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22 May 20. The F-35 pilot who flew the two infamous supersonic missions that inflicted damage to the jet’s stealth coating and tail wants to set the record straight.
When pilots conduct supersonic intercepts or find themselves needing to race away from an enemy during combat, they will be able to take the F-35 to its furthest limits of speed and altitude — most likely without any permanent damage to the aircraft, he told Defense News in an exclusive interview.
Last June, Defense News revealed that the Pentagon had instituted time limits on the number of seconds the F-35B short-takeoff-and-landing variant and the F-35C carrier variant could spend at supersonic speeds.
Those limits were imposed after two separate tests in 2011 where the “B” model incurred “bubbling [and] blistering” of its stealth coating and the “C” model suffered “thermal damage” to the tailboom and horizontal tail, according to documents exclusively obtained by Defense News.
But those limitations must be placed in context, said Billie Flynn, the Lockheed Martin test pilot who flew both of those missions during F-35 developmental testing at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland.
According to the documents, both incidents took place during flutter tests where the B and C models were flying at speeds of 1.3 Mach and 1.4 Mach. However, that damage didn’t occur in a vacuum, Flynn said. It materialized after F-35B and F-35C test articles flew repeated supersonic runs that pushed to the plane’s maximum of 1.6 Mach, making it the result of cumulative pressures on the aircraft.
“I was flying out at 700 knots in the C model up and down the East Coast of the state of Maryland and Delaware — that’s where we fly at Pax River — and then out over the ocean, firing missiles at almost 1.6 Mach as we cleared out the weapons for the airplane. That’s extreme speed, and that’s repeated flights in those environments,” said Flynn, who has flown more than 800 hours in all three F-35 variants.
“Make a run at 700 knots, make another run at 700 knots, go to an aerial refueling tanker, get fuel for myself … and then race out again and again and again. Repeat this cycle for four- and five-hour missions,” he added.
Similarly, the flights for the B model involved aggressive maneuvering at the edge of the aircraft’s flight envelope for hours at a time.
“Nobody is going to do [that] tactically,” he said. “There’s not a combat scenario where that is going to happen.”
Although Flynn, like all fighter pilots, ended missions by walking around the aircraft and inspecting the jet for damage, he doesn’t remember seeing the blistered stealth coating or thermal damage noted in the Pentagon’s deficiency report.
Instead, Flynn offered the possibility that the degradation was only visible to engineers monitoring the internal impacts to the F-35B and F-35C test planes, which are specially equipped to measure imperceptible damage to the jet’s structure and give insight into how forces such as gravity and heat will affect it over time.
“I don’t know if I really ever saw much after a flight. I just knew that our engineers had told us about [the problem],” he said. “So an engineer whose specialty is structures would see that it would be hotter than they predicted, which would lead them to tell us: ‘If this airplane is going to last 40 years long, then we have to manage this exposure.’ ”
An operational context
When Defense News first reported on the F-35’s limits on supersonic speeds in 2019, they were classified by the Pentagon as two separate category 1 deficiencies, representing the most serious type of technical issue.
The Defense Department considers the issue “closed” as of December 2019 despite no plan to correct the problem. The F-35 Joint Program Office explained that “the operator value provided by a complete fix does not justify the estimated cost of that fix.”
Still, the documents obtained by Defense News stated that F-35C supersonic intercept missions may be impossible. Simulator testing showed that restricting supersonic flight at full afterburner to a maximum of 50 seconds could prevent the C model from reaching the 1.44 Mach endpoint for weapon launches, according to the F-35 integrated test team at Patuxent River.
To cut down the risk of damage to the jet, the Pentagon imposed time limits on how long F-35B and F-35C pilots can spend at supersonic speeds in full afterburner. An F-35C can only fly at Mach 1.3 in afterburner for 50 cumulative seconds, meaning that a pilot cannot clock 50 seconds at that speed, slow down for a couple seconds and then speed back up. The F-35B can fly for 80 cumulative seconds at Mach 1.2 or for 40 seconds at Mach 1.3 without risking damage.
The time requirements reset after the pilot operates at military power — an engine power setting that allows for less speed and thrust than afterburner — for a duration of three minutes.
By abiding by those time restrictions, the U.S. military ensures the F-35 lasts the entirety of its planned service life and that the fleet isn’t overly taxed during normal training and operations, Flynn said.
