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defenseDefense Watch  


A-10 Warthog
FY15 National Defense Authorization Act
- On May 8, the U.S. House Armed Services Committee unanimously passed its markup of the FY15 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The legislation, which would authorize just over $600 billion in 2015 U.S. defense spending, rejected most of the cost-saving measures in the Pentagon's proposed budget, such as cuts to compensation and troop numbers. Among other measures, the bill would:
  • Block the planned retirement of the A-10 Warthog and authorize $635 million to keep the attack plane flying;
  • Freeze the Army's plan to move the National Guard's Apache helicopters into the active duty force pending a GAO study of the Army's force structure; and
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is reportedly "not pleased" with the legislation, and the Pentagon said it stands "firmly" behind President Obama's 2015 defense budget request. The draft NDAA goes to the House floor for debate on May 28th.

Sequestration - The House Armed Services Committee Markup comes on the heels of a DoD report titled "Estimated Impacts of Sequestration-Level Funding," in which the Pentagon laid out plans for how it would cut $66 billion in procurement and R&D projects between 2016 and 2019 should the defense spending caps remain in place. A Pentagon statement accompanying the report warned: "Overall, sequester-level cuts would result in a military that is too small to fully meet the requirements of our strategy, thereby significantly increasing national security risks both in the short- and long-term. As Secretary Hagel has said, under sequester-level budgets, we would be gambling that our military will not be required to respond to multiple major contingencies at the same time."

F-35 cost estimates - According to the Government Accounting Office's "Assessment of Selected Weapons Report," the F-35 program's (the most expensive conventional weapons program in history) estimated acquisition costs have decreased by $11.5 billion. Conversely, a DoD report estimates that due to reduced purchase plans for the F-35, the loss of economies of scale means an increased cost of $7.4 billion in 2013. These differing (but not mutually exclusive) estimates come as questions are raised about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter's ability to evade Russian and Chinese radars.

SSN 774 Attack Subs - On April 28 the US Navy announced a record $17.645 billion contract to build 10 new SSN 774 Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarines.

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iranIran Watch  


Navy - Iran's semi-official Fars news agency reported that the country has temporarily canceled a plan to deploy warships to the Atlantic Ocean. However, Iran announced that it has armed its warships with a new generation of cruise missiles, and as it completes work on a large-scale mock-up of an American aircraft carrier, that it will target U.S. carriers in the Persian Gulf in the event of war. The Pentagon scoffed at the IRGC navy chief's claims that U.S. carriers were "easy targets" for its swarm boats and could sink a U.S. warship in less than a minute. 


RQ 170 DroneOn May 11, Iran declared that it had succeeded in reverse-engineering the U.S. RQ-170 drone it captured in December 2011, with state television broadcasting images purporting showing the replicated aircraft. U.S. defense experts, however, said that the Iranian drone is actually a crude fake.


After nuclear talks - Frank Rose, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Space and Defense Policy, signaled optimism in April about a possible resolution of the Iranian nuclear dispute but said Washington remained concerned that Iran's ballistic missiles threatened Gulf Arab states. Meanwhile, Dennis Ross and Robert Einhorn, both former top advisers to the Obama administration on Iran, called for the White House and Congress to increase the threat of using military force against Tehran if talks aimed at curbing its nuclear program fail - or the country's Islamist government is caught cheating on the terms of an agreement.     


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gulfGulf Watch   


Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council - Weeks after Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey suggested - while in Jerusalem - that Israel might reach out to Gulf states to urge cooperation on regional issues like Iran and Syria, Reuters reported Israel is holding secret talks with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has invited Jordan and Morocco - and is considering inviting Egypt as well - to form a military alliance to resolve the bloc's manpower issues.  


U.S. and the Gulf Cooperation Council - On May 14, Secretary Hagel told GCC defense chiefs that even if there is a nuclear deal with Iran, the United States would keep a robust military presence in the Gulf, saying "these negotiations will under no circumstances trade away regional security for concessions on Iran's nuclear program." Separately, Congress is seeking to boost the U.S. military presence in the Gulf region in order to deter Iran from taking hostile military action and ensure that U.S. allies are in a position to defend themselves should Tehran become hostile. Meanwhile, American and GCC air defense commanders are still calling for development of an integrated missile defense system in the region as Iran reveals a new series of ballistic missile tests. 


Hagel meets Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud.
Saudi Arabia - During Hagel's visit, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud called for stronger military cooperation between the United States and the Arab monarchies of the Gulf whose security he said was under threat. Earlier in the week Saudi Arabia for the first time displayed its Chinese made intermediate-range missiles during a military parade, a move that analysts interpreted as aimed at Iran. And in April, Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former intelligence chief, told a security conference in Bahrain that Gulf states should work on acquiring nuclear know-how to balance any threat from Iran.  


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terrorWar on Terror     


Yemen - In April, a video surfaced on Islamist militant Web sites showing a large group of al-Qaeda fighters taking part in a brazen open-air gathering celebrating a mass jailbreak of fighters. Among the celebrants was the terrorist network's second in command, Nasser al-Wuhaishi, who vowed to attack the United States. Shortly after the video's appearance, a major multi-day military operation was conducted in which U.S. drone strikes paired with raids by Yemeni forces targeted a suspected Al Qaeda training base hidden in the mountains killed as many as 55 militants. Although CIA and DOD spokesmen declined to comment on the operation, unnamed CIA officials said American Special Operations military personnel had supported the Yemeni operations on the ground with intelligence and possibly logistical assistance.


