Both Biden, Pence attend New York 9/11 memorial, Trump at Pennsylvania crash site

By Trevor Hunnicutt

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and Vice President Mike Pence, both masked, joined New York’s somber 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, while President Donald Trump marked it at the Pennsylvania crash site of a hijacked jet.

Biden and Pence bumped elbows in greeting, one of the many ways the anniversary ceremony has been changed by the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 191,000 people in the United States including 32,700 in New York state.

About 200 people including Governor Andrew Cuomo and U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer joined the New York ceremony, where family members read the names of the nearly 3,000 people killed when two hijacked jets slammed into the Twin Towers, with a third hitting the Pentagon and a fourth taken down in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, when its passengers rose up against the al Qaeda hijackers.

A similar memorial ceremony was being held at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, where people sat socially distanced on folding chairs near the site that Flight 93 went down.

“The only thing that stood between the enemy and a deadly strike at the heart of American democracy was the courage and resolve of 40 men and women – the amazing passengers and crew of Flight 93,” Trump told the crowd.

Biden is also due to visit Shanksville separately later in the day. Prior to boarding a plane from his Delaware home, Biden pledged not to make any news during the solemn day.

“I’m not going to talk about anything other than 9/11. We took all our advertising down. It’s a solemn day, and that’s how we’re going to keep it, okay?,” Biden said.

‘IT NEVER GOES AWAY’

The sun struggled to pierce hazy clouds in New York, a contrast with the 2001 morning of the attacks, which people present that day remember for its piercing, clear skies.

At the memorial site, Biden spoke to 90-year-old Maria Fisher, who lost her son in the 9/11 attacks. He told her he lost his son as well, and lamented, “It never goes away, does it?”

He handed her the rose he was holding.

Asked what today means for him, Biden replied, “It means I remember all my friends that I lost.”

The ruins of the shattered World Trade Center have since been replaced by a glittering $25 billion complex that includes three skyscrapers, a museum and the memorial with the goal that it would be again be an international hub of commerce.

But the pandemic has rendered it somewhat of a small ghost town, adding an eerie quality to the commemoration of the attack, with office workers staying home and tourists avoiding the memorial site.

The virus also altered the memorial event, with family members pre-recording the traditional reading of the names of the victims and the crowds at the site severely restricted.

Amanda Barreto, 27, of Teaneck, New Jersey, lost her godmother and aunt in the attacks. Biden came up to her and offered his condolences.

“He knows what it means to lose someone. He wanted me to stay strong,” Barreto said afterward. “And he’s so sorry for my loss.”

The Shanksville event was also closed to the public because of coronavirus concerns, the National Park Service said.

Flight 93, bound for San Francisco from Newark, New Jersey, never hit its intended target — the four hijackers were believed to be planning to crash it into either the U.S. Capitol or the White House — after passengers stormed the cockpit and attempted to regain control of the aircraft.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in New York and Jeff Mason in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, additional reporting by John Whitesides, Joseph Ax and Jarrett Renshaw; Writing by James Oliphant; Editing by Scott Malone, Rosalba O’Brien and Diane Craft)

Pentagon concerned by China’s nuclear ambitions, expects warheads to double

By Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China is expected to at least double the number of its nuclear warheads over the next decade from the low 200’s now and is nearing the ability to launch nuclear strikes by land, air and sea, a capacity known as a triad, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.

The revelations came as tensions rise between China and the United States and as Washington seeks to have Beijing join a flagship nuclear arms treaty between the United States and Russia.

In its annual report to Congress on China’s military, the Pentagon said that China has nuclear warheads in the low 200’s, the first time the U.S. military has disclosed this number. The Federation of American Scientists has estimated that China has about 320 nuclear warheads.

The Pentagon said the growth projection was based on factors including Beijing having enough material to double its nuclear weapons stockpile without new fissile material production.

The Pentagon’s estimate is in line with an analysis by the Defense Intelligence Agency.

“We’re certainly concerned about the numbers … but also just the trajectory of China’s nuclear developments writ large,” Chad Sbragia, deputy assistant secretary of defense for China, told reporters.