But in wartime, Flynn said, pilots will do whatever is needed “to survive and to be effective” — even if that means disregarding time restrictions and pushing the plane to its maximum performance.
Supersonic flight is not a major feature baked into F-35 tactics, the capability would likely only be used in cases when it is absolutely necessary to intercept another aircraft or in emergency situations, said Bryan Clark, an analyst with the Hudson Institute and a retired naval officer.
“It’s capable of it,” he told Defense News in April, “but when you talk to F-35 pilots, they’ll say they’d fly supersonic in such limited times and cases that — while having the ability is nice because you never know when you are going to need to run away from something very fast — it’s just not a main feature for their tactics.”
In fact, flying at supersonic speeds could minimize one of its greatest features — stealth — particularly if the jet were to do it for a long time, Clark said.
“It takes you out of stealthiness, it burns gas like crazy, so you lose the range benefits of a single engine and larger fuel tank. When you go into afterburner, you are heating up the outside of your aircraft,” he explained.
The stealthy F-35 is supposed to be able to penetrate into contested areas and destroy foes without detection, but naval aviation has little experience with low-observable aircraft and has a historical distrust of relying on long-range kills. When told about the deficiencies last year, one retired naval aviator expressed concern about the ability of F-35 pilots to move safely out of a contested area.
“The solution is: ‘Hey, we’ll just limit the afterburner to less than a minute at a time,’ ” the naval aviator told Defense News. “Which, with what the aircraft is supposed to do and be capable of, that’s a pretty significant limitation.”
But fifth-generation jets like the F-35 shouldn’t be playing by fourth-generation rules, said Flynn. In other words, the F-35 doesn’t have to rely on supersonic speed to penetrate a contested area the way most legacy jets do.
“Let’s get away from the legacy mindset. We’re an aircraft that operates with impunity. We’re an aircraft that is [a low-observable] platform that operates different than every legacy platform,” he said.
“The notion that you have to stay away from someone, or you have to run someone down [because] they see you, is the wrong context for a fifth-generation fighter but is entirely the issue for a legacy [F-14] Tomcat, [F/A-18] Hornet, [F-16] Viper, [Eurofighter] Typhoon.” (Source: Defense News)
21 May 20. DOD Statement on Open Skies Treaty Withdrawal. Tomorrow the United States will formally submit its notification of its decision to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty. After careful consideration, including input from Allies and key partners, it has become abundantly clear that it is no longer in the United States’ best interest to remain a party to this Treaty when Russia does not uphold its commitments. U.S. obligations under the Treaty will effectively end in six months.
The Open Skies Treaty was designed decades ago to increase transparency, cooperation, and mutual understanding. Instead, Russia has increasingly used the Treaty to support propaganda narratives in an attempt to justify Russian aggression against its neighbors and may use it for military targeting against the United States and our Allies. Russia has also continuously violated its obligations under the Treaty, despite a host of U.S. and Allied efforts over the past several years. Since 2017, the United States has declared Russia in violation of the Treaty for limiting flight distances over the Kaliningrad Oblast to 500 kilometers (km) and for denying flights within 10 km of portions of the Georgian-Russian border. Most recently, in September 2019, Russia violated the Treaty again by denying a flight over a major military exercise, preventing the exact transparency the Treaty is meant to provide. We will not allow Russia’s repeated violations to undermine America’s security and our interests. We remain committed to effective, verifiable, and enforceable arms control policies that advance U.S., Allied, and partner security, and we will continue to work together to achieve those ends. The United States has been in close communication with our Allies and partners regarding our review of the Treaty and we will explore options to provide additional imagery products to Allies to mitigate any gaps that may result from this withdrawal. In this era of Great Power Competition, we will strive to enter in to agreements that benefit all sides and that include parties who comply responsibly with their obligations. (Source: US DoD)
22 May 20. Startling Raptor availability raises the question, please sir, can we have some more? There are those who say it will never happen, but with the revelation that the US Air Force is only capable of deploying 33 combat coded F-22 Raptors at any one time in the face of rapidly modernising peer competitor air forces begs the question, can allies like Australia and Japan push the US to overturn both the export ban and the end of production?
Throughout history, military operations have favoured those who occupy the high ground. Command of the skies empowers both offensive and defensive operations, while also providing powerful deterrence options as part of the broader implementation of power projection and national security doctrines.
