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28 Sep 18. Trump signs defense spending plan, with one more swipe at Democrats. President Donald Trump finalized an $854bn spending bill on Friday that fully funds the military for fiscal 2019 and prevents a government shutdown next week, accomplishments that congressional leaders have called important and laudable. But Trump’s signature came with one final attack on Democrats over the spending measure, lamenting lawmakers’ decision not to include extra money in the appropriations package for his planned wall along the southern U.S. border.
“Unfortunately, the radical Democrats refuse to support border security and want drugs and crime to pour into our country,” he said in a statement after signing the bill.
The comments came just a week after Trump took to social media to blast “this ridiculous Spending Bill,” raising fears of a presidential veto on Capitol Hill. Instead, Trump largely praised the measure on Friday, calling it “important legislation to rebuild our military” and promote other domestic priorities.
The appropriations measure includes $674 billion in defense funding for fiscal 2019, and marks the first time in a decade Congress has finalized the spending measure before the start of the new fiscal year.
The measure funds a 2.6 percent pay raise for troops starting next January and a boost in military end strength of 16,400 spread across the active-duty and reserve forces.
Trump, in his statement, praised the measure for including “93 new F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighters, 142 Apache and Black Hawk helicopters, and 13 Navy battle force ships — made right here in the USA.”
In a statement after the signing, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, praised the president for pushing for the funding increases in his budget request and past public statements.
“By funding our military in full and on time, we can begin to restore its strength, agility, and effectiveness,” he said. “As I have said before, the task before us now is to make full, on time funding of our military the rule in Washington, and not the exception.”
The spending bill also includes full-year funding for the departments of Health and Human Services, Education and Labor, as well as bridge funding for a handful of other government agencies to keep them operational through Dec. 7.
Last week, Trump signed into law a separate package that included full-year funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs and for military construction projects. (Source: Defense News)
28 Sep 18. DOD begins fiscal year with funding for first time in 10 years. The Department of Defense commends the signing of House Resolution 6157, the fiscal year (FY) 2019 DOD and Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Act and Continuing Appropriations Act. This act will fund the DOD for FY 2019. This is the first time in more than a decade that the DOD is able to begin a fiscal year with an enacted appropriation instead of operating under a continuing resolution. Of the $716bn defense funding, which includes DOD and other non-DOD defense entities, such as the Department of Energy, $686bn is allocated for DOD.
This appropriation directly supports the three main lines of effort in the 2018 National Defense Strategy:
- Restoring readiness and building a more lethal force;
- Strengthening existing alliances while building new partnerships abroad;
- Reforming and modernizing our department for greater affordability, accountability and performance
The funding level is consistent with the $716bn 2018 Bipartisan Budget Act national defense spending cap for FY 2019 and the recently.
28 Sep 18. F-35 price falls below $90m for first time in new deal. The price of a conventional F-35A model has fallen below $90m for the first time through a deal announced Sept. 28 between the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin. The Defense Department’s F-35 Joint Program Office and F-35 prime contractor Lockheed have finalized an $11.5bn contract for the 11th batch of F-35s. The deal comprises 141 new jets and follows a handshake deal between the two parties that was announced in July. The agreement pushes the cost of the F-35A conventional model — used by the U.S. Air Force and most foreign buyers — to $89.2m per aircraft, a 5.4 percent reduction from the $94.3m in the 10th batch of aircraft.
The more expensive “B” and “C” models incurred even bigger price cuts. The Marine Corps’ F-35B short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing variant’s cost decreased 5.7 percent from $122.4m to $115.5m, while the F-35C carrier variant dropped a whopping 11.1 percent from $121.2m to $107.7m per unit.
The finalized agreement comes on the heels of another first for the platform. On Thursday, Marine Corps F-35Bs were flown in combat for the first time by the U.S. military, conducting successful airstrikes on an unnamed fixed target.
Although the Marine Corps and Air Force have already begun using their Joint Strike Fighters operationally, F-35 program leaders from government and industry remain focused on bringing down production costs to $80m per unit by 2020 — a step seen as critical for the services to begin buying greater numbers of aircraft.
“Driving down cost is critical to the success of this program,” said Vice Adm. Mat Winter, the F-35 program executive officer. “We are delivering on our commitment to get the best price for taxpayers and war fighters.”
“This agreement marks a significant step forward for the F-35 program as we continue to increase production, reduce costs and deliver transformational capabilities to our men and women in uniform,” said Greg Ulmer, Lockheed’s F-35 vice president and general manager. “As production ramps up and we implement additional cost savings initiatives, we are on track to reduce the cost of the F-35A to $80m by 2020, which is equal to or less than legacy aircraft, while providing a major leap in capability.”
Deliveries of low-rate initial production lot 11 are set to begin in 2019. LRIP 11 is the largest production batch so far, covering 91 jets for the U.S. military, 28 for F-35 international partners that paid into the development of the aircraft and 22 jets for Foreign Military Sales customers. The government contracts separately for the F-35’s engines, the F135 built by Pratt & Whitney, but the pricing information issued Friday includes both the airframe and the engine. The parties reached a $2bn agreement for the LRIP 11 engines in May. With the lot 10 contract under their belts, the Pentagon and Lockheed are set to begin negotiations on lots 12, 13 and 14, which will be grouped together as a block buy that will initially serve international customers but could also accommodate the U.S. services as early as lot 13. (Source: Defense News)
28 Sep 18. US government may gain new power to track drones and shoot them down. An aviation bill Congress is rushing to approve contains a little-noticed section that would give authorities the power to track, intercept and destroy drones they consider a security threat, without needing a judge’s approval. Supporters say law enforcement needs this power to protect Americans from terrorists who are learning how to use drones as deadly weapons. They point to the Islamic State terrorist group’s use of bomb-carrying drones on battlefields in Iraq, and warn that terrorists could go after civilian targets in the United States.
Critics say the provision would give the government unchecked power to decide when drones are a threat. They say the government could use its newfound power to restrict drone-camera news coverage of protests or controversial government facilities, such as the new detention centers for young migrants.
The provision is tucked in a huge bill that provides $1.7 billion in disaster relief and authorizes programs of the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates drones.
The House approved the measure Wednesday by a 398-23 vote, and the Senate is expected pass it on to President Donald Trump’s desk in the coming days. The White House signaled support of the drone provision in July.
Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, introduced the Preventing Emerging Threats Act this year. It would give the Homeland Security Department and the Justice Department power to develop and deploy a system to spot, track and shoot down drones, as unmanned aircraft are called. Officers would have the authority to hack a drone operator’s signal and take control of the device.
The bill was never considered on its own by the full Senate or the House. Instead, in private negotiations that ended last weekend, it was tucked into a “must-pass” piece of FAA legislation.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen wrote in a recent op-ed that the threat of drone attacks “is outpacing our ability to respond.” She said criminals use drones to smuggle drugs across the border, but worse, terrorists like the Islamic State are deploying them on the battlefield.
“We need to acknowledge that our first and last chance to stop a malicious drone might be during its final approach to a target,” she wrote.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement this week that the measure “would finally give federal law enforcement the authority we need to counter the use of drones by drug traffickers, terrorists and criminals.”
The National Football League’s top security executive recently endorsed the bill’s intent but said it should go further by letting trained local police officers intercept drones. The official, Cathy Lanier, a former Washington, D.C., police chief, said the NFL is alarmed by an increase in drone flyovers at stadiums.
Opponents including the American Civil Liberties Union argue that the proposal gives the government unchecked power to track and seize drones without regard for the privacy and free-speech rights of legitimate drone operators. It exempts the government agencies from certain laws, including limits on wiretapping.
The bill provides no oversight or means to question a government decision about what is a “credible threat” and what is an “asset” or “facility” in need of protection when drones are nearby.