Earlier this year, China’s Communist Party-backed newspaper Global Times said Beijing needs to expand the number of its nuclear warheads to 1,000 in a relatively short time.

Sbragia said China was also nearing completion of its nuclear triad capacity, suggesting China is further along than previously publicly known. China has only two of the three legs of triad operational but is developing a nuclear capable air-launched ballistic missile.

The report said that in October 2019, China publicly revealed the H-6N bomber as its first nuclear capable air-to-air refueling bomber.

Washington has repeatedly called for China to join in trilateral negotiations to extend New START, a U.S.-Russian nuclear arms treaty that is due to expire in February.

China has said it has no interest in joining the negotiation, given that the U.S. nuclear arsenal is about 20 times the size of China’s.

In July, a senior Chinese diplomat said Beijing would “be happy to” participate in trilateral arms control negotiations, but only if the United States were willing to reduce its nuclear arsenal to China’s level.

China’s growing nuclear arsenal should not be used as an excuse for the United States and Russia not to extend New START, Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association advocacy group, said.

It “further reinforces the importance of extending New START and the folly of conditioning extension on China and China’s participation in arms control,” Reif added.

China’s nuclear arsenal is a fraction of the United States’, which has 3,800 nuclear warheads stockpiled, and Russia’s, which has roughly 4,300, according to the Federation of American Scientists.

“PREVENT TAIWAN INDEPENDENCE”

Tensions have been simmering between China and the United States for months. Washington has taken issue with China’s handling of the novel coronavirus outbreak and moves to curb freedoms in Hong Kong. The increasingly aggressive posture comes as President Donald Trump bids for re-election in November.

Another source of tension has been Taiwan. China has stepped up its military activity around the democratic island Beijing claims as sovereign Chinese territory, sending fighter jets and warships on exercises close to Taiwan.

The Pentagon report, based on 2019 information, said China’s military continued to “enhance its readiness” to prevent Taiwan’s independence and carry out an invasion if needed.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Special Report: Pentagon’s latest salvo against China’s growing might – Cold War bombers

By David Lague

HONG KONG (Reuters) – On July 21, two U.S Air Force B-1B bombers took off from Guam and headed west over the Pacific Ocean to the hotly contested South China Sea. The sleek jets made a low-level pass over the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its escorting fleet, which was exercising nearby in the Philippines Sea, according to images released by the U.S. military.

The operation was part of the Trump administration’s intensifying challenge to China’s ruling Communist Party and its sweeping territorial claims over one of the world’s most important strategic waterways. While senior Trump officials launch diplomatic and rhetorical broadsides at Beijing, the U.S. Defense Department is turning to the firepower of its heavily armed, long-range bombers as it seeks to counter Beijing’s bid to control the seas off the Chinese coast.

Since late January, American B-1B and B-52 bombers, usually operating in pairs, have flown about 20 missions over key waterways, including the South China Sea, the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan, according to accounts of these flights from U.S. Air Force statements and official social media posts. These missions, military analysts say, are designed to send a crystal-clear signal: The United States can threaten China’s fleet and Chinese land targets at any time, from distant bases, without having to move America’s aircraft carriers and other expensive surface warships within range of Beijing’s massive arsenal of missiles.

In this response to the growing power of China’s military, the Pentagon has combined some of its oldest weapons with some of its newest: Cold War-era bombers and cutting-edge, stealthy missiles. The supersonic B1-B first entered service in 1986; the newest plane in the B-52 fleet was built during the Kennedy administration. But these workhorses can carry a huge payload of precision weapons. A B-1B can carry 24 of the U.S. military’s stealthy new Long Range Anti-Ship Missiles, which entered service in 2018 and can strike targets at ranges of up to 600 kilometers, according to U.S. and other Western officials.

“A single B-1 can deliver the same ordnance payload as an entire carrier battle group in a day,” said David Deptula, dean of the Washington-based Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies and a retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General. And, in a crisis, he added, bombers can be rapidly deployed.

“Depending on where they are, ships can take weeks to get in place,” said Deptula. “But by using bombers, they can respond in a matter of hours,” he adds, noting that the U.S. object is to deter war. “Nobody wants to engage in conflict with China.”

