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05 Jan 20. Trump says US targeting 52 sites in Iran as tension mounts. Many fear the American strike that killed Iran’s military mastermind Soleimani would set off a wider conflict with Iran
President Donald Trump warned Saturday that the US is targeting 52 sites in Iran and will hit them “very fast and very hard” if the Islamic republic attacks American personnel or assets.
In a saber-rattling tweet that defended Friday’s US drone strike assassination of a powerful Iranian general in Iraq, Trump said 52 represents the number of Americans held hostage at the US embassy in Tehran for more than a year starting in late 1979.
Trump said some of these sites are “at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!”
Trump spoke out after pro-Iran factions ramped up pressure on US installations across Iraq with missiles and warnings to Iraqi troops – part of an outburst of fury over the killing of Qasem Soleimani, described as the second most-powerful man in Iran.
With Iran promising revenge, his killing was the most dramatic escalation yet in spiraling tensions between Washington and Tehran and has prompted fears of a major conflagration in the Middle East.
In the first hints of a possible retaliatory response, two mortar rounds hit an area near the US embassy in Baghdad on Saturday, security sources told AFP.
Almost simultaneously, two rockets slammed into the Al-Balad airbase where American troops are deployed, security sources said.
The Iraqi military confirmed the missile attacks in Baghdad and on al-Balad and said there were no casualties. The US military also said no coalition troops were hurt.
With Americans wondering fearfully if, how and where Iran will hit back for the assassination, the US Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin that said “at this time there is no specific, credible threat against the homeland.”
However on Saturday the website of the Federal Depository Library Program, a little-known US government agency, was breached by a group claiming to be linked to Iran, who posted graphics displaying the Iranian flag and vowing revenge for Soleimani’s death.
Separately, US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that information given to Congress by Trump, a Republican, “prompts serious and urgent questions about the timing, manner and justification of” the strike.
“The Trump Administration’s provocative, escalatory and disproportionate military engagement continues to put servicemembers, diplomats and citizens of America and our allies in danger,” said Pelosi, a Democrat.
While no one claimed the attacks in Baghdad, a hardline pro-Iran faction in Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi military network shortly after urged Iraqis to move away from US forces by Sunday at 5:00 pm (1400 GMT).
The deadline would coincide with a parliament session which the Hashed has insisted should see a vote on the ouster of US troops.
Washington has blamed the vehemently anti-American group for a series of rocket attacks in recent weeks targeting US diplomats and troops stationed across Iraq.
Many fear the American strike that killed Iran’s military mastermind Soleimani would set off a wider conflict with Iran, and have braced for more attacks.
“This is no longer a proxy war,” said Erica Gaston, a non-resident fellow at the New America Foundation.
“What you have is America attacking an Iranian general directly, and groups are now openly fighting for Iran to avenge him. This is a direct war,” she told AFP.
The US strike on Baghdad international airport early Friday killed a total of five Iranian Revolutionary Guards and five members of Iraq’s Hashed.
Among the dead was Hashed’s deputy head Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a top adviser and personal friend to Soleimani.
As head of the Guards’ foreign operations arm, the Quds Force, Soleimani was a powerful figure domestically and oversaw Iran’s wide-ranging interventions in regional power struggles.
Trump has said Soleimani was planning an “imminent” attack on US personnel in Baghdad and should have been killed “many years ago”.
‘Act of war’
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei promised “severe revenge” for Soleimani’s death and Tehran named Soleimani’s deputy, Esmail Qaani, to succeed him.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis including Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, political leaders and clerics attended a mass ceremony on Saturday to honor Soleimani and the other victims.
Tehran has slammed the strike as an “act of war” and Abdel Mahdi said it could bring “devastating” violence to Iraq.
The attacks on Saturday evening appeared to be precisely the reaction Iraqis had long feared: tit-for-tat strikes between the Hashed and the US on Iraqi soil.
Earlier on Saturday, the Hashed had claimed a new strike hit their convoy north of Baghdad, with Iraqi state media blaming the US.
But the US-led coalition denied involvement, telling AFP: “There was no American or coalition strike” on Saturday. (Source: ArabianBusiness.com)
03 Jan 20. Israelis: Soleimani Intercept Sparked Drone Strike; US Reinforces Region. Five days ago, an undisclosed intelligence agency intercepted a telephone call made by the head of Iran’s Quds Force, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, in which he was heard ordering his proxies in Iraq to attack the U.S embassy in Baghdad, as well as other Israeli and American targets, with the aim of taking hostages, Israeli sources say.
It’s unclear whether this was a lapse in tradecraft on the part of the usually savvy Soleimani or whether the notorious Iranian military leader’s phone calls were being routinely intercepted. Nor is it clear whether it was the US or another foe of Iran that made the intercept. Regardless, the intelligence seems to have led directly to Soleimani’s killing yesterday, which has thrown the Mideast into uproar.