A bigger counter terrorism footprintIn April, Christine Wormuth, Deputy Defense Undersecretary for Strategy, Plans and Force Development (and nominee to become Undersecretary for Policy) told the House Armed Services Committee that the Pentagon is moving aggressively to establish a "network" of elite American commandos across the globe as part of its changing strategy to combat al-Qaeda, and that it will commit more special operations forces in Yemen and North Africa, where al-Qaeda is now strongest. Later, the White House signed a 20-year lease on Camp Lemonnier, the U.S. military base in Djibouti, which provides a staging ground for counter terrorism operations in Yemen and Somalia. 


Syria as a terrorist sanctuary - Senior leaders from both the State Department and FBI warned of the growing threat of foreign fighters - including Americans - traveling to Syria and returning with extremist connections and battlefield experience. Similarly, the Netherlands warned that militants returning from Syria posed a security threat to Europe and said two Dutch citizens had carried out suicide attacks in Syria and Iraq in the past six months and about 100 had fought in Syria in 2013. Relatedly, Saudi Arabia alleged that Saudi recruits of a radical Islamist group in Syria plotted with others inside the kingdom to assassinate leading religious figures and security officials. This would mark the first known attempt by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) to conduct an attack in the kingdom.


Other terrorism on Israel's frontier - The United States has designated Egypt's most active militant group, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, a foreign terrorist organization, officials said on April 9, making it a crime to support the group. And House lawmakers introduced a new bill that would greatly tighten economic sanctions on the terror group Hezbollah by going after its foreign assets, narcotics trafficking rings, and its media apparatus.  


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syriaSyria Watch    


As the death toll in Syria's civil war reportedly passes 150,000, new reports emerge that the Syrian government is using a loophole in the international deal to remove chemical weapons from the country to conduct Chlorine gas attacks, and Russia is sending more advanced weapons to President Bashar Assad. Secretary of State John Kerry has been pushing for the U.S. military to be more aggressive in supporting the country's rebel forces - against the Pentagon's opposition. An April video surfaced showing Syrian rebel groups armed with U.S. TOW anti-tank weapons, and the CIA is reportedly trying to equip shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles with tracking devices in order to send them to rebels


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missileMissile Defense


Amidst rising tensions with Russia, the State Department said the United States has rejected Moscow's latest proposal for an agreement that would include legally binding curbs on U.S. missile defenses in Europe, and the Missile Defense Agency said it may expedite the Raytheon-built missile defense shield for Europe due to Russia's recent actions. Meanwhile, the House Armed Services Commitee's NDAA markup included a provision that would increase funding by at least $60 million for a homeland missile defense system.


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usisraelU.S.-Israel Cooperation    


Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff Martin Dempsey.
In April, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon called Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey "a true friend" to Israel during a meeting. Ya'alon has previously harshly criticized the Obama administration's foreign policy, which he suggested was weak. On May 9, National Security Adviser Susan Rice toured an Israeli Air Force Base and said security cooperation between the United States and Israel has reached "unprecedented levels" under President Obama. Earlier in the week, the House Armed Services Committee doubled the Pentagon's funding request for Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system, adding $175 million to the Administration's request for $176 million for fiscal 2015, which was approximately $200 million less than last year's funding.


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oldandnewOld and New Allies  


Egypt - The State Department has determined that Egypt qualifies for some military and counterterrorism assistance, clearing the way for the delivery of 10 AH-64D Block II Apache Longbow helicopters to the Egyptian military, reversing a decision officials made last summer following the country's military coup and its violent aftermath. A Pentagon spokesman told reporters the helicopter will reach Egypt in "the coming months," but that Egypt still will not be able to get its M1 Abrams tanks, F-16 Fighting Falcons, or Harpoon missiles. Senator Patrick J. Leahy, chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees foreign aid, said he would not support additional military aid to Egypt in the wake of mass death sentences recently handed out by Egyptian courts, adding significant pressure on the Obama administration to shift course. 


IraqU.S. government sources said the United States is quietly expanding the number of intelligence officers in Iraq and holding urgent meetings in Washington and Baghdad to find ways to counter growing violence by Islamic militants. The Pentagon has also cleared a nearly $1 billion package of aircraft trainers, surveillance aerostats, and up-armored Humvees for the Iraqi military. The Iraqi government is also actively seeking armed drones from the U.S. to combat al Qaeda in its increasingly violent Anbar province, and in a significant reversal, would welcome American military drone operators back into the country to target those militants on its behalf, according to people with knowledge of the matter.   


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Drones - The Center for Strategic and International Studies has a new report out that argues that America must continue to innovate as UAV technology proliferates: "This will require relatively modest financial commitment, but more pronounced strategic commitment,

West Point cadets work inside a cyber lab.
particularly to encourage experimentation that will uncover the most promising areas for investment and emphasis." Previously, in April the Rand Corporation published a new study that says while drone technology may proliferate, it's not truly transformative.


Cyber - In an interview with Popular Mechanics, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh talks about cyberwar, the next generation of stealth, and the future of air warfare in a Q&A. Also, West Point has opened a cyber warfare research institute, which will have 75 positions in the next three years.  

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