Updated: 18 September – The Senate Armed Services Committee today voted by voice to favorably report the nominations of Barbara Barrett to be Secretary of the Air Force and Ryan McCarthy to be Secretary of the Army, as well as 5,995 pending military nominations in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. All nominations were immediately reported to the Senate floor following the Committee’s action.

12 September 2019

The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) held a hearing today – here in 2.5 hours if you missed it — to consider the nominations of current Under Secretary of the Army (and former Army Ranger) Ryan McCarthy as Secretary of the Army and Ambassador Barbara M. Barrett (a pilot and businesswoman who served as U.S. Ambassador to Finland during President George W. Bush’s Administration) as Secretary of the Air Force.

  • Mr. McCarthy’s prepared hearing statement is here and his responses to Advance Policy Questions is here.
  • Ambassador Barrett’s prepared hearing statement is here and her responses to Advance Policy Questions is here.

While the Republican-majority SASC Members didn’t grill the nominees, they did raise expected issues of national, parochial, and partisan concern. Ten policy and programmatic issues raised, and the responses provided by the nominees included the following:

A-10 attack aircraft relevance — Senator Martha McSally (R-Arizona), who introduced her friend and mentor Ambassador Barrett in glowing terms, pressed Ambassador Barrett to assert that the A-10 ground attack aircraft (and the F-35 fighter) remain fundamental and core to the USAF mission. Ambassador Barrett obliged the request and concurred.

Acquisition Reform imperative – Senator Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina) pressed the nominees on the need to speed and make more efficient the Pentagon’s defense acquisition process. Ambassador Barrett vowed to continue her predecessor’s focus on reforming acquisition, saying: “The acquisition system has been broken. [USAF] Secretary [Heather] Wilson moved the acquisition process from fourteen levels to four.”

Countering China versus Taiwan — Senator Josh Hawley (R-Missouri), asked Mr. McCarthy how the Army might “delay, degrade and deny a Chinese fait accompli against Taiwan.” McCarthy said that the replacement for the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACM) can, in the post-INF Treaty environment, “have ranges upwards of 600 kilometers” and that, with “appropriate partnerships, expeditionary basing rights with partners within the region, we can change the geometry and basically reverse anti-access, area-denial capabilities that have been invested in by near-peer competitors.”

Diversion of DoD funds for Southern Border Wall Construction – Democratic members pressed the nominees to provide their views on how the Trump Administration’s diversion of billions of dollars [$3.6 billion] in military funding to border wall construction will affect DoD priority projects. Senator Martin Henrich (D-NM) was particularly upset over the loss of funds for Holloman Air Force Base, which he said “defied Congressional intent” and which contributed to a “caustic” relationship between the Administration and the Congress. Mr. McCarthy defended the practice as being supported by legal opinion. Said Ambassador Barrett: “We will be looking to find funding to make priority issues move forward.”

Ground Based Strategic Defense (GBSD) – Senator Deb Fischer (R-Nebraska) pressed Ambassador Barrett to agree that — notwithstanding an apparent delay in GBSD acquisition planning — timely modernization of the U.S. strategic nuclear missile forces should be the USAF’s highest priority. Ambassador Barrett agreed with the Senator that nuclear force modernization is “among the highest priorities.”

Light Attack Aircraft – Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) forcefully pressed Ambassador Barrett on the impracticality of using fifth-generation aircraft “to strike a bunch of terrorists hiding in the bushes” while the F-35 supply chain is trouble, the aircraft costs $35K/hour to operate, and while a much cheaper light attack aircraft could readily do the job. Said Cotton: “It feels to me like we should be using aircraft that are suitable in an environment where we have total air dominance, and our F-35s and their pilots should be training for high-end conflict against adversaries like China.” He reminded the SECAF nominee that the “Congress has repeatedly authorized and appropriated money for a light-attack aircraft” and that the USAF had committed to field such a platform by 2023. Ambassador Barrett said that she didn’t know what went into the decision to use the F-35 in that role and agreed with Cotton on the importance of having appropriate tools for the job.

Military Housing Issues — Multiple committee members pressed the nominees to outline their focus and solutions in addressing the deplorable conditions recently found in military housing (particularly within commercially-provided housing for U.S. Army soldiers. Ambassador Barrett pledged attention to the issue. Said Mr. McCarthy: “We have to do better… this will be top of mind for the rest of my tenure, if confirmed.”

Peace Talks with the Taliban — Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) asked for Mr. McCarthy’s perspective on President Trump’s “abrupt end” to peace talks. McCarthy responded: “With respect to the talks being ceased, I think it was clear that national command authority felt that they did not have the conditions appropriate to enter the next phase of negotiations. So I think it was the right decision to step back from the table and try to look at how do you get to a framework to bring a political end-state to the conflict.”

Space Force – Said Ambassador Barrett in response to query on the notion of creating a Space Force separate from the USAF: “I think we need a Space Force. In fact, in my opinion, a domain-specific service to organize, train and equip space forces is overdue.”

Trump Hotel stays of traveling military personnel — Democratic members raised concerns about the ethics of recent publicized stays of USAF personnel in Trump Hotels. While Ambassador Barrett vowed to take a close look at the matter, she did not promise, as requested, to prohibit the practice. She noted: “What we need to do is have rules and regulations that are applied evenly… they should not be specific to any particular owner.”  

While the confirmation hearing was generally cordial, with no challenges to the reputation or competency of either nominee, Mr. McCarthy, 25 months on the job in the Secretary of the Army’s office, breezed through the hearing, while Ambassador Barrett, who admittedly remains “outside of the building,” struggled with some of the partisan exchanges.

Sources tell DSJ that Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) approval of both nominees is expected immediately and that a full Senate vote of approval is anticipated before the Senate leaves for recess in two weeks.

From the DoD website: