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12 Oct 18. U.S. weapons makers rattled over Saudi Arabia deals. Major U.S. defence contractors have expressed concern to the Trump administration that lawmakers angered by the disappearance of a Saudi journalist in Turkey will block further arms deals with Saudi Arabia, a senior U.S. official told Reuters on Friday.
Turkish reports that journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a vocal critic of Riyadh, was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and removed have hardened resistance in the U.S. Congress to selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, already a sore point for many lawmakers concerned about the Saudi role in Yemen’s civil war.
Saudi Arabia rejects the allegations in Turkey as baseless.
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he was wary of halting arms sales to Riyadh because of Khashoggi as it would just shift its weapons purchases to Russia and China.
Saudi Arabia, where Trump last year announced a $110bn arms package, has been a centrepiece of his overhaul of weapons export policy in which he has gone further than any of his predecessors in acting as a weapons salesman. However, critics say the new approach gives too much weight to business interests versus human rights concerns.
The senior U.S. official declined to identify the companies that had contacted the administration over their Saudi arms deals. Defence contractors did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Lockheed Martin Corp and Raytheon Co have been the most active U.S. defence companies with potential sales to Saudi Arabia since Trump announced the package as part of his “Buy American” agenda to create jobs at home.
In Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike are alarmed by the disappearance of Khashoggi, a U.S. resident who wrote columns for the Washington Post. He entered the consulate on Oct. 2 to collect documents for his planned marriage. Saudi officials say Khashoggi left the building shortly afterwards, but his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, said he never re-appeared.
Even before Khashoggi’s unexplained disappearance, Democratic lawmakers had “holds” for months on at least four military equipment deals, largely because of Saudi attacks that killed Yemeni civilians.
“This makes it more likely they’ll expand holds to include systems that aren’t necessarily controversial by themselves. It’s a major concern,” the senior administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
About $19bn in deals have been officially notified to Congress, according to government records, making it unlikely that they can be halted. These include training packages for Saudi troops and pilots and the THAAD anti-missile system that could cost as much as $15bn. One lobbyist for a defence company who spoke on condition of anonymity said worries about a potential across-the-board blockage of Saudi sales by Congress had surfaced in recent days, a development that would hurt a range of contractors.
A second U.S. official said there were also current holds in place on training sales for the Saudi government. Under U.S. law, major foreign military sales can be blocked by Congress. An informal U.S. review process lets key lawmakers use a practice known as a “hold” to stall deals if they have concerns such as whether the weapons being supplied would be used to kill civilians.
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, an outspoken critic of Saudi Arabia, threatened on Thursday to introduce a resolution of disapproval for any Saudi military deal that came up.
Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters on Thursday he recently told a defence contractor not to push for a deal with the Saudis, even before the Khashoggi case.
“With this, I can assure it won’t happen for a while,” Corker said.
While details of all the previously blocked Saudi deals were not immediately available, one was the planned sale of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of high-tech munitions to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Since 2015, Gulf Arab states have fought to restore a government in Yemen driven out by the Houthis, Shi’ite Muslim fighters Yemen’s neighbours view as agents of Iran. The war has killed more than 10,000 people and created the world’s most urgent humanitarian emergency.
Senator Robert Menendez, the top Foreign Relations Committee Democrat, said the Trump administration had not satisfied concerns he first raised in June about the sale to members of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen of Raytheon’s precision-guided munitions (Source: Reuters)
11 Oct 18. Trump warns halting Saudi arms sales would hurt economy. U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday expressed reservations about halting U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia over the disappearance of a Saudi journalist, warning such a move “would be hurting us.”
The Trump administration has strengthened U.S. relations with Riyadh, touting a $110bn package of proposed weapons sales as a key economic achievement, but reports the Saudi government plotted the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at its consulate in Turkey has added pressure.
In a Wednesday night interview on Fox News, Trump said he would want to know what happened before committing to a response and expressed reluctance to halt arms sales to Riyadh, citing economic concerns.
“Well, I think that would be hurting us. We have jobs. We have a lot of things happening in this country. We have a country that’s doing probably better economically than it’s ever done before,” Trump said.
“Part of that is what we are doing with our defense systems, and everybody is wanting them, and frankly I think that would be a very, very tough pill to swallow for our country. I mean, you’re affecting us.”
