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18 Oct 18. Trump again suggests sending troops to US southern border. President Donald Trump on Thursday again suggested deploying American troops to the U.S. southern border to deal with “the assault on our country” from immigrants trying to enter from Mexico. In a series of early morning tweets, Trump blasted Democrats for blocking his efforts to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and said the legislative impasse on the issue is undermining national security.
“I must, in the strongest of terms, ask Mexico to stop this onslaught — and if unable to do so I will call up the U.S. Military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!” he wrote.
Trump also said that if a solution is not found, it could upend the new trade deal negotiated between Mexico and the United States. Military leaders have repeatedly found themselves entangled in the broader immigration debate in recent months. In April, thousands of National Guard troops were deployed to the southern border to assist with security operations there, although their assistance was limited to surveillance work.
In June, White House officials asked military leaders for assistance in housing migrant children caught up in legal fights over their immigration status, a plan that drew condemnation from Democrats as improper use of military bases.
The specifics of Trump’s latest plan to use military personnel in the immigration dispute are unclear. Federal law prohibits military personnel from conducting law enforcement duties on U.S. soil, with exceptions for military bases and related properties. House and Senate lawmakers are on recess until after the Nov. 6 election. In a briefing with reporters this week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said finding funding for Trump’s proposed border wall would be a top priority when his chamber returns, but he said he did not believe the fight could spur a partial government shutdown. Democrats in the House and Senate have repeatedly opposed funding for the multi-billion wall effort, and have accused Trump of emphasizing that idea over responsible, realistic immigration reform efforts. In a Military Times poll conducted earlier this month, 23 percent of active-duty troops listed immigration as a significant threat to U.S. national security. Half of those surveyed said they disapprove of current U.S. immigration policies, versus 31 percent who approve of them. (Source: Defense News)
17 Oct 18. Trump appears to call for defense spending cuts. In a surprise announcement, U.S. President Donald Trump has called for government spending to be cut 5 percent across every federal department, leaving next year’s military budget in confusion.
“I would like you to come back with a 5 percent cut,” Trump told members of his Cabinet during a Tuesday meeting. “Get rid of the fat, get rid of the waste, I’m sure you can do it. I’m sure everybody at this table can do it. It’ll have a huge impact.”
Trump was specifically asked about the Pentagon’s budget by a reporter and did not say the department would be exempt. However, he did say the department’s budget “will probably be $700bn” for fiscal 2020, noting that “because now that we have our military taken care of, we have our law enforcement taken care of, we can do things that we really weren’t in a position to do when I first came.”
The Pentagon’s budget for FY19 was $686.1 bn, with overall national security funding set at $716bn. Additionally, a drop from $716 bn to $700bn is only a 2.23 percent drop; a full 5 percent cut would put national security spending to $680, with the Pentagon’s total at $651.7bn.
A budget increase for the Pentagon to $700bn would represent a funding increase, but Trump’s comments indicated he is referring to a drop from the larger $716bn figure.
“It was at 520 a very short while ago. And the reason I brought it up to 700 and then 716 was to build new ships,” Trump said. “We’re building new, incredible submarines, the finest in the world, most powerful in the world, anywhere, ever. We’re doing things that we have never done on this scale. So that included a lot of rebuilding of our military.
“So despite that, I’m going to keep that at $700bn defense. OK?”
A spokesman for the National Security Council did not return a request for clarification on Trump’s comments.
If Trump’s comments hold and national security spending will drop, it would come at a time the department has been planning to invest in capabilities needed under the National Defense Strategy.
Pentagon officials have been clear they see the need for 2 to 3 percent growth above inflation to fund requirements while also investing in manpower and new technologies. But there is a growing sense that FY20 may only come with an inflation bump.
“This two-year plus-up, where we’ve seen some gains, if that isn’t sustained in 2020 or beyond, you’re going to lose whatever the goodness was that came from last year and this year,” Dakota Wood, an analyst with The Heritage Foundation, told Defense News earlier this month.
“FY19 is now the ceiling. It’s not the floor to build from,” Wood said. “What folks on the Hill and [the Office of Management and Budget] and others are looking at is the domestic political situation. … To argue for even more spending on defense is just politically not a real, viable prospect. Because you’re talking about a future danger.”
