Tuesday, October 25, 2011

U.K. Approves $1.6B Upgrade for Warrior Vehicle

LONDON - The 1 billion pound ($1.59 billion) program to update the British Army's Warrior infantry fighting vehicle has been given the go-ahead by the government.
A 1 billion-pound program update to the British Army's Warrior infantry fighting vehicle has been approved. (BAE Systems)
Prime Minister David Cameron's announcement that the Ministry of Defence will sign a contract with Lockheed Martin UK to upgrade the Warrior ends months of speculation over whether the program would proceed or be struck down by Britain's defense spending cuts.
The contract is expected to be signed by the end of the month.
Although given the go-ahead, the program is much delayed. A Lockheed spokesman said production will start in 2018, and full operational capability is expected in 2020. At one stage, the British Army wanted to have the updated Warrior operational by about 2012.
The number of vehicles to be updated has also slipped to about 380, and not all of those will receive the full upgrade package. Originally, 643 vehicles were to be included in the program, of which 449 would receive the full upgrade.
Lockheed was named as the only contractor remaining in negotiation with the MoD at the start of this year, after BAE Systems was knocked out of the running.
The Warrior Capability Sustainment Program will involve a raft of improvements, including fitting a new turret with a 40mm cannon supplied by CTAI, an Anglo-French subsidiary of BAE Systems and Nexter.
Other key improvements include a new open electronic architecture and better armor protection.
The MoD says the update could keep the vehicle in service until 2040 and beyond.
Lockheed's contract is valued at 642 million pounds. The remainder of the 1 billion pound cost of the program comprises government-furnished equipment, such as the new cannon, and government taxes.
Major suppliers include the Defence Support Group, Rheinmetall Defence, Curtiss-Wright, Thales UK and Meggitt.
The deal is the first major announcement since the appointment of Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond. He replaced Liam Fox earlier this month after Fox resigned in the face of controversy over his links with lobbyist and adviser Adam Werrity.
Fox's resignation held up the announcement of the deal.

U.S. Envoy: Talks with N. Korea 'Very Positive'

GENEVA - Talks in Geneva between the United States and North Korea aimed at reviving long-stalled nuclear negotiations have been "very positive," Washington's outgoing lead envoy Stephen Bosworth said Oct. 25.
"We had some very positive and generally constructive talks with the DPRK delegation. We narrowed differences on several points and explored differences on other points," he told reporters after the two days of talks.
Bosworth acknowledged that the parties would need "more time and discussion to reach an agreement" and that the delegations would stay in touch through North Korea's mission in New York.
But he gave a positive outlook for progress.
"I am confident that with continued efforts on both sides we can reach a reasonable basis of departure for formal negotiations for the return of the six-party process," he added.
Together with his successor Glyn Davies, Bosworth held two days of talks with North Korea's delegation led by the foreign ministry's first vice minister Kim Kye-Gwan in a bid to revive long-stalled nuclear negotiations.
Pyongyang formally quit the six-party negotiations in April 2009, a month before staging its second atomic weapons test. It has since repeatedly said it wants to come back to the table, but Washington is demanding a physical sign of sincerity first.

Panetta Presses Japan on U.S. Base Move

TOKYO - U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Oct. 25 that it was critical for Japan to press ahead with the relocation of a controversial air base on a southern island to ensure the region's security.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and his Japanese counterpart Yasuo Ichikawa answer questions during a joint press conference Oct. 25. (Toru Yamanaka / AFP via Getty Images)
In an effort to galvanize the stalled move amid public opposition, Japanese leaders pledged to issue an environmental impact report on shifting the Futenma Air Station from a residential area on Okinawa to a nearby coastal spot.
"The minister assured me... the government of Japan's intention to move forward with steps necessary with the Futenma replacement facility," Panetta said during a joint press conference with Japanese Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa.
"This is a critical initiative in our effort to maintain a strong, forward-deployment presence in the Pacific region," Panetta said.
A long-standing agreement between Washington and Tokyo was set to see the Futenma air base moved by 2014.
But local objections and a policy flip-flop by a former prime minister have stalled the plan, putting a distinct chill on relations between the long-time security allies.
The governor of the area in which the new base is expected to be built will still have the final say on whether to allow the construction of a new facility, regardless of the environmental report by the central government.
Okinawa has long been a reluctant host to around half of the nearly 50,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan. Locals complain of noise, the risk of military accidents and of crimes committed by U.S. soldiers.
Panetta reiterated that the base realignment will come alongside the redeployment of about 8,000 U.S. service personnel from Okinawa to Guam.
"It is also important to reducing the impact of our bases in Okinawa," he said.
Meanwhile, Ichikawa and Panetta reaffirmed the importance of the U.S.-Japan security alliance as a "cornerstone" of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific.
The Pentagon chief, who also met with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, was in Japan on the second leg of a tour of Asian allies where he has repeatedly stressed Washington's commitment to remaining a Pacific power, as nations in the region nervously eye China's growing military might.
Panetta said Washington will jointly will work with Japan, South Korea and Australia to "effectively address many shared challenges" of living next to the communist country.
"Together, we will also work to encourage China's emergence as a responsible and positive partner in building regional stability and prosperity, cooperating on global issues, and upholding international norms and rules of behaviors," he said, without elaborating.
Panetta is scheduled to head to South Korea on Oct. 26.