On Trump’s first trip abroad as president, he visited Saudi Arabia and announced the massive arms sales package. U.S. ties have long been anchored by energy interests, counterterror cooperation and more recently U.S.-Saudi military cooperation in the Yemen civil war. Since 2009, the executive branch has notified Congress of proposed foreign military sales to Saudi Arabia of major defense articles and services with a potential aggregate value of nearly $139 billion, according to a Congressional Research Service report. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia concluded arms sale agreements worth more than $65bn, from fiscal 2009 through fiscal 2016.
Earlier Wednesday, Republican Sen. Bob Corker, who as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and reviewed U.S. intelligence on the case, said it was likely that Khashoggi was killed the day he walked into the consulate. Whatever took place, Corker said, “there was Saudi involvement” and “everything points to them.”
More than 20 Republicans and Democratic senators on Wednesday instructed Trump to order a probe into Khashoggi’s disappearance under legislation that authorizes imposition of sanctions for perpetrators of extrajudicial killings, torture or other gross human rights violations.
Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy on Thursday called for the administration to cease military support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, citing reports that Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi consulate in Turkey. Murphy is part of a growing call in Congress to check U.S. support — which includes aerial refueling and arms sales — amid reports Saudi airstrikes have killed civilians.
“The United States cannot be in a military partnership with a country that has this little concern for human life,” said Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “The Saudis continue to claim that they aren’t targeting civilians inside Yemen, but how can we believe them when they apparently just hunted down and murdered an American resident whose only offense was writing critical articles about the Saudi royal family? This is the right time to suspend our military support for the disastrous bombing campaign in Yemen.”
Earlier in the week, Sen. Rand Paul, another member of the committee, called for a halt on U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia until Khashoggi is found alive.
“To me, this is just one more reason why we should be very suspect about selling arms to the Saudis,” Paul, R-Ky., said in a Fox News interview. “If they have the ability and also the audacity to go into another country and kill a journalist, these aren’t the kind of people maybe that we want to be selling arms to.”
Paul also cited Saudi Arabia’s intervention in neighboring Yemen’s civil war.
“What you do have evidence of is that the Saudis have been bombing civilians in Yemen for over a year now,” he said. “I think [there’s] growing opposition to what the Saudis are doing in Yemen, and this just adds to it.” (Source: Defense News)
08 Oct 18. Army’s ‘night court’ finds $25bn to reinvest in modernization priorities. The Army has been holding what has been called “night court,” full of “deep dives” to assess how essential existing programs are to the service’s radical modernization goals since the earlier part of this year. And according to the service’s secretary, it has found roughly $25bn through the process to apply to its priorities.
Secretary Mark Esper, in a press briefing at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference, would not speak to the details of what programs will bite the dust to cover the cost of emerging modernization efforts because they are evident in the service’s proposed fiscal 2020 budget, which has yet to clear the Office of the Secretary of Defense. But he did say “that dollar figure is a low-end number over the [Future Years Defense Program] FYDP,” adding: “Most of the savings are principally found in the [equipping] peg.”
Esper, as well as Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and other top leadership, spent roughly 40 to 60 hours reviewing programs within the equipping peg since this spring as a part of a new effort to comb through every program and weigh them against modernization priorities. The thinking goes that if programs or activities didn’t fit in the top six modernization priorities the Army laid out a year ago, then the programs could go, freeing up dollars for the priorities.
The Army announced last year at AUSA that it planned to stand up Army Futures Command, a new four-star organization tasked to push forward efforts that will modernize the Army by 2028. There are six modernization priorities: Long-Range Precision Fires, Next-Generation Combat Vehicle, Future Vertical Lift, the network, air and missile defense, and soldier lethality.
For more coverage from the AUSA annual meeting, click here.
The Army went “program by program, activity by activity to look at each one and assess it and ask ourselves is this more important than a Next-Generation Combat Vehicle, is this more important than a squad automatic weapon, is this more important than Long-Range Precision Fires,” Esper said.
“We had to make those trade-offs, and it resulted in, again, reductions and cancellations and consolidations, so that is our intent as we continue to go through the other pegs,” Esper said.
“We’re trying to be as judicious as we can with every dollar that has been disposed by Congress,” Army Under Secretary Ryan McCarthy told Defense News in an interview ahead of AUSA. “This is a way for us to put the highest level of rigor and prioritization that you could give for the department against our priorities.”
The Army needs to be prepared for potential contraction of the Budget Control Act, McCarthy noted. “We will be ready for that no matter what.”