Air dominance reflects the pinnacle of the high ground, where both a qualitative and quantitative edge in doctrine, equipment and personnel support the unrivalled conduct of offensive or defensive air combat operations.
Contemporary air dominance proved influential as a tactical and strategic operating concept, with the use of tactical fighters providing air dominance, close air support and escort essential to the Allied triumph in the Second World War, with recent iterations across the Middle East expanding on the importance of establishing and maintaining air dominance.
However, the growing success of Russian and Chinese fifth-generation fighter aircraft like the Su-57, J-20 and JF-31 – combined with reports of Russia offering the Su-57 for export to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and the increasing introduction of highly-capable fourth plus generation combat aircraft is threatening allied air dominance.
These developments serve to establish the potential for a disastrous repeat of the air combat battles over Vietnam that saw dedicated Soviet-designed and built air superiority fighter aircraft severely challenge US air superiority despite the advances in air-to-air missiles promising the end of traditional dog fights.
Today, fifth-generation fighter aircraft represent the pinnacle of modern fighter technology. Incorporating all-aspect stealth even when armed, low-probability-of-intercept radar, high-performance air frames, advanced avionics and highly integrated computer systems, these aircraft provide unrivalled air dominance, situational awareness, networking, interdiction and strike capabilities for commanders.
At the apex of these technology developments is the world’s first fifth-generation aircraft, the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, which was first introduced in the mid-2000s, and was designed to replace the US Air Force’s fleet of ageing F-15C/D Eagles.
The Raptor incorporates full-spectrum, low-observable stealth characteristics, supercruise, and super manoeuvrability in an air frame designed to fight, win and maintain US and allied air superiority against even the most advanced enemy integrated air-and-missile defence systems and air combat capabilities.
However, shrinking defence budgets in the aftermath of the Cold War, a lack of credible peer adversary to US air superiority and a Congress-implemented export ban despite requests from Japan, Australia and Israel hindered even America’s ability to field a credible fleet of these technological marvels.
As a result of this, the original US Air Force order of 750 units was cut a number of times throughout the late 1990s and into the early 2000s, until it reached 195 and finally 187 Raptors, resulting in the unit price rising beyond what was sustainable, even for the US, paving the way for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter family to fill the role.
Despite this, the aforementioned rise of comparable Russian and Chinese fifth-generation air dominance fighters, combined with budget cuts as a result of the sequestration during the Obama years has resulted in the steady decline of the Raptor’s availability, stretching an already limited strategic force multiplier at a time when great power competition is on the rise.
‘Fight tonight’ formula reveals startling decline in Raptor availability
Retired US Air Force General, Lieutenant General David Deptula has declared that the US can now only rely on 33 F-22s to be ready to fight at any one time, shedding a rather startling image of the US Air Force’s capacity to establish and maintain air dominance against a peer competitor.
“In 2018, the F-22 mission capable rate was 52 per cent. In 2018, the F-22 mission capable rate was 52 percent. Real-time mission planning assumes 1/3 in the fight; 1/3 preparing to launch; 1/3 recovering [returning/landing]. So one could count on about 21 F-22s airborne in a fight at any one time … across the entire USAF F-22 inventory.
“A surge with adequate preparation could certainly increase this number. When deployed for combat, mission capable rates average well above 80 per cent, so bump up the number to 98 mission-capable aircraft available with about 33 in the fight at any one time,
“We’re already past the point of being uncomfortable with the numbers. There are zero attrition aircraft in the current fleet. Every airplane that is lost has a significant impact on the force,” Lt Gen Deptula states.
The limited number and availability of the Raptor, explained by Lt Gen Deptula, was expanded upon by US Air Force Colonel Brian Baldwin, Group Commander 13th Air Expeditionary Force, who was in Australia to participate in the 2019 Exercise Talisman Sabre, who set tongues wagging with statements made to the Australian media regarding allied access to the formidable air dominance platform.
“I wish we had more of them. I wish all of our closest friends could have some. We obviously have to take care of where we take the jet so we keep it as a special capability and it’s a pleasure to be able to bring it down to Australia,” Col Baldwin is reported saying at RAAF Base Amberley in south-east Queensland last year.
Recent changes within the US political establishment, notably the election of President Donald Trump, has triggered a major rethink in the policies that govern America’s arms exports, opening the door for Japan to engage with major US defence contractors like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman to support Japan’s domestic development of a large, low-observable air superiority fighter to replace its fleet of locally built F-15J aircraft.
