Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Proposed Defense Cuts Would Imperil U.S.: McKeon

The powerful chairman of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee says he won't support a bipartisan debt and spending package taking shape in the U.S. Senate because it would result in a more than $800 billion cut in defense spending over the next decade.
Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., expressed strong misgivings about the “Gang of Six” plan in a July 20 memo sent to members of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee. (Chris Maddaloni / Staff file photo)
Of particular concern to Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., is that the plan envisions $80 billion in cuts in military entitlements, such as retired pay and health care, that would have to be approved within six months.
McKeon spelled out his objections in a July 20 memo sent to armed services committee members. "Based on what we have read, the proposal would result in $886 billion in security cuts over 10 years," McKeon said.
The plan drafted by the so-called "Gang of Six" that is taking shape in the Senate does not specifically order cuts of that size in the defense budget. Rather, it calls for $3.7 trillion in cuts over 10 years in federal spending, in two phases - a $500 billion cut to be approved in six months that the bipartisan negotiators call a "down payment" on savings, and then other cuts to come later.
McKeon said the "down payment" includes $80 billion in entitlement savings over 10 years that would have to be found in six months by the armed services committees.
The larger cuts in discretionary defense spending would occur later when the House and Senate budget committees come up with discretionary spending limits and enforcement mechanisms to keep spending under control. The agreement calls for national security and domestic spending to be cut almost equally. McKeon estimates the national security budget would be cut by $886 billion over 10 years, with 85 percent – about $753 billion - coming from within the U.S. Defense Department.
"It is our belief that this proposal raises serious implications for defense and would not allow us to perform our constitutional responsibility to provide for the safety and security of our country or keep faith with men and women in uniform," McKeon said.
McKeon's criticism of the Gang of Six proposal is based in large part on a House Budget Committee analysis of the Senate proposal, plus McKeon's own concerns that the military is a stretched and stressed force than cannot handle large cuts without great risk.
The Senate deal is not done, but President Obama appeared to be embracing the idea if it could lead to an end to a debt crisis that threatens to leave the U.S. unable to pay its bills beginning Aug. 2.
The Gang of Six includes Democrats Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Mark Warner of Virginia; and Republicans Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Mike Crapo of Idaho and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
Coburn has just floated his own, more ambitious plan, which would reduce the deficit by $9 trillion over 10 years.

L-3 Displays Intel Plane, Eyes Export

LONDON - L-3 Communications has taken the wraps off a modified King Air 350 ER turboprop, which it says offers overseas customers an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability in advance of the U.S. Air Force's Project Liberty MC-12 aircraft but without many of the export clearance hang-ups associated with selling sophisticated spy platforms.
The U.S. company used last weekend's Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) at the Royal Air Force base at Fairford, England, to debut its Spydr aircraft to air force chiefs and others from around the world who gather for the annual event.
Bob Spivey, vice president of special programs for L-3's Mission Integration Division, said if necessary the Spydr aircraft can avoid some of the issues created by International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) by using technology sourced from outside the U.S.
Italy's Selex Galileo announced July 18 it was partnering with L-3 to offer its e-scan PicoSAR synthetic aperture radar as a payload option.
The L-3 executive said they were also talking to German electro-optical/infrared turret provider Zeiss.
Discussions with other potential suppliers were also underway, but Spivey declined to name them at this stage.
"It doesn't matter whether we put an [L-3] Wescam or Zeiss ball on Spydr. It's the same capability, just a different source of technology. Using technology like the PicoSAR makes it exportable and gets us out of some of the ITAR issues," Spivey said.
The privately funded Spydr development is pitched at domestic and export customers in defense and civil markets looking for a lightweight, affordable ISR capability, Spivey said.
Nations big and small are looking for ISR capabilities for maritime and land surveillance, civil duties with the police and other roles that won't break the bank.
King Air platform builder Hawker Beechcraft brought a special missions demonstrator of its own to the Paris Air Show last month, and Spivey reckons Boeing and Raytheon will also be among those competing in the expanding market sector.
The Spiral 1 development aircraft shown by L-3 at RIAT featured a fuselage-mounted Wescam electro-optical/infrared turret, a fuselage pod with a 100-pound payload, a tactical data link, satellite communications, a full signals intelligence system and other sensor options.
Spivey said the aircraft was returning to the U.S. after the tattoo to have Spiral 2 developments installed - principally a 2-foot extension of the aircraft's nose to allow a second sensor turret to be fitted - before heading for the Dubai Air Show in November.
Further technology developments are planned within the year when the aircraft goes into a planned Spiral 3 upgrade.
Potential customers in the Persian Gulf region include Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to L-3 Chief Executive Mike Strianese, speaking at the Paris Air Show in June.
Spivey said L-3 and others had already given the Saudis their pitch to supply ISR aircraft for possible border patrol duties. The executive said the machine, which is effectively a next-generation aircraft beyond Project Liberty, is also creating interest in South America, the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, southern Africa , the U.K. and the U.S.
Britain already operates a Raytheon-supplied King Air special mission aircraft known as the Shadow.
Spivey said the Spydr is about three generations ahead of that aircraft, which was purchased by the British as an urgent operational requirement for campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Mark Johnson, L-3's vice president of next-generation ISR special programs, said the key design themes were flexibility and modularity to allow the company to tailor Spydr to meet the differing demands of customers.
L-3 has delivered dozens of special mission King Air-based twin turboprops, including MC-12 aircraft, to the U.S. Air Force but is not restricted to using the platform.
"While we love the airplane, we are not limited to using it," Spivey said. "The King Air just happens to be our test airframe."
The executive listed the C-27J, EADS CASA aircraft and the Dash-8 as other potential airframes.
"We are more talking about mission system than platforms," Spivey said. "[The King Air] just happens to be a real nice turbo aircraft which gets up to 35,000 feet. In the maritime surveillance business, you may need something like the Dash-8."
Spivey said the modular mission system also allowed a move down to smaller aircraft than the King Air, and the company was already doing some lighter-than-air and special operations-type work.

