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17 May 19. Donald Trump says he hopes US can avoid war with Iran. Democrats demand proof from administration on claims of increased threat from Tehran. Tensions are running high between Washington and Tehran following a series of warnings by US officials of unspecified ‘escalatory action’ by Iran. President Donald Trump said he hoped the US would not go to war with Iran, cooling tensions at the end of a week in which worries spiked over the risk of conflict between the US and the Islamic republic. As he stood outside the West Wing waiting to meet Swiss president Ueli Maurer on Thursday, Mr Trump was asked by a reporter whether the US was going to war with Iran.
He replied: “I hope not.” The president’s retort followed growing speculation that he was less supportive of engaging Iran than his hawkish advisers. Western diplomats in Tehran said Iran remained wary of not provoking the US to strike the country as the Islamic republic’s strategy was to avoid a military confrontation. “Iran has no interest in a war with the US. Why would Iran even think of striking the US first?” said a senior western diplomat in Tehran. “And Trump is not into a war, either, unless the two sides are caught in an accidental war.” The New York Times reported on Thursday that Mr Trump — in a meeting the previous morning — had told Patrick Shanahan, the acting defence secretary, that he did not want to go to war with Iran The White House did not respond to requests for comment on the matter.
Although the US and Iran do not have a formal diplomatic relationship, Switzerland serves as a “protecting power” for the US in the country, meaning it represents the US in Tehran. Mr Maurer told reporters on Thursday that Iran had taken up less of his conversation with Mr Trump than expected. “Iran has not been that big of an issue, the discussion has not been majorly about Iran,” he said. Earlier, US lawmakers demanded to see intelligence on the increased threat the Trump administration says Iran poses to American interests as questions grew about the evidence on which Washington’s claims are based. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee, said that it was “hard to justify” the administration’s position on Iran as it refused to provide Congress with “specifics about what these increased threats actually are”. Tensions have been running high between Washington and Tehran following a series of warnings by US officials of unspecified “escalatory action” by Iran, which have been accompanied by US military deployments to the region. Mr Menendez said senators were requesting “a comprehensive briefing from appropriate, senior level administration officials on exactly what these increased threats are, and whether there is consensus within our intelligence community and the broader national security structure.”
John Bolton, the US national security adviser who has in the past called for regime change in Iran, announced last week that the US was deploying an aircraft carrier strike group, bombers and other military assets to the Middle East as he talked up the threat he said Iran posed. He said the US would respond to any attack with “unrelenting force”. But Mr Trump this week dismissed a report that defence officials are revising a plan that envisaged the US deploying up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East if Iran attacked American forces. Why tensions are rising in the Middle East Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House of Representatives Speaker, said the administration had “no authorisation” to declare war with Iran. “I like what I hear from the president that he has no appetite for this. It’s one of the places where I agree with the president,” said Ms Pelosi, who added that some of Mr Trump’s supporters were “rattling sabres”. On Wednesday the US ordered the departure of all non-essential staff from its diplomatic missions in Iraq, citing security concerns. The New York Times reported that the intelligence behind the White House warnings on the Iranian threat comprised photographs of suspected Iranian missiles on board boats in the Gulf.
However, Jim Risch, the Republican chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, said the president was responding to a “wide range of intelligence information”, and not “just” the pictures. On Wednesday Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator, said: “I would urge the state department and [Pentagon] to come down here and explain to us what’s going on because I have no idea what the threat stream is beyond what I read in the paper.” Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, has demanded a full briefing from Mr Shanahan and General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. Intelligence officials were expected to brief a small number of lawmakers, including Ms Pelosi, on Thursday afternoon. Adding to nervousness in the region, the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen said on Thursday that it had conducted a series of air strikes on Houthi rebels in retaliation for attacks on the kingdom’s oil infrastructure in recent days.
The Iran-aligned Houthis claimed responsibility for a drone attack on Saudi oil pumping stations earlier this week. Riyadh said the attack caused “limited damage” to the stations run by Saudi Aramco, the state oil company, on its east-west pipeline. The drone attack came days after two Saudi oil tankers were among four vessels struck in a sabotage operation off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. Nobody has claimed responsibility for the ship attacks. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are Mr Trump’s staunchest Arab allies in his efforts to counter Iran’s regional influence. Arab News, a Saudi pro-government paper, on Thursday called for surgical strikes against Iran, saying the Trump administration had set a precedent by bombing Syria in the wake of gas attacks. “There has to be deterrent and punitive action in order for Iran to know that no sinister act will go unpunished; that action, in our opinion, should be a calculated surgical strike,” the paper said. Jeremy Hunt, the British foreign minister, said the UK shared “the same assessment of the heightened threat posed by Iran”.