While Japan has committed to acquiring a fleet of 147 F-35s, including a fleet of 42 short take-off, vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B variants, the Japanese government has remained focused on procuring a fifth-generation air dominance fighter, with or without US help, to counter the growing challenges it faces in its direct region.
This resulted in the development of the X-2 Shinshin, a technology demonstrator that proved Japan’s domestic aerospace industry could produce an indigenous stealth fighter design capable of competing with the world’s best.
Both Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman have actively supported Japan’s continued development of the Shinshin concept, raising renewed questions about a US commitment to reopening the F-22 Raptor line.
Both Russia and China will continue to develop and enhance their growing fifth-generation air combat fleets – with Russian President Vladimir Putin allegedly approving the export of the specialised air superiority Su-57 to China to operate in conjunction with China’s domestic J-20 and FC-31 fleets, dramatically impacting the tactical and strategic balance of air combat power in the Indo-Pacific.
Recognising these emerging peer competitor capabilities and previous attempts at acquiring the F-22, both Japan and Australia are well-positioned to support the reopening of the US F-22 Raptor line, estimated to be worth approximately US$9.9bn for non-recurring start-up costs according to a US Congress report and an additional US$40.4bn to acquire 194 Raptors for the US Air Force.
What this House Armed Services Committee report fails to account for is an allied acquisition and integration within the advanced Raptor development supply chain – most notably Japan and Australia, which are both widely respected US allies and industrial partners within the existing F-35 supply chain.
The acquisition is not without risk, however, as both Japan and Australia would need to at least match the US order of 194 air frames.
Broader horizons and industrial benefits
While a joint US, Japanese and Australian acquisition of at least 388 airframes would serve as the basis for re-openinig the Raptor line – expanding the export opportunities of the Raptor to include other key ‘Five Eyes’ allies like Canada and the UK, both of which are currently undergoing an air force recapitalisation, modernisation or research and development program of their own, would further reduce the costs associated with reopening the line and acquiring new Raptor airframes.
An Australian procurement could mean enjoying a highly capable, interoperable and future-proofed airframe operated by Japan, a key regional ally, and potentially both the US and UK, which agreed with the Japanese government in 2017 to collaborate in the joint development of a fifth-generation aircraft to replace the Royal Air Force’s Typhoons within the next two decades. (Source: Defence Connect)
20 May 20. United States Strategic Approach to The People’s Republic of China. On May 20, 2020, in accordance with the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, the administration delivered a report, “U.S. Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China” to members of Congress. This report articulates our whole-of-government approach to China under the 2017 National Security Strategy. To view the report, please visit https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/U.S.-Strategic-Approach-to-The-Peoples-Republic-of-China-Report-5.20.20.pdf. (Source: US DoD)
19 May 20. Lockheed Martin Announces Proactive Measures to Mitigate COVID-19 Impacts to F-35 Production. F-35 Production Employees Will Temporarily Adjust Schedules to Sustain Aircraft Delivery. In response to previously reported COVID-19 F-35 supplier delays, Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) is taking proactive measures to mitigate impacts and position the program for the fastest possible recovery by adjusting work schedules, maintaining specialized employee skillsets, and accelerating payments to small and vulnerable suppliers, to continue meeting customer commitments.
Today Lockheed Martin and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) agreed to a temporary alternate work schedule for F-35 production line employees in Fort Worth to maintain their skilled workforce.
The new schedule, which will begin May 23, divides each shift into three groups. On a rotation, each group will work for two weeks and then will have a week off. During the adjusted three-week work schedule, employees who work 96 hours or more will be compensated an additional 24 hours for their off week while receiving full pay and benefits.
The alternate schedule allows Lockheed Martin to staff the production line to meet a slower workflow resulting from supplier delays. In addition, it provides a work rhythm that retains the expertise of the talented workforce and provides opportunities to adjust work to better support production.
“These are challenging times, but managing tough challenges is when the F-35 program performs at its best. The alternate work schedule maintains the specialized skillset of the employees and provides opportunities to for us to adjust our workflow to account for supplier delays due to COVID-19,” said Aeronautics Executive Vice President Michele Evans. “Our F-35 workforce is the best in the world at what they do, and we will continue to deliver on our customer’s mission.”
