CORONAVIRUS NEWS: Pentagon, Defense Industry Associations to Hold Daily Calls About Coronavirus

By Jon Harper

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The Pentagon and industry associations on March 17 kicked off the first of what will be daily talks about the effects of coronavirus on the defense industrial base.

The novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has infected more than 200,000 people worldwide and killed more than 8,000, including upwards of 100 in the United States. The outbreak has upended the daily lives of Americans, including the shuttering of businesses, forced tele-working, travel restrictions and bans on large gatherings.

The global pandemic forced the temporary closure of an F-35 joint strike fighter final assembly and check-out facilities in Japan and Italy, and raised concerns about potential effects on other military programs.

The Pentagon now has plans to reach out to industry groups on a daily basis to discuss the virus’ impact.

"To ensure the security, reliability and resilience of our defense industrial base and our collective effort to execute the National Defense Strategy, Under Secretary of Defense [for Acquisition and Sustainment] Ellen Lord has invited defense industry associations (Aerospace Industries Association, National Defense Industrial Association, Professional Services Council, National Association of Manufacturers, and Chamber of Commerce) to join a daily phone call to discuss COVID-19 updates and get feedback on COVID-19 impacts on industry,” Lt. Col. Mike Andrews, a Defense Department spokesman, said in a statement.

The first such call was chaired by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Industrial Policy Jennifer Santos. Other representatives from the industrial policy office, Defense Contracting Management Agency, Defense Logistics Agency, and Defense Pricing and Contracting also participated.

“The department remains fully engaged with the defense industrial base on all programs, and stands ready to respond when needed,” Andrews said. He declined to provide additional details about the discussions.

Retired Gen. Hawk Carlisle, president and CEO of NDIA, weighed in on the new outreach effort.

“DoD has been extremely responsive in all efforts to ensure the safety of personnel involved in national security, from the men and women in uniform to the government civilians and defense contractors that support them,” he said in a statement. “This daily call is an excellent platform for ongoing communication between the Defense Department and the organizations that support a responsive and ready industrial base.

“NDIA is working with our membership to determine the evolving impacts of the COVID-19 response on the defense industrial base,” Carlisle added. “We commend Secretary Lord and her team’s efforts to understand those impacts and maintain frank, open and clear communications. As this situation evolves, the assistance and advice to the industrial base must evolve with it. We look forward to continuing to collaborate as a community to ensure our warfighters, their families, and the industrial team that supports them are safe and ready throughout this response.”

Meanwhile, Defense Department officials are facing questions from journalists about the programmatic implications of disruptions caused by the pandemic.

During a press briefing March 17, a reporter asked Adm. Charles A. "Chas" Richard, head of U.S. Strategic Command, if he was concerned that coronavirus-related work stoppages could delay nuclear modernization programs. However, the briefing ended before he responded.

Richard and other military leaders have been warning that the nation’s nuclear forces are aging, and delays to nuclear modernization programs could create capability gaps. The Pentagon is pursuing a new Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine; the Ground Based Strategy Deterrent intercontinental ballistic missile system, the B-21 stealth bomber and the Long-Range Stand-Off air-launched cruise missiles. The National Nuclear Security Administration is also working to modernize the nation’s decades-old arsenal of nuclear warheads.

Capt. Bill Clinton, Stratcom’s chief of public affairs, later issued the following statement:

“We are confident the services, along with industry partners, are able to keep production related to modernization of our nuclear forces on track, while taking appropriate precautions to keep their workforces safe and healthy. Strategic deterrence is the DoD's number-one priority mission, and it has been a focus for our national leadership. While our nation is working diligently to solve this acute public health crisis, I am confident we can continue modernizing our nuclear forces on time as planned.”



Topics: Defense Department

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