Service secretaries’ secret solution: breakfast together with no staff

Service secretaries’ secret solution: breakfast together with no staff

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Kathleen Hicks of CSIS, left, moderates a discussion of the three service secretaries on the next steps for the defense budget (CSIS photo)/

WASHINGTON — The three civilian military secretaries have revealed a key breakthrough they have achieved in ensuring the service branches work together more smoothly.

The solution: They have breakfast together once every two weeks without any other individuals present.

Army Secretary Mark Esper, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson also noted during a Friday conversation of steps each has taken to maximize budget dollars and shift the focus to Russia and China.

The service secretary trifecta was hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies for the second consecutive year as a way to forecast budget priorities, inter-operability and military innovations.

Since the budget proposal for fiscal year 2020 was delayed because of the government shutdown, discussion topics varied.

Their secretaries-only breakfast may seem trifling to many outside of Washington, D.C. However, a sans-staff discussion — especially on a regular basis with decision-making likely involved — is a radical concept for the military in specific and the federal government at large.

“We do have breakfast together every two weeks. And we’re working on about 20 things at any one time. No staff there. Terrifies the Pentagon,” Wilson said.

Wilson said those breakfasts have prompted various assistant secretaries and general counsel and military assistants to get together on their own as well, to “sort this out” and determine what must be done as a result of breakfast agreements.

“And so what it has really focused is a much greater alignment up and down the services, and sharing of information, and solving problems, and getting after it,” Wilson said.

Added Esper, “Yeah, that puff of white smoke comes out of one of our offices and they know that the command is coming down. And what do you mean we have to work with Air Force on this, or the Navy? (Laughter.) So, sorry, guys. We play jointly.”

Wilson said the services are working together on some key needs, such as hypersonics.

“We have an Army – a Navy-funded, Army-tested shell of weapon with an Air Force rocket motor that’s going to go on it. We’re going to drop it off an aircraft. You guys are going to put it on a ship. And they’re going to launch it from the ground. And by working together, we stripped five years out of the likely fielding time for a hypersonic weapon,” Wilson said.

Esper said the development is “the purple bomb.” Spencer called it “the grape.”

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