The temporary alternate work schedule agreement will continue for its first three-week cycle. The company will then evaluate business needs and can alter the schedule as needed with the option to discontinue as warranted or continue until Sept. 4. Lockheed Martin and the IAM have also agreed to allow employees to volunteer to be furloughed for 30 days where they maintain their benefits but forgo pay during this period.
19 May 20. Op-Ed: Yes, Iran is still deterred by American aircraft carriers. Aircraft carriers have served as the backbone of the US Navy since the Second World War and the pinnacle of global power projection, however recent advances in A2/AD capabilities by nations like China and even Iran have led many to believe the end of the carrier-era. For Josh Cheatham from the US Department of the Army, there is more than meets the eye.
In March, CENTCOM Commander Marine General Kenneth McKenzie jnr announced his intent to retain two aircraft carriers in the Middle East to provide the US with greater flexibility and maintain what he termed “a profound deterring effect principally upon Iran”.
In response, a number of recent articles have challenged the notion that a second aircraft carrier — or any at all — actually deters Iranian aggression. The articles coalesce on two central themes. First, carriers are inadequate to the task of deterring Iran because Iran avoids direct conventional conflict with the US by fighting in the so-called “grey zone”, using proxies to project power in the region.
And second, the carriers themselves have become easy targets for Iran, whose anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities are sufficient to strike and perhaps even destroy a carrier transiting the Strait of Hormuz.
While these arguments have some credence, further scrutiny reveals that critics of Gen McKenzie’s strategy are not asking the right questions. The grey zone argument fails to account for the effect that US military force in the region has on Iranian doctrine. Similarly, the deterrent value of the carrier, itself, needs to be considered alongside Iran’s capacity to damage it.
The grey zone argument
The grey zone criticism of Gen McKenzie’s strategy betrays a lack of understanding of Iranian military doctrine. Critics suggest that aircraft carriers are unfit to challenge Iran’s use of proxies across the Middle East.
There is some logic to this argument. Challenging proxy networks requires building and sustaining competent partner forces as counterweights to the proxies, and sea-based aerial firepower is, obviously, not an ideal tool for building capable allies.
This argument, however, seems to suggest that Iran has chosen a doctrine of proxy warfare in a vacuum, irrespective of adversarial capabilities. Critics of the carrier strategy would be wise to ask themselves why Iran fights via proxy. The answer, in part, is tied to the conventional superiority of Iranian rivals — chiefly, the US and Israel.
In reality, Iran has little choice but to fight in the grey zone. For the Islamic Republic, deploying conventional forces against the US or other superior adversaries has laid bare a remarkable military ineptitude.
In 1988, in the waning months of the so-called Tanker War, the USS Samuel B. Roberts struck an Iranian naval mine in the Arabian Gulf, injuring 10 sailors. In response, the US launched Operation Praying Mantis, with the limited objectives of destroying two Iranian oil platforms in the Gulf and sinking an Iranian warship. Over the course of the battle, however, Iran unwisely chose to throw additional naval and air forces into the fray.
The result was one of the most lopsided engagements in naval history, with the US sinking or severely damaging “half of Iran’s operational fleet”.
It’s precisely because of such engagements that Iran, prudently, prefers to project power and wield influence via proxies like Lebanese Hizballah, Iraqi Shia Militia Groups (SMGs), and Yemen’s Huthi movement.
Proxy warfare has allowed Iran to cultivate allies — many of whom have developed into the leading powers in their respective states — while not exposing its own forces to conventionally superior adversaries.
Even so, Iran’s adversaries have recently begun to directly challenge Iran’s expansionist agenda, putting the Islamic Republic in the uncomfortable position of having to fight for itself.
In January, the US killed Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) Commander Brigadier General Qassem Soleimani in response to malign anti-US activities conducted by Iraqi SMGs under IRGC-QF direction.
Iran’s response to the killing of its best known and arguably most capable general was a ballistic missile barrage aimed at US forces at Al Asad Airbase in Iraq. The retaliation was reminiscent of a May 2018 Iranian response to Israeli airstrikes on Iranian infrastructure in Syria that left several Iranian military personnel KIA.
In turn, Iranian forces launched at least 20 rockets into the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.
In both the Al Asad Airbase and Golan attacks, the threshold for direct Iranian use of force was high: the killing of a popular general and symbol of Iranian power projection, and the very public loss of multiple personnel.