Breakthroughs Promise Cheaper Titanium

Titanium will become far less expensive and far easier for manufacturers to use, says U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
New extraction and processing methods mean "the cost of titanium will drop by a factor of two to five," Chu said July 19 at the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force Energy Forum in Arlington, Va.
And a new manufacturing process uses lasers to fuse powdered titanium into a far greater range of shapes than currently possible, allowing "remarkable structures," Chu said.
Chu spoke about lightweight components that would increase fuel efficiency in ground vehicles.
But the aerospace industry would also benefit, said Richard Aboulafia, an analyst at the Teal Group, Fairfax, Va.
"It's huge," Aboulafia said. "Because of the rise of exotic materials, titanium plays a huge role."
Titanium, which is generally used as an intermediary between traditional aluminum structures and the newer composite materials that are increasingly dominating aircraft structures, is currently used relatively sparingly due to its high price. A drop in cost could allow it to be used in more airframe components.
Aboulafia said the metal's cost has helped push costs up on various defense programs, including the Pentagon's F-35 program and U.S. Air Force's C-5 modernization program. He added that anything that can be done to decrease material costs helps to increase the Defense Department's buying power.

Libyan Rebels Meet Sarkozy, Ask for Weapons

PARIS - Military leaders from the rebel-held Libyan city of Misrata asked French President Nicolas Sarkozy on July 20 for extra aid to defeat ruler Moammar Gadhafi, a member of their delegation said.
"Insurgent commanders came to explain to the head of state that the keys to Tripoli are in Misrata because Misrata's fighters are disciplined, battle hardened and they have a key asset: a military victory already won" against forces loyal to Gadhafi, Bernard-Henri Levy told AFP after the meeting.
French writer Levy has been an ardent supporter of the Libyan revolt and attended the talks at Sarkozy's Elysee palace alongside rebel General Ramadan Zarmuh, Col. Ahmed Hashem and Col. Brahim Betal Mal.
France is taking part in NATO-coordinated strikes against Gadhafi's military assets and was the first outside state to formally recognize the rebels' Transitional National Council.
Sarkozy's main military advisor, Gen. Benoit Puga, took part in the talks, and a source close to the delegation said discussions between Libyan rebel leaders and French military top brass were ongoing July 20.
Misrata insurgents hope that France will provide similar support to that given to the rebel enclave in the Nafusa Mountains, southwest of Tripoli, the source said.
France in June said that it had delivered weapons to rebels there to help defend themselves against Gadhafi's forces.
Misrata, around 125 miles east of Tripoli, has been controlled by rebels since mid-May, after a two-month siege by Gadhafi forces.

