With help from Phelim Kine
Lawmakers from both parties are putting increasing pressure on the Pentagon to fix the recruitment crisis that threatens to leave the military well short of its goals to bring new troops aboard this year, in what is widely considered the worst recruiting environment since the end of the Vietnam War, our LARA SELIGMAN, PAUL MCLEARY and LEE HUDSON report.
While leaders from the different military branches have all acknowledged the problem, they also have been unable to move the needle in a positive direction, as the desire of young Americans to join the military falls off the statistical cliff.
“We are on the cusp of a military recruiting crisis,” Rep. MIKE GALLAGHER (R-Wis.) told POLITICO, citing Covid, obesity among would-be recruits, competition from the healthy civilian labor market, and an overall low interest in serving. “When Republicans take control of Congress in a few months,” he added, “averting the recruiting crisis will be a top priority of the Military Personnel Subcommittee.” Gallagher is the top Republican on the House Armed Services’ subpanel.
Multiple lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have expressed similar worries in recent days as the grim recruiting numbers continue to circulate throughout the DoD and Congress. The Army has reached 66 percent of its goal for the fiscal year ending in September, and the Navy is at 89 percent, according to data compiled from October 2021 to May 2022. Even with rates of 100 percent for the Marine Corps, Air Force and Space Force, that leaves the department with a total rate of just 85 percent.
Rep. ANTHONY BROWN (D-Md.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, called on the Pentagon to “do more” to support service members and encourage young Americans to join the military.
“That means better pay, training, opportunities, connections and benefits. And deepening partnerships with traditionally underserved or overlooked communities to tap into the full talent pool of our country,” Brown said in a statement. “Recruitment and personnel are core to our readiness. We need to take this seriously.”
Meanwhile, Rep. JACKIE SPEIER (D-Calif.), who chairs the Military Personnel Subcommittee, said the Pentagon has “not expanded” on a recent batch of numbers it sent to Congress, and she wants to hold a joint hearing with her panel and the Readiness subcommittee on recruiting issues.
“I would say we have to do a deep dive into why the numbers are shrinking,” Speier told POLITICO. “I think we have to have a hearing to kind of explore that.”
It’s not clear in the short term what Congress can do, as multiple military officials say that they’re contending with broader cultural and lifestyle trends that make military service less attractive for the overwhelming majority of eligible recruits.
Rep. JASON CROW (D-Colo.), a former Army Ranger, told POLITICO that the Pentagon should promise more money on top of the growing enlistment bonuses that services are dangling in front of potential recruits. “We’re going to have to provide enlistment incentives and bonuses, and I think we also have to educate people … about military service and what it looks like and what it means.”
That unfamiliarity with the military is a major concern, as headlines of sexual assault, post-traumatic stress and accusations of “woke” military leaders have been a constant over the past few years.
Recent briefing slides obtained by POLITICO show that senior Pentagon leaders are alarmed by low enlistment numbers and the military “currently faces the most challenging recruiting market since the advent of the All-Volunteer Force, with multiple Services and Components at risk for missing mission in FY 2022,” according to the slides. The United States ended the draft in 1973.
“Arduous market conditions are expected to persist into the future as the market is not likely to self-correct,” it added.
BIDEN OFFERS TO TRADE BOUT: The Biden administration has offered to exchange convicted arms trafficker VIKTOR BOUT as part of a potential deal to secure the release of American basketball star BRITTNEY GRINER and former Marine PAUL WHELAN from Russia, report CNN’s KYLIE ATWOOD, EVAN PEREZ and JENNIFER HANSLER.
According to people briefed on the matter, “the plan to trade Bout for Whelan and Griner received the backing of President Joe Biden after being under discussion since earlier this year. Biden’s support for the swap overrides opposition from the Department of Justice, which is generally against prisoner trades.”
Per CNN: “During months of internal discussions between [U.S.] agencies, the Justice Department opposed trading Bout, people briefed on the matter say. However, Justice officials eventually accepted that a Bout trade has the support of top officials at the State Department and White House, including Biden himself, sources say.”
Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN told reporters at a news conference today that the U.S. has “put a substantial proposal on the table” to facilitate the release of Griner and Whelan, reports our own OLIVIA OLANDER. Blinken also said he plans to meet with Russian Foreign Minister SERGEY LAVROV in the coming days to personally follow up on the offer, as well as hold other conversations with Russian officials.
GRINER TESTIFIES ABOUT POOR TRANSLATION: The jailed WNBA player spoke today at her drug possession trial in Russia, offering her first testimony under questioning from the prosecution, reports the Associated Press’ VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV.
