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11 Jun 20. Defense committee chairman expresses ‘profound frustration’ with Esper. The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee today expressed “profound frustration” with Secretary of Defense Mark Esper over a “unacceptable” lack of response to a request that Esper appear before the committee.
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., also indicated that the White House may be directing Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, not to respond to the request from the Democratically-controlled House, while the Pentagon pushed back at his criticisms.
“It is unacceptable that, except for staff communication, you have not responded to our formal written request that you and Chairman Milley appear before the committee for a hearing on the Department’s roles and authorities in civilian law enforcement,” Smith wrote in a publicly released letter. “We understand that the White House may be preventing you from testifying, obstructing Congress’ ability to conduct its constitutionally charged oversight responsibility.
“Therefore, I ask that you coordinate with the committee to provide your and Chairman Milley’s availability no later than June 11, 2020, so that we can schedule a hearing. Without your cooperation, the committee will be forced to set a hearing date and time without your input.”
The letter comes several days after Smith said Esper and Milley had declined to appear before the committee, something the Pentagon has denied, saying the issue is one of scheduling.
In a statement, chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Rath Hoffman said the department would be “responding by letter today to this latest correspondence,” but pushed back on Smith’s comments, saying that HASC staff “is also well aware that we have been working on finding a mutually available date to testify soon.”
“I would point out that most — if not all — of the questions in the chairman’s previous letter were answered during a member briefing on Monday with Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy and [Maj. Gen.] William Walker of the D.C. National Guard,” Hoffman wrote. “This briefing was open to all members of the committee and was led by Chairman Smith. HASC staff are fully aware that they had received a commitment from DoD to provide those same answers in writing with additional details by COB today.”
In the latest missive, which was released as Esper was spotted meeting with key defense senators on the Hill, Smith also hit Esper for not responding to a list of questions regarding the events of June 1, when Esper and Milley were among aides who accompanied Trump just after peaceful demonstrators were gassed in front of the White House. After the protesters were cleared, Trump posed for a photograph with a Bible in front of nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church, which was damaged by fire amid protests the night before.
That event, which included Trump threatening to invoke the Insurrection Act and use active duty military forces against protesters around the country, both exploded concerns about the role of the military and several days later led to speculation that Esper was about to lose his job.
Smith’s note is the latest in a series of criticisms of Esper from Democrats in Congress, an unusual situation for the defense committees that often have a solid, bipartisan working relationship with military officials. (Source: Defense News)
11 Jun 20. Senate defense bill limits Air Force’s aircraft retirement plans. The Senate Armed Services Committee wants to give the Air Force more F-35 fighter jets and drones, but the panel’s version of the 2021 defense policy bill leaves many questions open about the future of the service’s legacy aircraft.
In the Air Force’s fiscal 2021 budget request, the service proposed retiring a number of its B-1 bombers, A-10 Warthog attack planes, RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance drones, KC-135 and KC-10 tankers, and C-130H planes. Air Force leaders said the reductions were necessary to free up money needed for key investments in future technology areas like space and joint all-domain command and control
However, the proposed version of the FY21 National Defense Authorization Act passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 10 puts some limits on those proposed cuts. Instead of mandating the Air Force to retain a certain number of specific types of aircraft, SASC’s defense bill “establishes a minimum number of aircraft for each major mission area … and prohibits the divestment of aircraft until the minima are reached to ensure that Air Force can meet [National Defense Strategy] and combatant command requirements,” SASC said in a summary of the bill.
But with only a summary of the bill available, it’s unclear how that compares with the Air Force’s planned inventory reductions and whether any retirements will be permitted at all.
According to a committee staffer, the numbers proposed by SASC include a “primary mission aircraft inventory” of 1,182 fighters, 190 drones, 92 bombers, 412 tankers, 230 tactical airlift platforms, 235 strategic airlift platforms, 84 intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, and 106 combat search-and-rescue aircraft.
