‘Dangerously Wrong’: Don’t Test US Military During Pandemic, Leaders Warn Adversaries

April 10, 2020 Updated: April 10, 2020

The top military leaders have warned adversaries not to test U.S. military strength and resolve during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If our adversaries think this is our moment of weakness, they are dangerously wrong,” said Deputy Defense Secretary David L. Norquist on April 9. “To those who wish us harm, make no mistake: even with the challenges that this disease has brought to our shores, the Department of Defense stands ready to meet any threat and defend our nation.”

Norquest was one of several military leaders, including the top general, to separately offer assurances yesterday on the readiness of the forces to fight.

Those assurances come after the plight of a virus-hit aircraft carrier in the Pacific was pushed into the spotlight by controversial events that culminated in the resignation of the Acting Navy Secretary.

There has been no indication of a shift in activity by other militaries—although China has not let up on its usual harassment in the Pacific.

Epoch Times Photo
The aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) transits Apra Harbor as the ship prepares to moor in Guam on Feb. 7, 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Terence Deleon Guerrero)

Norquist said that the United States had “rebuilt” its military over the last four years. “We have more people, more advanced equipment, more munitions, and are better trained.”

A similar message was given by other military leaders, including the Defense Secretary and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.

Milley warned adversaries would be making a “terrible, tragic mistake if they thought that … [they] can take advantage of any opportunities … at a time of crisis.”

“The U.S. military is very, very capable to conduct whatever operations are necessary to defend the American people,” Milley said. “We will adapt ourselves to operating in a COVID-19 environment. We are already doing that.”

Milley was talking at an online “Town Hall” meeting for troops, together with Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

“Many of our adversaries … are trying to exploit this crisis,” Esper said. “So it’s important that we maintain readiness by full faith and confidence in our commanders.”

Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said readiness was not affected overall.

“We watch the readiness of the force every day. And the readiness of the force, in aggregate, has not dropped as we’ve gone through this,” Hyten told the online audience.

Hyten acknowledged that there are “pockets” of degraded readiness, such as the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.

The Plight of the Carrier

The carrier is currently sidelined from its mission as it systematically evacuated and disinfected in port in Guam after an outbreak of the CCP virus on board as it steamed across the Pacific.

As of yesterday, according to the Navy, 416 of the crew have so far tested positive for the virus, with 3,170 negative results. One of the crew was admitted to an intensive care unit yesterday.

Aircraft carriers are key pieces in the geopolitical and military game with China.

U.S. carrier groups are the “ultimate insurance policy” that guarantees the freedom and independence of Taiwan, Robert J. Bunker, an adjunct research professor at the U.S. Army War College, previously told The Epoch Times via email. “These groups also allow the U.S. to project its military power and influence throughout the South China Sea in support of its allies, who are being challenged by the expansive and ongoing CCP regime territorial ocean grab taking place.”

USS Theodore Roosevelt
The USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) is seen while entering into the port in Da Nang, Vietnam, on March 5, 2020.(Reuters/Kham/File Photo)

However, analysts told The Epoch Times that if push comes to shove in the Pacific, the Navy could shrug off any strategic disadvantages of having the carrier sidelined.

If other carriers are hit by further outbreaks, however, most agree that it could affect the usual clout the United States has in the region.

Although the carrier isn’t in a state of immediate readiness, that would be the case for any ship in port, according to Dakota Wood, senior research fellow in defense programs at the Heritage Foundation.

“If it needs to deploy in an emergency situation, it would do so and the Navy has the ability to reinforce the crew with additional sailors if needed,” he previously told the Epoch Times.

If more U.S. carriers or other ships are struck by COVID-19, U.S. influence could be reduced, Wood said. However, in the event of imminent conflict, ships and sailors would be redirected from other missions and ships already in the region to include those in port, he noted.

“They might be understrength for a period of time and while this would not be preferable, clearly, it would not differ from a ship having to fight with some of its crew wounded.”

“The U.S. military would do things in a wartime situation it would not do in peacetime,” he said.

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