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Pentagon starts planning for military's post-COVID-19 future

A new planning group will also look at vulnerabilities the U.S. may face during the pandemic and where adversaries could try to take advantage.

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon's Joint Staff has launched a planning group focused on the U.S. military's long-term plans for operating during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, taking into account the likelihood that the defense budget may be cut and that troops may come home, according to three defense officials.

The group is examining how the military is postured around the world, whether it needs to focus more personnel or assets domestically, and where it needs to invest personnel and money to operate during and after COVID-19.

The group will look at possible vulnerabilities the U.S. may face during the pandemic and where adversaries could try to take advantage of the U.S. focus on COVID-19. At the same time, the group will determine what strategic advantages the U.S. can leverage as adversaries are also focused on the outbreak.

"We are currently conducting prudent planning to enable the Joint Force to best execute operations and activities in support of the National Defense Strategy and the National Military Strategy in this pandemic environment. This planning is one part of our COVID response effort to ensure our military protects our homeland and supports our allies and partners around the globe," Air Force Col. DeDe S. Halfhill, special assistant for public affairs to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a statement.

The officials said the review will also look at how the military needs to focus more domestically during the pandemic and how that may include decreases in U.S. military footprints in other parts of the world.

"Some priorities will shift," a defense official said, including in the budget. The military budget request is more than $700 billion, and the Pentagon knows it will likely need to find more efficiencies going forward. "We will need more bang for our buck in this new normal," an official said, adding that the military is preparing for the possibility that it will not get as big a budget next year.

The Defense Department was already in the midst of a worldwide blank slate review, which began looking at efficiencies and operational planning in each combat command earlier this year, before the pandemic spread around the world. That review will inform the Joint Staff group's work, the officials said, just as assessments from the group will inform the Pentagon's worldwide review.

While the Joint Staff's new group will focus mainly on whether current budget requests and force laydown are appropriate during this new normal, it will also discuss how things may change once the pandemic has passed.

The defense officials said there is no specific timeline for the group to present recommendations to Defense Secretary Mark Esper.