Specifically, the bill blocks the retirement of three A-10 Warthog squadrons, limits F-15C divestment, and delays the retirements of KC-10 and KC-135 tankers until after the KC-46’s technical challenges are resolved. The Air Force had planned to retire 13 KC-135s and 16 KC-10s in FY21.
The summary of the bill makes it clear the SASC is concerned that the Air Force’s plan to trade existing aircraft for future capabilities could lead to a drop in near-term readiness as well as an scenario where legacy aircraft are never actually replaced.
The bill “requires the Secretary of Defense to submit an annual aviation procurement plan across all services,” the summary stated. It includes language that cements the Air Force’s aspiration to field 386 combat squadrons as a requirement, although one staffer clarified that the provision is more a goal than a mandate, and that there is no timeline associated with it.
SASC’s legislation is far from set in stone. The bill will move to the Senate floor for debate, but its House counterpart is working on its own version of the defense authorization bill, and both chambers will have to agree on a final bill.
Where’s the money going?
The House and Senate Armed Services committees make funding recommendations, which are then used by congressional budgeteers in the appropriations committees to draw up the final funding bills. Nonetheless, SASC made a number of key funding authorizations that could mean major increases for certain aircraft programs.
- Unsurprisingly, it recommended a major increase for Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, approving the purchase of 60 F-35A conventional-takeoff-and-landing models, 12 F-35B short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing variants, and 23 F-35C carrier-takeoff-and-landing aircraft. That’s a net increase of 16 aircraft: 12 F-35As, two F-35Bs and two F-35Cs.
- General Atomics was another major beneficiary of the legislation. SASC authorized $165m for additional MQ-1 Predator drones for the Army and $170.6m for MQ-9 Reaper drones for the Air Force, which will keep the production line going ahead of a replacement program.
- It adds an extra $128m for additional XQ-58 Valkyrie drones from Kratos. The Valkyrie is a low-cost combat drone currently being tested by the Air Force as part of the Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology effort, which seeks a “loyal wingman” aircraft that can penetrate contested environments and take on more risk than manned planes. The committee also calls for an LCAAT operational test plan and utility evaluation.
- It fully funded the Air Force’s KC-46 tanker program and B-21 bomber program, according to SASC Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.
- The bill also “increases funding for critical capabilities that will help the United States maintain air superiority in contested environments, including Systems of Systems Technology Integration Tool Chain for Heterogeneous Electronic Systems (STITCHES) and advanced air-to-air weapons” (Source: Defense News)
11 Jun 20. Senate panel OKs $6bn military fund to confront China. Plans for a Senate-crafted version of the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, a new military fund to boost deterrence against China in the Pacific, is one step closer to becoming law.
The Senate Armed Services Committee has approved nearly $6bn for the fund in its version of the annual defense policy bill, the panel announced Thursday. It authorizes $1.4bn in fiscal 2021, which would be $188.6m above the administration’s budget request, and $5.5bn for fiscal 2022. The bill also directs the defense secretary to create a spending plan for all of the funds.
“The best way to protect U.S. security and prosperity in Asia is to maintain a credible balance of military power, but, after years of underfunding, America’s ability to do so is at risk,” the committee’s summary stated. “The FY21 [National Defense Authorization Act] establishes the Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI) to send a strong signal to the Chinese Communist Party that America is deeply committed to defending our interests in the Indo-Pacific.
“PDI will enhance budgetary transparency and oversight, focus resources on key military capability gaps, reassure U.S. allies and partners, and bolster the credibility of American deterrence in the Indo-Pacific.”
Though not all details of the fund were immediately made public, SASC Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and ranking member Jack Reed, D-R.I., previously said they would sponsor a measure to enable U.S. military operations in the region, beyond supporting new weapons platforms.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said China is his department’s top adversary, but said Congress has worked to sharpen the Pentagon’s spending and focus in the region. The PDI would follow the form of the multiyear European Deterrence Initiative, which has consumed $22bn since its inception after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
Congress will have to internally negotiate the final dollar amount for PDI and what those funds would buy, but House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., and ranking member Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, have expressed support for the idea. Though the Senate’s approach differs, Thornberry has also proposed spending $6bn―all in FY21―on priorities that include air and missile defense systems as well as new military construction in partner countries; Smith hasn’t released his own plan.
