Thursday, May 26, 2011

U.S. House Passes Defense Authorization Bill

By a vote of 322 to 96, the U.S. House of Representatives on May 26 passed the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012, which includes a $690 billion Pentagon budget.
Continued development of a second engine for the Joint Strike Fighter was included without funding in the National Defense Authorization Act passed by the House. The Pentagon has repeatedly said a second engine is unnecessary. (Andy Wolfe / Lockheed Martin)
The Pentagon had requested a $553 billion base budget and $118 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The House bill fully funds those requests and also provides funding for the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration and the Department of Transportation's Maritime Administration.
Before becoming law, the Senate will have to vote on its own version and then the two bills will need to be reconciled before heading to President Barack Obama for his signature.
There are several measures in the House legislation that will make reconciliation with the Senate very difficult. And the White House announced earlier in the week that it objects to several of the bill's amendments, including measures that restrict the president's ability to reduce the U.S. nuclear weapon stockpile as part of the New START Treaty with Russia.
The bill also ties the president's hands when it comes to transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay. A Republican proposal, which passed, said detainees could not be tried on U.S. soil.
The legislation also includes language that allows for continued development on a second engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a program the Pentagon has repeatedly said is unnecessary. However, the bill does not include additional funding for the General Electric-Rolls Royce engine.
"If the final bill presented to the president includes funding or a legislative direction to continue an extra engine program, the president's senior advisers would recommend a veto," the White House statement said.
Measures to reduce the defense budget did not pass, despite growing concern about federal discretionary spending and its contribution to the national deficit.
A Democratic proposal that would return Defense Department spending to 2008 levels, with exemptions for personnel and health accounts, was withdrawn. The House rejected by voice vote a separate proposal that would freeze Department of Defense funding at current levels until the Pentagon successfully passed an audit.
The House bill does make cuts to some weapons programs, but directs those savings back into the Pentagon toward "higher priorities."
"With the tough fiscal times facing our country, the bill treats every taxpayer dollar as precious," House Armed Services Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., said in a statement.
Among the programs deemed wasteful were military bands and the U.S. Institute of Peace. The House voted to cut $200,000 in funding for military bands.
By a vote of 226 to 194, the House voted to de-authorize the United States Institute of Peace, an independent, nonpartisan organization created by Congress in the early 1980s. In 2005, Congress appropriated $100 million to build the Institute's permanent headquarters in Washington.
Republicans argued the country could not afford the organization and that its efforts are duplicative of those of the Defense Department and the State Department.
The organization managed the Iraq Study Group's work and, at Congress' request, it facilitated the task force on U.N. reform, the strategic posture review and a review of the latest Quadrennial Defense Review.
While the debate between the parties was sometimes passionate, there were moments of bipartisanship, including a vote of 416 to 5 in support of a proposal that would prohibit U.S. ground forces from operating in Libya.
A bipartisan proposal calling for the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan failed by a vote of 234 to 184.

