We've detailed before that the US Department of Defense (DoD) is so worried about the pandemic's impact on national security and troop readiness that it's taking drastic measures like mulling a troop stop loss, pausing sending new recruits to boot camps, taking Pentagon operations down to a skeleton crew, and keeping "clean" non-coronavirus infected warships out at sea indefinitely to avoid potential crew infections at port.
DoD-wide there are currently about 5,000 known COVID-19 confirmed cases, of which 100 have been hospitalized at various points, including at least two deaths - one a sailor on the USS Theodore Roosevelt carrier now quarantined at Guam.
Now Pentagon leaders are concerned that there are many more asymptomatic carriers among military ranks than previously known. For this reason it will now conduct an aggressive widespread testing regimen of random units across military branches in order to get a better handle on true numbers.
This after Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Tuesday admitted the military still has little idea of how many infections are actually within its ranks of some total of two million personnel.
“There’s no need to test the entire force,” Esper said at a Pentagon press briefing Tuesday. “That would not be a good use of tests.” And Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley added, “The numbers that we’re looking at now, 56,000 — call it 60,000 a [week] is what we’re going to build to.”
They also confirmed that the military estimates it's 50% short on testing kits in terms of testing goals it hopes to meet as part of the "random" screening program.
The Pentagon is first testing all troops responsible for operations related to America's nuclear arsenal both on land and at sea. As Stars and Stripes describes:
The Defense Department has placed its troops into four tiered groups to prioritize those who must be tested. Esper said the Pentagon now needs to test 56,000 service members each week to achieve its goals, and those numbers are likely to rise in the future.
The Pentagon’s first priority is to test its troops deemed tier 1 — those responsible for the nation’s nuclear enterprise, including service members on submarines and bomber aircraft capable of deploying nuclear weapons and those responsible for U.S.-based ballistic missile silos. Those troops have all been tested, said Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Second teir troops were described as the next priority, which are units being deployed to support combat operations globally, such as a reserve unit recently deployed to Afghanistan.
Driving the new concern to drastically ramp up testing even in sectors of the military that may not have reported any cases is the USS Roosevelt fiasco. As over 1,000 carrier crew out of almost 5,000 eventually tested positive for COVID-19, it was learned that some 60% presented no symptoms, raising the alarm of rapid 'stealth transmission' among the ranks.
Meanwhile, China has recently boasted its own PLA Navy is supposedly free and unimpacted by the virus, which means Beijing is carefully monitoring the outbreak and its impact among US forces. For this reason Washington is also likely to not immediately release findings from the new pervasive testing.