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27 June 19. US Senate passes its defense policy bill 86-8, setting up fight with House. Senators on Thursday overwhelmingly passed a $750bn defense authorization bill for next year despite concerns from congressional Democrats over the size spending totals, an expansion of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and a lack of a check on President Donald Trump’s war powers. The 86-8 vote all but erased a week of uncertainty surrounding the must-pass budget policy measure, which has passed Congress for more than five consecutive decades. That measure has faced a difficult path this year as the White House and Democratic leaders spar over a host of military issues. Among the Democratic presidential candidates, Sens. Corey Booker and Amy Klobuchar voted “nay,” while Sens. Michael Bennet, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren did not vote — likely due to the primary debates in Florida this week. Republicans Mike Braun, Rand Paul and Mike Lee also voted “nay” alongside Democrats Ed Markey, Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., framed the bill as a continuation of the Trump administration’s efforts to “rebuild” the military and to counter threats from around the globe.
“The world is more unstable and dangerous than any time in my lifetime,” Inhofe said when he introduced the bill. “The National Defense Strategy gave it to us straight: strategic competition with China and Russia; continuing threats from rogue countries like Iran and North Korea, and terrorist organizations; new technology and new war-fighting domains in outer space and cyberspace; not to mention, years of underfunding under the previous administration.”
“This is a very good bill,” the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, said in the run up to the vote. “It passed our committee on a vote of 25-2, a totally bipartisan vote. It contains many needed authorities, funding authorizations, and reforms that will help the men and women of our armed services.”
The House is expected to vote on its version of the measure next month, after floor debates on issues of transgender enlistment, nuclear weapons limits, climate change’s impact on national security and money for President Donald Trump’s controversial southern border wall. The Senate version adopted Thursday bypasses most of those issues, but does contain authorization for about $17bn more in defense spending next year than House Democrats have backed in their appropriations measures. The two chambers are expected to reconcile their bills in conference during the weeks and months ahead.
In an unusual move designed to advance the massive defense bill before the July 4 congressional recess, senators approved the legislation on Thursday pending the outcome of a day-long vote on U.S. military involvement in Iran on Friday.
The amendment, which needs 60 votes to pass, would prohibit funding of U.S. military action against Iran without the approval of Congress.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other Senate leaders opposed the measure but allowed the vote to accommodate Democrats in Florida for the party’s primary debates. It is expected to fail, given a lack of support among the majority Republicans.
House Democrats have set a defense budget target of $733bn next year, and already adopted that level as part of a broader government appropriations plan. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., has argued that level is an appropriate increase in funding from fiscal 2019 (up about 2.4 percent) that meets military readiness and modernization needs without the potential for waste and abuse. But Inhofe has called the $750bn figure the “bare minimum” needed for the military to respond to evolving security threats. The White House and House Republican lawmakers have backed that level too.
By passing the Senate authorization bill with bipartisan backing, supporters are hoping they’ll have extra momentum for that higher spending level as they head into inter-chamber negotiations. Those will begin after the House passage of the authorization bill and are expected to last into the fall.
If the two sides can’t reach a deal on defense (and non-defense) spending levels by Oct. 1, they risk triggering another partial government shutdown.
The measure contains a 3.1 percent pay raise for troops starting next January, in line with plans from House Democrats and the White House. If approved, it will be the largest yearly pay boost troops have seen in a decade. It also goes along with White House plans to add about 6,200 service members to the active-duty force next year. Of that, about 2,500 would be added to the Navy, 2,000 for the Army, 1,700 for the Air Force and 100 for the Marine Corps.
Senators included about $300m in new spending authorities for improvements to military housing, in response to reports of substandard living conditions at bases around the country. The House defense plan includes similar provisions but only half the money. The White House’s draft includes no such plans.
On the nuclear arsenal, the Senate plan would fully fund Pentagon modernization programs, including the triad of delivery systems. That is sure to be a sticking point when the measure reaches negotiations with House Democrats, who have proposed sharp cuts in that area.
It authorizes $10 bn for 94 fifth-generation Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, adding 16 to the administration’s request, while buying eight fourth-generation F-15X aircraft for $948m, shorting the administration’s F-15X request by $162m. It also authorizes $2.8bn for 15 KC-46A aircraft, or three more.
Twelve new ships are included for $24.1bn. Submarine spending includes $4.7bn for Virginia payload modules in two Virginia-class subs and advanced funding for an additional Virginia-class submarine.
For the Army, it surpasses the administration’s request with 48 AH-64E Apaches and 33 UH-60V Black Hawk conversions, but seven fewer UH-60M Black Hawks. The service would buy 65 Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicles, 53 Paladin Integrated Management sets, and spend $393.6 m on the Stryker, adding to the administration’s request for the 30mm cannon upgrade. (Source: Defense News)
27 June 19. Here are the biggest weaknesses in America’s defense sector. Production of a component vital to protecting American troops from chemical attacks that can’t keep up with need. Key suppliers of aircraft parts that could go bankrupt at any time. A key producer of missile components that closed for two years before the Pentagon found out.
These are just some of the key findings of an annual report from the Pentagon judging the greatest risks to the defense industrial sector, underlining that while the overall defense industry continues to bring in massive profits, not all is well among the suppliers of key components that, while small pieces of larger systems, could impact America’s ability to wage war.
The annual “Industrial Capabilities” report, quietly released May 13 by the Defense Department’s Office of Manufacturing and Industrial Base Policy, found that despite total dollars spent by the department on weapons and ammunition increasing year over year since 2016, the number of vendors supplying them has decreased.
In addition, while the report found generally positive trends for the U.S. defense sector, it did warn that in certain areas, foreign weapon sales are decreasing.
For instance, the U.S. saw its market share of global naval weapon exports go from 63 percent in 2007 to just 17 percent in 2017. And from 2008-2017, two reliable buyers of U.S. defense goods — Pakistan and South Korea — saw their U.S. procurement percentages drop. Pakistan went from 31 percent to 12 percent, while South Korea went from 78 percent to 53 percent.
This is the first Industrial Capabilities report to be published since the October release of a White House-mandated study on the defense-industrial base. That study concluded, in part, that the government needs to increase use of its Defense Production Act Title III authorities, which allows the government to expend funds to support key production lines that might now otherwise survive.
The latest report says that through March 2019, seven presidential determinations were issued to address “key industrial base shortfalls in lithium sea-water batteries, alane fuel cell technology, sonobuoys production, and critical chemicals production for missiles and munitions.” However, details of those agreements, such as how much funding might go toward fixing the issues, were pushed into a nonpublic appendix.
Here are the biggest concerns, broken down by sector:
Aircraft: The report cites long product and system development timelines, high costs for development and qualification, and limits on production as broad issues in the aircraft sector. Those issues are inherent in major defense programs, but the report also calls out the aging workforce and consolidation among the industrial base, which “has expanded into the sub-tiers of the supply chain, creating additional risks for single or sole source vendors.”
As an example, the report notes there are only four suppliers with the ability to manufacture “large, complex, single-pour aluminum and magnesium sand castings” needed to make key parts of military aircraft. These four suppliers face “perpetual financial risk and experience bankruptcy threats” due to the insecure nature of Pentagon funding.