In recent years, Congress has plussed-up what it considers lower-than-desired defense levels. However, if Democrats take one or both chambers, there is an expectation they will tamp down on military spending. (Source: Defense News)
17 Oct 18. Heading into F-35 operational tests, threat of delays loom. The F-35 is set to move into operational testing next month — a major milestone that precedes the Pentagon’s decision on whether to begin full-rate production of the jet — but there are already signs that it may not be able to complete testing on time. Furthermore, the F-35 joint program office is still assessing what impact a recent fleet-wide inspection of the F-35 enterprise for faulty fuel tubes will have on its Nov. 13 start date — though the JPO remains confident that it can wrap up needed repairs in time for operational tests to begin in November. The Pentagon is aiming to wrap up initial operational test and evaluation, or IOT&E, on schedule in July 2018 despite a two-month delay in starting the tests, according to a Sept. 14 PowerPoint presentation by F-35 test director Air Force Col. Varun Puri, which Defense News obtained. However, it will but will have to move through test points at a rapid pace and accept additional risk in order to make that deadline, stated the document, which described the readiness of the F-35 to begin testing.
Puri’s presentation specifies a Nov. 13 target date for the F-35 to begin the formal IOT&E process.
Nov. 13 remains the projected start data “pending completion of the remaining readiness actions,” stated F-35 JPO spokesman Joe Dellavedova in response to emailed questions, although “impacts from a mandatory fuel system inspection are being assessed,” he acknowledged.
Last week, all U.S. and international F-35s were momentarily grounded to allow for a fleet-wide inspection of the jets for a defective fuel tube that was found in the Marine Corps’ investigation into a Sept. 28 F-35B crash near Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina.
By Monday morning, more than 80 percent of about 300 F-35s already in service had returned to flight, and about half of the impacted jets can be fixed using the existing spare parts inventory. Pratt & Whitney, which produces the F135 engine for all F-35 variants, is racing to procure more parts so that the remaining aircraft can be cleared in the coming weeks. However, questions still remain on whether Pratt or the U.S. government will be on the hook for paying for retrofits.
While a short deferment of a couple days or a couple weeks is usually not a significant barrier — and could turn out inconsequential in the F-35 program’s case — the test plan does not leave much room to absorb delays.
The Joint Strike Fighter Operational Test Team, or JOTT, still believes it can complete IOT&E by the original July 2019 goal, but only by “reducing re-fly assumptions and assuming more risk” — or in layman’s terms, lowering its estimates of how many tests it will need to redo in order to complete the test program and leaving little margin for flight cancellations due to weather or other factors.
In the “worst case scenario,” completion of operational testing could occur as late as Sept. 2019, which could add budget pressure to the program, Puri’s presentation said.
It’s unclear what form those budget pressures would take. “IOT&E is fully funded through September, if required,” said DellaVedova, but the JPO did not respond to a question on whether additional funding would be needed if testing slipped even further, into the new fiscal year starting on Oct. 1.
When asked about the specific types of risk the Pentagon will assume in order to complete IOT&E on time, the JPO did not provide specifics, saying that it was up to the JOTT and the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluationto lay out the schedule.
“Operational testing will be executed in the most expeditious and efficient manner possible, while ensuring test adequacy is met, with continuous assessments of progress toward test objectives based on collected data,” DellaVedova said.
The formal IOT&E period was initially scheduled to begin Sept. 15, but was pushed back two months to allow for the delivery of the latest version of software, called 30R02.03. Robert Behler, the director of operational test and evaluation (DOT&E), said in an Aug. memo that the new software was needed to correct deficiencies with the F-35’s Air-to-Air Range Infrastructure system, which will allow testers to evaluate the jet during range-based testing. Preliminary IOT&E activities began earlier this year, and included two ship missions against low-end threats, cold weather tests and a close-air-support assessment.
Earlier this month, the Defense Department’s top acquisition official — Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment — certified that the F-35 was ready to begin IOT&E, concurring with the F-35 joint program office’s recommendation to start testing in mid-November, said her spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Andrews in a statement. The decision was made after an Oct. 2 operational test readiness review.