News organizations are increasingly using drones. They deploy them to cover natural disasters like the recent flooding from Hurricane Florence and also controversies such as the Trump administration’s construction of new camps for migrant children who were separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Being able to see footage of protests, the size of protests, being able to see facilities like those at the border is useful — those are newsworthy events,” said India McKinney, a legislative analyst for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Without a specific means to protect First Amendment rights — something not in the bill — “it’s entirely feasible to think that the DOJ or DHS could just decide that a drone owned by a news organization provides a credible threat and then destroys the footage,” she said. (Source: Defense News)
27 Sep 18. The U.S. Department of Defense and Lockheed Martin have finalized an $11.5bn contract for the production and delivery of 141 F-35 aircraft at the lowest per aircraft price in program history. For the eleventh consecutive year, the cost of an F-35A was lowered. The F-35A unit price including aircraft, engine and fee, is $89.2m. This represents a 5.4 percent reduction from the $94.3m it cost for an F-35A in Low-Rate Initial Production Lot 10 (LRIP 10). In LRIP 11, the F-35B unit cost was lowered to $115.5m. This represents a 5.7 percent reduction from the $122.4 million it cost for the short-takeoff and landing variant in LRIP 10. The F-35C unit cost was lowered to $107.7m. This represents an 11.1 percent reduction from the $121.2m it cost for the carrier variant in LRIP 10. The LRIP 11 agreement funds 91 aircraft for the U.S. Services, 28 for F-35 International Partners and 22 for F-35 Foreign Military Sales customers. Deliveries will begin in 2019.
“Driving down cost is critical to the success of this program,” said Vice Admiral Mat Winter, F-35 Program Executive Officer. “We are delivering on our commitment to get the best price for taxpayers and warfighters. This agreement for the next lot of F-35s represents a fair deal for the U.S. Government, our international partnership and industry. We remain focused on aggressively reducing F-35 cost and delivering best value.”
With stealth technology, supersonic speed, powerful sensors, large weapons capacity and global deployment, the F-35 is the most advanced fighter aircraft ever built, enabling women and men in uniform to execute their mission and return home safely. More than a fighter jet, the F-35’s ability to collect, analyze and share data, is a powerful force multiplier that enhances all airborne, surface and ground-based assets in the battlespace.
“This agreement marks a significant step forward for the F-35 program as we continue to increase production, reduce costs and deliver transformational capabilities to our men and women in uniform,” said Greg Ulmer, F-35 Vice President and General Manager. “As production ramps up, and we implement additional cost savings initiatives, we are on track to reduce the cost of the F-35A to $80m by 2020, which is equal to or less than legacy aircraft, while providing a major leap in capability.”
The latest contract is a demonstration of the program’s progress and maturity, as industry and the government now set their sights on future acquisition approaches for the next three production lots to further reduce costs.
With more than 320 aircraft operating from 15 bases around the globe – the F-35 is playing a critical role in today’s global security environment. More than 680 pilots and 6,200 maintainers have been trained and the F-35 fleet has surpassed more than 155,000 cumulative flight hours. The F-35 weapons system reliability continues to improve through a combination of hardware and software improvements.
In addition to advanced capability, the F-35 provides economic stability to the U.S. and Allied nations by creating jobs, commerce and security, and contributing to the global trade balance. The F-35 is built by thousands of men and women in America and around the world. With more than 1,500 suppliers in 46 states and Puerto Rico, the F-35 program supports more than 194,000 direct and indirect jobs in the U.S. alone. The program also includes more than 100 international suppliers, creating or sustaining thousands of international jobs.
26 Sep 18. DoD Official Explains U.S. Strategy in Syria to House Panel. In a complex part of the world, the U.S. strategy in Syria is simple to state: the enduring defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the deterrence of the use of chemical weapons and countering Iran’s malign influence in the region.
Robert S. Karem, the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, detailed the way forward in Syria for the House Armed Services Committee’s oversight and investigations subcommittee today.
“The United States also seeks a peaceful resolution to the multifaceted conflict in Syria in a manner that protects U.S. interests, preserves a favorable regional balance of power, protects our allies and partners and alleviates suffering,” Karem told the panel.
