John M. Donnelly

Defense Bills Seek to Protect U.S. Energy at Base in Germany
Critics slam return of ‘zombie earmark’ as Bacon says proposal will reduce reliance on Russian gas

The Other North Korean Threat: Chemical and Biological Weapons
Pentagon acknowledges armed forces are not ready

Now that the Singapore summit of President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un is in the rearview mirror, major questions remain, particularly about the part of North Korea’s doomsday arsenal that Pyongyang’s military is most likely to use in a war, one that can potentially kill millions of people, and one for which the U.S. military is woefully unprepared: chemical and biological arms.

Nuclear weapons will continue to be the top concern. But they are far from the only one. Specifically, U.S. forces in the region lack sufficient medical countermeasures, protective gear and technology to identify so-called chem-bio agents, Pentagon insiders say. And the troops are insufficiently trained, manned and equipped for such a fight, according to previously unreported Pentagon audits and Army officials. Only about 1 in 3 of the Army’s special units that deal with doomsday agents is fully prepared, the service confirmed.

Senate NDAA Would Mandate Work on Missile Defenses in Space
Though it’s unclear whether the military would even recommend effort

The Senate Armed Services Committee voted behind closed doors on May 23 to require the Pentagon to start developing missile-killing interceptors for deployment in space — whether or not the Pentagon agrees.

The provision, by Texas Republican Ted Cruz, has become part of the defense authorization bill being debated now and into next week on the Senate floor.

Zombie Zumwalt: The Ship Program That Never Dies
Two ships have been ‘delivered’ but don’t exactly work as planned

In 2006, Congress started funding construction of the first of three Navy destroyers named after the late famed Navy chief Adm. Elmo Zumwalt. But nearly a dozen years later, none of the Zumwalt ships is ready to fight.

None will be for years. And hundreds of millions more dollars will be required to get there. The ships, known as DDG 1000s, may yet become capable and, with enough additional money, they may even become warships of unprecedented lethality. But the extent of the program’s problems to date — and the remaining cost to make things right — has not been fully appreciated even among many defense experts.

Navy’s Top-Dollar Stealth Fighter May Not Go the Distance
New report raises questions about multibillion-dollar program

The Navy’s newest fighter jet, the stealthy F-35C, may not have the range it needs to strike enemy targets, the House Armed Services Committee said in a new report, raising troubling questions about whether the multibillion-dollar program is already outpaced by threats.

And critics say the Navy fighter — part of the Joint Strike Fighter initiative, the most expensive weapons program in history — may actually have been out of date years ago.

Analysis: What Matters Most in the NDAA
Obscurities and omissions define this year’s defense authorization bill

The massive defense authorization bill approved by the House Armed Services panel early Thursday morning is a consequential measure — but not for the reasons most people think.

The $708.1 billion bill, which the House plans to debate the week of May 21, would endorse the largest budget for defense since World War II, adjusting for inflation and when war spending is taken out of the equation.

Analysis: Trump’s Iran Policy Unmoored From Facts
U.S. dropping out of 2015 multinational agreement

President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that the U.S. government would drop out of the 2015 multinational agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear activities. His White House speech included inaccurate statements and omissions of fact that reflect either misunderstanding of the accord or an effort to distort the historical record.

“At the heart of the Iran deal was a giant fiction, that a murderous regime desired only a peaceful nuclear energy program,” Trump said. Actually, it was the concern that Iran might be creating the ability to build weapons that led to the 2015 deal.

Senators Again Push Steamboat Exemption Despite Safety Warnings
Ship has taken on outsize significance on Capitol Hill

A group of senators have quietly inserted into a Coast Guard authorization bill a provision that would allow an old wooden steamboat to operate as an overnight cruise ship despite repeated official warnings that doing so would create a floating fire trap.

The Senate fell four votes short Wednesday of moving forward with the authorization measure. But the issue is not expected to die there.

Analysis: Bolton’s Appointment Ups Odds of War
Incoming national security adviser is a hard-liner on Iran and North Korea

When President Donald Trump and his national security team make decisions soon about North Korea and Iran that could eventually lead to war, one of the few voices of restraint in the room may be a man known as “Mad Dog.”

That nickname has never quite fit that man, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and he doesn’t like it. Mattis is a fierce warrior, but war to him is a last resort, because he has seen firsthand its horrible toll.