Currently, the Defense Department is slated to make a decision on full rate production by the end of 2019, but IOT&E activities will need to be complete before a declaration is made. (Source: Defense News)
16 Oct 18. Why today’s troops fear a new war is coming soon. Nearly half of all current military troops believe the United States will be drawn into a major war soon, a jarring rise in anxiety among service members worried about global instability in general and Russia and China in particular, according to a new Military Times poll of active-duty troops. About 46 percent of troops who responded to the anonymous survey of currently serving Military Times readers said they believe the U.S. will be drawn into a new war within the next year. That’s a jarring increase from only about 5 percent who said the same thing in a similar poll conducted in September 2017. Another 50 percent think the country will not end up in a major conflict during the next year. But that number is falling, down from more than two-thirds of those surveyed last fall who said a war was unlikely.
The fears of war come as President Donald Trump in the last year has repeatedly emphasized improving military readiness in the face of growing threats from foreign adversaries, both loosely affiliated terrorist groups and traditional major power rivals. At the same time, top Pentagon officials have spoken publicly about the need to prepare for a conflict against a “near-peer” adversary. When asked about specific countries, troops said Russia and China were among their top concerns. The poll showed a big increase in the number of troops who identify those two countries as significant or major threats: About 71 percent of troops said Russia was a significant threat, up 18 points from last year’s survey. And 69 percent of troops said China poses a significant threat, up 24 points from last year.
Some top Pentagon officials have voiced similar views. Last year, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller told Marines that he thought there was a “big-ass fight” on the horizon.
“I hope I’m wrong, but there’s a war coming,” Neller told Marines in Norway.
Cyber-terrorism topped the list of threats to U.S. security in the Military Times poll. Nearly 89 percent of those surveyed listed it as a significant threat, with more than half of those calling it a major concern. And many troops worry the U.S. is not fully prepared for cyber warfare. One-third of service members said they disapprove of the country’s current policies on combating cyber terrorism. Only about 13 percent said they strongly back government and military efforts underway.
Foreign terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State group were seen as less of a threat than domestic terrorist groups. About 57 percent of troops see U.S.-based Islamic extremists as a significant threat, compared to 49 percent for other domestic terrorist groups and 48 percent for foreign ones. Last year, more than 59 percent of troops said Al Qaeda and ISIS posed significant threats.
The biggest decrease shown in this year’s poll was North Korea, which was seen as a significant threat by more than 72 percent of troops one year ago, but in this year’s poll only 46 percent described the country that way.
In the last year, U.S. posture toward North Korea has also seen a dramatic shift. Trump moved from mocking North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on social media last fall — calling him “Little Rocket Man” — to publicly proclaiming his respect for the controversial dictator, following a peace summit between the two in June.
Even with U.S. forces still deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan — or perhaps because of it — those countries were seen as a significant threat by less than 13 percent of the armed forces. That’s well behind Iran (41 percent), Syria (24 percent) and Saudi Arabia (18 percent).
Similar to past polls, those conflict zones were also seen as a lesser threat to U.S. national security than white nationalists (35 percent, up slightly from a year ago) and immigration (23 percent, steady from a year ago).
“It has never been this bad”
One of the Military Times poll respondents, an Army recruiter with more than 18 years of service, said Trump’s handling of the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear weapons looked risky at times, but overall the soldier approves of how Trump is going “toe-to-toe” in negotiations.
“It was kind of scary, but he had the guts to go over there and stand up for what a lot of Americans are believing in,” the recruiter, who asked not to be identified by name, told Military Times in a telephone interview.
Some services members believe that President Trump is contributing to the instability and fears. One soldier, a female Army sergeant first class based in Hawaii who asked to remain anonymous, said she’s has seen junior enlisted soldier opt to not re-enlist due to fears that a major war could erupt soon, and that Trump has made the chances of such a war more likely.
“I feel it has never been this bad and with this many adversaries, because of the way he [Trump] chooses to do business,” she told Military Times in a telephone interview.
She is afraid of a “constant conflict” occurring soon, of endless deployments and fighting.
“With the way we’re growing our force, I tell my soldiers the reason we are growing the force is because we need you, and we’re going to fight,” she said.
Troops voiced overwhelming support for Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the retired Marine Corps general, and hope that he will curtail some of the president’s riskiest impulses.
“I think that it is a scary thing when I hear some of the stuff on the news and how stuff is being handled. I do think we have an excellent secretary of defense who kind of keeps us on an even keel as much as he can,” said an enlisted sailor based in California who asked for anonymity. “But it is scary to think about what could happen, just from somebody saying the wrong thing.”