Once approved by the full Senate, its version of the NDAA would be reconciled with the House’s version, which the HASC is expected to make public late this month before it goes through markup July 1 and advances to the House floor.
With an eye on China beyond the PDI, the SASC bill also encourages the Air Force to establish an operating location in the Indo-Pacific region for F-35A fighter jets and to allocate “sufficient resources and prioritize the protection of air bases that might be under attack from current or emerging cruise missiles and advanced hypersonic missiles, specifically from China.”
There are also a number of provisions aimed at safeguarding America’s technology and industrial base from Chinese intellectual property theft and “economic aggression,” according to the summary. The bill would also require reports from the Pentagon on how to mitigate the risks from vendors like Chinese telecom firms Huawei and ZTE when basing U.S. troops overseas.
The SASC summary said its proposed PDI would:
- Increase lethality of the joint force in the Pacific, including by improving active and passive defense against theater cruise, ballistic and hypersonic missiles for bases, operating locations and other critical infrastructure.
- Enhance the design and posture of the joint force in the Indo-Pacific region by transitioning from large, centralized and unhardened infrastructure to smaller, dispersed, resilient and adaptive basing; increasing the number of capabilities of expeditionary airfields and ports; enhancing pre-positioning of forward stocks of fuel, munitions, equipment and materiel; and improving distributed logistics and maintenance capabilities in the region to ensure the sustainment of logistics under persistent multidomain attack.
- Strengthen alliances and partnerships to increase capabilities, improve interoperability and information sharing, and support information operations capabilities with a focus on countering malign influence.
(Source: Defense News)
10 Jun 20. Trump memo demands new fleet of Arctic icebreakers be ready by 2029. President Trump ordered a review of the country’s requirements for icebreaking capabilities in the Arctic and Antarctic regions, with the goal of getting a fleet in place by 2029, according to a memo released Tuesday.
The memo was directed at the Defense, State, Commerce and Homeland Security departments, as well as the Office of Management and Budget.
Much of it directs work already in progress — including building a fleet of at least three heavy icebreakers — but says the remaining ships not under contract should be reviewed for what can be done to maximize their utility in the frozen poles.
The memo calls for “an assessment of expanded operational capabilities, with estimated associated costs, for both heavy and medium [polar security cutters] not yet contracted for, specifically including the maximum use of any such PSC with respect to its ability to support national security objectives.” That assessment is due in 60 days.
Trump’s directive to assess the current plan to field an Arctic maritime capability over the next decade is the latest sign that the administration is increasingly concerned about Russian and Chinese activity in the northern region, which could threaten America’s interests in crucial chokepoints, such as the Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom Gap.
In April 2019, the U.S. Coast Guard announced it had signed a $746m contract with VT Halter Marine of Pascagoula, Mississippi, for the detailed design and construction of its first polar security cutter — the first of the heavy icebreakers. And with the fiscal 2021 budget submission now before Congress, the Coast Guard says it can fully fund a second polar security cutter, according to a Congressional Research Service report.
But the memo calls for a review of what the appropriate mix of ships should be for an Arctic fleet, suggesting that some changes to the three planned medium polar security cutters could be on the table.
The memo asks for “use cases in the Arctic that span the full range of national and economic security missions (including the facilitation of resource exploration and exploitation and undersea cable laying and maintenance) that may be executed by a class of medium PSCs, as well as analysis of how these use cases differ with respect to the anticipated use of heavy PSCs for these same activities.”
“These use cases shall identify the optimal number and type of polar security icebreakers for ensuring a persistent presence in both the Arctic and, as appropriate, the Antarctic regions,” he memo continues.
It also raises the possibility of nuclear-powered icebreakers, currently only operated by Russia, which would give the polar security cutter more persistent presence in the Arctic, since it would not need to refuel.
The memo also calls for the study to identify two basing locations in the United States for its ice-hardened fleet, as well as two international locations. A study mandated by last year’s National Defense Authorization Act mandated that the Defense Department study locations for a port in the Arctic.