Spain readies to pull troops from Libya

MADRID - Spanish Defence Minister Carme Chacon on Tuesday said Spain would pull its troops from Libya as soon as NATO formally announces the end of its operations there.
"As soon as NATO formally confirms the end of this operation, Spanish assets will be immediately pulled back to Spanish territory," she said at a news conference.
"This means that all the troops that we have today in Libyan territory will be in Spain before October 31," she added.
On Oct. 12 Chacon said Madrid was withdrawing its four F-18 fighter jets assigned to the NATO air campaign in Libya due to positive developments in the north African country.
The minister noted that Spain still had two refueling aircraft in Libya and would continue to help enforce the UN-mandated arms embargo on the country with a frigate and a maritime patrol aircraft.
NATO ambassadors are scheduled to meet Wednesday to make a formal decision on a preliminary agreement to terminate the seven-month-old mission on Oct. 31.
But Libya's new regime has asked the alliance to maintain air operations a month longer than planned.
The alliance decided to wind down the mission after determining that civilians were essentially free from the threat of attacks from fighters loyal to Moammar Gadhafi, who was killed last week by troops loyal to the new regime.

Russia Delivers Radar Jammers to Iran

MOSCOW - Russia has sent a set of mobile radar jammers to Iran and is negotiating future deliveries that Moscow believes do not contravene current United Nations sanctions on the Islamic state's regime, an official said Tuesday.
The Avtobaza truck-mounted jammers are part of a broader line of arms Russia hopes to sell Iran despite concerns over Tehran's nuclear program, the deputy head of the military and technical cooperation agency said.
"This is a defensive system," the agency's deputy director Konstantin Biryulin was quoted as saying by the state RIA Novosti news agency.
"We are not talking about jets, submarines or even S-300 (missile) systems. We are talking about providing security for the Iranian state.
"We are in constant talks with Iran over that country's purchases of military technology that does not fall under UN sanctions," he was quoted as saying.
The arms delivery was disclosed the same day as a Western diplomat said Russia and China were urging the UN atomic agency to soften, or even hold back, a report detailing Iran's suspected efforts to develop nuclear weapons.
Russia had strongly defended its close trading partner until agreeing in September 2010 to cancel a planned sale of S-300 missile systems and supporting stronger sanctions against Tehran.
But limited arms shipments have continued and Iran last month finally put a Russian-made nuclear power plant on stream in Bushehr after years of delays.
Biryulin did not disclose when the radar systems were delivered or how many units were sold.

U.S. Dismantles Last of Big Cold War Nuclear Bombs

WASHINGTON - Nuclear experts in Texas prepared Tuesday to dismantle the oldest, biggest and most powerful bomb in the U.S. nuclear arsenal from the Cold War era.
The last B-53 bomb - built in 1962, the year of the Cuban missile crisis - will be taken apart at the Pantex facility in Amarillo, the only place in the U.S. that builds, maintains and dismantles nuclear weapons.
Grey in color, weighing 10,000 pounds and as big as a minivan, the device had the power to wipe out a metropolitan area with its nine megaton yield when dropped from a B-52 bomber.
By comparison, the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, Japan, in the final days of World War II packed a yield of 12 kilotons, or 0.012 megatons.
"It's significant in the sense that it's the last of these multimegaton weapons that the nuclear powers used to build during the height of the Cold War," said Hans Kirstensen, director of the nuclear information project at the Federation of American Scientists.
Dismantling the B-53 bomb - retired from service in 1997 - involves separating 300 pounds of high explosive from the uranium "pit" at the heart of the weapon, Pantex spokesman Greg Cunningham told AFP.
"The world is a safer place with this dismantlement," Thomas D'Agostino, director of the National Nuclear Security Administration, said in a Pantex statement.

4 Killed in Yemeni Military Plane Crash: Pilot

ADEN - A Yemeni military cargo plane crashed Oct. 25 while landing at a base in the southern province of Lahej killing at least four of 15 people on board, a military pilot said.
"Three Syrian technicians and one Yemeni were killed," the source at Al-Anad base told AFP, adding that eight Syrian engineers and seven Yemenis were on board the Russian-made plane.
"It exploded upon hitting the runway," he said.
The pilot stressed that the Antonov plane was not carrying weapons.
Al-Anad airbase was built by the British who ruled south Yemen until it became independent in 1967.
Lahej and several southern and eastern provinces of Yemen have also become an operation zone for militants of an al-Qaida branch believed to be taking advantage of a weakening central authority following nine months of nationwide protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Military officials have said that authorities in Sanaa have withdrawn military planes from the main Dailami air base, near Sanaa airport, to other bases, including Al-Anad, due to nearby confrontations between Saleh forces and his opponents.
The elite Republican Guard, led by Saleh's son Ahmed, has repeatedly clashed with anti-Saleh tribes in Arhab, north of the airport, while Saleh loyalists are frequently engaging in deadly confrontations in north Sanaa with dissident troops and tribes backing protests.
Despite domestic and international pressure, including a U.N. Security Council resolution last week urging Saleh to sign a deal to quit office, the veteran leader has refused to relinquish power.