Sources here say that Soleimi flew in the Airbus A-320 plane operated by Cham Wing, Flight 6Q501, which took off from Damascus at 10:30 pm and landed in Baghdad minutes before midnight. Minutes later, what are presumed to have been Hellfire missiles fired from a Predator struck and killed everyone in two cars that had picked up Suleimani and other passengers from the flight.
A large ring the Iranian military leader wore helped “forces on the ground” to immediately and positively identify Suleimani’s body. The strike also killed Abu Mahdi Muhandis, deputy commander of the Iranian-backed militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF. Iran has confirmed both men were killed. During the US attack, sources here say US fighter aircraft were airborne to handle any immediate Iranian reaction.
The US announced this morning it was deploying 3,500 additional troops of the 82nd Airborne to the Mideast, joining 750 Airborne soldiers flown earlier this week to Kuwait. That brings the 82nd’s presence in the region to a full infantry brigade. The rapidly deployable paratroop unit keeps a “ready brigade” on alert at all times for just such crises.
Meanwhile, undisclosed numbers of US Special Operations Forces arrived in Jordan. The first elements arrived in Jordan aboard CV-22 tilt rotor aircraft that had been refueled by C-130J. They landed before the strike in the Baghdad airport. The first explanation was that the Americans want to be ready for a hostage situation following the attack by pro-Iranian militias on their embassy in Baghdad.
All this is in addition to 100 heavily armed and specially trained Marines airlifted to the US Embassy in Baghdad. The Marines traditionally provide security for US embassies.
Israel also reacted promptly to the news. Its military is on high alert. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a visit to Greece after receiving online briefings while in Athens. The Mount Hermon ski resort near the Syrian border was closed on Jan 3.
The assessments in Israel are that Iran will not retaliate immediately, but will weigh its course, and may well continue the current strategy, awaiting the results of the US election in November and, in the meantime, try to minimize the economic damage and threat to the regime’s survival. If Donald Trump remains In the White House, Iran is believed likely to negotiate changes in its nuclear agreement with the powers.
An analysis by Roman Schweizer of the Cowen Washington Research Group, who follows defense stocks, offers a grim prognosis of the successful strike: “President Trump’s decision to kill a key Iranian military official could set off a chain of retaliatory strikes on U.S. personnel and assets across the Middle East and globally. To be clear, this is the equivalent of Iran killing the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and then taking credit for it.”
The first glimmers of an active response to the strike ordered by President Trump has come from the Iranian-backed Yemeni Houthi rebels, who threatened to respond “promptly and swiftly.” A strike from such a quarter would be a classic Iranian move, using proxy forces to deflect blame and ensure its efforts to drive change in the region remain paramount.
A response is also likely from Iranian-backed Shia militias in Iraq, which have in the past fought both against the US and the Iraqi government and alongside them against the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State. Many Iraqis are deeply conflicted about Iran’s outsized influence in their country, even among the Shia majority. But most factions are even more sensitive to US intrusions on Iraqi sovereignty and united to condemn the unilateral US strike just outside of Baghdad International Airport , which also killed a prominent Iraqi Shia militia leader. In addition to the expected outcry from Iranian proxies, the attack was denounced by Shia leaders who’ve sought some degree of independence from Tehran, including Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and the country’s moderate Grand Ayatollah, Ali al-Sistani, who called for restraint on all sides.
The airline carrying the Iranians, Cham Wings, is a private Syrian company with its head office in Damascus. It was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department three years ago because “Cham Wings has cooperated with Government of Syria officials to transport militants to Syria to fight on behalf of the Syrian regime and assisted the previously-designated Syrian Military Intelligence (SMI) in moving weapons and equipment for the Syrian regime, including by utilizing a relationship with another Syria-based airline, FlyDamas (FDK, Damascus).” On top of that, Treasury said, “Cham Wings’s Damascus-Dubai Int’l flight was one of the main routes SMI used to launder money throughout the region, with SMI paying all parties involved to ensure they would continue to do business with the Assad regime.”
Meanwhile, Washington political leaders reactions were muted and mixed, with most Democrats expressing varying forms of worry and concern about Iran’s reaction and most Republicans expressing resolve and support for President Trump’s action. One strain was persistent and worth noting — both parties said clearly and repeatedly the US does not seek war with Iran.
The chair of the House Armed Services Committee, Adam Smith, did not condemn the killing but said he remains “troubled about the impact this action will have on the safety and security of United States’ personnel and assets in the region. Rather than calming the strained tensions in the region, this action will only accelerate the cycle of violent escalation.”