“The single qualified source for the upper, intermediate, and sump housing for a heavy-lift platform for the Marines has experienced quality issues and recently went through bankruptcy proceedings,” the report adds. “Without a qualified or alternate qualified source for these castings, the program will face delays, impeding the U.S. ability to field heavy-lift support to Marine Corps expeditionary forces.”
Finding qualified software engineers is another issue identified, with the report warning it is “increasingly difficult to hire skilled, cleared, and capable software engineers. As aircraft continue to increase in software complexity, it will become even more important for the sector to hire skilled software engineers.”
Ground systems: The report says the Pentagon’s plan of incremental updates to existing systems rather than wholesale new designs has created “a generation of engineers and scientists that lack experience in conceiving, designing, and constructing new, technologically advanced combat vehicles.” But the same issues of consolidation and lack of budget stability that showed up in the aircraft sector impact the ground vehicle sector.
“Legislation and DoD industrial policy requires DoD to manufacture all large-caliber gun barrels, howitzer barrels, and mortar tubes at one organic DoD arsenal,” the report cites as an example. “There is only one production line at the arsenal for all of these items, and policy modifications to meet demand and surge from overseas have led to a lack of capacity to meet current production requirements.”
Shipbuilding sector: When it comes to maritime vessels, the “most significant risks found were a dependence on single and sole source suppliers, capacity shortfalls, a lack of competition, a lack of workforce skills, and unstable demand,” the report found.
The lack of competition goes from the highest levels, where four companies control the seven shipyards building military vessels, to the lowest components, such as “high-voltage cable, propulsor raw material, valves, and fittings.”
Workforce concerns also dominate the shipbuilding sector. The report cites statistics from the Department of Labor predicting that between 2018 and 2026, there will be a 6–17 percent decrease in U.S. jobs in occupations critical to Navy shipbuilding projects, “such as metal layout (ship-fitting), welding, and casting.” If that is not addressed, a lack of skilled workers “will significantly impact the shipbuilding industry’s ability to meet the Navy’s long-term demand.”
Munitions sector: A major concern in last year’s annual report was the future of the U.S. munitions sector, and many of those issues remain in the 2019 version. The report identified “multiple risks and issues, including material obsolescence and lack of redundant capability, lack of visibility into sub-tier suppliers causing delays in the notification of issues, loss of design and production skill, production gaps and lack of surge capacity planning, and aging infrastructure to manufacture and test the products.”
As an example, the report points to a voltage control switch, used in ignition devices and flight termination systems for Department of Defense missiles. Several years ago, the foundry that made a key component for the switch was purchased by another foundry, which then decided to close the factory. The Pentagon was not informed until two years after the foundry was closed, at which point “it became evident that the end-of-life buy, which was designed to last from three to five years, would only last six months.”
In another case, two key chemicals in solid-fuel rocket motors became obsolete, requiring the DoD to scramble for potential replacements.
Chemical, biological and radiological sector: The chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense sector provides protection for war fighters through items like respirators, masks and vaccines. But the report found serious issues regarding the industrial base’s ability to provide that capabilities, indicating that Title III authorities might be needed in the near future to maintain production.
As an example, the report points to production of ASZM‑TEDA1 impregnated carbon, a defense-unique material with only a single qualified source that, as a result, “precludes assurances for best quality and price.” The carbon is used in 72 chemical, biological and nuclear filtration systems, and the report notes that current sourcing arrangements “cannot keep pace with demand.” The DoD is already using Title III to modernize the production line and try to establish a second source for the material.
Soldier systems: The collapse of the American textile market over the last three decades has left the department depending on single sources or foreign suppliers for soldier systems. Additionally, battery production is identified as a potential future issue.
“Lack of stable production orders has resulted in lost capability and capacity, increased surge lead times, workforce erosion, and inhibited investments by remaining suppliers. Surge-capacity-limiting constraints occur at several points along the value chain, from raw material to final battery assembly,” the report says.
Space systems: Aside from major issues around future threats to space assets from near-peer competitors, the report identifies major industrial base concerns for space as including “aerospace structures and fibers, radiation-hardened microelectronics, radiation test and qualification facilities, and satellite components and assemblies.”
Other areas include solar panel development — “There is not enough space business for companies to justify R&D to improve cells without [government] help,” the report says — the erosion of the traveling-wave tube industry, and a lack of suppliers for key parts needed to produce precision gyroscopes needed for spacefaring systems.
Electronics: The Pentagon has been sounding the alarm about China’s growing power in the printed circuit board market, and this report continues that trend. The United States now accounts for only 5 percent of global production, representing a 70 percent decrease from $10bn in 2000 to $3bn in 2015, per the report. Meanwhile, almost half of global production comes from China. (Source: Defense News)
26 June 19. Trump blasts US-Japan defence alliance, EU ahead of G20. President says Japanese would watch ‘on a Sony television’ if America were attacked. Donald Trump slammed Japan ahead of his arrival in Osaka for the G20 summit, saying the US-Japan defence alliance was lopsided and Tokyo would watch “on a Sony television” instead of fighting if the US came under attack. In an interview with Fox Business, the US president said Washington was obliged under a decades-old mutual security treaty to defend Japan if the country came under attack, but that there was no reciprocal obligation. “If Japan is attacked, we will fight World War III. We will go in and protect them with our lives and with our treasure,” Mr Trump said on Wednesday. “We will fight at all costs . . . but if we are attacked, Japan doesn’t have to help us at all. They can watch on a Sony television.” What does the president hope to gain by attacking the major ally who supports him more than any other right now? Michael Green, Center for Strategic and International Studies Mr Trump also launched a broadside against the EU and India. The president lashed out at Brussels for its pursuit of US technology companies in a series of antitrust investigations and slammed New Delhi in a tweet for introducing retaliatory tariffs after Washington revoked the country’s special trade privileges affecting about $6bn worth of goods.
The president said Margrethe Vestager, the EU antitrust commissioner, “hates” America hours after she launched an antitrust investigation against Broadcom, the US chipmaker. Brussels believes the company is “likely to hold a dominant position” in supplying components for modems and television set-top boxes. Broadcom said in a statement that “it complies with European competition rules and that the Commission’s concerns are without merit”. Ms Vestager has previously won praise in Europe for her probes of Amazon, Google and Apple over allegedly abusing their market dominance or tax avoidance. “She hates the United States perhaps worse than any person I’ve ever met,” Mr Trump said. “What she does to our country. She’s suing all our companies. We should be suing Google and Facebook . . . They’re suing Apple. They’re suing everybody.” Mr Trump has frequently criticised Japan and South Korea, another key US ally in Asia, for not bearing more of the cost of hosting American troops in their respective countries. But his latest comments will raise concerns in Tokyo as Mr Trump prepares to meet Shinzo Abe, Japanese prime minister, on Friday.