Chinese and western military strategists warn that a conflict between the two nuclear-armed powers could be difficult to contain.

In a clash with China, this fast response from the bomber force could be vital while the U.S. and its allies rush naval reinforcements to the Pacific to bolster the vastly outnumbered U.S. naval fleet stationed in the region, according to current and former U.S. and other Western military officers.

A spokeswoman for Pacific Air Forces, Captain Veronica Perez, said the U.S. Air Force had increased its publicity about its bomber missions to assure allies and partners of Washington’s commitment to global security, regional stability and a free and open Indo-Pacific. “Though the frequency and scope of our operations vary based on the current operating environment, the U.S. has a persistent military presence and routinely operates throughout the Indo-Pacific,” she said.

China’s defense ministry did not respond to questions from Reuters.

LOWEST POINT

While the bomber missions continue, relations between Washington and Beijing have reached their lowest point since the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown. In a show of force, Chinese fighter jets crossed the mid-line of the Taiwan Strait while U.S. Secretary for Health, Alex Azar, was visiting Taipei on Aug. 10 to congratulate the government of President Tsai Ing-wen on its successful containment of the COVID-19 virus. Azar was the most senior American official to visit Taiwan in four decades.

Taiwan’s missile radars tracked the Chinese fighters in only the third such incursion across the median line since 2016, the Taiwanese government said. Beijing condemned the visit. It regards the island as a province of China and hasn’t ruled out the use of force to bring it under Communist Party control.

In a series of speeches ahead of Azar’s visit, top Trump officials had hammered China on multiple fronts, including its military build-up, territorial ambitions, domestic political repression, intellectual property theft, espionage, trade practices and its failure to alert the world to the danger of COVID-19.

In one of the most harshly worded attacks on China from an American official in decades, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on July 23 that China’s military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), was not a normal fighting force.

“Its purpose is to uphold the absolute rule of the Chinese Communist Party elites and expand a Chinese empire, not protect the Chinese people,” he said. “And so our Department of Defense has ramped up its efforts, freedom of navigation operations out and throughout the East and South China Seas and in the Taiwan Strait as well.” In July, Pompeo declared most of Beijing’s claims of sovereignty over the South China Sea illegal.

With the combination of bombers and long-range missiles, the United States is trying to turn the tables on the PLA. Over more than two decades, China has assembled a force of ground, sea and air-launched missiles that would make it deadly for warships of the U.S. Navy and its allies to approach the Chinese coast in a conflict. This Chinese strategy is specifically tailored to threaten U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups and the network of bases that form the backbone of American power in Asia.

In a demonstration of this capability, the PLA launched one of its so-called carrier-killer missiles, the DF-26, in an exercise in the South China Sea following the deployment in July of two U.S. aircraft carriers to the area, China’s official military media reported in early August. And a U.S. defense official told Reuters that on Aug. 26, China launched four medium-range ballistic missiles that hit the South China Sea between Hainan Island and the Paracel Islands.

But the PLA Navy’s huge and rapidly expanding fleet is also vulnerable to long-range missiles. China has built the world’s biggest navy, including new aircraft carriers, amphibious assault ships and powerful cruisers and destroyers. And the PLA’s extensive network of bases and ports would also be targets for missiles.

In a conflict, U.S. bombers over the Western Pacific could target PLA Navy warships at their bases on the Chinese coast or underway inside the so-called first island chain, the string of islands that run from the Japanese archipelago through Taiwan, the Philippines and on to Borneo, enclosing China’s coastal seas. Chinese warships would be even more vulnerable if they broke out through the island chain into the Western Pacific, outside the coverage of the PLA’s land-based air defenses and strike aircraft.

THE FIREPOWER GAP

In the aftermath of the Cold War, Washington assumed it had uncontested control of the oceans and neglected to arm its surface fleet with modern, long-range anti-ship missiles. To be sure, the U.S. and its allies, particularly Japan, still have a powerful fleet of attack submarines that would pose a deadly menace to PLA warships. But the bombers help fill the firepower gap in the U.S. surface fleet while the Pentagon is re-purposing existing missiles and introducing new versions to its destroyers and cruisers, according to maritime strategists.