He called on the Trump administration to “clearly articulate how this action, and potential future actions, will protect U.S. global interests while ensuring the safety and security of our personnel in the region and worldwide. The American people deserve to know why President Trump has brought us to the brink of another war and under what authorization.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, speaking soon after the strike was announced, made clear congressional leaders had not been briefed on the strike beforehand — not even the so-called Gang of 8– and called for an immediate briefing for “the full Congress.”
Meanwhile, Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin and Tim Kaine introduced a war powers resolution to force a debate and vote in Congress to prevent further escalation into full-blown conflict with Iran. The resolution requires that any hostilities with Iran must be explicitly authorized by a declaration of war or specific authorization for use of military force, but does not prevent the United States from defending itself from imminent attack.
“The Senate must not let this President march into another war in the Middle East without authorization from Congress,” Durbin said in a statement this evening.
War powers resolutions are privileged, meaning that the Senate will be forced to vote on the legislation.
Smith’s Senate counterpart, James Inhofe, said in a statement that “America does not and should not seek war, but it will respond in kind to those who threaten our citizens, soldiers and friends — as the President has long promised. De-escalation is preferable and possible — but only if our adversaries choose it.” (Source: Breaking Defense.com)
03 Jan 20. What Soulemani’s death might mean for the National Defense Strategy and the next budget. The U.S. airstrike that on Thursday killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, may portend a reinvestment from the Pentagon in the Gulf region.
Less than a day after the strike, which also killed several other top officials from Iranian-backed militant groups in Iraq, the Pentagon announced it will send 3,500 more troops to Kuwait. That addition means the U.S. has increased its force posture in the region by roughly 20,000 since May of this year, an increase which also includes high-end missile defense assets and fighter jets.
With analysts predicting the Iran situation will remain an issue for some time, it’s fair to wonder what the impact may be on the Pentagon’s execution of the National Defense Strategy, a document that calls for the U.S. to find ways to limit itself in the Middle East.
The NDS, which top Defense Department officials have championed as a guiding light for the future of America’s military, seeks instead the movement of funds and materiel to challenge Russia and China.
The assassination of Soleimani came just weeks after U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced he was weighing the redeployment of troops around the globe, an effort to realign forces to match the NDS. A subsequent New York Times article reported that Esper was planning for troops to withdraw from Africa, South America, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Dan Goure, an analyst with the Arlington-based think tank The Lexington Institute, said it is “ironic that within two weeks of that announcement … we are now sending approaching 4,000 troops back into the Middle East.”
“This goes to the point that the world rarely goes along with our plans. And the military needs to think about that seriously,” he added.
Bryan Clark, a retired U.S. Navy submarine officer and analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said the airstrike in Baghdad was misaligned with the National Defense Strategy.
“It doesn’t seem consistent with the NDS,” Clark said. “The administration is putting a lot of effort into pressuring Iran, and that seems like that’s the place where we should be letting things go. They are putting a lot of effort into preventing Iran from achieving its foreign policy goals in the Middle East, and it almost seems like they are doing it in support of Saudi Arabia’s effort to become the regional hegemon, more than it is to support some independent interest of our own.
“When it comes to regional powers, basically the NDS says the U.S. is going to do what it needs to do to keep them in check, through mostly economic, diplomatic and maybe some deterrence-type pressure. But it didn’t suggest at all that we were going to take offensive action against those countries in an effort to contain them.”
A budget redirect?
A former Pentagon official familiar with the thinking behind the strategy said that flexibility for surging forces where needed is built into the document, asserting that the current flow of forces does not reflect a major break from the NDS. But, the former official added, the key question now is whether the Iran situation “bends or breaks” the overall strategy.
“By ‘bend,’ we’re talking about extending timelines, and margins for error being reduced beyond the comfort bounds the department had, but the objectives remain achievable. ‘Break’ means the objectives of the NDS themselves are unachievable within the seven-year time frame laid out in the strategy,” the former official said.
A break, fundamentally, could also come with changes to planned investments in high-end technologies needed to counter great powers, particularly China. A small increase in operations, largely based around precision-guided weapons launched from drones or a short increase in troops, should come from operations and maintenance accounts, not future investments, and hence should be survivable, the former official said. Something larger may require drawing on money that had been earmarked for systems such as hypersonic or directed-energy weapons.
International Airport in Iraq on Jan. 2, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
The problem, the former official said, is that the department lacks metrics to predict where that break point may come from. “Is 5,000 forces to the Middle East for six months enough to cause a bend? Does it break at 10,000? No one really knows,” the former official said.
Even if the conflict with Iran escalates, the Defense Department cannot allow itself to be distracted from meeting the objectives of the National Defense Strategy, said Heather Penney, a former F-16 pilot who served in Iraq and currently works as a senior resident fellow for the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.