His comments will also cause worry in South Korea, which will host Mr Trump later this week for meetings with Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president, at the weekend. In two recent meetings between Mr Trump and Mr Abe — in Washington in May and in Tokyo earlier this month — the Japanese prime minister was relieved that the president did not press him on the alliance. Ahead of those meetings, White House aides and Japanese officials had worried Mr Trump might attack the deal, which is viewed by experts as the linchpin of security in the Asia-Pacific. Mr Trump has previously suggested that Japan and South Korea should adopt a “cost plus 50” formula that would see the countries pay the full cost of hosting US troops as well as an additional 50 per cent. During a visit to Japan earlier this month, Mr Trump declared that the US-Japan alliance “has never been stronger” but said Mr Abe was constantly trying to flatter him in an effort to ward off attacks about burden-sharing. Michael Green, a Japan expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think-tank, said Mr Trump’s comments were “ignorant” since there were “few scenarios” for conflict in Asia where the US and Japan would not both be in harm’s way.
“What does the president hope to gain by attacking the major ally who supports him more than any other right now?” said Mr Green. “Abe is infinitely patient but may be feeling a bit like [former Trump wives] Ivana [Trump] or Marla Maples these days. [But] he knows that the president is completely isolated within Washington in these views.” Recommended Technology regulation Donald Trump attacks EU action against US tech groups The critical remarks about a key US ally come as Mr Trump prepares to meet Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, at the G20. The president has frequently criticised Nato countries — with Germany taking the brunt of the attack — that have not met an alliance-wide goal to spend 2 per cent of gross domestic product on defence. At a Nato summit in Brussels last year, Mr Trump launched an aggressive attack on Ms Merkel that stunned other leaders. While previous US administrations have criticised Europe for not spending more on defence, Mr Trump has drawn fire for making personal attacks on the leaders of US allies as he appeared to cosy up to Vladimir Putin, Russian president. Some Democratic presidential contenders, and particularly former vice-president Joe Biden, have castigated Mr Trump for taking an aggressive approach towards allies. (Source: FT.com)
25 June 19. Big leadership changes could be first test of durability of Army’s modernization overhaul. As Army Secretary Mark Esper transitions into the role of defense secretary, with little time for the promotion to sink in, the Army is now facing its first test of whether it can stay the course with its major overhaul of its procurement system and ambitious modernization plans.
It has been viewed that much of the success the Army has seen in recent years in launching the four-star Army Futures Command in charge of modernization — that also led to reorganizations of some of the service’s major commands like Training and Doctrine Command and Army Forces Command — has been due to the fateful meeting of several unique minds and personalities at the top.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, Vice Chief Gen. James McConville, Army Secretary Mark Esper and Under Secretary Ryan McCarthy were painted by some as a dream team, a group that was able to look at major problems within the Army together and come up with a promising, ambitious and, in some ways, a non-traditional solution to make up for years of costly mistakes.
But think tankers, policy wonks, lawmakers and even some inside the defense department have wondered if the success in launching a disruptive new command has been dependent on the specific leadership at the time of its inception and whether that can survive different leadership down the road.
Now that Milley will become the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Esper, if confirmed, will become the next defense secretary, the band is breaking up and a first transition to a new group of leaders at the top of the Army is underway.
While Milley’s move has been known, Esper’s departure came as a surprise.
According to McCarthy, he was about to board a plane at Fort Bliss, Texas, the morning of June 18 when he heard the news that had been delivered to the world via tweet from President Donald Trump. In a first tweet, Trump announced that acting defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan, would be stepping down. He was expected to replace Gen. James Mattis, who resigned as defense secretary late last year. And in a second tweet, Trump said Esper would fill in as acting defense secretary.
That night, back in Washington at a rained out Army event at the National’s ball park, McCarthy, Milley and the rest of the Army staff discussed what was needed to make adjustments based on the unexpected leadership changes brought about by Esper’s anticipated rise to the top Pentagon job, according to McCarthy.
It became official that Esper would receive the nomination to become the next secretary of defense on June 24 just ahead of his trip to NATO in Brussels. Along with that announcement, McCarthy was nominated to become the next Army secretary. McConville is set to take over as Army chief this summer. With both McConville and McCarthy officially taking the lead, it’s likely, despite the tumult of a mass leadership change, that the Army will be able to stay the course with its plans because of the central role both leaders played in reshaping the Army over the past several years. For example, both were front and center with the Army chief and secretary as the service held intense sessions reviewing program after program to see where funds could be shifted to support its new modernization priorities.
Lt. Gen. Joseph Martin, who will become a four-star when he transitions, is slated to take over as Army vice chief this summer. He is already confirmed by the Senate. He previously served as the director of the Army Staff.
McCarthy told a group of reporters at the Pentagon June 25 that despite changes this summer with a new Army chief, vice chief, and sergeants major, “we have circled the wagons and really buckled down, made adjustments to our portfolios and immediate staffs and put out the word that no policies or priorities are changing.
“We are going to continue our head down and continue to march on the same azimuth that we’ve been on while we work through this transition,” he said.
Temporarily filling in for McCarthy, as a senior official performing the duties of the under secretary, is the Army general counsel James McPherson. His principal deputy is stepping up to fulfill the duties of general counsel.
McPherson told reporters at the same press briefing that his job will be to continue with the efforts of modernization reform and uphold the major tenants set out by the previous team of leaders.
“My job will be to continue to assist them,” he said.
McCarthy noted that McPherson has held the job of general counsel for the last 18 months, which, among the Army leadership set to take over, is the minimum amount of time served in a leadership role at the Pentagon.
For the Army, it will be business as usual during the transition. For instance, McCarthy said the Army is sending its next five-year defense plan off to the Office of the Secretary of Defense imminently.
And the service is still campaigning on the Hill with appropriations committees to ensure it gets the budget it needs to proceed with its major modernization overhaul.
“Our interactions with Congress will be very important between now and the August recess,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy said he is also turning his focus on recruiting after spending a year-and-a-half on modernization efforts. “It’s a very difficult environment to recruit, so I’m trying to be a recruiter now” he said. He will travel to Fort Knox, Kentucky, next week to visit with Army Recruiting Command, he noted, and to see cadets at ROTC training.
In the fall, the Army will have to move right into program budget reviews with OSD, “so a lot of the same big rocks that you have to push every year, we will have to do now,” he said. “We will cover down on that as Esper makes the shift down the hall.” (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Defense News)
25 June 19. China May rare earth magnet exports to U.S. jump amid threat of restrictions. China’s exports of rare earth magnets to the United States rose more than 20% in May from the previous month to their highest since at least 2016, data released by the General Administration of Customs showed on Tuesday, as Beijing considers restricting shipments as part of a long-running trade row. Rare earth magnets are widely used in medicine, consumer electronics and the military, although U.S. President Donald Trump in August last year signed a defence policy bill banning the purchase of rare earth magnets from China for the military in the 2019 fiscal year.
The most widely used type, prized for their strength, are those made with neodymium, one of the 17 rare earth elements. Exports to the United States of permanent rare earth magnets, or material that will be turned into permanent magnets, came in at 430,961 kg, or around 431 tonnes last month, the customs data showed. That was up 21.5% from April and up 4.4% from May 2018. It was also the highest monthly export figure on customs database records going back to January 2017. In 2018, China’s exports of rare earth magnets to the United States were worth a total 1.325bn yuan (151.25m pounds), the customs data showed.