Starting this month, the Army will take on manning and training programs in the same way. Esper said the Army is “playing a little bit of catch up” to get after reviewing the manning and training pegs, but said the service is going to institutionalize the process. (Source: Defense News)
05 Oct 18. Lockheed’s F-35 Wins Pentagon Approval for Full Combat Testing. Pentagon weapons buyer Ellen Lord has approved plans to begin full combat testing of Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35, a major step toward full production of the fighter jet planned for next year. Lord, the undersecretary for acquisition, “certified readiness to enter operational testing after concurring” with the F-35 program manager’s recommendation to start in mid-November, her spokesman, Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Mike Andrews, said in a statement to Bloomberg News. More than 320 F-35s are already operating from 15 bases worldwide, although the Pentagon and Lockheed continue to wrestle with resolving more than 900 deficiencies, including flaws in the plane’s complex software. That’s a result of the Defense Department’s strategy to start producing the plane while it’s still under development, a strategy that a chief Pentagon weapons buyer once called “acquisition malpractice.” By law, the F-35 must undergo full combat testing to demonstrate that it’s “operationally effective and suitable” against the most sophisticated aviation and air defense threats before the Pentagon can buy the bulk of the planned 2,456 U.S. aircraft. (Source: (Source: defense-aerospace.com/Bloomberg News)
10 Oct 18. US senators order Magnitsky probe as Riyadh’s Capitol Hill clout plummets. The leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and 18 other senators have sent a letter to President Donald Trump that could pave the way for sanctions in the disappearance of a dissident Saudi journalist.
Committee chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and ranking member Bob Menendez, D-N.J., are leading a call to probe whether Saudi Arabia was responsible for “an extrajudicial killing, torture, or other gross violation of internationally recognized human rights against an individual exercising freedom of expression” under the Global Magnitsky Act.
The lawmakers ask the Trump administration to report back in 120 days. “Our expectation is that in making your determination you will consider any relevant information, including with respect to the highest ranking officials in the Government of Saudi Arabia,” the letter reads.
Any resulting sanctions would freeze any assets the individuals or entities hold in the U.S. and also prevent them from using any American financial institution for banking or other purposes. Since the United States financial system has such broad global reach, the sanctions make it difficult for the individuals to use major banks anywhere in the world.
The move is a sign Saudi Arabia’s credibility with the U.S. Congress has hit a new low in the wake of reports Riyadh is suspected in the death of Jamal Khashoggi, a contributor to the Washington Post. While the lawmakers do not explicitly reference arms sales, the move also calls into question future U.S. sales to the kingdom, which seem at least for now to be frozen.
Khashoggi, who has been critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, fled the country last year. He vanished a week ago, after visiting the Saudi consulate in Turkey.
A senior Turkish official told The New York Times that Khashoggi was murdered and gruesomely dismembered with a bone saw in a Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on the Saudi government’s orders. Saudi Arabia, however, insists that Khashoggi left the consulate shortly after he arrived.
Trump and European leaders all have called on Riyadh to explain what happened.
The controversy threatens to roil a U.S.-Saudi relationship that was already rocky, as far as Capitol Hill was concerned, and casts a cloud over a key market for the U.S. defense trade. Lawmakers have expressed growing concerns with the civilian death toll from Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen.
Last year, Trump touted $110bn in defense deals with Saudi Arabia, including seven THAAD missile defense batteries, more than 100,000 air-to-ground munitions and billions of dollars’ worth of new aircraft.
On Tuesday, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., cited Khashoggi’s disappearance to announce he would force a vote on planned U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia the next time the administration notifies Congress of one.
“If they’re responsible ― or even if there’s any indication that they’re implicated in killing this journalist that was critical of them ― we’ve got to stop sending them arms,” Paul told WHAS, a Kentucky radio station.
A Paul spokesman declined to say immediately whether the threat applies to all sales or just those linked to Yemen.
Paul said he would be “forcing votes” against arms sales to Saudi Arabia, adding that he differed with President Donald Trump on the matter. “Who knows ― the president may come around on this if there’s any evidence that they killed this journalist,” Paul said.
Paul could force a vote on a future arms sale under the Arms Export Control Act. He could bring the measure to the Senate floor after giving the Senate Foreign Relations Committee 10 days to consider it.
Menendez has for months withheld support for a pending U.S. sale of Raytheon-made precision guided munitions.
The administration is required to give Congress a 30-day notice for arms sales, and while Menendez has stretched that notification period, it would be an unusual move for the administration to bypass a senator.
If the Senate were to vote on an arms sale to Riyadh for the Yemen war, the sale would be blocked, Corker told Defense News last week, even before the Khashoggi matter caught the attention of Capitol Hill.