“As always we work closely with the US,” he said on Twitter. Recommended Global Insight Edward Luce US sets course for its next Middle Eastern war of choice Britain’s Foreign Office was frustrated that comments by the British deputy commander of the US-led coalition against Isis were interpreted as the UK’s government position and signalled scepticism about the US’s warnings in London, an official said. In a video briefing with the Pentagon on Tuesday, Major General Christopher Ghika had said there was “no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria”. On Thursday, the UK defence ministry raised the threat level for its troops stationed in Iraq. Although the UK says British troops do not have a combat role in Iraq, Britain has 400 soldiers on the ground. Working with allies in the global coalition against Isis, they provide training and equipment to Iraqi and Kurdish security forces. The defence ministry declined to comment on why the threat level had been raised or whether it was connected to a specific Iranian security threat against British or allied assets in the region. The Netherlands and Germany said earlier this week that they would be suspending their military training missions in the country. (Source: FT.com)
15 May 19. GAO recommends actions for DoD to improve special operations oversight. The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that the Department of Defense (DoD) has not set timeframes for planned actions and has not clearly described the roles and responsibilities of DoD and special operations, which have become key challenges in improving oversight. Congress has recently directed the DoD to improve its oversight of special operations.
In a recent study, the GAO found that the DoD has increasingly relied upon Special Operations Forces since the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001. The number of personnel has increased from 45,000 to 70,000 and the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) budget has more than doubled from $5.2bn in 2005 to $12.3bn in 2018.
The GOA said that since 2017, the DoD has made several recommendations, developed actions and taken steps to address requirements in Section 922 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for the fiscal year 2017. These expanded the roles and responsibilities of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflicts (ASD-SO/LIC).
The study found that in 2018, the DoD identified 166 recommendations to change the ASD-SO/LIC’s oversight of special operations forces (SOF).
Based on the recommendations, 87 actions that were necessary to implement Section 922 were developed. The DOD has implemented 56 of these actions since February 2019.
Although the office of the ASD-SO/LIC has taken actions to implement Section 922, the DoD faces two key challenges. Lack of timeframes and unclear guidance can impact the implementation of the ASD-SO/LIC’s new roles and responsibilities.
The GAO found that as of February, 28 out of 31 unimplemented actions associated with Section 922 did not have clear timeframes for implementation. In addition, current guidance about ASD-SO/LIC responsibilities is outdated.
While the DoD states that the ASD-SO/LIC shall report directly to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Section 922 states that SOF-related administrative matters are managed directly by the Secretary of Defense to the ASD-SO/LIC.
According to the study, unless roles and responsibilities are clarified in guidance, other DoD stakeholders, including the military services, will not know the extent of the authorities and responsibilities of ASD-SO/LIC and SOCOM.
The GAO has made recommendations to the DoD to establish timeframes to implement Section 922 actions, update guidance to clarify roles and responsibilities for the ASD-SO/LIC and SOCOM, as well as develop a strategic workforce plan that incorporates key principles. (Source: army-technology.com)
14 May 19. U.S. Defends Gulf Military Build-up, Says It’s ‘Not Spoiling for Fight.’ Amid growing concerns of a conflict between the United States and Iran, U.S. officials have told their European allies that its military buildup in the Persian Gulf region is a “defensive” move in response to multiple threats coming out of Iran. Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, told RFE/RL that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered that message to European leaders in Brussels on May 13 — adding that Washington was “just trying to restore deterrence.”
“We’re not spoiling for a fight,” Hook told RFE/RL on May 14.
Hook said the military assets that the United States has deployed in the Persian Gulf region are part of “a defensive move in light of all the multiple plot vectors that our intelligence community was seeing coming out of Iran.”
“If we didn’t put in place assets to defend ourselves that would be negligent,” Hook said.
Some analysts have said that with the growing presence of U.S. military hardware and troops in the Persian Gulf, even the slightest misstep could set off a serious conflict in the region.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on May 13 before meeting with Pompeo in Brussels that Britain, France, and Germany were “very worried about the risk of a conflict happening by accident with an escalation that is unintended really on either side.”
Hook would not comment officially on The New York Times report, but he said any buildup was being made “in order to make sure that we’re prepared if attacked.”
“We’re always prepared if attacked. But in light of the very credible threat-reporting that we were seeing, it was important that we do this,” Hook said.
The White House and the Pentagon did not immediately comment on The New York Times report.
Last week, Washington announced the deployment of an aircraft carrier battle group and a bomber task force to the Persian Gulf to counter what U.S. officials called “clear indications” of Iranian threats to the interests of the United States or its allies in the region.
