The U.S. government is asking Iran to return the Lockheed Martin-built RQ-170 Sentinel UAV that was recently downed over that country.
"We've asked for it back. We'll see how the Iranians respond," President Obama said Dec. 12 during a news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
"I hope he said please," said analyst Dan Goure of the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va., referring to Obama's statement. "I can't quite see that happening."Obama's statement is the first official confirmation that the stealthy high-altitude spy plane had been captured by Iran. Earlier, the Pentagon had only officially acknowledged that an unmanned aircraft of an unspecified type was missing over western Afghanistan.
Iranian officials have already stated that they will not return the captured aircraft and have promised to reverse-engineer the jet's technology.
Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at Teal Group, mirrored those comments.
"Good luck with that," he said. "I think I read this really bad plot line in a cheap novel a few years ago. Life imitating art, or something like that."
Goure said that there is no chance that Iran will return the Sentinel to the U.S. Nor does Obama have any legal grounds to ask for such a return.
"I'm a little puzzled as to why he even bothered," he said.
Goure said the U.S. had a right to complain when the USS Pueblo was captured by North Korea in 1968 or when a Chinese fighter collided with a U.S. Navy EP-3 Aries spy plane in international airspace in 2001. But the more recent episode is different.
"Nobody has argued that it didn't go down inside their airspace," he said.
Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Jack Rives, a former judge advocate general, said that the U.S. was within its rights to ask for the return of the RQ-170 if the aircraft accidentally strayed into Iranian territory.
"We're not at war with the Iranians," Rives said. "When we're in our current conditions with them, this was an accident, it was a malfunction, the plane went down, it was our plane, there is no question over that. So it's just a common sense request under international law."
He said Iran has an obligation to return the aircraft, assuming it was operating in either international airspace or western Afghanistan with the consent of that nation's leadership.
"They actually don't have a right to keep it, it's ours," he said. "It did land on their land, and if it caused damage we'd reimburse them for the cost of the damage, but in terms of who owns the aircraft, there is no question it's ours."
However, the case becomes less clear if the Sentinel was intentionally overflying Iranian airspace, Rives said.
After Iranian state television broadcast footage Dec. 8 of the stricken aircraft, one source had confirmed that the images showed a RQ-170. The aircraft looked like it had suffered damage consistent with a wheels-up landing, he said.
Another source familiar with remotely piloted aircraft operations said that the RQ-170 is programmed to hold an orbit if it loses its command link and try to re-establish contact. However, if it begins to run out of fuel, it will divert to a nearby airfield if it can't return to base.
This may be what caused the aircraft to land inside Iran, the source said. The Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk has a similar feature, which has proven a bone of contention between the U.S. Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration.
However, that explanation can't account for the Sentinel's loss, Goure said.
"Even if they had lost control of it, it should have had enough fuel to go home," he said. "So that still doesn't explain what went wrong."
Goure said that it's still most likely that the aircraft suffered a catastrophic malfunction, enough so that it couldn't communicate or return home. The only other possibility is that it could have come under attack via cyber or electronic means.
While a cyber attack is some possibility, the system failure could have been caused externally by electronic attacks, Goure said.
"That's still a possibility," he said. "It's possible the Iranians did something."
Iraq wants to buy an additional 18 Lockheed Martin F-16IQ Fighting Falcon jets, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress on Dec. 12.
The $2.3 billion sale includes 24 Pratt and Whitney F100-PW-229 or General Electric F110-GE-129 engines, and would be managed under the Pentagon's Foreign Military Sales (FMS) apparatus, the release says. The deal would also include a host of ancillary equipment such as targeting pods, weapons and conformal fuel tanks.
"The proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by enhancing the capability of Iraq's Air Force," the release says. "The proposed aircraft and accompanying weapon systems will greatly enhance Iraq's interoperability with the U.S. and other NATO nations, making it a more valuable partner in an important area of the world, as well as supporting Iraq's legitimate need for its own self-defense."
Earlier in the year, Iraq ordered 18 F-16 C and D model jets. If this proposed sale is finalized, Iraq would own 36 of the single engine, multirole fighters.