The bomber deployments are one element of a much wider reshaping of forces and tactics that the U.S. and its allies in East Asia have launched to deter China from attacking Taiwan, expanding its hold over the South China Sea or seizing other disputed territories. These include the uninhabited group of isles in the East China Sea known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan and the Diaoyu Islands in China, which are claimed by both Tokyo and Beijing.

Tensions are on the rise around these islands, now under Japanese control. The commander of U.S. forces in Japan, Lieutenant General Kevin Schneider, pledged in July that America would help Japan monitor “unprecedented” Chinese incursions into waters around the Senkakus that were challenging Tokyo’s administration. Within an hour of Schneider’s comments, China’s foreign ministry fired back that the islands were “Chinese territory.”

Long-range U.S. bombers operating from distant airfields would remain a threat if Chinese missile attacks disabled key U.S. bases in Japan, South Korea and Guam. These bases, mostly a carry-over from World War Two and the Korean War, were built at a time when China had very limited means to attack them.

Now it does. In a clear acknowledgement that Guam is now at risk, the U.S. Air Force announced on April 17 it would end its continuous rotation of bombers to the island base and withdraw them to the U.S. mainland.

The absence of a permanent bomber presence at Guam is a blow to Washington’s ability to deter China and North Korea, air power experts say. The island in the Western Pacific is less than a five-hour flight from the South China Sea.

“It makes it look like the Chinese military build-up has worked,” said Peter Layton, a visiting fellow at Griffith University in Australia and a retired Australian air force Group Captain who has worked at the Pentagon. “They are now taken out of range.”

Since then, the United States has sent bombers to Guam for short-term deployments from their continental bases. U.S. air power researchers suggest that the availability of better training facilities at mainland U.S. bases was also a factor in the decision to withdraw the bombers. But in further evidence of Guam’s vulnerability, the head of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral Philip Davidson, has asked Congress to fund a powerful missile defense system for the island by 2026.

Another hurdle for the Pentagon: America’s bomber force is shrinking just as the PLA challenge grows. From a force of more than 400 at the end of the Cold War, the U.S. bomber fleet has shrunk to 158 aircraft. Of those planes, 62 are B-1Bs and 76 are B-52S. The United States also has a smaller force of 20 newer B-2 stealth bombers.

The air force plans to retire 17 B-1Bs next year to concentrate resources on the remaining bombers until the planned introduction of a new generation of stealthy bomber, the B-21, toward the end of this decade. This bomber is expected to sharply improve the U.S. Air Force’s ability to penetrate Chinese airspace. Northrop Grumman is now building the first prototype, according to air force officials.

‘NOT LIKE FIGHTING SADDAM’

As the risk of conflict rises, some Western air power experts doubt that U.S. bombers would deliver a decisive advantage in a clash with the PLA. They say the Chinese military has spent decades preparing formidable, integrated air defenses. Even if the U.S. bombers were able to sink PLA Navy warships and stealthily penetrate Chinese airspace to strike some ground targets, they say it would not necessarily translate into victory against a vast and powerful adversary.

And, they warn, it might be impossible to fight a limited conflict on China’s periphery. “It is not like fighting Saddam Hussein, it would be a major world war,” said Layton, the retired Australian air force officer. “Both sides have nuclear weapons and there is the potential for escalation. If either side is losing, what is going to happen then?”

Alongside relying on its bombers, the United States has been forced to develop other plans to offset the Chinese missile and naval threat. The U.S Marine Corps is planning to disperse smaller units armed with long-range anti-ship and land-attack missiles through the first island chain, where they could threaten the Chinese navy and land targets on China’s mainland.

The U.S. Army also intends to spread forces through the first island chain and other outposts in the Western Pacific. It is planning a series of major exercises this year and next where troops would deploy to islands in the region, according to senior commanders and top Pentagon officials.

New weapons are in the pipeline that would give specially formed army task force units the firepower to strike at Chinese warships and other targets in a conflict. The U.S. Army’s top commander, General James McConville, told an online seminar hosted by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies in late July that a very long-range hyper sonic missile was under development and tests had been successful. And soldiers would have the tools to attack an enemy’s navy. “We are going to have mid-range missiles that can sink ships,” McConville said.