In each case, Iran found itself in an unfamiliar position in which direct action was the only thing that would allow it to save face. In each case, Iran’s application of conventional military force failed (miserably so in the Golan attack).
At Al Asad, Iran failed to kill a single US service member in retaliation for Soleimani’s killing. On the Golan, not only did Iran fail to kill a single Israeli soldier, but also the vast majority of Iranian projectiles landed harmlessly in Syrian territory.
The four rockets that would have possibly hit Israeli personnel or infrastructure were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome air defence system. Worse still for Iran, its attack on the Golan elicited Israeli retaliation (in the form of Operation House of Cards), which saw the further destruction of Iranian military infrastructure in south-west Syria, including “IRGC intelligence centres, weapons depots, storage facilities, observation posts, and logistics centers in Syria, as well as the rocket launcher that carried out the initial attack”.
The lesson here is that for Iran, fighting in the grey zone is less a choice than a necessity born out of a begrudging (but savvy) understanding of its adversaries’ conventional power. Iran will employ conventional force only when backed into a corner, and when Iran wields conventional force against a superior adversary, events tend not to go well for them.
For the US, aircraft carriers represent an impressive element of conventional power that will continue to check the frequency and scale of direct Iranian military action.
The “Iran can sink a carrier” argument
There is no denying either the quantitative or qualitative growth of Iran’s A2/AD platforms over the last two decades. The Defense Intelligence Agency’s 2019 study of Iran military power indicates “the full range of Iran’s A2/AD capabilities include ship- and shore-launched antiship cruise missiles (ASCMs), fast attack craft (FAC) and fast inshore attack craft (FIAC), naval mines, submarines, UAVs, antiship ballistic missiles (ASBMs), and air defence systems”.
Clearly, as critics of Gen McKenzie’s strategy have noted, aircraft carriers are vulnerable to Iranian firepower while transiting the Arabian Gulf. Again, however, critics of the strategy are asking the wrong question. It’s not a matter of can Iran hit an American aircraft carrier, but would they dare?
Students of deterrence theory may recall a hypothetical question and answer proffered by Thomas Schelling in Arms and Influence. Schelling described a US Army “Berlin Garrison” vastly outnumbered by Soviet and Soviet-bloc personnel and mused, “What can 7,000 American troops do?” Answering his own question, Schelling wrote:
“Bluntly, they can die. They can die heroically, dramatically, and in a manner that guarantees that the action cannot stop there. They represent the pride, the honour, and the reputation of the United States government and its armed forces; and they can apparently hold the entire Red Army at bay.
“Precisely because there is no graceful way out if we wished our troops to yield ground, and because West Berlin is too small an area in which to ignore small encroachments, West Berlin and its military forces constitute one of the most impregnable military outposts of modern times. The Soviets have not dared to cross that frontier.”
Like the Berlin Garrison, US aircraft carriers represent the pride, honour, and reputation of the US government and its armed forces. As Gen McKenzie himself put it, “[the carrier] is a floating piece of American sovereignty”.
Carriers are tremendous capital investments, costing billions of dollars and housing thousands of American service men and women, broadly respected and admired by the American populace. Losing such valuable blood and treasure would likely give any US administration the public support for a dramatic military response.
In the debate over the deterrent value of US aircraft carriers in the Arabian Gulf, the vulnerability of the carrier(s) demands attention but should not be weighted as heavily as critics of Gen McKenzie’s strategy suggest it should.
The carrier itself is such a valuable symbol of American military power that Iran probably recognises that while training to attack a dummy carrier makes for good propaganda, sinking one in reality would not mean the end of conflict with the US, but only the beginning. (Source: Defence Connect)
18 May 20. Pentagon legislation aims to end dependence on China for rare earth minerals. The Pentagon has proposed legislation that aims to end reliance on China for rare earth minerals critical to the manufacturing of missiles and munitions, hypersonic weapons and radiation hardened electronics, by making targeted investments.
The proposed legislation would raise spending caps under the Defense Production Act to enable government to spend up to $1.75bn on rare earth elements in munitions and missiles and $350m for microelectronics. It would also eliminate caps when it comes to hypersonic weapons.
The proposal, obtained by Defense News, was offered earlier this month for inclusion in the annual defense policy bill Congress has been drafting.
“To me, this is the biggest thing that has happened to rare earths in a decade,” Jeffrey Green, a defense industry consultant and advocate for government intervention on rare earth materials, said Monday. “The policy shift is the government is realizing they have to put serious bucks into this.”