U.S. Navy Rejects New Radar Ship

A new ship intended to carry a billion-dollar ballistic missile tracking radar failed its acceptance trials earlier this month and will need repairs before it can enter service, the U.S. Navy said May 26.
The Howard O. Lorenzen (T-AGM 25), built by VT Halter Marine at Moss Point, Miss., is a 12,000-ton, 534-foot-long ship intended to carry the Cobra Judy Replacement (CJR) radar, a key sensor used in treaty monitoring and verification for ballistic missile issues. The ship and the new radar are needed to replace the original 1970s-era Cobra Judy system, now becoming unsustainable and scheduled for decommissioning next year.
The new ship, built under an initial $199 million contract awarded in 2006, has been under construction at VT Halter's yard since August 2008, when delivery was scheduled for June 2010. The design is based on a pair of Navy survey ships built in the mid-1980s.
The Navy's Board of Inspection and Survey, known as INSURV, conducted the Lorenzen's acceptance trials in the Gulf of Mexico during the week of May 9, according to the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) in Washington. INSURV's role is to carry out meticulous inspections and tests of the ship and its systems and recommend whether or not the Navy should take delivery.
The trial "was reported as unsatisfactory" by INSURV, NAVSEA said in a statement. The failed grade was due to three major discrepancies - thrust bearing temperature, and steering and anchor demonstrations. Three of 15 graded areas - electrical, damage control and aviation - were also graded unsatisfactory.
INSURV recommended that acceptance not take place until the systems "can be fully re-demonstrated."
Repairs, NAVSEA said, will take place at Kiewit Offshore Services in Corpus Christi, Texas, where the CJR radar is to be installed.
The major components of the CJR active phased-array system were delivered by prime contractor Raytheon to Kiewit Offshore in early April. Raytheon makes the X-band radar of the dual-radar system, while subcontractor Northrop Grumman built the S-band radar.
The radars are not associated with the ship's problems, a spokesperson for Raytheon confirmed.
VT Halter Marine builds a variety of small and medium-sized commercial and military ships. In recent years, problems have emerged with several ships under construction at the Moss Point yard for U.S. government customers.
Last fall, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), for which VT Halter built a number of fisheries research ships, abruptly canceled completion of a new research ship when it was nearly finished, claiming it was overweight and unable to carry out its coastal mapping mission. The ship was seized by NOAA and moved elsewhere for completion and modifications.
In 2005, contract disputes led the U.S. Army to cancel completion of a logistics vessel and delay delivery of two others.

Senator: Broad Support for F-16 Sales to Taiwan

WASHINGTON - A U.S. lawmaker said May 26 that nearly half the Senate would press for the sale of fighter jets to Taiwan, fearing that China was gaining a strategic edge over the self-governing island.
At a hearing on Commerce Secretary Gary Locke's nomination to be ambassador to China, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said that some 40 members of the Senate would send a letter to President Obama urging the sale to Taiwan.
Menendez said he was "extremely concerned" as China ramps up its military spending and the United States puts off a decision on selling F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan.
"Therefore we will leave Taiwan in a position that is, I think, indefensible at the end of the day. And to me that will only exacerbate the situation," Menendez said.
Saying it was "very rare" for so many lawmakers across party lines to send such a letter, Menendez urged Locke to be an advocate within the Obama administration for sale of F-16s to Taiwan.
Locke said no decision was made on the jets and repeated the general U.S. official language on Taiwan - that the United States recognized only one China but was committed to the island's defense.
"The United States stands with Taiwan to ensure that it can defend itself and that its self-defense capabilities are never eroded," Locke said.
Beijing considers Taiwan, where China's nationalists fled in 1949 after defeat by the communists, to be a province awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.
The United States in 1979 switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing but Congress at the same time approved the Taiwan Relations Act, which requires the administration to provide the island with weapons for defensive purposes.
The United States last year approved $6.4 billion in weapons for Taiwan, including Patriot missiles and Black Hawk helicopters, but did not include the F-16s.
Even without the fighter jets, China angrily protested and cut off military cooperation with the United States, although it has since normalized defense ties.
Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou has repeatedly sought the F-16s, despite his drive to improve ties with the mainland since taking office in 2008.