The U.S. and its allies also intend to link all their surveillance systems and weapons together in a regional network so that tracking information about a target could be shared between radar stations, satellites, surface warships, submarines, aircraft and land forces. In this system, a stealth fighter flying from a carrier could detect an enemy warship and relay this information to an army unit on an island, which could attack the foe with an anti-ship missile.

On May 21, two U.S. B-1B bombers from Guam flew to an area near Misawa Air Base in Japan, where they conducted long-range anti-ship missile training with a P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft and the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, according to a U.S. Pacific Air Force statement. This exercise demonstrated that the U.S. had the capability to “hold any target at risk, anytime and anywhere,” said Perez, the Pacific Air Forces spokeswoman.

The ships and aircraft involved in this exercise likely practiced the sharing of target information to mount a simulated attack, according to U.S. and Asian military experts. On other missions this year, the American bombers have held joint exercises with U.S., Japanese and South Korean fighters.

CHINESE AIRSPACE

In this networked battlefield, the Pentagon’s old warhorses of the air would be an even more formidable rival.

The speed and range of America’s Cold War-vintage bombers would allow them to approach Chinese targets from different directions and fire salvos of difficult-to-detect missiles at multiple ships, according to current and retired U.S. air force officers. With even longer range missiles that Washington has in the pipeline, such attacks could be mounted from well outside the range of China’s powerful, land-based air defenses. American bombers can also drop precision-guided mines to block strategically important ocean passages or ports.

And the U.S. B-2 stealth bombers could penetrate more deeply into Chinese airspace and attack key targets with sharply less chance of detection than the older bombers. These bombers already carry a heavy payload of precision, land-attack munitions and could also be configured to carry the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile.

A B-1B could take off from the continental United States, refuel from tanker aircraft en route, and arrive over the Western Pacific in about 15 hours, according to Deptula and other military aviation analysts. From Hawaii the trip would take about nine hours, they say. Even closer, from northern Australia, the transit would take six hours without refueling.

The Australian government announced in February it would spend $814 million upgrading a key air base at Tindal in the Northern Territory, including a major extension to its runway. Part of the reason for the upgrade is to support expanded U.S. Air Force operations, the Australian government said. American bombers are already using the base.

The B-1B originally served as a nuclear bomber. That role has been phased out. It now carries around 34 metric tonnes (75,000 pounds) of conventional guided and unguided weapons, the biggest payload of any U.S. aircraft. In the military operations launched after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, these bombers were flown hard for almost two decades to provide ground support to American and allied troops in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

With the Pentagon having turned its competitive sights on China, the B-1B is now increasingly employed as a ship killer. In future, it could also be armed with a new hyper sonic missile, the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW), now in testing, and a new long-range cruise missile, according to senior U.S. Air Force commanders. Hyper sonic missiles traveling at more than five times the speed of sound would be hard to intercept.

The B-52 is an even older icon of American might, in service since the mid-1950’s. It carries a slightly smaller payload than the B-1B. As part of this weapons load, it can be armed with up to 14 upgraded versions of the Cold War-era Harpoon anti-ship missile. And, it could also be configured in future to carry 20 Long Range Anti-Ship Missiles, according to air power experts. Along with the B-2, the B-52 can also launch nuclear missiles.

While these older bombers remain potent, American air power experts say a strong force of B-21 stealth bombers will be much more effective when they begin entering service later this decade. The new bomber is being developed in a highly classified program. “All the indications are that it is proceeding well in the development phases,” said Deptula.

(Reporting by David Lague in Hong Kong. Edited by Peter Hirschberg.)

U.S. halts military cooperation with Mali as coup supporters celebrate

By Tiemoko Diallo and Aaron Ross

BAMAKO (Reuters) – The United States said on Friday it had suspended cooperation with Mali’s military in response to the overthrow of the president, as thousands gathered in the capital to celebrate the junta’s takeover.

The ousting of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on Tuesday has dismayed Mali’s international partners, who fear it could further destabilize the former French colony and West Africa’s entire Sahel region.