Lockheed was awarded the $835 million contract on Dec. 5, calling for the delivery of 12 C-model single-seat jets and six D-model combat-capable two-seat training jets by May 30, 2018. The company will also provide support equipment, technical orders, integrated logistics support and contractor logistics support. The jets will be powered by Pratt and Whitney's F100 PW-229 afterburning turbofan, which delivers 29,000 pounds of thrust. The deal was announced in late September.
The earlier jet purchase also is through the FMS program
WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama on Dec. 12 vowed that Iraq had "an enduring partner" in the United States after meeting Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as America marks its exit from a nine-year war launched to oust Saddam Hussein.
"After nearly nine years, our war in Iraq ends this month," Obama said after meeting with Maliki at the White House.
"In coming days, the last American soldiers will cross the border out of Iraq with honor, and with their heads held high," he added, although he said "history will judge" the decision by his predecessor, George W. Bush, to invade Iraq in 2003.
Acknowledging a conflict which has left a wounding legacy for both nations, Obama said the men were there "to honor the sacrifices of all those who made this day possible and to turn the page."
The men were later to visit Arlington National Cemetery, where many of the nearly 4,500 U.S. war dead lie buried.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis also died in a war, insurgency and sectarian violence that left Iraq with the stirrings of a democratic political system but facing challenges from neighbor Iran.
Obama added "it was time to begin a new chapter in the history between our countries. A normal relationship between sovereign nations. An equal partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect.
"As we end this war, and as Iraq faces its future, the Iraqi people must know that you will not stand alone. You have a strong and enduring partner in the United States of America."
Maliki thanked Obama and said his country now had "very high aspirations," saying Iraq had established a democratic process and could now rely on its own security forces.
The last U.S. troops of a garrison that once numbered nearly 170,000 are preparing to leave this month, ending a nearly nine-year presence following the invasion.
Maliki will also meet U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and lawmakers to discuss security, energy, education and justice.
The full withdrawal from Iraq was mandated under an agreement concluded by the Bush administration.
Long-running talks designed to provide for a future training mission by U.S. troops failed over the issue of providing immunity for U.S. troops in Iraq, although both sides say they are still talking about future military exchanges.
About 6,000 U.S. troops remain stationed in Iraq on three bases, down from peaks of nearly 170,000 soldiers and 505 bases. All the troops must leave by the end of the month.
For his third visit to the United States since coming to power in May 2006, Maliki is being accompanied by Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Culture Minister and acting Defense Minister Saadun al-Dulaimi, Transport Minister Hadi al-Ameri, Trade Minister Khayrullah Hassan Babakir and National Security Adviser Falah al-Fayadh.
Also on the trip are National Investment Commission chief Sami al-Araji and Maliki's chief adviser and former oil minister Thamer al-Ghadban.
With American troops on their way out, some Republican lawmakers have expressed concern that neighboring Iran could step into the security vacuum. But Obama warned that other nations "must not interfere in Iraq."
The U.S. military leaves behind an Iraqi security force with more than 900,000 troops, which U.S. and Iraqi officials assess is capable of maintaining internal security but cannot defend the country's borders, airspace or maritime territory.
Some 157 uniformed U.S. troops and up to 763 civilian contractors will remain to help train Iraqi forces under the authority of the sprawling U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
Obama will mark the final withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq by addressing returning soldiers Dec. 14 at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Facing a reelection battle in November, Obama stressed he has kept his 2008 campaign promise to bring American troops home from Iraq and is now turning to nation building at home in tough economic times.
Although violence has declined markedly from the sectarian bloodbath that reached a peak in 2006-07 when tens of thousands were left dead, it remains a common feature of modern Iraq. In November alone, 187 people were killed in attacks, and several major bombings took place this month.
SYDNEY, Australia - Germany's Rheinmetall MAN and French company Thales won contracts Dec. 12 worth billions of dollars to supply thousands of new military vehicles for the Australian Defence Force.
Rheinmetall MAN Military Vehicles Australia will provide up to 2,700 protected and unprotected medium and heavy vehicles, Defence Minister Stephen Smith said.