Furthermore, given that the Coast Guard has a lone operational heavy icebreaker, the 44-year-old Polar Star, the memo calls for the agencies to identify potential vessels that could be leased as a stop-gap measure.
The 2029 date set by Trump corresponds with the year that both the Coast Guard’s current ice breakers, the medium icebreaker Healy and the heavy icebreaker Polar Star are slated to be out of service.
Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan, a forceful advocate on the Senate Armed Services Committee for directing more resources toward the Arctic, said the memo would “add weight” to ongoing efforts to build up America’s presence in the Arctic.
“Our adversaries are well ahead of the United States when it comes to Arctic infrastructure,” Sullivan said in a statement. “We have one heavy and one medium functioning Polar-class icebreakers, while Russia has more than 50.
“I have fought for five years to bring Arctic issues to the forefront, including in the FY19 NDAA to authorize the building of six such icebreakers and my bill, the Strategic Arctic Naval Focus Act, to develop the capabilities and basing locations needed to support persistent presence in the Arctic.”
While the president’s memo appeared to catch regional observers by surprise, its content lines up with the administration’s rhetoric on the region, said Erik Brattberg, director of the Europe Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“The Trump administration has shown a greater interest in Arctic issues in recent years, driven especially by China’s growing presence in the region,” Brattberg said. “While America’s allies and partners in Northern Europe would welcome a greater U.S. presence in the Arctic, they are also wary of the region becoming increasingly marked by zero-sum, great power competition between the U.S., Russia and China.”
If the U.S. were to lease icebreakers for missions such as the annual breaking out of the National Science Foundation’s research facility in Antarctica, McMurdo Station, three nations seem most likely to be able to fill the niche: Canada, Finland and Sweden.
All three have rare excess icebreaker capacity, and all three would likely welcome the business.
Finland, whose industry claims to have “designed about 80 percent of the world’s icebreakers” and produced “about 60 percent” of the world’s fleet, has hoped to break into the American market for years. The leasing opportunity could provide a foothold for Helsinki, although issues may arise with the U.S. Jones Act that may complicate the act of America outright buying a Finnish-made icebreaker. The law is meant to provide stability to the U.S. maritime industry by supporting domestic business.
“The White House announcement will likely be music in the ears of Finland, which has been trying to sell or lease icebreakers to the U.S. for years,” Brattberg said.
It is also possible that Sweden and Finland — two European Union, non-NATO states that have close relations — could try to create some form of joint offering for America’s needs.
The U.S. has leased icebreakers for the McMurdo mission from Sweden and Russia as late as 2012 — just prior to the souring of relations between the West and Russia over the latter’s annexation of Crimea. But such an arrangement often limits how the vessel can be used under the terms of the lease.
In 2017, a study by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine mandated by Congress the year before, concluded that leasing icebreakers was not a viable path for the Coast Guard.
“Chartering (an operating lease) is not a viable option,” the study found. “The availability of polar icebreakers on the open market is extremely limited. (The committee is aware of the sale of only one heavy icebreaker since 2010.) U.S. experience with chartering a polar icebreaker for the McMurdo resupply mission has been problematic on two prior charter attempts.
“Chartering is workable only if the need is short term and mission specific. The committee notes that chartering may preclude USCG from performing its multiple missions.”
In the Coast Guard’s own 2019 environmental impact study for the Polar Security Cutter program, the service concluded that there were no vessels available to lease that would “substantially meet” the operational requirement for its icebreaking needs.
Furthermore, any lease would need to be such that the Coast Guard provide the manning, training and equipping of the vessel — assuming all the costs — while still paying for the privilege of having it, making such an arrangement a financially dubious prospect.
The White House’s decree comes in the context of a larger refocusing of national attention to the Arctic, as warming waters and melting ice open more time-efficient shipping routes and give nations greater access to natural resources that may have once been cost-prohibitive to reach.