“Let me say categorically there is no further training or support of Malian armed forces full-stop. We have halted everything until such time as we can clarify the situation,” the U.S. Sahel envoy J. Peter Pham told journalists.

The United States regularly provides training to soldiers in Mali, including several of the officers who led the coup. It also offers intelligence support to France’s Barkhane forces, who are there to fight affiliates of al Qaeda and Islamic State.

Pham said a decision on whether Washington would designate the actions a coup, which could trigger a cut-off of direct support to the government, had to go through a legal review. A Pentagon spokesperson referred on Friday to the events as an “act of mutiny”.

Supporters of the junta filled Independence Square in the capital, Bamako, which has been largely peaceful since Tuesday’s turmoil. Many of them sang, danced, tooted vuvuzelas and waved banners thanking the mutineers.

“It’s a scene of joy. God delivered us from the hands of evil, we are happy, we are behind our army,” said a 59-year-old farmer who gave his name only as Souleymane.

Some protesters also showed their disapproval of different foreign powers. One sign had the words “Barkhane” and “MINUSMA” crossed out, the latter a reference to the U.N. peacekeeping force in Mali.

Meanwhile a couple of Russian flags could be seen waving in the crowd. Russia’s ambassador to Mali has met representatives of the junta, Russian state news agency RIA reported.

France said on Thursday that Barkhane’s operations would continue despite the coup.

TRANSITION

The junta leaders have said they acted because the country was sinking into chaos and insecurity that they said was largely the fault of poor government. They have promised to oversee a transition to elections within a “reasonable” amount of time.

Junta spokesman Ismael Wague said on Thursday that the officers were holding talks with political leaders that would lead to the appointment of a transitional president.

They have held Keita since detaining him and forcing him to dissolve parliament and resign.

A United Nations human rights team visited Keita and 13 other senior figures held by the junta late on Thursday, spokeswoman Liz Throssell said.

“There are no indications that these people have been ill-treated,” she told a news briefing in Geneva, where she called for their release.

Earlier on Friday, the mutineers freed Finance Minister Abdoulaye Daffe and the president’s private secretary, Sabane Mahalmoudou, the head of Keita’s party, Bocary Treta, said.

A delegation from the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is expected to arrive in Bamako on Saturday, after the bloc held an emergency summit aimed at reversing Keita’s ouster.

ECOWAS has already suspended Mali’s membership, shut off borders and halted financial flows to the country.

(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo and Aaron Ross; Additional reporting by Felix Onuah in Abuja, David Lewis in London, Stephanie Nebehey in Geneva, Idrees Ali in Washington and Andrey Ostroukh in Moscow; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Toby Chopra, Angus MacSwan and Frances Kerry)

White House names Kratsios as Pentagon acting tech chief

FILE PHOTO: The Pentagon in Washington, U.S., is seen from aboard Air Force One, March 29, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Pentagon confirmed on Monday that U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios is being tapped to serve as the acting Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering overseeing the U.S. military’s massive R&D efforts.

Kratsios, who is President Donald Trump’s top technology policy advisor, will also serve as the acting Pentagon chief technology officer. Reuters reported the planned move earlier on Monday.

The Defense Department has the largest research and development budget in the federal government and Kratsios will oversee the Missile Defense Agency, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Defense Innovation Unit, Space Development Agency and the DoD Laboratory enterprise.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a statement the Pentagon sought “someone with experience in identifying and developing new technologies and working closely with a wide range of industry partners. We think Michael is the right person for this job.”

On June 23, the Pentagon said its chief technology officer Mike Griffin, an outspoken advocate for space-based missile defense systems, and his deputy Lisa Porter would resign effective July 10 to set up their own company.

The Pentagon also confirmed Monday that Mark J. Lewis, director of Defense Research and Engineering for Modernization, will serve as Kratsios’ acting deputy at the Pentagon.

Kratsios will also oversee the agency’s Modernization Priorities, which include efforts on 5G, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and microelectronics. Kratsios led the development of the White House’s national strategies for AI, 5G, and quantum computing.