The U.S. government recently awarded contracts for heavy rare earth separation and issued solicitations for the processing of light separation and for neodymium magnets, which are used in Javelin missiles and F-35 fighter jets. Under current law, DoD cannot invest more than $50m in DPA funds without additional congressional notification, but the Pentagon’s legislative proposal would raise this cap to $350m, to invest in multiple projects.
These processes can be expensive, and the process for separating rare earth oxides can cost hundreds of millions dollars, Green said.
“The recent awards are like a drop in the bucket, for very small scale pilot programs. It’s nowhere near what they’d need to get a commercial facility, even to support DoD’s very small volume,” Green said. “They have to put big dollars in if they want to separate the oxide at a state-of-the-art facility that’s going to be anywhere close to Chinese pricing.”
China accounts for at least 71 percent of rare earth production globally and is the largest source of rare earth imports to the U.S., according to a Congressional Research Service report. The U.S. was once a major producer from the mid-1960s until around the late 1980s when China became a major low-cost producer and exporter.
In August, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord told reporters that the Pentagon was in early talks with U.S. ally Australia to have it process a significant portion of rare earth materials for the U.S. military. The Australian firm Lynas, which has a mine in Australia and a processing plant in Malaysia, was central to that plan.
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and rising tensions between Washington and Beijing, lawmakers have quickly introduced a range of measures aimed at creating domestic alternatives to Chinese supplies for protective equipment and medicines from China to the U.S. However, the DoD legislation is one link in a chain of actions in recent years by the Trump administration.
“China is currently the sole source or primary supplier for many chemicals required to make ingredients in missiles and munitions end items. In many cases, there is no other source for these foreign sourced materials and no drop-in alternatives are available,” DoD’s proposal reads.
“A sudden and catastrophic loss of supply due to restrictions from foreign suppliers, industrial accidents, natural disasters, or wartime damages would impact critical DoD programs for many years and severely disrupt DoD munitions, satellites, space launches, and other defense manufacturing programs.”
Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz made headlines last week with his own rare earths bill, called the Onshoring Rare Earths Act, to establish a supply chain in the U.S. and require the Defense Department to source these minerals domestically. Instead of direct investments, it includes tax incentives for buyers of rare earth minerals to source from U.S. suppliers ― a detail that places the proposal within House Ways and Means Committee jurisdiction.
“Our ability as a nation to manufacture defense technologies and support our military is dangerously dependent on our ability to access rare earth elements and critical minerals mined, refined, and manufactured almost exclusively in China,” Cruz said in a statement. “Much like the Chinese Communist Party has threatened to cut off the U.S. from life-saving medicines made in China, the Chinese Communist Party could also cut off our access to these materials, significantly threatening U.S. national security.”
Both Cruz and the DoD proposal accused China of predatory economic practices to secure its dominance in the rare earth elements market. (Source: Defense News)
18 May 20. Sacked US watchdog was probing Trump’s Saudi arms sales. House Democrat says investigation ‘may be another reason’ for inspector-general’s abrupt sacking. The dismissal of Steve Linick has drawn criticism from both Democrats and Republicans. The US state department inspector-general fired late last week was investigating the Trump administration’s decision to bypass Congress and fast-track a multibillion-dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia, a senior Democrat has claimed. Eliot Engel, the Democratic congressman from New York and chair of the House foreign relations committee, said on Monday that the arms sale “may be another reason” for the US president’s abrupt sacking of Steve Linick, inspector-general of the US Department of State. Notifying Congress of his decision late on Friday night, Mr Trump said he no longer had “the fullest confidence” in the federal watchdog. A senior White House official said at the weekend that Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, recommended the move, and Mr Trump agreed. But Mr Trump denied knowing Mr Linick on Monday, telling reporters at the White House: “I don’t know him at all. I never even heard of him, but I was asked to by the state department, by Mike [Pompeo].” Mr Trump added that he had the “absolute right, as president, to terminate” an inspector-general, even though the president is legally required to provide Congress with reasons for removing a watchdog.