Chinese President Xi Jinping visited a rare earth magnet plant in Jiangxi province on May 20 this year, sparking speculation that China’s dominance of global rare earth production could be used as a weapon in the Sino-U.S. trade war. Beijing has since said it is considering strengthening controls on rare earth exports.
Ryan Castilloux, managing director of consultancy Adamas Intelligence, said big fluctuations in the export numbers were normal, however. “I wouldn’t doubt that some of it is stockpiling but there’s nothing definitive there to point us in that direction,” he said.
Another key rare earth for the United States is lanthanum, which is used in the oil refining industry. Exports of lanthanum oxide stood at 534 tonnes in May, the customs data showed. That was up 59.4% from April and up 14.1% year-on-year.
Exports of lanthanum carbonate, meanwhile, were at 400.1 tonnes, down 64.3% from April but more than double the 197 tonnes exported in May 2018. China’s overall rare earth exports, which can fluctuate wildly, fell by 16% in May from the previous month, according to data released earlier in June. (Source: Reuters)
25 June 19. U.S. Congress pushing back at Trump over Saudi arms deals. A U.S. Senate committee approved legislation on Tuesday that would make it more difficult for President Donald Trump to avoid congressional review of arms sales, underscoring lawmakers’ anger over his approval of $8bn in military deals with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The Republican-majority Senate Foreign Relations Committee backed the “Saudi Arabia False Emergencies (SAFE) Act,” days after the full Senate approved 22 separate resolutions of disapproval of the transactions.
The disapproval resolutions did not garner enough support to overcome Trump’s promised veto. But lawmakers pledged not to let the issue go, rejecting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s insistence that the threat from Iran justified pursuing the sales despite human rights concerns and civilian casualties from the two countries’ air campaign in Yemen. The committee approved the measure by voice vote, with only Republican Senator Mitt Romney asking to be recorded as a “no.” It was not immediately clear when the act might be considered by the full Senate.
“The emergency provisions in the Arms Export Control Act should be used only for real emergencies and as rare exceptions for our closest allies for whom we can vouch,” said Senator Bob Menendez, the committee’s top Democrat and a lead bill sponsor.
The legislation would restrict the emergency authorities in the Arms Control law to use only for the closest U.S. security partners, such as NATO members and Australia, Israel, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand. They would also be available only for arms and military services that directly respond to a physical threat, and only if most of the materiel could be delivered within two months. Much of the equipment going to Saudi Arabia and the UAE will take months or years to be delivered.
Earlier on Tuesday, Representative Steny Hoyer, the number two Democrat in the House of Representatives, told reporters the chamber would vote on the resolutions of disapproval of the arms deals after it returns to Washington on July 9 following next week’s recess for the U.S. Independence Day holiday.
Trump’s fellow Republicans control a majority in the Senate, but several joined with Democrats to call for a strong response to Riyadh, more so since the murder at a Saudi consulate in Turkey last year of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident. (Source: Reuters)
26 June 19. Lightning inbound! The US Marines ‘Lightning Carrier’ concept. As the capabilities of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter variants continue to evolve, new CONOPs will evolve around the fifth-generation platform – the US Navy and Marine Corps team has developed the “Lightning Carrier” concept to provide the branches with a lower-tier naval aviation capability to support amphibious power projection operations.
Serving as the latest iteration of the Sea Control Ship (SCS) concept developed and conceptualised by the former US Navy Chief of Naval Operations and famed Second World War Admiral, Elmo Zumwalt, the Lightning Carrier and the corresponding sea control doctrines emerging around the platform combination are emerging as immense power projection potential.
While the aircraft carrier emerged as the apex of naval prestige and power projection at the end of the Second World War, the platform has evolved as technology has – with large fleet and supercarriers like the US Nimitz and Ford class, the UK Queen Elizabeth and Chinese Type 001 and follow on class vessels, the platforms have traditionally been the domain of major powers.
However, in recent years, nations throughout the Indo-Pacific have begun a series of naval expansion and modernisation programs, with traditional aircraft carriers and large-deck amphibious warfare ships serving as the core of their respective shift towards greater maritime power projection.
These developments have prompted the rapid development of the Lightning Carrier concept, combining the mobility and comparatively low cost of large-deck amphibious warfare ships and the increasing affordability of platforms like the F-35B short take-off, vertical landing (STOVL) serving as powerful alternatives for regional powers seeking to expand their long-range strike and maritime power projection capabilities.
Lightning Carrier concept
Combining the capability of the F-35 with large-deck amphibious warfare ships and ever-advancing tanker and airborne early warning capabilities is emerging as increasingly powerful force structures following the successful deployment of US Navy formations for combat operations to the Persian Gulf and the South China Sea in recent months.
The US variant of the Lightning Carrier combines a large-deck amphibious warfare ship like the Wasp or America class vessels and the F-35B – enabling the platforms to carry approximately 40 per cent of the firepower of a larger Nimitz or Ford class carrier. Enhancing the combat effectiveness and power projection capabilities of the Lightning Carrier concept is the ability of the F-35B to take off from the carrier and land on primitive airstrips ashore, while also dispersing the platform throughout an area of operations limiting broader force vulnerability.
It is planned that the US Navy’s large amphibious warfare ships will accommodate up to 20 F-35B Joint Strike Fighters, which would provide both the US Navy and US Marines with a potent force package. However, it is important to recognise that the Lightning Carrier concept is not without its limitations, as the development of early warning and control and tanker aircraft small enough to be stationed on the amphibious warfare ships is still somewhat limited, although progress is being made.
However, the US Marine Corps is optimistic about the capability brought by the Lightning Carrier, with the 2017 Marine Corps Aviation Plan stating, “While the amphibious assault ship will never replace the aircraft carrier, it can be complementary if employed in imaginative ways.”
“A Lightning Carrier, taking full advantage of the amphibious assault ship as a sea base, can provide the naval and joint force with significant access, collection and strike capabilities,” the Corps added.
Like the larger carrier strike groups, Lightning Carriers are inherently vulnerable to surface and subsurface attack – relatively unarmed without the carrier air wing beyond defensive weapons systems, the behemoths depend on a flotilla of protective and logistics support warships that enable the vessels to intervene and project presence and power throughout the globe.
US Navy Expeditionary Strike Groups would serve as the basis for the supporting elements of a Lightning Carrier force package and would need to be tailored to accommodate the shift away from purely amphibious operations to focus more directly on sea control and maritime power projection, including:
- Area-air defence guided missile cruiser/s: A US Navy CSG typically relies on one to two Ticonderoga Class guided missile cruisers supporting the Aegis combat system to direct long-range area-air defence, naval strike and long-range, land attack capabilities for the broader naval assets in the strike group.
- Destroyer Squadron (DESRON): Includes two-to-three Arleigh Burke Class guided missile destroyers used primarily for anti-aircraft and anti-submarine warfare, but which also carries Tomahawk missiles for long-range strike capability.