Kratsios has also worked on autonomous vehicles, commercial drones and advanced manufacturing at the White House. He will retain his White House role along with the Pentagon assignment.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Richard Chang)

Pentagon chief orders review of National Guard’s response to protests

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has ordered a review of the National Guard’s response to recent protests over police brutality and racism, the Pentagon said on Thursday.

“The report will address a range of issues, including training, equipping, organizing, manning, deployment, and employment of National Guard forces,” a statement said.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy will conduct the review, it said.

(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

Pentagon leaders suggest coronavirus outbreak could continue for months

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senior Pentagon leaders said on Tuesday that the coronavirus pandemic which has hit the United States could continue for months.

“I think we need to plan for this to be a few months long at least and we’re taking all precautionary measures to do that,” U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said when asked how long the outbreak may last and how long the military would continue the support efforts to counter it.

“I am fully confident that at the end of the day, in a period of months, we will get through this,” Esper said during a virtual town hall.

At the same event, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley said that while it was unclear how long the outbreak would last, taking models from the experience of other countries, which may or may not apply to the United States, the outbreak could last into July.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

U.S. may convert thousands of New York hotel, college rooms into care units

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is looking at converting more than 10,000 New York rooms, potentially in hotels and college dorms, into medical care units to help address the fast-spreading coronavirus, the commanding general of the Army Corps said on Friday.

The pandemic has upended life in much of the United States, shuttering schools and businesses, prompting millions to work from home, forcing many out of jobs and sharply curtailing travel.

Lieutenant General Todd Semonite told reporters at the Pentagon that the Army Corps was looking at converting the rooms and other large spaces into intensive care unit-type facilities and it would need to happen within weeks, not months.

“We’re talking about over 10,000 that we are looking at right now,” Semonite said, adding that a decision would be made by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Earlier this week, the White House said it was in talks with the Pentagon about how the military can be deployed to deal with the coronavirus, including setting up field hospitals in states with a surge in cases.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has called for the Army Corps to increase hospital capacity. The Army Corps of Engineers is made up of 37,000 soldiers and civilians providing engineering services in more than 130 countries, its website says.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Leslie Adler and Howard Goller)

‘Tens of thousands’ of National Guard troops could be used to assist with coronavirus

By Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of U.S. National Guard troops could be activated to help U.S. states deal with the fast-spreading coronavirus outbreak, the head of the U.S. National Guard said on Thursday.

The National Guard, part of the reserve component of the U.S. Armed Forces, has already been called up in 27 states, including New York, to assist with cleaning public spaces and to deliver food to homes.

General Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said that a total of about 2,000 troops have been activated so far and he expected that number to double by the weekend.

“It’s hard to tell what the exact requirement will be, but I’m expecting tens of thousands to be used inside the states as this grows,” Lengyel said during a Pentagon press briefing.

The National Guard could, for example, assist local law enforcement efforts under state control, he said. But that is something it cannot do if it is federalized, Lengyel said, adding he was not aware of any such plans and did not think it was a good idea.

“That would not make sense in this situation,” Lengyel said.

A Pentagon spokeswoman said the Defense Department was not considering federalization of the National Guard.

Nearly 9,000 cases of the novel coronavirus have been reported in the United States, with more than 3,000 in New York state, according to state health departments.

“It’s a historic event, unlike any we have faced in recent years,” Lengyel said.

Dealing with the coronavirus outbreak is an unusual mission for the National Guard, best known for assisting during national disasters like hurricanes and supplementing the U.S. military overseas or during times of war. More than 21,000 National Guard members are currently abroad.

Lengyel compared the coronavirus outbreak to a national disaster of unprecedented scale.

“It’s like we have 54 separate hurricanes in every state and territory and the District of Columbia… Unlike a hurricane, we don’t know when this is going to dissipate or move out to sea,” he added.

Even within the military, the disease is taking a toll. The Pentagon said that 51 U.S. military service members had been diagnosed but, as of Thursday, none were hospitalized and two had recovered.

In a sign of the impact the outbreak was having, the director of the Defense Health Agency said on Thursday that calls to the U.S. military health system’s nurse advice line had surged by about 500% in just the past few days.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Diane Craft)