Mr Engel said the inspector-general had been investigating Mr Pompeo, and US media later reported that Mr Linick had been looking into allegations that the secretary of state had a government staffer handle personal chores for him, such as collecting dry cleaning, walking his dog and making restaurant reservations. [The firings of multiple inspectors-general] is a threat to accountable democracy and a fissure in the constitutional balance of power Mitt Romney, Republican senator from Utah “His office was investigating — at my request — Trump’s phony emergency declaration so he could send Saudi Arabia weapons,” Mr Engel said on Twitter. “We don’t have the full picture yet, but it’s troubling that Sec Pompeo wanted Linick pushed out.” Mr Pompeo defended his actions on Monday, telling the Washington Post: “I went to the president and made clear to him that inspector-general Linick wasn’t performing a function in a way that we had tried to get him to, that was additive for the State Department, very consistent with what the statute says he’s supposed to be doing.” Nearly one year ago, Mr Pompeo bypassed Congress and invoked rarely used emergency powers to allow the US to proceed with 22 sales of planned precision bombs worth $8.1bn to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, citing the rising security threat from Iran. Mr Engel’s latest comments will put more pressure on the Trump administration to explain its decision to sack Mr Linick, after Democrats and Republicans alike objected at the weekend. Mr Engel and Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee, have launched a formal probe into Mr Linick’s firing, soliciting documents from the White House, state department and inspector-general’s office.
Republicans have also been critical of the president’s decision. Chuck Grassley, the chair of the Senate finance committee, and Susan Collins, the Republican senator from Maine, called on Mr Trump at the weekend to provide Congress with more information about why he fired Mr Linick. On Monday, Mr Grassley also wrote to the president, requesting “detailed reasoning” for the decision. Recommended Coronavirus: free to read Inside Trump’s coronavirus meltdown | Free to read Mitt Romney, the Republican senator from Utah, said Mr Trump’s firings of multiple inspectors-general were “unprecedented” and “doing so without good cause chills the independence essential to their purpose”. “It is a threat to accountable democracy and a fissure in the constitutional balance of power,” he added. Last month, Mr Trump fired Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community’s inspector-general, who had a key role in impeachment proceedings against the US president last year. Mr Atkinson told lawmakers about a whistleblower complaint regarding the president’s dealings with Ukraine, which sparked the impeachment probe. (Source: FT.com)
18 May 20. Huawei says new US sanctions put its survival at stake. Chinese telecoms company warns it will find it hard to maintain networks around the world. Huawei has warned that its survival is at stake following the US government’s latest efforts to cut the Chinese company off from international semiconductor supplies. In its first official reaction to last Friday’s announcement by the Department of Commerce of the planned new restrictions, Huawei called Washington’s decision “arbitrary and pernicious”. While the company said it was too early to define the consequences of the US’s planned stricter export controls for its business, it indicated that Washington’s move would deal a heavy blow. “We will now work hard to figure out how to survive,” said Guo Ping, rotating chairman, at Huawei’s annual analyst conference. “Survival is the keyword for us now.” The US government, which believes that Huawei is helping the Chinese government conduct cyber-espionage and technology theft, put Huawei on an export control list a year ago, a move aimed at curbing the company’s access to US-made and designed semiconductors needed for products including telecoms network gear and smartphones.
But existing US export control rules contain enough loopholes for such supplies to continue. One key avenue has been through sales of chipsets manufactured in third countries, first and foremost by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (TSMC), the world’s largest contract chipmaker. Recommended US-China trade dispute US escalates China tensions with tighter Huawei controls Washington now intends to amend the rules in a way that any foreign chip manufacturer aiming to sell semiconductors to Huawei using US-made equipment will have to apply for an extra licence — which industry sources expect to be denied. The Department of Commerce has said it will “narrowly and strategically target Huawei’s acquisition of semiconductors”. Huawei missed its original revenue target for last year by $12bn due to restrictions resulting from last May’s listing and reported revenues of $109bn for 2019. But the company argued that the US’s latest move would have a significantly bigger impact. “This new rule will impact the expansion, maintenance and continuous operations of networks worth hundreds of billions of dollars that we have rolled out in more than 170 countries,” it said in a statement. “To attack a leading company from another country, the US government has intentionally turned its back on the interests of Huawei’s customers and consumers. This goes against the US government’s claim that it is motivated by network security.” It also claimed the US’s campaign against Huawei would damage the global semiconductor industry. Earlier on Monday, Richard Yu, head of Huawei’s consumer electronics unit, accused the US of fighting to defend its “technology hegemony”. “The so-called cyber security reasons are merely an excuse,” he wrote on WeChat. (Source: FT.com)
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