- Attack Submarine/s: Responsible for providing convoy protection and to screen the strike group against hostile surface ships and submarines, but which also carry Tomahawk missiles for long-range strike capability.
- Afloat Logistics Support Ship: A combined ammunition, oiler and supply ship providing logistics support – including fuel, dry stores and munitions support for the carrier and supporting CSG vessels.
For Australia, a nation defined by its relationship with traditionally larger, yet economically weaker, regional neighbours, the growing economic prosperity of the region and corresponding arms build-up, combined with ancient and more recent enmities, competing geo-political, economic and strategic interests, places the nation at the centre of the 21st century’s “great game”.
Further compounding Australia’s precarious position is an acceptance that “Pax Americana”, or the post-Second World War “American Peace”, is over and Australia will require a uniquely Australian approach and recognition that the nation is now solely responsible for the security of its national interests with key alliances serving a secondary, complementary role to the broader debate.
Today, strategic sea-lines-of-communication support over 90 per cent of global trade, a result of the cost-effective and reliable nature of sea transport. Indo-Pacific Asia is at the epicentre of the global maritime trade, with about US$5trn worth of trade flowing through the South China Sea and the strategic waterways and choke points of south-east Asia annually.
Meanwhile, the Indian Ocean and its critical global sea-lines-of-communication are responsible for more than 80 per cent of the world’s seaborne trade in critical energy supplies, namely oil and natural gas, which serve as the lifeblood of any advanced economy, including Australia, which has become vulnerable, as events in both the Middle East and south-east Asia, as a result of an increasingly assertive China. Enhancing Australia’s capacity to act as an independent power, incorporating great power-style strategic economic, diplomatic and military capability, serves not only as a powerful symbol of Australia’s sovereignty and evolving responsibilities in supporting and enhancing the security and prosperity of Indo-Pacific Asia – shifting the public discussion away from the default Australian position of “it is all a little too difficult, so let’s not bother” will provide unprecedented economic, diplomatic, political and strategic opportunities for the nation. (Source: Defence Connect)
28 June 19. Developing Australia’s at-sea deterrence force: Sub hunter-killer groups. Silently hunting below the waves, the vessels are increasingly lethal and difficult to detect – submarines are one of the great tactical and strategic levellers. Patrolling groups of hunter-killers and at-sea deterrence force structures serve to enhance the specialisation and increasing capabilities of contemporary navies.
The highly successful campaigns of terror conducted by the German Navy’s ‘wolf packs’ of submarines during the Second World War to the tactical and strategic brinkmanship between ever more deadly American and Soviet nuclear submarines during the Cold War have set the stage for the 21st century’s race for strategic undersea dominance.
Modern combat submarines are typically broken down by role and either conventional or nuclear propulsion into three different classes, namely:
- Attack submarines (SSK/SSN): These vessels designed specifically to hunt and kill enemy submarines, surface combatants and merchant vessels. These submarines also serve a protective role, escorting major naval strike groups, logistics and troop convoys and merchant vessels. Recent advances in propulsion, power generation and weapons systems have also enabled these vessels to conduct long-range land strikes using torpedo or vertically-launched cruise missiles.
- Ballistic missile submarines (SSBN): Significantly larger than their smaller, more nimble hunter-killer focused cousins, ballistic missile submarines serve as the sea-borne leg of a traditional nuclear deterrence triangle, armed with submarine launched ballistic missiles – these submarines, often termed ‘boomers’, serve as the ultimate in strategic insurance for great powers like the US and China.
- Cruise missile submarines (SSG/SSGN): Often modified ballistic missile submarines, cruise missile submarines leverage the unlimited range of nuclear powered vessels combined with advances in weapons technology to pack vast numbers of land attack and anti-ship cruise missiles into specially modified vertical launch systems to provide immense levels of conventional strike capabilities.
As both great and regional powers scramble to design and build, or buy and introduce, the latest and most capable submarine platforms to ensure their continued dominance, maritime security and ability to deter potential adversaries, Australia’s changing strategic environment has raised questions around the survivability, cost and capability of the Royal Australia Navy’s ageing Collins Class submarines and the relevance of Australia’s future Attack Class submarines.
Developing complementary force structures – focused on dedicated hunter-killer, at-sea deterrence patrol groups – serves to enhance the Navy’s existing Collins Class vessels, while laying the foundation for enhanced capabilities following the introduction of the Attack Class, expected for the mid-to-late 2020s.
Submarine squadrons – America’s silent assassins
The US Navy operates a number of different submarines in the Indo-Pacific region, including fast-attack submarines, ballistic missile submarines and cruise missile submarines, which are responsible for providing surface fleet anti-submarine warfare cover, strategic deterrence and long-range strike capabilities – broken up into eight different submarine squadrons.
However, a large portion of the US Navy’s submarine fleet is made up of Cold War-era vessels, designed to patrol, hunt and stalk their Soviet counterparts in the north Atlantic, an operating environment vastly different to that of the Indo-Pacific. In response, the US has embarked on a period of rapid modernisation for the submarine fleet, with new Virginia Class attack submarines delivered almost annually and design progress on the next-generation Columbia Class ballistic missile submarines ever closer to beginning construction.
America’s forward deployed submarine squadrons – typically those based at Pearl Harbour, San Diego and Guam – all operate between five and 11 fast attack submarines designed to escort carrier and expeditionary strike groups or conduct individual or combined long-range patrols throughout the Pacific in support of deterrence patrols, while providing conventional long-range strike and maritime interdiction options for combatant and strategic commanders.
Setting the foundation with Australia’s Collins Class – Enhancing range and basing
Australia’s comparatively moderately sized fleet of Collins Class submarines has provided Australia with a relatively inconsistent at-sea deterrence force since the introduction of the first vessel, HMAS Collins, in the mid-1990s. Despite early teething issues, the fleet of six submarines are an important component of Australia’s enduring strategic force multiplying arsenal – however, they have historically been limited by crewing, range and forward deployment basing.
Recognising these challenges, namely the limited range as a result of forward deployment and basing arrangements, can be readily overcome by enhancing Navy infrastructure at key facilities, such as Darwin, the Cocos Islands and Cairns, in close proximity to submarine patrol grounds and establishing forward deployment arrangements with regional allies including the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore and critically Japan.
Further enhancing the deterrence patrol capabilities is the potential for reorganisation of the submarine force to focus on keeping a minimum of two vessels at sea at any one time with a surge capacity for an additional two submarines to be put to sea on short notice to support hunter-killer, deterrence or task group escort duties.
Each of these changes serves to address some of the issues facing the tactical and strategic effectiveness of Australia’s submarine fleet, establishing a force structure and operating doctrine that can be perfected prior to the introduction of the Attack Class submarines – further empowering the “regionally superior” capability to be delivered to the Navy.
Maintaining the regional order and enhancing Australia’s national interests
However, the question now becomes, given the geographic area of responsibility Australia will become increasingly responsible for and dependent on, is the RAN and the recapitalisation and modernisation programs currently underway enough for Australia to maintain its qualitative and quantitative lead over regional peers?