“This is an area that requires discipline and focus and commitment from all of our national leaders,” she said. “The National Defense Strategy, in my mind, really does identify properly the long-term strategic and existential struggle with those competitors, with China and with Russia.
“If we become drawn into something more hot in the Middle East, we need to maintain the discipline to be able to simultaneously remain committed to preparing [for] and competing on that great power stage.”
Rebecca Grant, a defense analyst with IRIS Independent Research, expects U.S. military activities will remain targeted and small-scale, such as coordinated airstrikes against specific operatives. She also expressed optimism that budget plans will survive whatever may come.
“I think the U.S., allies and hopefully even Iran themselves don’t want a wider war. We’re not talking about an invasion of Iran. We’re talking about stopping Iran in places we have watched them for years,” she said.
The U.S. military has the necessary force structure and equipment needed to suppress Iranian activities in Iraq through means such as the MQ-9 Reaper attack that killed Soleimani on Thursday, Grant said. “Does escalation with Iran invalidate the NDS? Heck no, because Russia and China’s threats of technology pacing remain absolutely real,” she said. “The NDS remains very much on track. It just means we need the investment to counter the rising threats from Russia and China.”
One budget area to watch: whether the fiscal 2021 budget comes along with a boost in overseas contingency operations funding, or OCO, which is money used to pay for wartime operations in theater.
The OCO account “was likely on a lower trajectory over the next several years. We doubt that’s the case now,” analyst Roman Schweizer of the Cowen Group wrote in a note to investors. “The U.S. will likely increase deployments of forces to the region in coming weeks and could make additional strikes depending on Iran’s response.”
Byron Callan of Capital Alpha Partners adds that an escalation in the region could lead to strong spending in the missile and munitions business, writing to investors that “a conflict will see wide-spread use of conventional precision guided weapons and surface-to-air missile interceptors. Aerojet Rocketdyne, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon may have larger exposure to these weapons segments than other defense peers.”
“U.S weapons production is already at, or approaching capacity, so an issue is how ensuing conflict(s) use existing inventories and whether there are decisions to expand capacity to replenish weapons that are consumed,” Callan added. (Source: Defense News)
02 Jan 20. Too many cooks in the DoD: New policy may suppress rapid acquisition. In 2015, Congress passed middle tier acquisition, or MTA, authorities for rapid prototyping and rapid fielding. Lawmakers expected detailed guidance to follow shortly after. By June 2019, the Government Accountability Office found little clarity on documentation and authority. Congress reacted by threatening to withhold 75 percent of MTA funding in 2020 until the Pentagon released guidance.
Dangle the purse strings and compliance follows. The undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment, or USD(A&S), released Department of Defense Instruction 5000.80 on Dec. 30, 2019. The MTA guidance, however, is more likely to pump the brakes on rapid acquisition than propel it forward.
Programs designated “middle tier” do not have to follow regulatory processes for requirements and milestone reviews. That can shave years off a program schedule. In return, the prototype must be completed — or system fully fielded — within five years.
As of March 2019, there were 35 middle tier programs. The term “middle tier” is perhaps misleading considering nearly half of them exceed the cost thresholds for major weapon systems — roughly $200 million for prototyping or $1 billion for fielding.
Many questions remained unanswered until the new policy. How big was a middle tier? What documentation does it require? What is the role of oversight and USD(A&S)?
For several years, acquisition authority had been delegated down to the services. While the services only managed 48 percent of major programs in 2014, the figure grew to 90 percent in 2019.
DoDI 5000.80 reverses the trend. While the services can approve MTA for non-major programs, only USD(A&S) may approve major programs. Moreover, major programs have far more entrance documentation than non-majors, including approved requirements, an acquisition strategy and a cost estimate.
The services may avoid some documentation by disaggregating major systems into multiple MTA programs. For example, two of the Navy’s non-major programs are components to Standard Missile-6 Block 1B. The same is true of the Air Force’s Airborne Warning and Control System.
USD(A&S), however, can still disapprove any MTA program, whether major or non-major. With advisers from all around the Office of the Secretary of Defense, there will be will numerous potential veto points. Each official may extract concessions from MTA programs managed by the services.
Even though 31 out of 35 MTA programs are rapid prototyping efforts, the undersecretary for research and engineering, or USD(R&E), has been relegated to a secondary position. All MTA authority rests with USD(A&S). Almost as an affront to USD(R&E), he was given control over a rapid prototyping fund that Congress stopped funding.
The outcome reflects a broader weakening of USD(R&E). Congress has reacted negatively to the undersecretary’s effort to move fast and reallocate funds to higher value uses. USD(R&E) may lose control of the Missile Defense Agency to USD(A&S).