Washington has imposed a series of sanctions on Iranian oil and metal exports to increase pressure on Tehran to give up what it calls “malign” activities, such as attempting to develop nuclear weapons and financing militant activity in the region. The United States withdrew a year ago from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and has since imposed increasingly strict sanctions on Tehran. In pulling out of the accord, Trump said the terms were not tough enough to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and did not address Iran’s missile program or Tehran’s alleged support for militants in the region.
Hook said Washington and European leaders were on the same page in their assessment of the threat posed by Iran, even if they disagree about staying in the accord.
“So if you look at the record, it’s very clear that Europe is also concerned about Iranian aggression,” Hook said.
“They would like Iran to knock it off. They would also like Iran to stay in the Iran nuclear deal so that they never acquire a nuclear weapon. We just think being outside the deal gives us better odds than that,” Hook said.
Hook also downplayed one point of contention with Europe: a new trade mechanism recently launched by Germany, France, and Britain to allow financial flows to be sent to Iran that would not violate U.S. sanctions.
Known as INSTEX, the special-purpose mechanism focuses on areas not targeted by U.S. sanctions, including pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and agricultural products.
“The Iranians have not put in place the transparent financial system that allows this to be operational, so, I’m not sure it will ever get off the ground,” he said.
“We don’t see any corporate demand for it,” Hook said.
Tehran has accused Washington of engaging in “psychological warfare” with its recent moves. Iran denies it supports insurgent activity and has said its nuclear program is strictly for civilian energy purposes. (Source: defense-aerospace.com/Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty)
13 May 19. US Air Force nuclear, space programs take hit in border wall reprogramming. In the wake of the Pentagon reprogramming $1.5bn in fiscal 2019 funds to support President Donald Trump’s border wall with Mexico, only the U.S. Air Force appears to be losing money appropriated for equipment updates. The funding largely comes from personnel accounts in the Air Force, Navy and Army. But the Air Force is the only service to lose funding for hardware, including nuclear and conventional weapons, surveillance aircraft updates, and space programs.
Overall, the Pentagon reprogrammed $818.465m from FY19 defense appropriations, as well as $681.535m from FY19 overseas contingency operations accounts, or OCO, to reach that $1.5bn total.
Lawmakers expressed concern that the use of military resources and manpower on the southern border will damage military readiness. However, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said last week that ongoing deployments to support the Defense Department aren’t doing so.
“We’ve seen no degradation to readiness,” he told Senate appropriators May 8 at a defense budget hearing. “In fact, in some cases, it’s enhanced our readiness because the troops get to perform certain functions.”
Congressional Democrats and some Republicans have objected to the administration’s use of this mechanism for funding the president’s border wall, arguing it bypasses Congress’ constitutional power of the purse. For the second time in recent weeks, the Pentagon ignored decades of precedent and carried out the transfer of funds without first consulting with the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Senate Appropriations Committee’s top Democrat, led a letter to Shanahan on May 10 to object to the latest instance, saying it harms hurricane cleanup at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.
“We are dismayed that the Department has chosen to prioritize a political campaign promise over the disaster relief needs of our service members, given the finite reprogramming authority available,” the lawmakers wrote.
They noted that Shanahan’s decision to notify Congress of the reprogramming came a day after he testified before the subpanel that oversees defense spending, and they wrote that they welcomed his views on “how you intend to repair the damaged relationship between the defense oversight committees and the [Defense] Department.”
The letter was also signed by the Senate Armed Services Committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Jack Reed, as well as Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin, Brian Schatz, Tom Udall, Patty Murray, Chris Murphy, Tammy Baldwin, Dianne Feinstein and Jon Tester.
The reprogramming could be a topic at Shanahan’s future confirmation hearing for the full job of defense secretary. A date for that hearing has not been set.
Why the Air Force?
About half of the non-OCO $818m sum the Defense Department wants to redirect to the border comes from Air Force accounts, with space and missile programs taking the biggest hit. In total, the Pentagon expects the service to shear $402m off its FY19 budget.
About $210m would be cut from Air Force space programs, specifically the Evolved Expandable Launch Vehicle program, which funds the use of rockets that send satellites and other capabilities into space. According to the reprogramming document, one rocket launch has been canceled due to the “Space Test Program (STP)-4 satellite provider termination of the Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) spacecraft,” which is no longer necessary under the National Security Strategy.
The Air Force’s program for modernizing its E-3 Sentry early warning aircraft — more commonly called AWACS — also could lose funding that it no longer needs in FY19.