It is clear that Australia’s region is going to be increasingly congested as both great and emerging powers continue to invest heavily in their own submarine capabilities. The growing proliferation of steadily more capable platforms across the nation’s northern approaches presents significant challenges for the nation’s existing Collins Class submarines in the short-to-medium term and the future submarine force of the future.
Australia is defined by its relationship and access to the ocean, with strategic sea-lines-of-communication supporting over 90 per cent of global trade, a result of the cost effective and reliable nature of sea transport. Indo-Pacific Asia is at the epicentre of the global maritime trade, with about US$5trn worth of trade flowing through the South China Sea and the strategic waterways and choke points of south-east Asia annually. The Indian Ocean and its critical global sea-lines-of-communication are responsible for more than 80 per cent of the world’s seaborne trade in critical energy supplies, namely oil and natural gas, which serve as the lifeblood of any advanced economy. (Source: Defence Connect)
25 June 19. OFAC Targets Senior IRGC Commanders Behind Iran’s Destructive and Destabilizing Activities. The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has taken action against eight senior commanders of Navy, Aerospace, and Ground Forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). These commanders sit atop a bureaucracy that supervises the IRGC’s malicious regional activities, including its provocative ballistic missile program, harassment and sabotage of commercial vessels in international waters, and its destabilizing presence in Syria. These include the naval district commanders who are responsible for the IRGCN’s activities off the coast of the southern provinces of Khuzestan, Bushehr, and Hormozgan, which lie adjacent to the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. These designations reinforce the President’s action in issuing an Executive Order imposing sanctions on the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran as well as the Supreme Leader’s Office.
The President’s order will deny Iran’s leadership access to financial resources and authorizes the targeting of persons appointed to certain official or other positions by the Supreme Leader or the Supreme Leader’s Office. Moreover, any foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates a significant financial transaction for entities designated under this Executive Order could be cut off from the U.S. financial system. As a result of these actions, all property and interests in property of these individuals that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC. OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all dealings by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons. In addition, persons that engage in certain transactions with the persons designated today may themselves be exposed to designation. Furthermore, any foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates a significant transaction or provides significant financial services for any of the individuals designated today could be subject to U.S. correspondent account or payable-through sanctions. (Source: glstrade.com)
22 Jun 19. Lockheed hypes F-35′s upgrade plan as interest in ‘sixth-gen’ fighters grows. As European defense firms drum up publicity about the sixth-generation fighters they plan to build, Lockheed Martin executives promoted the F-35 as the proven fifth-gen option that could blur the lines with sixth-gen planes as it is upgraded into the 2020s and beyond.
“It’s a compliment to the F-35 that many countries are looking to replicate fifth gen and thenextending that to sixth gen,” Michele Evans, Lockheed’s head of aeronautics, told Defense News at the Paris Air Show on June 19. “I think it really does reflect on the value of what F-35 is bringing to the pilots and the battlespace. In terms of technology, we’re not going to let F-35 go static.”
During a Monday briefing, Lockheed laid out a series of upgrades that could be adopted during the jet’s “Block 4” modification phase in the mid 2020s. Fundamental to Block 4 is the upcoming “Tech Refresh 3” package of IT upgrades, including a new integrated core processor with greater computing power, a panoramic cockpit display and an enhanced memory unit, said Greg Ulmer, Lockheed’s vice president and general manager of the F-35 program. The company intends to incorporate TR3 in F-35s starting in Lot 15, with those jets rolling off the production lot in 2023.
Also in TR3, Lockheed plans to move to an open-architecture backbone for the F-35, which will allow it to more quickly boost the jet’s capabilities with new software.
“You’ll see year over year over year we’re going to have an incremental update,” Ulmer said. “Rather than biting it all off [at one time] and waiting for a big-bang tech insertion, we’re going to trickle that out.”
Some of the modifications that could become available in Block 4 include capabilities like conformal or external fuel tanks that could extend the jet’s range by more than 40 percent, or the auto-ground collision avoidance system that is set to roll out this month — six years earlier than expected.
But other potential upgrades might lead to an F-35 that blurs the line between a fifth-generation fighter — characterized by stealth and sensor fusion — and a sixth-generation one, which at least currently is seen as having advanced network capabilities that could give the pilot control over external weapons, drones and sensors.
The U.S. Air Force has been upfront about wanting to team the F-35 with low-cost attritable drones outfitted with artificial intelligence. Attritable aircraft are inexpensive enough for to be replaced if they are shot down or damaged, allowing operators to take a greater amount of risk while using them.
While the F-35 program currently does not have manned-unmanned teaming as part of its program of record for Block 4, Ulmer said the technology is achievable.
“I think the F-35 is very well-positioned for manned-unmanned teaming. The data sensor fusion approach to the airplane as well as our relationship with our brethren at Skunk Works, I think we’re very well-aligned,” he said, referring to Lockheed’s secretive advanced development arm.
Ulmer pointed to missile defense as another potential use for the F-35.
“We’ve done some experimentation here and have seen some very strong results as well, and that will only improve with the TR3 capability of the airplane,” he said.
While Ulmer didn’t elaborate, the Defense Department is studying whether to outfit the F-35 with a weapon that would allow it to shoot down cruise missiles or intercontinental ballistic missiles. Even if the Pentagon opts not to go in that direction, an F-35 might be able to track ICBMs — as it demonstrated during simulated exercises in 2014 — or pass along targeting information to other assets that then could intercept it.
Multidomain command and control is another potential area of expanse. Again, Ulmer did not provide many details, but acknowledged that Skunk Works has conducted experiments with how the F-35 gathers and shares information, and that they have seen “very strong results.”
Asked whether Lockheed could offer an upgraded F-35 to the U.S. services in sixth-generation fighter competitions rather than a completely new airframe, Evans acknowledged that “it’s definitely something Lockheed is looking at.”
“I’m not sure you’re going to see this big leap — like you saw from fourth gen to fifth gen — with fifth gen to sixth gen. I think it could very well be an evolution,” she said. “F-35 could be the basis of what we look at, and certainly the technologies of the F-35, if not the platform itself.” (Source: glstrade.com/Defense News)
21 Jun 19. Iranian radars and missile batteries were proposed targets, military officials said. The United States made preparations for a military strike against Iran in retaliation for the downing of a U.S. surveillance drone, but the operation was abruptly called off with just hours to go, President Donald Trump confirmed in a Tweet this morning.
“On Monday they shot down an unmanned drone flying in International Waters,” the Trump Tweeted. “We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it, not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone. I am in no hurry, our Military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world. Sanctions are biting & more added last night. Iran can NEVER have Nuclear Weapons, not against the USA, and not against the WORLD!”
A military official, who was not authorized to discuss the operation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, earlier said the targets would have included radars and missile batteries. The New York Times reported that President Donald Trump had approved the strikes Thursday night, but then called them off. The newspaper cited anonymous senior administration officials.
The White House on Thursday night declined requests for comment.
Asked earlier in the day about a U.S. response to the attack, Trump said, “You’ll soon find out.”
The swift reversal was a stark reminder of the serious risk of military conflict between U.S. and Iranian forces as the Trump administration combines a “maximum pressure” campaign of economic sanctions with a buildup of American forces in the region. As tensions mounted in recent weeks, there have been growing fears that either side could make a dire miscalculation that led to war.