While MTA exempts programs from traditional requirements and milestone processes, documentation abounds.
Each service must create its own requirements process with approval in six months. Joint service requirements are discouraged from using MTA pathways.
MTA requirements, however, must still meet the needs determined by four-star generals in the Joint Chiefs of Staff and combatant commands. This may in effect bring the same approvals from the Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System process back into MTA.
Many of the DoDI 5000.02 processes also apply. Still required are system analyses, sustainment plans, test strategies, cybersecurity, risk assessments, cost estimates and more.
Contractors performing on MTA programs must still report cost data. No exemption was made for earned value management systems. Sidestepping many contract regulations — for example, with other transactions authorities — remains a separate process.
Most importantly, Congress requires detailed justification in the budget for every MTA program. That means the services must start justifying MTAs at least two years in advance of funding receipt. Many of today’s MTA programs spun off existing, budgeted line items. New programs may find a hard time finding funds.
The present situation is reminiscent of the time David Packard attempted rapid acquisition between 1969 and 1971. A couple years later, new layers of bureaucracy descended. Similarly, MTA has built within it the seeds of another slow-paced bureaucratic order.
Adm. Hyman Rickover’s skepticism to the reforms nearly 50 years ago rings true today. As Rickover wrote to Packard in a memo:
“My experience has been that when a directive such as the one you propose is issued, most of the effort goes into the creation of additional management systems and reports and the preparation of large numbers of documents within the Service to ‘prove’ that the requirements of the directive are being met in order to justify funds for the Service.
“So long as the bureaucracy consists of a large number of people who consider that they are properly performing their function of approval and evaluation by requiring detailed information to be submitted through the bureaucracy, program managers will never be found who can in fact effectively manage their jobs.” (Source: glstrade.com/Defense News)
03 Jan 20. State Dept. Releases 37th Edition of World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers (WMEAT). The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance has released WMEAT 2019, the 37th edition of the State Department’s World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers (WMEAT) publication, covering the years 2007-2017. The WMEAT series of publications is designed to be a convenient reference on annual military expenditures, arms transfers, armed forces, selected economic data, and relative indicators consisting of pertinent military-economic ratios. The aim is to provide the arms control and international security community with useful, comprehensive, and accurate data, accompanied by analyses and highlights. This edition of WMEAT, like previous recent annual editions, presents data in spreadsheet form for ease of reference by researchers. (Source: glstrade.com)
02 Jan 20. Fleet commander directs US Navy’s surface force to develop concepts for unmanned ships. The head of the U.S. Navy’s Fleet Forces Command has ordered the service’s surface force to develop a concept of operations for both the large and medium unmanned surface vessels in development, according to a Dec. 19 message seen by Defense News.
The message, which was coordinated with U.S. Naval Forces Europe and U.S. Pacific Fleet, directs the surface fleet’s Surface Development Squadron to develop concepts for “the organization, manning, training, equipping, sustaining, and the introduction and operational integration of the Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle and Large Unmanned Surface Vessel with individual afloat units as well as with Carrier Strike Groups, Expeditionary Strike Groups, and Surface Action Groups.”
The message comes after a long battle with Congress over funding for unmanned surface combatants, during which lawmakers expressed skepticism that the Navy was knowledgeable enough about the technology for which it was seeking funding. Ultimately Congress appropriated funds for the Navy to buy two large unmanned surface vessels, but lawmakers forbade the service from equipping the vessels with vertical launch tubes, as the Navy intended.
The concepts of operations is meant to define what would be considered “initial operating capability” for the medium and large USVs and goes on to define what those platforms are intended to do.
“Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle will be a high-endurance vessel with capacity for carrying various modular payloads,” the message read. “Large Unmanned Surface Vessel will be high-endurance vessel equipped with Vertical Launch System (VLS) cells.
“The Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle will initially focus on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) payloads and electronic warfare (EW) systems, while the Large Unmanned Surface Vessel will focus on surface warfare (SUW) and strike missions.”
The message directs the Surface Development Squadron, which was created last year to incorporate new technologies such as the DDG-1000 and Sea Hunter into the force, to examine several areas of consideration.
The group is to examine command and control for the platforms, as well as potential challenges with interoperability and communications; examine issues with basing, maintaining and supporting the new platforms; look at what the vessels will need in terms of sensors, computers and various supporting systems; and look at what kind of training and personnel will be needed to support unmanned operations.
The group is directed to have a first draft by February and a final draft prepared by September of this year. Ultimately the group’s work is intended to help inform acquisition requirements.
The Navy recently emerged from a bruising fight with Congress over its designs for integrating unmanned technology into the surface force.