Indonesia To Buy 16 S. Korean T-50 Trainers

SEOUL - Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) signed a $400 million deal to sell 16 T-50 Golden Eagle supersonic trainer aircraft to Indonesia, marking the first overseas sale of the $20 million jet co-developed by Lockheed Martin.
The deal obligates South Korea to buy Indonesian-built CN-235 transport airplanes, Seoul and Jakarta government officials confirmed.
Officials with KAI and the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) officials had denied that the trainer deal would require the airlifter purchase.
The contract was signed May 25, about a month and a half after Jakarta picked KAI as the preferred bidder for its trainer jet acquisition. The T-50 beat out Russia's Yak-130 and the Czech L-159B.
KAI is set to deliver the jets to the Indonesian Air Force by 2013.
The day after the T-50 announcement, KAI received approval from the Korea Exchange to proceed with an initial public offering (IPO) estimated to be worth about 576 billion won ($523 million).
The state-owned Korea Finance Corp. owns 30.1 percent of the aircraft maker, while Samsung Techwin, Hyundai Motor and Doosan Infracore hold 20.5 percent apiece.
The IPO may be held by the end of June.
Industry and securities sources expect KAI to sell 36 million shares at 14,000 won to 16,000 apiece.
"I'm very happy that the deal has been concluded before the planned IPO," said KAI President Kim Hong-kyung. "This Indonesia deal is just the starting point for the country's aircraft exports. As the leading aerospace company in South Korea, we will make best efforts to help the country become the world's top seven aircraft exporters by 2020."
South Korea will become the sixth country to export supersonic jets, following the U.S., Russia, the U.K., France and Sweden, according to a KAI-DAPA news release.
The single-engine T-50 plane has digital flight controls and a modern, ground-based training system. It is designed to have the maneuverability, endurance and systems to prepare pilots to fly next-generation aircraft such as the Eurofighter Typhoon, the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II. The jet has a top speed of Mach 1.4 and an operational range of 1,851 kilometers.
The news of the offset provision confirmed what Amir Sambodo, special staff for the Indonesian Coordinating Economic Minister told the Jakarta Post on May 20: "There have been talks that if Indonesia buys T-50s, there will be compensation for Korea to purchase CN-235s."
Sambodo said South Korea would buy two or four more CN-235s.
"This needs to be increased to mutually benefit both countries. If South Korea is good at trainer jets, we are strong in transport aircraft," he said.
Seoul and Jakarta had a similar barter trade deal in 2001, when South Korea bought eight CN-235 transport planes in return for selling 12 KT-1 Woongbi basic trainers.
The CN-235 is a medium-range twin-turboprop airplane, jointly developed by Spain's CASA and Indonesia's PT DI. The plane is used for VIP transport, maritime patrols, airlifts and troop carrying.
South Korea has 20 CN-235s, 12 built in Spain and eight in Indonesia. Under a 2008 deal, PT DI plans to deliver four more CN-235s to South Korea's Coast Guard by year's end.

Serbian War Crimes Suspect Mladic Arrested

BRUSSELS - NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on May 26 celebrated the arrest of former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic, anticipating his being tried for genocide.
"Almost 16 years since his indictment for genocide and other war crimes, his arrest finally offers a chance for justice to be done," Rasmussen said, moments after the government in Belgrade confirmed Mladic's capture.
"I strongly welcome the news that Ratko Maldic has been arrested and that his extradition to the Hague is underway," Rasmussen said.
NATO launched a bombing campaign against the Serb regime in 1999, with Rasmussen recalling that "Mladic played a key role in some of the darkest episodes of Balkan and European history - including the siege of Sarajevo and the massacre of thousands of Bosnian men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995."
Underlining the alliance's role as a "guarantor of security in the Balkans for the best part of two decades," Rasmussen added that "today we have seen an important step towards a Europe that is whole, free and at peace."
Rasmussen added that NATO remains "committed to assisting the whole region on the way to Euro-Atlantic integration."

Obama, Medvedev Discuss Missile Defense at G8

DEAUVILLE, France - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said May 26 after talks with U.S. President Barack Obama that an ultimate solution to the long-running row over missile defense may not happen until after 2020.
Medvedev and Obama met on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Deauville, and they also discussed the economy, counterterrorism and Russia's pending entry into the World Trade Organization.
Before the summit, Medvedev had warned of the chances of a new Cold War in Europe should Washington build its missile system without the Kremlin's agreement, although other Russian officials played down the row.
Obama and Medvedev looked stern-faced as they spoke to reporters after the talks, but both insisted that U.S.-Russian ties, "reset" under the Obama administration, were in good shape.
Medvedev said the missile defense issue "will finally be solved in the future, like for example in the year 2020" by future politicians.
But he added that he and the U.S. leader could "lay the foundation for other politicians," and called Obama his "colleague and political partner."
Obama said he and Medvedev were "committed to working together so we can find an approach and configuration that is consistent with the security needs of both countries ... that maintains a strategic balance and deals with potential threats we both share."
Russia's recent tough talk and decision to test two nuclear-capable heavy missiles in the past month underscore a fear in Moscow that the Obama administration is paying lip service to U.S.-Russian relations.
Moscow has in recent months complained that it is being sidelined in talks over the joint missile defense for Europe and Medvedev's remarks may underscore the Kremlin's disappointment over the current negotiations.
The United States argues that the shield is meant only to protect Europe from nations such as Iran but has said nothing about Russian security safeguards.
Analysts note that Moscow is primarily worried the system will leave a permanent stamp on the security map of Europe and formalize the reduced role Russia plays in the post-Cold War world.