Griner told the court that upon her detention at Moscow’s airport in February, a translator failed to fully interpret what was said during her questioning by Russian security officers. She also said she was deprived of access to an attorney and that officials instructed her to sign documents without explaining their meaning.
Griner was arrested after vape cartridges containing cannabis oil were found in her luggage. She has pleaded guilty but denied any criminal intent in bringing the substance to Russia. The next session in Griner’s trial, which began July 1, is set to take place on Aug. 2, and it’s unclear how long the legal proceedings will last.
RUSSIA RESTRICTS GAS TO EUROPE: European gas prices soared today as Moscow further reduced flows through the Russia-to-Germany Nord Stream pipeline, report our own VICTOR JACK and AMERICA HERNANDEZ. According to the German grids, deliveries via Nord Stream sank to just 20 percent of capacity, and Italian energy company Eni said it was expecting flows to reduce by around 7 million cubic meters — down to 27 mcm.
Russian gas supplier Gazprom initially notified the plunge Monday, citing the delayed return of a gas turbine for a compressor station. But European Union Energy Commissioner KADRI SIMSON called the drop in flows “a politically motivated step” at a meeting of EU energy ministers Tuesday.
The latest supply squeeze further undermines Gazprom’s already spotty reputation as a reliable gas supplier; it now has cut off or limited flows to a dozen EU countries. And although the EU is scrambling to cut its dependence on Russian energy imports, those efforts take time, and the bloc will be particularly vulnerable to supply-related surprises from the Kremlin this winter.
Meanwhile, our own GIORGIO LEALI reports that Saudi Crown Prince MOHAMMED BIN SALMAN is scheduled to meet French President EMMANUEL MACRON in Paris on Thursday — a trip that comes as France and Europe try to find alternative energy suppliers and two weeks after bin Salman fist-bumped Biden in Jeddah.
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RATNER ROILS CHINA: Beijing lashed out today at ELY RATNER, assistant secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, for warning of the rising risks of provocative People’s Liberation Army activities in the Indo-Pacific. Ratner predicted a “major incident or accident in the region” if the PLA doesn’t step back from its current confrontational posture.
“In recent months, we’ve witnessed a sharp increase in unsafe and unprofessional behavior by PLA ships and aircraft, implicating not only U.S. forces but allied forces operating in the region,” Ratner said Tuesday at a Center for Strategic and International Studies conference focused on the South China Sea. “The PRC is altering the status quo that has long served the region and in ways that have profound implications for our collective security.”
Those comments prompted a sharp response from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which said they “completely misrepresent the facts” of China’s regional intentions. Beijing instead implicitly blamed the U.S. for regional military tensions.
“To maintain its own hegemony, a certain major country outside the region half a globe away has been intensifying military power projection in the South China Sea, building multiple military bases around the South China Sea with offensive weapons deployed, frequently sending aircraft carriers, strategic bombers and other naval vessels and military aircraft, rallying non-regional allies to flex muscles in the South China Sea,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson ZHAO LIJIAN.
UNSTOPPABLE SPYWARE: The House Intelligence Committee held a hearing on spyware today after years of reports of the technology being used against journalists, government officials and dissidents, often involving the Israeli company NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware, reports our own MAGGIE MILLER (for Pros!).
But as government officials increasingly worry about their own security, the witnesses at the hearing made clear there’s no silver bullet to solve the problem. Spyware often infects targeted devices through the use of “zero-click” vulnerabilities, which the user does nothing to install and can almost never detect.
“I never want to actually push a message of learned helplessness, but against these zero-click exploits there is very little a user can do, yes,” said SHANE HUNTLEY, the director of Google’s Threat Analysis Group. He noted that Google is currently tracking 30 groups that sell spyware to state-sponsored actors and that seven out of nine of the zero-days discovered by Google in 2021 were developed as part of the spyware industry.
“It is too late to put the tech back into the bottle, so we must take strong action now and pump the brakes on proliferation to protect national security and human rights,” added JOHN SCOTT-RAILTON, a senior researcher at the Citizen Lab based at the University of Toronto.
CANADA’S PARLIAMENT TO PROBE POLICE SPYWARE: Canadian members of Parliament plan to study when and why the national police force uses spyware to hack mobile devices as part of its surveillance operations, reports our own MAURA FORREST.
The House of Commons ethics committee voted Tuesday to hear from Royal Canadian Mounted Police officials, Public Safety Minister MARCO MENDICINO and the current and former privacy commissioners about the RCMP’s use of the powerful software.