U.S. Lawmaker Opposes Further Tank Sales to Egypt

Freshman U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., is opposing the latest proposed sale of M1 Abrams tanks to Egypt, a deal with an estimated cost of $1.3 billion.
On July 1, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notified Congress of the potential sale.
If it goes through, the sale would include 125 M1A1 Abrams tank kits for co-production and associated weapons, equipment, parts, training and logistical support, according to the DSCA notice.
In a July 18 letter, West, a member of the House Armed Services Committee and the Tea Party Caucus, said he opposes any military sales to Egypt as long as the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist party, "remains active in the political process" there.
West sent the letter to Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Fla., the House Armed Services Committee chairman. Copies of the letter also were provided to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other House leaders.
Last month, the U.S. said it would resume direct contact with the Muslim Brotherhood, which has become an influential political force in Egypt since former President Hosni Mubarak was forced out of office earlier this year.
"We believe, given the changing political landscape in Egypt, that it is in the interests of the United States to engage with all parties that are peaceful and committed to nonviolence that intend to compete for the parliament and the presidency," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said June 30 on a trip to Budapest.
Since Mubarak's departure, the Egyptian military has formed an interim government, which recognized the Brotherhood's political party in June. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for this fall, and a presidential election could take place by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, West says the proposed tank sale to Egypt could "seriously jeopardize" Israel's security.
"We must exercise caution with regards to military sales and support to the Egyptian Government until a government is formed absent of the radical elements of the Muslim Brotherhood that will maintain active peace with Israel," West writes.
Founded in 1928, the Brotherhood has never been classified a terrorist organization by the U.S. While the group renounces violence, it has verbally supported Hamas, which has carried out attacks against Israel.
According to the Congressional Research Service, the U.S.-Egyptian co-production of the M1A1 Abrams tank, which began in 1988, is "one of the cornerstones of U.S. military assistance to Egypt."
Egypt plans to acquire a total of 1,200 tanks. Some of the tank's components are manufactured at an Egyptian facility, while the remaining parts are produced in the U.S. and then shipped to Egypt for final assembly. The prime contractor is General Dynamics, located in Michigan.
"The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region," the DSCA notice says.
By law, the government is required to notify Congress of any foreign military sale over a certain value. Depending on the country and the sale, Congress has between 15 and 30 days to block the sale by a joint resolution of disapproval.
To date, no sale has ever been blocked by this method, although Congress came very close during the 1980s with an arms sale to Saudi Arabia.
Congress can also pass legislation to stop or modify sales at any time up to the point of delivery.

Iranian Navy Planning Atlantic Deployments

TEHRAN, Iran - The Iranian navy plans on deploying warships to the Atlantic Ocean as part of a program to ply international waters, Rear Adm. Habibollah Sayari said in statements published July 19.
But the commander of the navy, quoted by Kayhan newspaper, said he was waiting for "final approval" before launching the operation.
"In case of final approval, a fleet of the navy will be sent to the Atlantic [Ocean]," Sayari was quoted as saying without giving details about the fleet or where in the Atlantic Ocean it would be deployed.
"The presence [of ships and submarines] in the Mediterranean Sea, the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean and international waters is still on the agenda of the navy," Sayari said.
According to Sayari, navy ships assigned to long-distance missions will be equipped with Noor cruise missiles.
"Ships going on missions are equipped with surface-to-surface Noor missiles," which have a range of 125 miles (200 kilometers), Sayari said.
Iran in February moved two warships into the Mediterranean Sea, crossing the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, triggering anger in Israel, which branded the move "political provocation" and put its navy on alert.
The ships docked in Syria on Feb. 24, marking Iran's first such mission since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Analysts said Iran was trying to project its clout in the region at a time when anti-government protests sweeping the Arab world are shifting the regional balance of power.
In recent years Iranian warships have also guided Iranian ships and those of other nations as they made their way across the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden.
Kilo-class Iranian submarines escorted warships to the Red Sea "to collect data" in June, in their first mission in distant waters.
Iranian maritime forces are composed mainly of small units equipped with missiles and are operating under the control of the Revolutionary Guards in the Gulf.
The ocean-going fleet is also small and under the command of the Iranian navy. which comprises a half-dozen small frigates and destroyers from 1,500 to 2,000 tons, and three submarines of 3,000 ton Kilo class, purchased from Russia in the 1990s.