Russia in particular has made clear to the international community that it has core economic interests there and will defend them, even building icebreakers with cruise missiles and deck guns to patrol frozen waters. The country, with 7,000 miles of Arctic coast, sees the region as both a security liability and a key to its long-term economic success. President Vladimir Putin in 2017 put estimates of the mineral wealth in the region at $30trn.
In a February hearing before the congressional Transportation and Maritime Security Subcommittee, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs, Michael Murphy, testified that Russia’s military buildup in the Arctic threatens the United States’ and NATO’s northern flank.
Although Russia has cooperated on oil spill response and search-and-rescue missions, the U.S. views the country’s moves with suspicion, especially in the establishment of an Arctic base and the installation of coastal missile batteries, early warning radars and air defenses, Murphy said in testimony.
“The Russian military buildup in the Arctic has implications beyond its waters,” he said. “From a geostrategic perspective, the Arctic and the North Atlantic are inextricably linked. The Arctic provides Russian ships and submarines with access to a critical naval chokepoint: the GIUK gap that plays an outsized role in NATO’s defense and deterrence strategy. Underwater trans-Atlantic cables also run through this area.”
“In short, NATO’s northern flank must once again command the attention of the United States and its allies,” he added.
Similar to its concerns for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, which has become a flashpoint in Sino-U.S. relations, the U.S. is taking issue with Russia’s attempt to force shippers to use Russian pilots and pay for use of the Northern Sea Route, which runs through Russia’s exclusive economic zone. Russia has heavily invested in icebreakers to keep the Northern Sea Route open for as long as possible each year, and therefore the country views it as something of a toll road.
“Russia’s restrictions on the freedom of navigation in the Northern Sea Route are inconsistent with international law,” Murphy said. (Source: Defense News)
10 Jun 20. Defense industry’s COVID costs could tank DoD modernization plans. The Pentagon is facing billions of dollars in pandemic-related claims, which may force it to dip into modernization and readiness accounts if Congress doesn’t backfill the money, the department’s top acquisitions official said Wednesday.
Testifying at the House Armed Services Committee, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord reaffirmed the Pentagon’s commitment to request supplemental appropriations from Congress, beyond its fiscal 2021 budget of $740bn. It’s been seven weeks since Department of Defense officials first publicly disclosed a request was coming; that request is currently sitting with the White House Office of Management and Budget.
The defense industry claims are expected to be covered by Section 3610 of the coronavirus relief package, among other provisions, Lord said. To give an idea of the scope, one of the major prime contractors told the DoD it and its suppliers could claim as much as $1bn.
Under Section 3610, the Pentagon and other agencies can reimburse suppliers for expenses to keep workers employed. Under other provisions, contractors can seek reimbursement for leave and DoD-directed purchases of personal protective equipment, cleaning, and costs associated with spacing out workers in factories.
“The department does not have the funding to cover these costs,” Lord said, which she later said were “in the lower end” of “double-digit billions of dollars.”
Lord affirmed the Defense Department would need Congress to pass supplemental appropriations beyond its fiscal 2021 budget during an exchange with HASC ranking member Mac Thornberry, R-Texas.
“Otherwise these contractors are going to have to eat several billion dollars, which could well come at their employees’ expense, which this was supposed to help to begin with,” Thornberry noted.
“There’s a choice there,” Lord said. “Whether we want to eat into readiness and modernization ― and slow down modernization or readiness on an ongoing basis ― or whether we want to remedy the situation in the next six months or so … and continue to have the ready forces we need for our national security.”
Though some House Democrats have expressed reservations about the size of the Pentagon’s budget request, HASC Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee Chairman Joe Courtney, D-Conn., expressed support, saying: “The intent of Congress needs to be followed up on with an appropriation.”
Courtney called on the DoD to provide Congress the data underlying its request, when the request actually arrives on Capitol Hill, saying it would foster conversation among lawmakers.
The Pentagon has rough calculations, but contractors have not yet filed claims, Lord said, because Congress has not drafted an appropriations bill. She speculated the full extent of the issues will emerge over time.