The program, “Diminishing Manufacturing Sources Replacement of Avionics for Global Operations and Navigation,” or DRAGON, updates the E-3’s avionics and brings it into compliance with future air traffic control requirements. But it is moving too slowly to use all of the funds it was appropriated in FY19, so the administration aims to have $57m diverted for border protection.
DRAGON has been delayed for two reasons, according to the reprogramming request. First, “aircraft have been available for programmed depot maintenance” at a slower-than-planned rate, dragging out the modification schedule. Additionally, DRAGON integration can only occur after AWACS are upgraded to the Block 40/45 configuration, and not all aircraft have gone through that process.
The Air Force sees AWACS as a key part of its initial version of the Advanced Battle Management System, a family of systems that will provide ground surveillance across the different military services. Instead of retiring seven E-3s in FY18, Gen. Mike Holmes, head of Air Combat Command, said those planes could be upgraded with new sensors and communications gear.
However, DRAGON isn’t the only modernization effort for the Sentry that is moving slower than expected. In November, Bloomberg reported that the service terminated a contract with Boeing to upgrade the AWAC’s characteristic disc-shaped radar due to repeated delays.
Other Air Force programs that will take a hit include a planned upgrade to the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile and the air-launched cruise missile programs.
A number of top defense officials previously said nuclear modernization is the top priority for the Pentagon, including Ellen Lord, the department’s acquisition head, who on May 1 told Congress: “We have weapons that are decades over what was supposed to be their useful life. And we are out of time. We need to continue on the path we’re on, or we are going to fall behind and not have the nuclear deterrence that we enjoy today.”
The document reprograms $24.3m, of the $124.5m appropriated in FY19, from the Minuteman III Launch Control Block Upgrade program; the document claims funds are available due to a “slip in the production schedule for FY 2020.”
Meanwhile, $29.6m — more than half of the $47.6m appropriated for the air-launched cruise missile programs in FY19 — will be reprogrammed. The explanation for that change: “Funds are available due to contract savings from reduced guided missile flight controller modification requirements; and due to lack of executable requirements for Support Equipment and Low Cost Mods in FY 2019.”
The reprogramming of funds for the Hellfire missile is also notable, as the Pentagon has identified a lack of munitions stockpiles as a major issue to address in its budget request. As an example, the FY20 budget called for the maximum rate of production possible on Hellfire: $730.8m for 9,000 of the weapons.
The document states that funds are “available due to contract savings from all variants that provide precision kill capabilities. Savings are attributed to negotiated lower unit costs per missile system.” (Source: Defense News)
10 May 19. Statement from the Department of Defense on Additional Forces to U.S. Central Command. The Acting Secretary of Defense has approved the movement of USS Arlington (LPD-24) and a Patriot battery to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) as part of the command’s original request for forces from earlier this week.
These assets will join the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a U.S. Air Force bomber task force in the Middle East region in response to indications of heightened Iranian readiness to conduct offensive operations against U.S. forces and our interests.
The Department of Defense continues to closely monitor the activities of the Iranian regime, their military and proxies. Due to operational security, we will not discuss timelines or location of forces.
The United States does not seek conflict with Iran, but we are postured and ready to defend U.S. forces and interests in the region.
USS Arlington is a San Antonio-class ship that transports U.S. Marines, amphibious vehicles, conventional landing craft and rotary aircraft with the capability to support amphibious assault, special operations, or expeditionary warfare missions.
USS Arlington also provides a high quality command and control capability and improved interoperability with our allies and partners in the region.
A Patriot battery is a long-range, all-weather air defense system to counter tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and advanced aircraft. (Source: US DoD)
11 May 19. Pentagon acquisition boss offers timeline, cost details for next F-35 contract. The next deal between the U.S. government and F-35 fighter jet manufacturer Lockheed Martin is expected to be finalized by July, potentially putting the contract announcement around the time of a major annual air show.
“We continue to negotiate, and in fact we are hoping to wrap up here very shortly,” Ellen Lord, the Pentagon’s top acquisition official, said about the Lot 12 negotiations during a Friday briefing with reporters. “We would like to have a contract award in the June/July time frame.”
That time frame could match up with the Paris Air Show, held this year June 17-23. The event is set to be one of the largest global air shows for 2019. It is common for the Pentagon to announce an initial agreement before contracts are signed, and many of the F-35 partners are expected to be in attendance at the event.
The Lot 11 agreement brought the price per F-35A down to less than $90m for the first time, and Lord expressed her belief that costs should continue to go down in Lot 12.
The Defense Department considered a multiyear contract to cover lots 15, 16 and 17, but Gen. Mat Winter, the F-35 program head, seemed to throw cold water on that during a recent hearing, saying that “to date, the return on investment provided by our industry partner in regards to a multiyear procurement does not support proceeding with this acquisition approach.”
