings and informal gatherings. USAID’s SARAH CHARLES, a top official overseeing international humanitarian assistance, stunned Hill staffers in a briefing last Thursday when she announced the administration plans to bank more than half of the money from the $4.35 billion disaster funding for the next fiscal year beginning in October — when USAID expects continued food assistance needs. Charles said USAID plans to allocate about half of the funds before the end of September.
PUTIN TROLLED OVER TOUGH-GUY IMAGE: World leaders at the G-7 summit mocked Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN’s public displays of machismo over the weekend, with U.K. Prime Minister BORIS JOHNSON asking his foreign counterparts Sunday whether they should leave their jackets on or “take our clothes off” for press photographs, per POLITICO Europe’s LUANNA MUNIZ.
“We all have to show that we’re tougher than Putin,” Johnson joked, prompting Canadian Prime Minister JUSTIN TRUDEAU to interject: “We’re going to get the bare-chested horseback riding display.” European Commission President URSULA VON DER LEYEN also chimed in, saying: “Oh yes. Horseback riding is the best.” And Johnson added: “We’ve got to show them our pecs.”
The leaders were referencing a series of infamous photo shoots released regularly by the Kremlin in which an often-shirtless Putin rides on horseback, fishes and swims in icy waters. Russia was kicked out of the G-8 following its annexation of Crimea in 2014.
— FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY: MATTHEW TILGHMAN has been hired as an attorney adviser in the Office of the Legal Adviser at the State Department, supporting buildings and acquisitions. He most recently was assistant district counsel for the Middle East District at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
— WILLIAM BARR has joined the Hudson Institute as a distinguished fellow, focusing on policy areas including violent crime, transnational criminal and drug organizations, international terrorism, separation of powers, and other constitutional principles. He previously served as attorney general in the Trump administration.
— KIM GHATTAS, The Atlantic: “The Two People Biden Must Remember in Israel and Saudi Arabia”
— ANDREW MARANTZ, The New Yorker: “Does Hungary Offer a Glimpse of Our Authoritarian Future?”
— MATEUSZ MORAWIECKI, POLITICO Magazine: “Opinion: The Future of the West Is in Question”
— Biden will meet with German Chancellor OLAF SCHOLZ, French President EMMANUEL MACRON and U.K. Prime Minister BORIS JOHNSON on the margins of the G-7 summit. He will then attend and deliver remarks at the final session of the summit, focused on multilateral and digital order.
Later, he will travel to Madrid to participate in the NATO summit, where he will meet with Spanish President PEDRO SÁNCHEZ and KING FELIPE VI. In the evening, he will attend a dinner for heads of state and government and heads of international organizations invited to the NATO summit.
— First lady JILL BIDEN and Spain’s QUEEN LETIZIA will visit a refugee reception center and meet with Ukrainian families in Madrid.
— Austin will depart Washington to attend the NATO summit in Madrid.
— Freedom House, 9 a.m.: “Protection of Minority Communities in Afghanistan: A UN HRC Side Event — with RINA AMIRI, RICHARD BENNETT, TOMAS NIKLASSON, SIMA SAMAR, NICOLE BIBBINS SEDACA and ASEF SYAL”
— Washington Post Live, 9 a.m.: “Local, Federal and Community Leaders Discuss Comprehensive Approaches to Public Safety — with ART ACEVEDO, VANITA GUPTA, KEITH ELLISON, LINDA HARLLEE HARPER, MICHAEL S. HARRISON and more”
— House Homeland Security Committee, 11 a.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Combating Ransomware: From Our Small Towns in Michigan to D.C. — with LAURA CLARK, JAMES C. ELLIS, MATT HARTMAN and IRANGA KAHANGAMA”
— The Center for a New American Security, 11:30 a.m.: “Securing America’s Supply Chains — with TARA MURPHY DOUGHERTY, SUSAN HELPER, CHRISSY HOULAHAN, MEGAN LAMBERTH, ALEXANDRA SEYMOUR and CARRIE WIBBEN”
— The United States Institute of Peace, 1 p.m.: “Delivering Justice for Ukraine — with LISE GRANDE, ANTON KORYNEVYCH, OKSANA MARKAROVA, BETH VAN SCHAACK and IRYNA VENEDIKTOVA”
— The Atlantic Council, the Elcano Royal Institute, the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the Munich Security Conference, 3 p.m.: “NATO Public Forum — with BAIBA BRAŽE, HADLEY GAMBLE, JOSÉ JUAN RUIZ GÓMEZ, KATRÍN JAKOBSDÓTTIR, JENS STOLTENBERG and more”
— The Center for Strategic and International Studies, 4 p.m.: “National Security and Artificial Intelligence: Global Trends and Challenges — with JAKE HARRINGTON, PAUL ‘PJ’ MAYKISH, MARGARET PALMIERI, YEVGENIYA ‘JANE’ PINELIS, NEIL SEREBRYANY and DAVID SPIRK”
Have a natsec-centric event coming up? Transitioning to a new defense-adjacent or foreign policy-focused gig? Shoot us an email at [email protected] or [email protected] to be featured in the next edition of the newsletter.
And thanks to our editor, Ben Pauker, who kindly requests that all world leaders keep their shirts on during official appearances.