Podcast: The Risks to Trump's Unconventional Approach to Tariffs, North Korea
CQ on Congress, Episode 94

CQ trade reporter Ellyn Ferguson and defense reporter John M. Donnelly spell out the risks posed by President Donald Trump's decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports and his agreement to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Show Notes:

Analysis: Stunning North Korea Deal May Take Years to Nail Down
Breakthrough decision to meet is just the beginning

The announcement in Washington Thursday night that the leaders of America and North Korea would soon meet for the first time and talk about eliminating North Korea’s nuclear missiles was an astonishing moment pregnant with promise — an event that let the world sigh. Enjoy it. But now look beneath the book’s cover. The prequel has not even been drafted, let alone any chapters written.

South Korea’s national security director, Chung Eui-Yong, told reporters on the White House lawn Thursday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had committed to “denuclearization.” Kim had told the South Koreans he could even tolerate U.S.-South Korean military exercises, drills that Kim had previously decried. And Kim said he would refrain from additional tests of ballistic missiles or nuclear bombs, according to Chung.

The Army’s Ryan McCarthy Pulls the Plug on Bad Acquisitions
“We’re not informed enough,” undersecretary says

There’s something different about the Army these days. In a word, it is humility.

The service does not have a flagship new weapon in the works, only minor modifications to existing systems. Its recent efforts to develop costly hardware have flopped. Its acquisition budget, relative to the Air Force and Navy, is expected to decline in the next decade. U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan now number in the thousands, not the scores of thousands.

Senate’s Defense Spending Bill Shows Need for Budget Deal
Defense appropriators would bust budget caps

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s decision to release the four remaining fiscal 2018 spending bills last week — including a cap-busting defense measure — underscores the urgency to get a deal on the bigger picture.

If the Senate defense bill became law, arbitrary automatic cuts would take place in the middle of January, as Democratic Sens. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois pointed out in a Nov. 21 statement.

Congress Generous, Again, With US Funds for Israel’s Defense
Package for Israeli antimissile systems at near record levels, even as transparency questions swirl

Congress is poised to provide Israel with another $705 million for that country’s missile defenses — nearly five times the Trump administration’s request and the second largest annual installment of such aid to date.

The House plans to vote this week to approve a fiscal 2018 national defense policy conference report that would, among its many provisions, authorize the aid to Israel for several antimissile systems. The Senate is expected to follow suit soon and send the bill to the president. And whenever Congress completes work on a defense appropriations bill, lawmakers are highly likely to provide all of that money — and maybe more.

Gold Star Families Getting Rushed Condolence Letters
The White House tried to quickly make the president’s overstatement accurate

A substantial number of families who have lost military servicemembers during the Trump presidency had not been contacted as of this weekend by President Donald Trump, despite his claim to the contrary several days earlier, according to news accounts.

And some of the families that the White House did contact were reached only in recent days by apparently rushed condolence letters that were sent in some cases months after the families lost their loved ones, the reports said.

Pentagon Document Contradicts Trump’s Gold Star Claims
Email undermines veracity of president’s statement about Gold Star contacts

In the hours after President Donald Trump said on an Oct. 17 radio broadcast that he had contacted nearly every family that had lost a military servicemember this year, the White House was hustling to learn from the Pentagon the identities and contact information for those families, according to an internal Defense Department email.

The email exchange, which has not been previously reported, shows that senior White House aides were aware on the day the president made the statement that it was not accurate — but that they should try to make it accurate as soon as possible, given the gathering controversy.

Contrary to Rhetoric, Military Mishaps Have Been Declining
The Pentagon’s deadly accident-filled summer bucked a larger trend

Hawks in Congress have said military mishaps are up because the defense budget is down, but the data says otherwise.

The summer of 2017 saw a rash of fatal military accidents — ships colliding at sea, planes crashing and vehicles catching fire — that were deadlier than attacks from America’s enemies.

Senate Diluted Tough Oversight of Israeli Antimissile Program

Senators quietly deleted from a defense bill last month a strict provision tying continued U.S. funding of a costly Israeli antimissile system to completion of two flight tests.

The retreat from tough oversight came at the request of the Israeli government, sources said.

Safety Experts: Some F-35 Ejections Pose ‘Serious’ Death Risk
Degree of risk is at issue in Pentagon

The F-35 fighter jets’ flawed ejection seats, which Air Force officials said in May had been fixed, still pose a “serious” risk that will probably injure or kill nearly two dozen pilots, according to an internal Air Force safety report that service officials withheld from the press.

The F-35 Joint Program Office — which runs the $406.5 billion initiative, the most expensive weapons program in history — has declined to try to save those lives by conducting less than a year’s worth of additional testing that would cost a relatively paltry few million dollars, the report shows.