For her part, Lord called it “premature” to discuss what may happen in those future lots, adding: “I’m not sure I would call [a multiyear deal] a goal. It’s under consideration. There are questions about the benefits of doing that as well as the negatives of doing that … any decision I make will be a data-driven decision.”
Lord also indicated the next two years of procurement plans may be impacted if a spat between the U.S. and Turkey over its future participation in the F-35 program boils over.
The Trump administration and members of Congress have threatened Turkey’s participation in the program should it go through with a planned procurement of a Russian anti-air system; for their part, Turkish officials have said the plan to procure the S-400 is a “done deal.”
Asked what impact losing Turkey as an industrial partner could have on the overall program, Lord said: “We see a potential slowing down of some deliveries over the next two years, some potential cost impacts, but right now we believe we can minimize both of those and are working on refining them.” (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Defense News)
10 May 19. Major Problems Persist With JLTV, Zumwalt Destroyer, GAO Finds. The Pentagon’s purchase of $1.69trn worth of major weapons systems has been riddled by cost overruns, delays and other problems reflecting poor oversight, the Government Accountability Office said in its annual survey of Defense Department acquisitions.
The 229-page report subtitled “Limited Use of Knowledge-Based Practices Continues to Undercut DOD’s Investments” recommended that the DoD do a better job of checking out the design for a weapons system and what it’s supposed to do before buying it.
“Completion of a preliminary design review prior to starting development” would be advisable, the GAO said in its 17th annual survey of defense acquisitions, released Tuesday. “This lack of knowledge and the effects it can have throughout a program’s acquisition life cycle can increase the risk of undesirable cost and schedule outcomes.”
The report included breakouts on 51 of the 82 major weapons systems examined, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Zumwalt-class stealthy destroyer, Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) and KC-46 aerial refueling tanker.
The GAO said that the DoD’s program office for the F-35 is continuing “to address over 900 deficiencies identified with the aircraft’s performance prior to the end of development testing.”
The report cited as an example the development of “a new helmet mounted display, which will resolve an existing green glow effect that can distort a pilot’s vision during night time carrier landings. Program officials expect installation of some of the new displays in 2019.”
The Navy is still trying to figure out what to do about the two 155mm deck guns that had been planned for the three Zumwalt-class destroyers, the GAO report said. In development, the Navy found that the cost for a single round for the guns was roughly $800,000.
“Following an evaluation of five other munition options, the Navy determined that no viable replacement, guided or unguided, was feasible,” the report said. “As a result, the guns will remain inoperable on the ships for the foreseeable future.”
In January 2018, the Navy changed the primary mission for the Zumwalt class from land attack to offensive surface strike.
“According to Navy officials, the Navy’s planned modifications to support the new mission will cost about $1bn,” the report said.
On JLTV, “the Army and Marine Corps recently concluded operational testing for JLTV and found the vehicles to be survivable for the crew and effective for small combat and transport missions,” the GAO report said.
However, the services also concluded that that the JLTVs were “not operationally suitable because of their high maintenance needs, low reliability, training and manual deficiencies, and safety shortcomings,” the report said.
For the Boeing KC-46 Pegasus air refueling tanker, one of several problems Air Force program officials discovered in development is that “the aerial refueling operator’s screen does not provide sufficient visual sharpness and adaptation to changing background and lighting to allow for safe refueling in all environmental conditions,” the report said.
Boeing is making software fixes without cost to the government, the GAO report said.
As in past surveys, the report hit on a lack of competition on contracts, and often no competition at all, as a factor in rising costs.
The department “did not compete 67 percent of 183 major contracts currently reported” on 82 major weapons systems programs, the report said.
In addition, the report said that the DoD “awarded 47 percent of these 183 contracts to five corporations and entities connected with them:” Lockheed Martin Corp., Boeing, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman and United Technologies.
The report noted that the annual survey is coming out at “a time of significant change at DoD” in how it purchases weapons with oversight responsibilities for many programs transferred to the military services that manage them.
However, “we found that costs continue to increase for many of these programs — even those that started after major acquisition reforms were adopted in 2010,” the report said. “This is troubling because these reforms were supposed to limit cost growth.”
The report said that the DoD “generally concurred” with the findings. In a letter to the GAO, Stacy Cummings, the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense, said the DoD “remains committed to driving down the costs of our weapons systems and reducing the time it takes to deliver them to our warfighters.”
The DoD is striving to implement knowledge-based acquisition practices and it “agrees that competition is the best way to reduce price, even as the American industrial base is evolving,” Cummings said. (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Military.com)
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