France, Russia Reach Agreement on Warship Deal

DEAUVILLE, France - France and Russia have finalized an unprecedented deal for Paris to sell four powerful modern warships to Moscow, President Nicolas Sarkozy and his counterpart Dmitry Medvedev said May 26.
"All talks have been completed. The contract will be signed shortly," Medvedev told reporters after holding bilateral talks with his host Sarkozy ahead of the G8 summit in the northern French resort of Deauville.
"The elements of the signing have been resolved. The signature will take place within a fortnight," Sarkozy said.
Under the plan, two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships will be built in France and two in Russia to the French design, the two men said without giving further details.
Negotiations over the purchase began in 2009 but repeatedly stalled over price and technology transfer amid concerns among France's NATO allies about arming Russia with modern Western weaponry.
Some former Soviet nations like Georgia, which fought a brief but bloody war with Russia in 2008, have expressed fears in the past that Russia could use the powerful ships against them.
Earlier this year, the two sides were reportedly unable to agree on the contract price, as Russia insisted on paying no more than $980 million and France insisted on a contract of at least $1.15 billion.
The ship-purchase deal with France is unprecedented since World War II both in terms of the size of the equipment in question and Russia's insistence since the war on producing all military hardware for its own use and export.
The deal will also be seen as a major coup for the both leaders and will likely buttress their credentials as political negotiators as Russia and France head into presidential elections next year.
Brushing off any possible concerns from his NATO allies, Sarkozy reiterated that Russia was a trusted partner and the Cold War epoch was over. Medvedev for his part said the two countries enjoyed "superb ties."

Spain Halts Military Chopper Sale to Iran: Police

MADRID - Spanish police halted the illegal export of nine Bell-112 military transport helicopters to Iran and detained eight people including three Iranians, they said May 26.
Police seized the U.S.-made helicopters and arrested five Spanish businessmen suspected of trying to export them along with three Iranians accused of negotiating the purchase of military materiel.
In the operation, dubbed "Nam,' they raided industrial warehouses in Madrid and Barcelona and snatched helicopters destined for Iran, police said in a statement.
They also seized aviation spare parts allegedly destined for export to Venezuela, police said.
Police estimated the total value of the helicopters, spares and other military materiel at about 100 million euros ($140 million).
Police said the aircraft were subject to European Union and Spanish controls and were banned for export by the United Nations.
With a top speed of 140 mph and an average range of 370 miles, the helicopters were designed to ferry troops and military equipment, police said.
The Spanish companies flouted export requirements, failing to obtain licenses for the export of military materiel or so-called dual-use goods that can have military applications, police said.
The firms knew the export of the aircraft and spare parts was banned, they said, accusing them of concealing them in the warehouses, owned by a syndicate of the Spaniards who had been detained.
The helicopters and spares were being prepared for assembly and disassembly before export to Iran and Venezuela, police said.
"They tried to protect the export sale, which could have resulted in revenue of about 100 million euros, under the cover of legal aviation repairs," the statement said.
Police said they found out about the arrival in Spain of the Iranian purchasers who had come to formalize the deal and they then launched an operation to arrest them.
They arrested five people in Madrid and three in Barcelona and raided another three addresses resulting in the seizure of the nine Bell helicopters, aviation materiel and spares and related documents.