“I think if right now there were a vote to disapprove of a sale, that they would lose. That’s where I think where they are,” Corker said.
Corker even told Saudi ambassador to the U.S., Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, “that their political capital has waned here.”
“People are very concerned about Yemen and there are some here who think the way they approach us is with a degree of arrogance,” Corker said, adding: “I made him aware they have a lot of work to do.” (Source: Defense News)
09 Oct 18. Report: Pentagon Weapons Systems Vulnerable to Cyberattacks. Defense Department weapons programs are vulnerable to cyberattacks, and the Pentagon has been slow to protect the systems which are increasingly reliant on computer networks and software, a federal report said Tuesday. The U.S. Government Accountability Office said the Pentagon has worked to ensure its networks are secure, but only recently began to focus more on its weapons systems security. The audit, conducted between September 2017 and October 2018, found that there are “mounting challenges in protecting its weapons systems from increasingly sophisticated cyber threats.”
Pentagon officials have acknowledged for years that the department, the military services and defense contractors are under persistent cyber probes and attacks, including from state actors seeking to steal data to gain an economic or technological advantage. The report doesn’t name potential attackers, but it noted that some “advanced threat actors” are aware of the vulnerabilities and “have well-funded units that focus on positioning themselves to potentially undermine U.S. capabilities.”
U.S. officials have repeatedly accused Russia and China of using cyberattacks to breach government and commercial networks and systems. The GAO, which is Congress’ investigative arm, provides no details about what the specific military systems are or how they are vulnerable, due to their classified nature. The report said that nine major defense acquisition programs from various military services were reviewed. In one case, it said, “it took a two-person test team just one hour to gain initial access to a weapon system and one day to gain full control of the system they were testing.”
In other cases, the report said that testers — using simple tools and techniques — were able to take control of computer terminals and see what the operators were seeing in real time. Another team was able to send a pop-up message to the computer terminals “instructing them to insert two quarters to continue operating.” The teams were also able to copy, change and delete data. Vulnerabilities found within the systems included being able to turn a weapon on or off, affect missile targeting, adjust oxygen levels or manipulate what controllers see on their computer screens. The report cited problems with poor passwords, insecure lines of communication and the Defense Department’s ongoing struggle to get qualified cybersecurity staff. (Source: defense-aerospace.com/Voice of America News)
10 Oct 18. America sold $55.6bn in weapons abroad in FY18 — a 33 percent jump. The U.S. inked $55.6bn in foreign military sales during fiscal year 2018, easily smashing past the previous year’s total — and the Pentagon’s point man for security cooperation expects more in the future.
“This is a 33 percent increase over last year and I’m very optimistic that this positive trajectory will continue,” said Lt. Gen. Charles Hooper, the head of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, during a speech at the AUSA conference. “Our partners know a good thing when they see one.”
Included in that total are $3.52bn for cases funded by the State Department’s Foreign Military Financing program; $4.42bn for cases funded under Defense Department authorities; and $47.71bn funded through pure FMS cases, per the State Department.
In FY17, the U.S. sold $41.93bn in FMS deals, and the Pentagon has not been shy about hyping the final dollar total for this year. In July, Hooper said the department had already inked $46.9bn in deals, and a Pentagon report released last year said that the U.S. had inked $54.45 bn through the end of August.
Sales totals are volatile year over year, depending on what partner nations seek to buy. In FY16, sales totaled $33.6bn, while FY15 totaled just more than $47 bn and FY14 totaled $34.2bn.
While this year’s total still falls short of FY12’s all-time record, there is reason for Hooper to be optimistic this is not a one-time boost.
In FY18 the State Department cleared roughly $70bn in potential FMS deals, spread over 70 individual requests. Those are not hard dollars, but rather a listing of the potential agreements that the State Department has ok’d; if Congress does not object, those potential deals then go into negotiations. Among those requests are a Saudi request for THAAD ($15bn) and a Polish request for Patriot PAC-3 batteries ($10.5bn), either one of which would give a massive boost for a potential FY19 total if completed on time.
In addition, the Trump administration has made pushing foreign weapon sales a key part of its economic growth strategy, pushing out a new conventional arms transfer policy to make it easier to sell defense articles abroad. And Hooper is not alone in his optimism. Speaking to reporters in September, Andrea Thompson, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said, “I would anticipate — I am an optimist and a realist — that next year’s numbers will be higher than this year’s numbers.” (Source: Defense News)
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