Navy leaders have publicly acknowledged congressional skepticism. In October, the Navy’s top requirements officer told an audience at the Expeditionary Warfare Conference in Annapolis, Maryland, that the platform will be difficult to develop.
“I don’t want to be Pollyannaish about this: It’s going to be hard work,” said Vice Adm. Jim Kilby, the deputy chief of naval operations for war-fighting requirements and capabilities. “And when we brief this, we go right to the upper right-hand corner of the difficulty spectrum.
“So we have been working with the acquisition community to roll out a test and competence program so we can get something to the war fighter that they’re confident they can use.”
What Congress wants to see is more gradual development and proof of concept before it commits serious funding, Kilby told reporters after his remarks. “What I think they are interested in is ‘Block I will have the following capabilities and we’re going to test them in the following manner, and you can see the results of that test,’ ” Kilby said. “Then we are going to move on to Block II and Block III. They’re interested in us having a ramp-up and build confidence, achieve those capabilities and they can follow that.
“Let’s talk about that first instantiation: Maybe that’s going from point A to point B, follow [the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea], not hit anything, follow the rules of the road. Well, that serves a number of purposes from a deception standpoint. And if those platforms can do that, then maybe I can add capability as I prove out that concept.”
The message from Fleet Forces Command described the Navy’s acquisition strategy as “a rapid, iterative, block approach to further develop, test, and employ new capabilities, aligned with the Surface Capability Evolution Plan,” referencing a document developed inside the office of the chief of naval operations that lays out plans for a future surface force.
Congress approved the two LUSVs the Navy requested, but forbade the service from installing a vertical launching system. Furthermore, lawmakers are withholding funding until the Navy’s top acquisitions official briefs them on the path forward for these systems.
“Incremental upgrade capability for a vertical launch system may be addressed in future fiscal years,” read the agreement between House and Senate appropriators. “It is directed that no funds may be awarded for the conceptual design of future LUSVs until the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development and Acquisition) briefs the congressional defense committees on the updated acquisition strategy for unmanned surface vessels.” (Source: glstrade.com/Defense News)
02 Jan 20. Statement by Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper as Prepared. Last Friday, the Iranian-backed militia Kata’ib Hizbollah or KH launched yet another attack against American forces in Iraq, resulting in the death of one American civilian, and injuries to four American service members, as well as two of our partners in the Iraqi Security Forces. This continues a string of attacks against bases with U.S. forces and Iraqi Security Forces. KH has a strong linkage to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force and has received lethal aid, support, and direction from Iran.
Over the last couple of months Iranian-backed Shia militias have repeatedly attacked bases hosting American forces in Iraq. These attacks have injured our partners in the Iraqi Security Forces, but fortunately Americans were not casualties of these attacks until last week. On November 9th, Iranian-backed Shia militias fired rockets at Q-West Air Base located in North-West Iraq. On December 3rd, they conducted a rocket attack against Al Asad Air Base, and on December 5th, they launched rockets against Balad Air Base. Finally, on December 9th, these same militia groups fired rockets at the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center located on the Baghdad International Airport. It is clear that these attacks are being directed by the Iranian regime, specifically IRGC leadership.
In response, U.S. leaders have repeatedly warned the Iranians and their Shia militia proxies against further provocative actions. At the same time, we have urged the Iraqi government to take all necessary steps to protect American forces in their country. I personally have spoken to Iraqi leadership multiple times over recent months, urging them to do more.
After the attack last Friday, at the direction of the President, U.S. forces launched defensive strikes against KH forces in Iraq and Syria. These attacks were aimed at reducing KH’s ability to launch additional attacks against U.S. personnel and to make it clear to Iran and Iranian-backed militias that the United States will not hesitate to defend our forces in the region.
On Tuesday, December 31st, at the instigation of Shia militias, violent rallies of members of these militias outside the American embassy in Baghdad resulted in damage to exterior entry facilities and buildings at the embassy compound. We know it was Iranian-backed Shia militias because key leaders were spotted in the crowd and some militia members showed up wearing their uniforms and carried the flags of their militia, including KH. We continue to urge the Iraqi government to prevent further escalation. Leaders of the Iraqi government have condemned the attack on the U.S. embassy, including the Iraqi president, prime minister, foreign minister, and speaker of the parliament. Additionally, regional and international partners have condemned the attacks on U.S. facilities, including Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain in the region, and the E.U., Germany, France, and others around the globe.
On Tuesday, to ensure the security of the Americans at the embassy in Baghdad, we immediately deployed Marines from Kuwait who arrived at the embassy in a matter of hours. We also deployed a battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division to ensure that we can provide additional defensive support to the embassy in Baghdad or elsewhere in the region as needed.