The MPs also want to know whether the RCMP is using the controversial Pegasus spyware. Committee hearings will take place over two days in August.
LABOR SHORTAGE SLOWS SUBMARINE PROGRAM: General Dynamics announced to investors today that the U.S. labor shortage is putting pressure on the Navy’s Virginia-class attack submarine program, as the company is on contract to build two subs annually, reports our own LEE HUDSON (for Pros!).
Virginia-class schedule delays are not due to parts or availability of materials, but with finding skilled labor, chief financial officer JASON AIKEN said during a second-quarter earnings call. The company’s NASSCO shipyard in California and the Columbia-class ballistic missiles submarine program are both performing well, he said, “but on the Virginia program, the supply chain has stumbled a little bit more.”
Aiken said he’s confident the Virginia-class program will get back on track. In the short term, however, the labor shortage will likely hurt future operating margins. General Dynamics Electric Boat and Bath Iron Works shipyards are both positioned to have more orders, but the lack of skilled labor makes it difficult for the company to increase production, Aiken added.
BOEING TAKES HIT ON TANKER DRONE, COMMERCIAL CREW PROJECT: Boeing reported charges today on both the MQ-25 Navy tanker drone program and the NASA Commercial Crew transportation project amid a 2 percent decline in revenue for the second quarter of 2022, per Lee (for Pros!).
During its quarterly earnings call, the company announced that revenue for the Defense Space & Security business dropped by 10 percent compared to the previous year. The decrease was driven primarily by charges on the MQ-25 and Commercial Crew projects, both fixed-price development programs, meaning Boeing is responsible for cost overruns.
The MQ-25 program recorded a $147 million charge due to the higher cost of meeting technical requirements, while the Commercial Crew program suffered a $93 million charge driven by launch manifest updates and additional costs associated with NASA’s Boeing Orbital Flight Test 2.
FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY — TECH PERMITTING MEASURE TO PASS HOUSE: The office of Sen. BILL HAGERTY (R-Tenn.) says he has secured agreement from House leadership that the chamber will pass — in tandem with the Senate’s bill to boost domestic semiconductor manufacturing — the legislation he introduced with Sens. ANGUS KING (I-Maine) and ROB PORTMAN (R-Ohio) to add key technologies such as semiconductors or electric vehicle batteries to the FAST-41 federal permitting program.
NatSec Daily previously reported on the measure from the trio of senators last November, and it passed the Senate by unanimous consent in January. A companion bill introduced in the House in May is being led by a bipartisan group that includes Reps. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-Texas), DEBORAH ROSS (D-N.C.), JAKE ELLZEY (R-Texas), STEVE COHEN (D-Tenn.) and BRYAN STEIL (R-Wis.).
Hagerty argued in a statement that his legislation “to reduce government red tape and unleash American competitiveness … will augment the CHIPS package by facilitating faster construction and operation of critical American manufacturing facilities.” He continued: “This will not only create American jobs, but make our Nation more competitive by strengthening the American semiconductor industry and accelerating America’s efforts to win the strategic competition with the Chinese Communist Party that will define the century.”
UNDERSTANDING DEMOCRATS’ DEFENSE SPENDING SPREE: Last year, Democratic lawmakers stunned observers when they voted to ladle tens of billions of extra dollars onto Biden’s first Pentagon budget. Now, Congress is poised to do it again — with even more money at stake — and it’s anything but shocking, reports our own CONNOR O’BRIEN.
While lawmakers haven’t struck a deal yet on spending for the coming fiscal year, increases backed by the armed services committees point to national defense spending that could approach or exceed $850 billion, versus the $802 billion Biden requested. Runaway inflation, arming Ukraine in its fight against Russia and growing concerns about China’s military have beaten arguments that the Pentagon should seek tradeoffs and make due.
And as lawmakers look to secure cash for weapons and equipment built in their districts, bipartisan backing for steady defense spending has weighed heavily on the Democrats’ spending agenda. That upward trend will almost certainly accelerate if Republicans sweep the midterm elections.
ADVISER RESIGNS OVER ORBÁN’S RACIST REMARKS: Just four days after Hungarian Prime Minister VIKTOR ORBÁN startled European leaders by declaring countries were “no longer nations” after different races blend, one of his longtime advisers, sociologist ZSUZSA HEGEDÜS, quit Tuesday, reports our own LILI BAYER.
Hegedüs’s leaked resignation letter was a public excoriation of Orbán’s comments, which she described as “worthy of Goebbels” and a “pure Nazi text.” She also wrote to Orbán: “That you are able to deliver an openly racist speech would not occur to me even in a nightmare.”