“I believe they are concerned that they’ll get a one-time shot and want to make sure what the entire situation is,” she said. “We believe we understand the lower end of the number.” (Source: Defense News)
10 Jun 20. Iran Poses Greatest Threat to Region, Centcom Commander Says. Iran poses the greatest threat to regional security and stability, the commander of U.S. Central Command said.
Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. spoke today at a Middle East Institute webinar titled, “Centcom and the Shifting Sands of the Middle East.”
McKenzie enumerated various threats from Iran:
- Funding and arming terrorist organizations;
- Propping up the “murderous regime” of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad;
- Providing advanced weapons to the Houthi rebels in Yemen;
- Direct attack on oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz;
- Direct attack on oil refineries in Saudi Arabia; and
- Attacking U.S. troops in Iraq.
“Iran actively stokes instability and is intent on degrading security all over the region,” McKenzie said. “They use proxies and violence to push other nations in the region to their agenda.”
The State Department is leading the effort to pressure Iranian leaders diplomatically and, through sanctions, to make them renounce their nuclear ambitions, cease work on ballistic missiles and cease exporting terrorism against their neighbors, he said, noting that this effort is a whole-of-government approach that includes allies and partners.
The Defense Department’s role regarding Iran is to deter it from taking direct or indirect military actions against the United States and its allies and partners in the region, he said.
McKenzie noted that the Iranians were surprised by the U.S. killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in January, and have had to recalculate where their red line is drawn with the United States. “They see we have the will to act,” he said.
Beyond Iran, terrorist organizations such as ISIS and al-Qaida still aspire to attack the United States, its allies and even the U.S. homeland, the general said. Vigorous pressure on them prevents them from doing so, he added.
China and Russia also have become involved in the region, trying to use economic leverage to make their influence felt, the general said. Russia, he added, is propping up Assad, who they see as a valued ally with a warm-water port.
The U.S. response has been to have close relationships with nations in the region, McKenzie said, helping them build up their security forces and encouraging them to purchase U.S. foreign military materiel.
An over-the-horizon threat to coalition and partner forces in the region will most likely come from swarms of small unmanned aerial systems that can carry weapons, McKenzie said, noting that the Army is taking the lead on developing counter-UAS measures.
McKenzie noted that the United States is less dependent on Middle East oil than it ever was, but wants to ensure freedom of navigation for partners and allies. He specifically mentioned the importance of ensuring safe passage through the Red Sea, Strait of Hormuz and the Bab al-Mandab Strait. (Source: US DoD)
09 Jun 20. 22 HASC Republicans Object to Reducing U.S. Forces in Germany. Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, and 21 other HASC Republicans today wrote to President Trump urging him to reject reported proposals to reduce U.S. force posture in Germany by 9,500 personnel and further restrict the number of troops permitted in Germany at one time to 25,000.
In their letter, Reps Thornberry (T-TX), Bacon (R-NE), Banks (R-IN), Bergman (R-MI), Bishop (R-UT), Byrne (R-AL), Cheney (R-WY), Conaway (R-TX), Cook (R-CA), Gallagher (R-WI), Graves (R-MO), Hartzler (R-MO), Kelly (R-MS), Lamborn (R-CO), Mitchell (R-MI), Rogers (R-AL), Scott (R-GA), Stefanik (R-NY), Turner (R-OH), Waltz (R-FL), Wilson (R-SC), and Wittman (R-VA) said:
“We strongly believe that NATO allies, such as Germany, should do more to contribute to our joint defense efforts. At the same time, we also know that the forward stationing of American troops since the end of World War II has helped to prevent another world war and, most importantly, has helped make America safer.
“In Europe, the threats posed by Russia have not lessened, and we believe that signs of a weakened U.S. commitment to NATO will encourage further Russian aggression and opportunism. In addition, the overall limit on troops would prevent us from conducting the exercises that are necessary for the training and readiness of our forces and those of our allies. The troop limit would also significantly reduce the number of U.S. forces that can flow through Germany for deployment to bases around the world, causing serious logistical challenges.” (Source: defense-aerospace.com/House Armed Services Committee)
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