Let me speak directly to Iran and to our partners and allies. To Iran and its proxy militias: we will not accept continued attacks against our personnel and forces in the region. Attacks against us will be met with responses in the time, manner, and place of our choosing. We urge the Iranian regime to end their malign activities.
To our partners and allies: we must stand together against the malign and destabilizing actions of Iran. The 81 nations and member organizations of the Defeat ISIS Coalition are in Iraq and Syria, and cooperating around the globe to defeat ISIS. We have worked closely with our partners in the Iraqi Security Forces and Syrian Democratic Forces to roll-back the so-called ISIS caliphate in Iraq and Syria and liberated millions of Iraqis and Syrians. NATO nations are also in Iraq to assist with building the capabilities of the Iraqi Security Forces. Unlike the Iranians who continue to meddle in Iraq’s internal affairs and seek to use corruption to further Tehran’s malign influence, the United States and our allies are committed to an independent, stable, secure, and sovereign democratic Iraq that addresses the aspirations and needs of the Iraqi people, who we see protesting for these very things and objecting to Iran’s malign influence. We call on our friends and allies to continue to work together to reduce Iran’s destabilizing influence so Iraq is governed by Iraqis without this interference in its internal affairs. (Source: US DoD)
31 Dec 19. DOD Statement on Iraq From Secretary Esper. Statement by Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper: “The Department of Defense is working closely with the Department of State to ensure the security of our Embassy and personnel in Baghdad. We have taken appropriate force protection actions to ensure the safety of American citizens, military personnel and diplomats in country, and to ensure our right of self-defense. We are sending additional forces to support our personnel at the Embassy. As in all countries, we rely on host nation forces to assist in the protection of our personnel in country, and we call on the Government of Iraq to fulfill its international responsibilities to do so. The United States continues to support the Iraqi people and a free, sovereign, and prosperous Iraq.” (Source: US DoD)
01 Jan 20. US Navy declares new fleet created to confront Russia fully operational. The newly reinstated Norfolk, Virginia-based 2nd Fleet, which was opened for business in 2018, is now fully operational, the U.S. Navy announced Dec. 31.
The fleet will oversee and control operations in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans, as well has having a limited role in training and certification of East Coast-based forces deploying around the globe, the release said. The declaration of “full operational capability” certifies that 2nd Fleet’s command-and-control infrastructure is capable of running its assigned operations.
“Within an increasingly complex global security environment, our allies and competitors alike are well aware that many of the world’s most active shipping lanes lie within the North Atlantic,” Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, who heads the fleet, said in the release.
“Combined with the opening of waterways in the Arctic, this competitive space will only grow, and 2nd Fleet’s devotion to the development and employment of capable forces will ensure that our nation is both present and ready to fight in the region if and when called upon,” Lewis added.
Second Fleet will lead the final, integrated phase of training for ships deploying from the East Coast, which runs high-end exercises to ensure strike groups and task forces can work well together.
When the Navy stood up the fleet last year, it cited Russia as the primary concern for which the new force is to address.
“This is a dynamic response to the dynamic security environment,” then-Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said in May 2018. “So as we’ve seen this great power competition emerge, the Atlantic Ocean is as dynamic a theater as any and particular[ly] the North Atlantic; so as we consider high-end naval warfare, fighting in the Atlantic, that will be the 2nd Fleet’s responsibility.”
Since it stood up, 2nd Fleet was tasked with running this year’s Baltic Operations exercise on behalf of Naval Forces Europe. In that capacity, it stood up an expeditionary headquarters in Keflavik, Iceland, which has seen an increased American presence since the reemergence of Russian submarine activity in the region. (Source: Defense News)
31 Dec 19. SD Statement on Deployment of 82nd Airborne Division. Statement from Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper “At the direction of the Commander in Chief, I have authorized the deployment of an infantry battalion from the Immediate Response Force (IRF) of the 82nd Airborne Division to the U.S. Central Command area of operations in response to recent events in Iraq. Approximately 750 soldiers will deploy to the region immediately, and additional forces from the IRF are prepared to deploy over the next several days. This deployment is an appropriate and precautionary action taken in response to increased threat levels against U.S. personnel and facilities, such as we witnessed in Baghdad today. The United States will protect our people and interests anywhere they are found around the world.” (Source: US DoD)
30 Dec 19. Lockheed Martin hits 2019 F-35 delivery target of 131 jets. Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) said on Monday it has reached its 2019 target to deliver 131 F-35 fighter jets to the United States and its allies, as the defense contractor built 47% more jets this year.
The world’s largest defense contractor delivered a total of 134 of the stealthy jets this year and aims to deliver 141 F-35s in 2020.
The most common variation of the jet, the F-35A, now costs $77.9m, beating its goal of lowering the price to below $80m a year earlier than expected.