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jay Thompson, an Army helicopter pilot at Fort Drum, New York, said he doesn’t think China or Russia wants war any more than the United States does, and that will help temper tensions.
“No one is seeking the peer-on-peer war,” he said.
Between Sept. 20 and Oct. 2, Military Times, in collaboration with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University, conducted a voluntary, confidential online survey of U.S. service members. The survey included 19 questions on service members’ opinion(s) related to the current political climate, policy and national security in the United States.
The survey received 829 responses from active-duty troops. The IVMF used standard methodology to estimate the weights for each individual observation of the survey sample. The margin of error for most questions was roughly 2 percent.
The survey audience was 89 percent male and 11 percent female and had an average age of about 31 years old. The respondents identified themselves as 76 percent white, 13 percent Hispanic, 9 percent African American, 5 percent Asian and 6 percent other ethnicities. Respondents were able to select more than one race. (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Military Times)
16 Oct 18. Chiefs of Defense Conference Looks to ‘Win the Peace’ Against Violent Extremism. “It’s not about winning the war. It’s about winning the peace,” was an expression heard often today at the Counter Violent Extremist Organizations Chiefs of Defense Conference here today.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, hosted the gathering, which drew representatives from 83 nations, including all the U.S. combatant commanders and commanders of counter terrorism operations from around the world. Dunford and Brett McGurk, the U.S. special envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, spoke to Pentagon reporters during a break.
This was the third chiefs of defense conference. It started in 2016 with 40 countries. “Last year we had 71 [countries] and this year 83, so we are pleased with the turnout,” the general said.
Combating Violent Extremism
Over the past two years there has been real and quantifiable military progress against violent extremism. But that does not mean the campaign is over. Nations now must particularly address the underlying conditions that lead to radicalization, and that requires a whole-of-government approach, the chairman said.
There is a military dimension and chiefs of defense play an important role. The chiefs generally deal with the counterterrorism fight and mass migration. But getting after the underlying conditions – building economies, establishing schools and hospitals and infrastructure and improving legitimate governance is a broader issue.
“What we’ve tried to do throughout the day is ensure that we have in context the role of the chiefs of defense,” Dunford said. “One of the things that I think most of them will be more empowered to do when they return to their countries is describe the nature of the challenges we face and help craft more comprehensive solutions to deal with violent extremism.”
The military can deal with the symptoms of terrorism, but it cannot solve the root cause. The chiefs of defense themselves are a network aimed at taking on a network. The chiefs’ network opens up opportunities to share information, share intelligence and share best practices and then, where appropriate, to take collective action, the chairman said.
The chiefs discussed countering violent extremism around the world, from West Africa and the Sahel to Libya and the maritime operation the European Union is conducting there. They discussed the fight against ISIS and al-Qaida. They discussed the operations in Afghanistan. They also talked about the Sulu Sea and the challenges in Southeast Asia.
Dunford said he was pleased with the good dialogue at the meeting. The chiefs “came prepared to engage and have a discussion,” he added.
Stabilization, Sustainment Effort
McGurk called the defeat-ISIS campaign in Iraq and Syria a microcosm of the counter violent extremist organizations campaign worldwide. “The theme of the day is the conventional fight. While not over, we can see the endpoint,” he said. “But that is not the end of the campaign. We talked about transitioning to a new phase really focusing on the stabilization and sustainment effort.”
He noted that nations have announced $300m in contributions just over the last five months enabling stabilization initiatives in Syria. This is giving hope in even in very difficult places like Raqqa – the former capital of the so-called ISIS caliphate – where 150,000 Syrians have returned to their homes.
In Iraq, the U.S.-led effort has now trained over 170,000 members of the security forces. “We had a good presentation today from the commander of the new NATO Training Mission to Iraq that will continue to professionalize the force,” McGurk said. The United States announced today $178m will go to vulnerable communities in Iraq that were so damaged by the fight and campaign and the genocidal acts of ISIS.