Limited DoD Role
The Defense Department’s role in Syria is limited, with a small number of American service members in the country working by, with and through local forces. Those forces have driven ISIS from stronghold after stronghold, but that is only one part of the complex situation in the nation, Karem said.
“While we are not intervening in the Syrian civil war, because our combat operations target ISIS, this underlying conflict inevitably affects our efforts,” he added.
The Syrian regime of Bashar Assad has been propped up by Russian and Iranian intervention, and has taken swaths of rebel-held territory back. This endangers international efforts to get the parties to the peace table, the assistant secretary said.
That there has been progress against ISIS in Syria is undeniable. ISIS swept across much of the country and into Iraq in 2014 and declared the area to be its new caliphate. Coalition efforts have contributed to the liberation of more than 99 percent of the territory ISIS took then, Karem noted.
“Despite this progress, we assess that even after the defeat of the physical caliphate, ISIS remains stronger now than its predecessor – al-Qaida in Iraq – was when the United States withdrew from Iraq in 2011,” he said.
Tough fighting remains in the middle Euphrates River valley, he said, and the hard-won gains in Iraq and Syria remain vulnerable.
“The enemy is adaptive,” Karem told the panel. “Even though operations against the last pocket of ISIS-held territory in Iraq and Syria are underway, ISIS is transitioning to an underground insurgency. A sustained, conditions-based U.S. presence will allow us to pressure the terrorist insurgency and prevent ISIS’s resurgence while simultaneously facilitating diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict.”
In the northern part of the country, the United States is working with Turkey to ensure security and a sustainable solution that addresses Turkish security concerns, the assistant secretary said. But the United States and its allies are still “gravely concerned” about a possible Syrian regime offensive – backed by Russia and Iran – into Idlib, he added.
He reiterated that the United States will respond to any use by the Syrian regime of chemical weapons. “We urge the regime and its Russian partners to refrain from the use of chemical weapons or risk the international consequences for doing so,” he said. The United Kingdom and France share in the U.S. resolve, he told the House panel, and the United States urges other international partners to join the diplomatic and political efforts to deter Assad from using these weapons.
The United States remains concerned by Iran’s significant military, paramilitary and proxy involvement in Syria, Karem said. This directly threatens Israel and Jordan “and risks dangerously escalating the tensions in the region,” he said.
“Iran is no friend of the Syrian people,” he added, “and if its behavior in Iraqi is any indication, its militia proxies and malicious agenda will only marginalize Syria’s Sunni population, inflame tensions and sow seeds of further radicalism.”
The United States maintains a regional force posture and military plans designed to deter and, if necessary, respond to aggression, the assistant secretary told the legislators. “We are not seeking war with Iran,” he said. “That said, we will take steps to defend ourselves and work with allies.” (Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)
27 Sep 18. F-35 flies first combat mission in Afghanistan. The U.S. Marine Corps F-35B joint strike fighter has successfully conducted its first combat mission over Afghanistan, U.S. officials confirmed to Military Times. The strikes, carried out by F-35Bs assigned to the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, occurred Thursday morning against a fixed target “in support of ground clearance operations,” and were deemed a success by the ground force commander, according to a statement put out by U.S. Naval Forces Central Command on Thursday afternoon. Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 made history earlier this month as they became the first squadron with F-35Bs to deploy to the U.S. Central Command area of operations aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship Essex.
“The F-35B is a significant enhancement in theater amphibious and air warfighting capability, operational flexibility, and tactical supremacy,” said Vice Adm. Scott Stearney, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central command. “As part of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group, this platform supports operations on the ground from international waters, all while enabling maritime superiority that enhances stability and security.”
“The opportunity for us to be the first Navy, Marine Corps team to employ the F-35B in support of maneuver forces on the ground demonstrates one aspect of the capabilities this platform brings to the region, our allies, and our partners,” said Col. Chandler Nelms, commanding officer of the 13th MEU.