According to the official who spoke to The Associated Press, the strikes were recommended by the Pentagon and were among the options presented to senior administration officials.
It was unclear how far the preparations had gone, but no shots were fired or missiles launched, the official said.
The military operation was called off around 7:30 p.m. Washington time, after Trump had spent most of Thursday discussing Iran strategy with top national security advisers and congressional leaders.
The downing of the U.S. drone — a huge, unmanned aircraft — over the Strait of Hormuz prompted accusations from the U.S. and Iran about who was the aggressor. Iran insisted the drone violated Iranian airspace; Washington said it had been flying over international waters.
Trump’s initial comments on the attack were succinct. He declared in a tweet that “Iran made a very big mistake!” But he also suggested that shooting down the drone — which has a wingspan wider than a Boeing 737 — was a foolish error rather than an intentional escalation, suggesting he may have been looking for some way to avoid a crisis.
“I find it hard to believe it was intentional, if you want to know the truth,” Trump said at the White House. “I think that it could have been somebody who was loose and stupid that did it.”
Trump, who has said he wants to avoid war and negotiate with Iran over its nuclear ambitions, cast the shootdown as “a new wrinkle … a new fly in the ointment.” Yet he also said “this country will not stand for it, that I can tell you.”
He said the American drone was unarmed and unmanned and “clearly over international waters.” It would have “made a big, big difference” if someone had been inside, he said.
But fears of open conflict shadowed much of the discourse in Washington. As the day wore on, Trump summoned his top national security advisers and congressional leaders to the White House for an hour-long briefing in the Situation Room. Attendees included Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, national security adviser John Bolton, CIA Director Gina Haspel, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Army Secretary Mark Esper, whom Trump has said he’ll nominate as Pentagon chief.
Pompeo and Bolton have advocated hardline policies against Iran, but Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, said “the president certainly was listening” when congressional leaders at the meeting urged him to be cautious and not escalate the already tense situation.
On Capitol Hill, leaders urged caution, and some lawmakers insisted the White House must consult with Congress before taking any actions.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said no specific options for a U.S. response were presented at the meeting. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “The administration is engaged in what I would call measured responses.” And late Thursday, House Republicans on the Foreign Affairs, intelligence and Armed Services committees issued a statement using the same word, saying, “There must be a measured response to these actions.”
The Trump administration has been putting increasing economic pressure on Iran for more than a year. It reinstated punishing sanctions following Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of an international agreement intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from earlier sanctions.
The other world powers who remain signed on to the nuclear deal have set a meeting to discuss the U.S. withdrawal and Iran’s announced plans to increase its uranium stockpile for June 28, a date far enough in the future to perhaps allow tensions to cool.
On Thursday, Iran called the sanctions “economic terrorism.”
Citing Iranian threats, the U.S. recently sent an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf region and deployed additional troops alongside the tens of thousands already there. All this has raised fears that a miscalculation or further rise in tensions could push the U.S. and Iran into an open conflict 40 years after Tehran’s Islamic Revolution.
“We do not have any intention for war with any country, but we are fully ready for war,” Revolutionary Guard commander Gen. Hossein Salami said in a televised address.
The paramilitary Guard, which answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said it shot down the drone at 4:05 a.m. Thursday when it entered Iranian airspace near the Kouhmobarak district in southern Iran’s Hormozgan province. Kouhmobarak is about 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) southeast of Tehran.
Taking issue with the U.S. version of where the attack occurred, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that his country had retrieved sections of the military drone “in OUR territorial waters where it was shot down.” He said, “We don’t seek war but will zealously defend our skies, land & waters.”
Air Force Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella, commander of U.S. Central Command air forces in the region, disputed that contention, telling reporters that the aircraft was 34 kilometers (21 miles) from the nearest Iranian territory and flying at high altitude when struck by a surface-to-air missile. The U.S. military has not commented on the mission of the remotely piloted aircraft that can fly higher than 10 miles in altitude and stay in the air for over 24 hours at a time.
“This attack is an attempt to disrupt our ability to monitor the area following recent threats to international shipping and free flow of commerce,” he said.
Late Thursday, the Federal Aviation Administration barred American-registered aircraft from flying over parts of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Australia’s Qantas and Dutch carrier KLM said Friday their planes will also not fly over the area while Etihad, the Abu Dhabi-based long-haul carrier, said it had “contingency plans” in place, without elaborating.
Carriers including Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, and Emirates have also announced they will reroute flights.
Democratic leaders in particular urged the president to work with U.S. allies and stressed the need for caution to avoid any unintended escalation.
Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said he told Trump that conflicts have a way of escalating and “we’re worried that he and the administration may bumble into a war.” (Source: Defense News Early Bird/AP/Military Times)
21 Jun 19. Congress wants the US military to challenge Russia with a new Arctic port. The U.S. military’s annual authorization working its way through the Senate directs the armed services and the Maritime Administration to identify and designated a new strategic port in the Arctic, a move meant to counter Russia’s presence at the top of the world. The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act that emerged from the Senate Armed Services Committee directs the defense secretary to work with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard and the Maritime Administration to submit a report to Congress that evaluates potential sites for the port. It then requires the defense secretary designate one or more of the sites as “Department of Defense Strategic Arctic Ports” within 90 days.
The Senate is expected to vote on the NDAA next week.
A U.S. port in the Arctic would serve as a counter to recent Russian activity in the region, including the construction of its “Northern Clover” military base which features missiles, radars and military personnel.
Congress has been increasingly concerned over melting ice caps opening the potential for new northern trade routes, highlighting the U.S. shortfalls in, among other things, icebreakers. The U.S. has two icebreakers, but only one that barely works while the other serves as a parts locker. Meanwhile Russia has dozens of icebreakers including nuclear-powered ones.
Russia, with 7,000 miles of Arctic coast, sees the region as both a security liability and a key to its long-term economic success. Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2017 put estimates of the mineral wealth in the region at $30trn. The U.S. Coast Guard in April awarded VT Halter a $750m contract for detailed design and long-lead materials for a new icebreaker, the first of what the Coast Guard aims to be a small fleet of six icebreakers to meet rising needs in the high north.
Some see an American Arctic base as essential to addressing the melting ice and the potential for new trade routes there, but others see it as a throwback to Cold War-era symmetry policies that don’t take Russia’s vastly different security and economic needs fully into account.
Dan Goure, a former Bush administration defense official and analyst at the Lexington Institute, said that if the U.S. sees Russia as a competitor, as the former claims, then it has no choice but to start offsetting Russian activity in the Arctic. Furthermore, even a modest investment can have big yields, he said.
“They [the Russian government] see the Arctic as a vulnerable long flank — potentially the most vulnerable flank for air and missiles,” Goure said. “The plus side of putting a port up in [the Arctic] is that you don’t have to do a whole hell of a lot to force the Russians to put a lot of resources up there to counter it. The cost of maintaining, say, an airbase in the Arctic is enormous. And those are resources that could be used otherwise to threaten, for example, countries in Europe.”
Warmed-over Cold War?