Within hours, Orbán had published his own letter, claiming to have “a zero-tolerance policy” toward anti-Semitism and racism. Hegedüs shot back with a second letter, invoking her parent’s experiences as Hungarian Holocaust survivors. Others died, she said, because too many people stayed silent when hate first emerged.
— CHANAN WEISSMAN is stepping down from his role as director for partnerships and global engagement at the National Security Council, reports Jewish Insider’s GABBY DEUTCH. He will be replaced by SHELLEY GREENSPAN, who serves as policy adviser for partnerships and global engagement at the National Security Council.
— HUGO YUE-HO YON has been nominated to serve as U.S. ambassador to the Maldives. He currently serves as senior adviser in the office of the undersecretary of economic growth, energy and the environment in the State Department.
— VALERIE HOPKINS, The New York Times: “Looming Question for Putin Opponents: Can You Change Russia From Jail?”
— JEAN EAGLESHAM, The Wall Street Journal: “Auditors Press Clients on Russia Connections”
— Welt am Sonntag’sALEXANDER NABERT and CHRISTINA BRAUSE, POLITICO’s BRYAN BENDER, and Insider’s NICK ROBINS-EARLY: “Death Weapons: Inside a Teenage Terrorist Network”
— Biden is scheduled to speak with Chinese President XI JINPING, the first conversation between the leaders in four months.
— Federal Computer Week, 8:30 a.m.: “Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification 2.0: What’s Changed and What’s Next? — with ROBERT HILL, DOUG HOPKINS, BILL KALOGEROS, KELLEY KIERNAN, DIANE KNIGHT and more”
— The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 9 a.m.: “11th Annual Building Resilience Through Private-Public Partnerships Conference — with JEN EASTERLY, ERIK HOOKS, ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS and more”
— House Foreign Affairs Committee, 9:30 a.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Countering Gray Zone Coercion in the Indo-Pacific — with MATT ARMSTRONG, ELISABETH BRAW and DAVID SHULLMAN”
— Senate Armed Services Committee, 9:30 a.m.: “Full Committee Hearing: Nominations — with MILANCY HARRIS, BRENDAN OWENS, RADHA PLUMB and LAURA TAYLOR-KALE”
— House Science, Space and Technology Committee, 10 a.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Exploring Cyber Space: Cybersecurity Issues for Civil and Commercial Space Systems — with BRANDON BAILEY, MATTHEW SCHOLL and THERESA SULOWAY”
— House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, 10 a.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Progress Made? Ending Sexual Harassment at the Department of Veterans Affairs — with THOMAS COSTA, HARVEY JOHNSON and PERDITA JOHNSON”
— Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 10 a.m.: “Full Committee Hearing: Nominations — with CANDACE BOND, WILLIAM DUNCAN, ROBERT J. FAUCHER, HEIDE FULTON and HUGO F. RODRIGUEZ JR.”
— Senate Special Committee on Aging, 10 a.m.: “Full Committee Hearing: Accessible Federal Technology for People With Disabilities, Older Americans and Veterans — with EVE HILL, RONALD HOLMQUEST, ANIL LEWIS and JULE ANN LIEBERMAN”
— The Center for Strategic and International Studies, 11 a.m.: “Beyond the Emergency: Donor Perspectives on Ukraine’s Economic Reconstruction — with ROMINA BANDURA, PHILIP BENNETT, ANDREW HURST and MARK SIMAKOVSKY”
— The Center for a New American Security,11:30 a.m.: “Cybersecurity Threats and Information Sharing — with RICHARD FONTAINE, ANNE NEUBERGER and DANIEL SILVERBERG”
— 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 Center for a New American Security, 1:30 p.m.: “Virtual Fireside Chat: General CQ BROWN JR., Chief of Staff of the Air Force — with STACIE PETTYJOHN”
— Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 2 p.m.: “Full Committee Hearing: Nominations — ANGELA PRICE AGGELER, RANDY BERRY, SHEFALI RAZDAN DUGGAL, CARRIN PATMAN and GAUTAM RANA”
— The United States Institute of Peace, 3:15 p.m.: “Engaging Afghan Women and Civil Society in U.S. Policymaking — with RINA AMIRI, ANTONY BLINKEN, LISE GRANDE, PALWASHA HASSAN, NAHEED SARABI and ASILA WARDAK”
— The United States Institute of Peace, 4 p.m.: “Images From Central America’s Wars and Its Unfinished Peace — with BILL GENTILE, KEITH MINES, ROBERT NICKELSBERG and JOSÉ LUIS SANZ”
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