Although the Marine Corps is the first U.S. service to fly its joint strike fighters in combat, the aircraft has been used by the Israeli air force to strike targets. In May, Israel Defense Forces officials confirmed that the country’s F-35 “Adir” fighters had seen combat in two airstrikes somewhere in the Middle East.
The Marine Corps declared the F-35B operational in 2015, becoming the first service to integrate the joint strike fighter into its fleet. The Air Force followed by declaring initial operational capability for the F-35A conventional variant in 2016, while the Navy plans to declare IOC on the F-35C carrier variant in February 2019. The joint strike fighter is the most expensive program in the Pentagon’s history, projected to cost about $1 trillion to develop, produce, field and sustain over its lifetime, according to the Government Accountability Office.
The F-35B is the short takeoff, vertical landing variant of the aircraft, allowing the pilot to hover and land vertically like a helicopter — a necessity for the Marines, which typically operate from amphibious ships with smaller decks than aircraft carriers. (Source: Defense News)
24 Sep 18. Defense Industry Pushes Back Against New Pentagon Rules. The Pentagon is looking to get a tighter grip on how it pays large defense contractors, and has drawn up plans to cut up front costs while rewarding companies that hit their milestones on time. The defense industry, however, isn’t happy about it. Every major defense industry trade association voiced opposition to the proposed changes during a Sept. 14 public meeting, but there has yet to be a reaction from Pentagon leadership, which is preparing for more meetings with the defense industry next month. The new rules contain several significant changes to how the building does business, which would put the onus on defense contractors to spend their own money in the early days of a program, while seeing government funding trickle in at a slower pace.
Overall, the payment rate for contractors would be lowered from 80 percent to 50 percent, with any other decreases or increases to be determined by the DoD on a performance-based scale. The rules would apply only to large contractors, while small businesses would be guided by different rules and incentives. There are rewards, however. If a company hit milestones on time and avoids slip-ups, it would win 10 percent increases in funding. In its August 24 notice of the proposed changes, the Pentagon said the changes are necessary because it had neglected to account for years of low interest rates that makes it easier for contractors to spend their own money on projects. The result is that the government “has been providing financing in excess of that warranted based on the historically low interest rates in effect since 2008,” the document said. The revamped policy would therefore result in savings of “hundreds of millions of dollars to the taxpayers by eliminating an unintended consequence of the past practice associated with providing contract financing in excess of what was necessary.”
John Luddy, the Aerospace Industry Association’s VP for National Security Policy told me that while his group “supports the use of performance-based payments,” the new rules “not only cuts against many of the goals outlined in the National Defense Strategy, it doesn’t make economic or business sense for industry or our customer.”
One of the primary concerns for contractors is that by reducing funding early on in the contract, the companies would have less money to spend on other research and development activities that Defense Secretary James Mattis and his team have explicitly called for as a way to stay ahead of Chinese and to a lesser extent, Russian advances in cutting-edge technologies.
“If this rule goes into effect,” Leddy said, “the impacts will be significant and detrimental for the companies in our industry, including the small and medium businesses in our supply chain, who are the lifeblood of the military industrial base and are more vulnerable to unpredictable cash flows.”
In a presentation delivered at the public hearing, Wesley Hallman, the NDIA’s senior VP of policy said that “contractors that accept high risk and challenging performance requirements are unfairly punished.”
The timing and schedule for the proposed changes appear to be “fast-tracked,” Roman Schweizer of Cowen and Company write in a note to investors on Friday.
The public comment period for the defense industry ends on Oct. 23, after another public meeting on Oct. 10. In order to get the rules in place, the Pentagon would have to then evaluate the comments and consider making changes, while at the same time, “industry would be required to submit its justification for 2019 rates by December 1, giving companies just a month to pull together the required inputs it needs to justify its rate request.”
For a government bureaucracy, and an entrenched contracting culture that moves slowly and deliberately, such sweeping changes in such a short time frame might be a difficult ask. But for the moment, the Pentagon looks to be moving ahead. (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Breaking Defense)
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