The F-35 program, which makes up about 25% of Lockheed’s annual revenue, has long aimed at expanding the fleet to more than 3,000 jets and bringing the unit price of the F-35A below $80m through efficiencies gained by bulk orders.
Earlier this year, Pentagon announced pricing details for its agreement with Lockheed that lowers the cost of the F-35 jets it plans to purchase through 2022 by 12.7%, which may encourage other nations to buy the warplane. In 2019, international deliveries jumped 43% to 30 jets for international partner nations.
More U.S. allies have been eyeing a purchase of the stealthy jet including Finland, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates.
The F-35 comes in three configurations: the A-model for the U.S. Air Force and U.S. allies, a F-35 B-model which can handle short takeoffs and vertical landings and carrier-variant F-35C jets for the U.S. Navy. (Source: Reuters)
30 Dec 19. Armed Services chairmen resolve: narrower defense bill in 2020. The chairman of the House Armed Services Committees said he is leaning toward a narrower annual defense policy bill in 2020 than the one Congress passed this month, which means fewer unrelated provisions of the sort that complicated passage this year.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said in separate interviews recently that provisions unrelated to defense had been a hindrance during their months-long negotiations to reconcile competing versions of the bill.
“I think we’re going to be a little less ambitious about what we try to get into the bill,” Smith said, adding: “I am going to be a little more cautious about outside issues that are included in the bill, to make sure there is an understanding that, while I don’t mind including them, I don’t want them to jeopardize the overall piece of legislation.”
The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act included language establishing President Donald Trump’s long desired Space Force. But it also included language establishing paid parental leave for federal workers ― inserted by democratic leaders through a self-executing rule in the House and not a vote.
Extensive prohibitions against a class of chemicals known as “PFAS,” were also a drag on the bill, according to a congressional aide, until they were replaced in favor of prohibitions limited to the military.
At least one lawmaker was left with misgivings over the depth of the bill’s reach. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., acknowledged that, in the rush to pass the bill before year’s end, he lost a jurisdictional fight on the parental leave provision. (He voted against closing debate on the bill but voted ultimately to pass it.)
“We always talk about being a country governed by the rule of law. Well, Congress ought to respect its rules as well,” Johnson said, adding there should have been agreement from him as chairman and his panel’s top Democrat. “All these year end-bills have turned into huge Christmas trees, and there’s a lot of heartburn about that, so hopefully, they’re starting to hear it.”
An NDAA has been finalized by Congress for 59 consecutive years, but this year’s bipartisan, bicameral negotiations to reconcile each chamber’s bill was complicated by split control of Congress.
House Republicans en masse opposed their chamber’s bill months ago, prompting Democrats to add progressive policy measures so it would muster the votes to pass the House. But those provisions were stripped out in talks with the GOP-controlled Senate.
Smith said that next year he might revisit several provisions excluded from the bill, including those ending a ban on transgender military service; restricting the president’s ability to raid military funds for a border wall; banning new detainees at the military’s Guantanamo Bay detention facility and banning deployment of a new low-yield nuclear weapon.
“I think all of those issues were not resolved to the satisfaction of me and the Democratic Party,” Smith said. “The question is what’s doable in those areas and what statement do we want to make on the policy. Even if we know Donald Trump and Jim Inhofe haven’t changed their minds … do we want to take another run at it and how are things we’re going to be discussing with a lot of people in great detail.”
On the other hand, an abbreviated 2020 congressional calendar, due to next year’s elections, could contribute to a less ambitious bill. Both chambers have long breaks in October, for example, leading up to Election Day, Nov. 3.
Still, Smith said he would again strive to consult with as many members and groups as possible, such as the Hispanic Caucus and Congressional Progressive Caucus, even if it complicates the process.
“We were more inclusive than at any time I’ve been here, and that’s kind of what made it more difficult. When you have that many people involved, you have that many people who can say, ‘I don’t like this,’” Smith said. “But I think that’s the way it ought to work, so I will continue to embrace a broadly inclusive process and get to the best result we can.”
According to Inhofe, the thorniest issues were, “partisan and non-military.” Inhofe said he generally agreed to unrelated language, but only if it came at the request of chairmen from the relevant committees―with the exception of Johnson.
Overall, Inhofe said he planned in 2020 to repeat his game plan from 2019, which was to strike a deal early on for Senate’s version of the bill with his panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Jack Reed, of Rhode Island. The two, Inhofe said, resolved their disagreements ahead of the SASC’s NDAA markup over the summer.
“We had all the meetings we had to have, and then when [the committee met to mark up the bill], we did it in a matter of six hours. The House didn’t do anything up to that point,” Inhofe said. “I wouldn’t do ours differently. I would encourage the Democrats and Republicans in the House to do theirs earlier.” (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Defense News)
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