Getting information and intelligence to the countries that can act upon it is important, as well. Dunford said nations in Africa and Southeast Asia are looking at establishing fusion centers where regional nations can share this vital information. (Source: US DoD)
15 Oct 18. L3-Harris Merger May Signal Pentagon Demand is Approaching A Peak. This weekend’s announcement that second-tier military contractors L3 Technologies and Harris are merging is the latest indication that sector executives are expecting domestic demand for military hardware to peak in the near future. Defense companies tend to consolidate when the outlook for organic growth softens, and while that hasn’t happened yet, there are multiple reasons why it could occur after 2020. L3 and Harris may be trying to get ahead of that curve. One reason, ironically, is the surge in Pentagon funding that has occurred under President Trump. The Trump plan originally was to raise military outlays 5% after inflation every year through 2023. But because of alarming threat indications, the White House decided to take the whole increase in 2018. That meant raising the Pentagon’s annual outlays by an amount greater than Germany’s entire defense budget. But it also meant there would be no further increases beyond inflation in subsequent years.
Defense contractors have benefited handsomely from the surge in military spending after years of depressed equipment purchases, but they now confront the prospect that (to quote the deputy secretary of defense) military budgets will flatline for the remainder of Trump’s tenure. So once they adjust to the higher level of spending made possible by Trump’s presidency, the prospects for further growth in domestic demand during the early years of the next decade will not be favorable.
A second reason to fear softening domestic demand going forward is that interest rates are rising at time when America has accumulated the biggest federal debt in postwar history. Every time interest rates increase 1%, the annual cost of servicing the debt balloons by over $200bn. If interest rates were to revert to historic norms — an outcome the Federal Reserve seems to be encouraging — it might require a quarter of the entire federal budget just to keep up with debt obligations. The added money would have to come from elsewhere in the budget.
L3 Technologies was recently awarded an Air Force contract to shift sensors and other equipment from aging “Compass Call” electronic warfare planes to a militarized version of the General Dynamics Gulfstream 550 business jet. Which leads to the third factor shaping future Pentagon demand, the spending priorities of a hyper-partisan political system. Defense is not the top priority, entitlements and debt service are. Once those items are covered, the partisans turn to defense and domestic discretionary programs like criminal justice and education. Republicans typically favor robust military spending, but within defense accounts readiness and personnel get funded before military hardware. “Modernization,” as it is called, often becomes a bill-payer.
So, it’s easy to see why defense executives might be looking ahead and trying to prepare for a flat-demand environment. The best-positioned companies in the sector, like Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, have good prospects for increasing overseas sales, growing commercial revenues and mining their backlogs for better margins. But even they have been reshaping their portfolios and making acquisitions of late, suggesting that nobody expects the good times in defense to continue indefinitely.
Against that backdrop, the L3-Harris merger looks like a classic move to gain market share through combination rather than competitive outcomes. With some companies already bidding very aggressively for new military business, the chances of taking market share from rivals do not look promising. To obtain the necessary mass to remain players as the sector consolidates and integrates vertically in the years ahead, second-tier players will need to combine.
In the case of L3 Harris Technologies — the proposed name of the new entity — L3 will bring bigger revenues to the table ($10bn annually versus $6bn), but Harris will bring stronger margins. The companies say their “merger of equals” will create the sixth largest U.S. defense contractor and one of the ten biggest military suppliers globally, which certainly sounds like sufficient mass to remain competitive. Their business lines are complementary, mostly in military electronics, but without raising major antitrust concerns.
The underlying synergy is reflected in the fact that Harris is best known for its radios, and L3 began life as a spin-off from Lockheed Martin with the name “L3 Communications.” Electronic content tends to dominate the design of modern combat systems, and few companies will have greater expertise in that highly fungible skill area than L3 Harris. On the other hand, competition in military electronics is fierce, with players such as BAE Systems and Raytheon having at least as much depth and breadth in the marketplace as the new entity.
For L3 Chairman Chris Kubasik, the transaction is a second chance to reshape the defense sector. Kubasik was pushed out of industry leader Lockheed Martin on the eve of assuming the CEO’s mantle, and he has spent much of the time since that happened finding his way back into the industry. Unlike others in a similar predicament he has succeeded, thanks to a quick mind and the high marks he received for steering Lockheed through some tough times on Wall Street.
Time will tell whether he can bring that same magic to L3 Harris, but under the terms of the merger he will ascend to the role of CEO in two years — succeeding Harris Chairman William Brown — and then he will become Chairman of the combination a year later. That should be just about the time that market conditions reward the kind of dynamic outreach Kubasik once exemplified at Lockheed Martin. (Source: defense-aerospace.com/Forbes)
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