Bryan Clark, a retired submarine officer and analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said thinking of Arctic bases the way people thought about missiles in the Cold War is unrealistic.
“We [the U.S.] have a coastline on the Arctic, but it’s not exactly the sea route that the northern sea route is,” Clark said, referring to a trade route that runs along Russia’s Arctic coast.
“We don’t use the Arctic the same way the Russians do. We don’t have the same exposure as the Russians do. They’ve got 7,000 miles of coastline, it’s difficult to patrol and they’re somewhat neurotic about homeland defense anyway. It’s a perceived vulnerability on the part of Russia and has been for a long time, so they’ve always put a lot of money into the ability to break ice, maintain access.”
For all those reasons, one-for-one comparisons with Russia’s Arctic capabilities are misguided, he said. “Comparing our Arctic capabilities to theirs, it’s kind of off base because you are comparing two very different countries on things that they need in different amounts.”
‘The far end of the logistics chain’
Still, operating in the high north, given the changing conditions, is a good idea, Clark said, and having the military study it is worthwhile.
The problem, however, is when the fleet in the high north needs repair. Coast Guard ships would need to travel to somewhere like Kodiak, Alaska, and the Navy might need to transit back to Puget Sound off the coast of Washington state to get help.
Alternatively, the Navy could set up a forward way station of sorts somewhere like Nome, Alaska, which is along the state’s central-western coastline near the Bering Strait, where the fleet could receive support during months when the area is accessible. But putting something in a place on Alaska’s north slope, like Prudhoe Bay, could be ill-suited because melting permafrost will turn that area into a marshland.
“I think the idea of putting a base up in the far north is a bad idea,” Clark said. “It’s too expensive, and then you’ll build it and not be able to use it for a large part of the year. It becomes a white elephant. What might be a better idea would be to make a waypoint in Nome and use your afloat forward staging base for operations in the far north during the times of year when that is viable.”
Supporting ships in the Arctic from a logistics standpoint was identified as a risk area by U.S. Sixth Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Lisa Franchetti in a January interview with Defense News.
The Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group operated in the Norwegian Sea during the Trident Juncture exercise in October, and working through logistics challenges was a key takeaway from the drill, Franchetti said.
“Operating at the far end of the logistics chain, it was really important for us to see how we could do that, how it would work, and we took a lot of lessons from that,” she said. (Source: Defense News)
21 Jun 19. Senate defense bill could tackle Iran, border wall and Saudis ― but don’t count on it. The Senate takes up the 2020 defense policy bill on Monday, but votes on hot topics like Pentagon support at the southern border, the president’s authority to go to war with Iran, and his continued authorities for Iraq and Afghanistan could be derailed by congressional fights.
Senators have offered roughly 600 amendments to the massive National Defense Authorization Act, which authorizes $750bn for national defense. But in recent years, more controversial amendments have been blocked while only packages of unobjectionable amendments have passed.
It’s become common for several uncompromising senators to block debate on all other amendments to the NDAA if they cannot get guaranteed votes on their own proposals. Last year saw such a tangle between Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham, Chuck Grassley, Mike Lee and Rand Paul.
“We’ll try to have an open amendment process, but as you know, that’s contingent on people on both sides cooperating,” said the Senate majority whip, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. “As soon as someone objects to not getting [a vote for] their amendment, you get into this lockdown.”
After forcing leaders on Thursday to run out the procedural clock on the NDAA, Paul suggested he would block other senators from getting amendment votes unless they agree to give him a vote on his amendments.
“I do believe we should demand an open debate with amendments,” he said.
Paul has filed six amendments to the bill, including two that have jammed up the process in the past. One would require a military pullout from Afghanistan and another would bar indefinite detention of enemy combatants.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., will manage the bill’s progress, and he expressed concern Thursday that Paul could impede debate if he is dissatisfied.
“He could actually block this for a long period of time,” Inhofe, said of Paul. “If you remember last year, one bloc of amendments got through ― and there were countless amendments from Democrats and Republicans [that didn’t].”
To name a small fraction this year, lawmakers are hoping for votes on chemical contamination at military bases; a boost to F-35 aircraft procurement; expanded Iran sanctions; U.S. arms sales to Taiwan; increased aid to Israeli missile defense; restrictions on surveillance equipment exports to China; a buy-America requirement for the military’s eating utensils; restrictions on arms sales and U.S. nuclear cooperation with Saudi Arabia; reimposing sanctions on North Korea; and the politically sensitive topic of election security.
Some amendments reflected Democrats’ frustration with President Donald Trump’s deployment of troops to the southern border and use of emergency authorities to shift military funding to border barriers Congress did not authorize.
Per an amendment from the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat and a lead defense appropriator, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, national defense funds would be barred from use for constructing barriers at the southern border. Civilian law enforcement agencies would have to repay the Defense Department for its support, per a proposed amendment from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. Military construction funding would be limited to $500m under a declaration of war or national emergency, per a proposal from Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii.
On the flip side, the Air Force’s excess General Atomics MQ-1 Predator drones could be demilitarized and transferred to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, per a proposed amendment by Thune. (Ever since the MQ-1 has been used on the border, it’s aided in few apprehensions of illegal border crossers, per CBP’s data.)
On the Middle East, lawmakers expressed their frustrations both with the president’s tough stance on Iran and his embrace of Saudi Arabia. Democrats have also expressed frustration at the president’s end run around Congress to aid Riyadh in spite of human rights concerns as well as fears he will not seek authorization to go to war with Iran, but rather unilaterally act.
Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, a presidential candidate, proposed a ban on offensive combat operations against Iran without the express authorization of Congress and a separate ban on U.S. military support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Per another amendment from Durbin, all war authorizations would sunset after 10 years.
On nuclear weapons, advocates of restraint are hoping for a vote on whether to bar the U.S. from a nuclear first strike. Separately, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and a 2020 presidential contender, is proposing a ban on deployment on the W76-2 submarine-launched nuclear warhead. The language parallels a provision added to the House Armed Services Committee’s bill over GOP objections.
Military family advocates are hoping for a floor debate on plans to end the “widow’s tax,” a problem where thousands of dollars in payouts are withheld from surviving spouses because of conflicts in federal benefits law. The provision to fix the issue has 75 Senate co-sponsors, but also a price tag of nearly $6bn that has kept the idea out of serious consideration in recent years.
After non-germane amendments were screened out, Inhofe hoped there would be 30 votes. Lawmakers will typically attempt to make bipartisan deals on packages of noncontroversial amendments.
As of Thursday, Inhofe and the panel’s ranking member, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., had negotiated a package of 93 amendments, divided evenly between Republicans and Democrats, which could be approved as a bloc.
“We’ve had progress there and we’re trying to work on floor amendments, see what we can do there,” Reed said.
Any delays and obstruction will not be welcome by leaders. Thune anticipated the July 4 recess would provide a backstop and greater sense of urgency to pass the bill by week’s end.
“Hopefully that will generate a willingness on the part of individual senators to come forward and work together to get as many amendments cleared as possible and hopefully get to an ultimate vote by the end of the week,” Thune said. (Source: Defense News)
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