Overnight Defense

Defense & National Security — Hearing turns heated over ‘wokeism’ claims

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) sparred Tuesday over allegations that the Pentagon is funding “wokeism.” We’ll break down the fight and also introduce you to President Biden’s nominee to lead the U.S. Coast Guard.

This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Jordan Williams. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here and view today’s full edition here.

Austin, Gaetz spar at budget hearing  

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R) got into a heated exchange Tuesday over allegations the military is pushing “wokeism” and socialism, along with what the Florida congressman called recent “blown calls” by the Pentagon.  

How it started: In his questioning, Gaetz referred to an article published in the conservative Washington Free Beacon in February that reported economist Thomas Piketty, whose work focuses on economic inequality, would give a lecture at the National Defense University about ”the case for global justice and democratic socialism” to combat China.

Austin said he was unaware of the lecture Gaetz was talking about, prompting Gaetz to retort that it was “widely reported.” The Florida Republican then asked the Pentagon chief if he agreed that socialism was not an effective way to combat China.

Gaetz then interrupted as Austin was responding, prompting the committee’s chairman, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), to scold Gaetz. 

‘Blowing a lot of calls’: Austin tried to seek clarity on the question, but then Gaetz pivoted to say that he noticed the U.S. has been “blowing a lot of calls lately” on matters of strategy.  

Gaetz noted that the U.S. failed in its assessments that Afghanistan’s government could hold power for months once Washington withdrew forces and that Russia would quickly prevail in Ukraine if it invaded.  

Embarrassed by your country’: “This is the most capable, the most combat-critical force in the world. It has been, and it will be so going forward,” Austin said in response to Gaetz’s allegation that the U.S. is behind China and North Korea in cutting-edge technology. 

“The fact that you’re embarrassed by your country?” he continued, prompting Gaetz to accuse Austin of conflating his failures with those of service members. 

“You guys said that Russia would overrun Ukraine in 36 days. You said that the Taliban would be kept at bay for months. You totally blew those calls,” Gaetz said. “And maybe we would be better at them if the National Defense University worked a little more on strategy and a little less on wokeism.” 

Why Austin was on Capitol Hill: Austin, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and Pentagon Comptroller Michael McCord testified before the House Armed Services Committee about the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2023 budget proposal.  

The Pentagon is seeking $773 budget for fiscal 2023, taking up the majority of President Biden’s $813.3 billion overall national defense budget proposal.  

Outside of the encounter with Gaetz, the Pentagon officials fielded questions on how Washington is helping Ukraine fend off Russia’s invasion, hypersonic weapons and how inflation will impact the increases that the Biden administration is proposing.

US, UK, Australia to team up on hypersonic weapons

The United States, United Kingdom and Australia on Tuesday pledged to work together to develop hypersonic missiles as part of a security pact between the three countries announced last year.   

The cooperation: The leaders of the three countries said in a joint statement that they pledged “to commence new trilateral cooperation on hypersonics and counter-hypersonics, and electronic warfare capabilities.”   

A fact sheet released by the White House said the group will “work together to accelerate development of advanced hypersonic and counter-hypersonic capabilities.” 

About the AUKUS: The U.S., U.K. and Australia launched the AUKUS trilateral security partnership in September to deepen cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. The pact is widely viewed as an effort to counter China’s military advancements and growing influence in the region.   

As part of the partnership, the U.S. and U.K. are helping Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines. That element of the pact angered France when it was announced last year because it resulted in Paris losing out on a lucrative defense contract to deliver submarines to Australia.   

In addition, the three countries are also cooperating on emerging technology like cyber, artificial intelligence and quantum technology.   

Read the full story here.

US QUIETLY TESTED HYPERSONIC MISSILE

The U.S. military kept a successful hypersonic missile test under wraps for two weeks in order to avoid raising tensions with Russia, a defense official confirmed to The Hill

The test of the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC), announced Tuesday, took place in mid-March as President Biden was preparing to travel to Europe. It also occurred days after Russian forces claimed to use a hypersonic missile in Ukraine, the official said.   

CNN was the first to report on the delayed announcement.   

Launched from a B-52 bomber off the West Coast, the HAWC used a booster engine to accelerate the missile to Mach 5 — five times the speed of sound, according to a statement from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The agency conducted the test along with the Air Force and Lockheed Martin. 

The missile eventually “reached altitudes greater than 65,000 feet and flew for more than 300 nautical miles,” the statement noted. 

Read more here.

Biden makes historic pick for Coast Guard head  

President Biden on Tuesday nominated Adm. Linda Fagan to be the head of the Coast Guard and the first woman to lead a military branch. 

The nomination was announced by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who said Fagan would become the 27th commandant of the Coast Guard.

Mayorkas also announced that Vice Adm. Steven Poulin was nominated for the second-highest position in the Coast Guard. 

An ‘exceptional choice’: “President Biden has made an exceptional choice by nominating Admiral Linda F. Fagan to serve as Commandant of the United States Coast Guard. Admiral Fagan is a tremendous leader, trailblazer, and respected public servant who will lead the Coast Guard across its critical missions with honor,” Mayorkas said. 

About Fagan: Before her nomination, Fagan had been in the Coast Guard for 36 years and formerly was the commander of the Coast Guard Pacific Area. 

She has served on seven continents and is the officer with the longest service record in the Marine Safety Field. 

“Within the Coast Guard and across the Department of Homeland Security, Admiral Fagan is admired as a role model of the utmost integrity, and her historic nomination is sure to inspire the next generation of women who are considering careers in military service,” said Mayorkas. 

Read the story here.

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

  • The House Appropriations subcommittee on Defense will host a closed hearing on “United States Africa Command” at 9:30 a.m.
  • The Senate Armed Services subcommittee on Personnel will hold a hearing “to receive testimony on suicide prevention and related behavioral health interventions in the Department of Defense” at 10 a.m.
  • Veterans’ Affairs’ Secretary Denis McDonough will testify before the House Appropriations subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies on the agency’s fiscal year 2023 budget request at 10:30 a.m. 
  • The House Veterans’ Affairs committee will hold a markup on pending legislation at 10:30 a.m. 
  • The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on “Restoring American Leadership in the Indo-Pacific” at 10 a.m. 
  • The House Armed Services subcommittee on Strategic Forces will hold a hearing on “Fiscal Year 2023 Strategic Forces National Security Space Programs” at 2 p.m. 
  • The Senate Armed Services subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities will host a hearing “to receive testimony on the Department of Defense’s posture for supporting and fostering innovation” at 2:30 p.m. 
  • The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on treaties at 2:30 p.m.

WHAT WE’RE READING

That’s it for today! Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!

Tags Adam Smith Joe Biden Lloyd Austin Mark Milley Matt Gaetz Thomas Piketty

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File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

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In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)
In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)

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