There will be an option for approximately 1,000 more for training purposes.
"The new vehicles will improve performance and protection, as well as provide commonality across the fleet which will improve Army's training and logistic support requirements," said Smith.
He declined to say what the contract was worth, saying only that it was expected to be more than an original budget estimate from August 2007, when the government targeted about 3 billion Australian dollars for replacement vehicles.
In addition, Thales Australia's Hawkei unit was selected as the preferred supplier for a 1.5 billion-Australian-dollar contract to supply up to 1,300 protected and unprotected light vehicles, Smith added.
SYDNEY - Australia will dramatically cut the number of soldiers it has serving in Afghanistan over the next year, bringing forward to 2013 the bulk of its pullout from the war-torn nation, a report said Dec. 12.
The Sydney Morning Herald said sources had revealed that the Defence Department was working on a plan to drastically lower the number of troops mentoring Afghan soldiers in restive Uruzgan province by 2013.
Under the plan, only 150 soldiers will be rotated into Uruzgan as a group to mentor the Afghans in late 2012, a vastly reduced figure from the 900 currently there, it said, without naming sources.
"Why don't they leave a full complement of people there until the mentoring is completed to provide security for the Afghan and Australian forces?" one source told the paper. "The only reason I can think of is that it's politically expedient, and I just think that's unacceptable."
The Department of Defence had no immediate comment on the article.
Canberra has repeatedly said it intends to keep troops in the war-wracked nation until 2014, but Prime Minister Julia Gillard signaled last month that an earlier withdrawal could occur.
Gillard said the timing on completely handing over to Afghan forces in Uruzgan "may well be complete before the end of 2014" given the progress being made there.
The government has faced increasing pressure over the long-running Afghan campaign as fatalities from the conflict mount and following several incidents in which Afghan soldiers have fired on their Australian counterparts.
Canberra, which first committed to the war in 2001 before pulling out only to re-enter the arena in 2005, has so far lost 32 soldiers in the conflict. It has 1,550 troops stationed in the strife-torn country.
Gillard met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul in October, during which they discussed Australia's role in the country beyond 2014.
In an address to parliament in Canberra last month, Gillard said that Australia would be engaged in Afghanistan through this decade at least.
BRUSSELS - NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Dec. 12 announced that a mission to train Iraqi security forces will end at the turn of the year.
"The North Atlantic Council has decided to undertake the permanent withdrawal of the NATO Training Mission-Iraq personnel from Iraq by 31 December 2011," Rasmussen said in a statement.
"Agreement on the extension of this successful program did not prove possible despite robust negotiations conducted over several weeks," Rasmussen said.The news provided confirmation after Iraq's top security adviser Falah al-Fayadh told AFP of the decision in an interview aboard a flight transporting Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to Washington.
On Nov. 29, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Iraq was studying a contract to extend NATO's presence in Iraq beyond year's end but noted that such a deal would not grant its troops immunity from prosecution.
The failure to agree on immunity from prosecution closely mirrors Iraq's refusal to grant U.S. soldiers similar protections earlier this year, sinking a potential deal between the two countries that means all American soldiers left in Iraq will leave by year's end.
The NATO mission trained more than 5,000 military personnel and more than 10,000 police in Iraq.
Since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, Iraq has built up forces more than 900,000 strong, including an army that U.S. and Iraqi officials reckon is capable of dealing with internal threats, despite the violence.
About 6,000 U.S. troops remain stationed in the country on three bases, down from peaks of nearly 170,000 soldiers and 505 bases.
Security leaders roundly acknowledge, though, that the country is incapable of defending its borders, airspace and territorial waters.
VIENNA - Austria is in talks to sell 40 secondhand Leopard 2A4 tanks back to their German manufacturer after Vienna balked at the Canadian military buying them, a press report said Dec. 12.
Austrian Defence Ministry spokesman Michael Bauer confirmed only that talks with the firm, Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, were "going well, although nothing has been signed yet."
The Austrian daily Kronen-Zeitung said the Canadian military had also expressed interest in buying the 15-year-old tanks, which Krauss-Maffei will buy back for 400,000 euros ($532,300) each and then modernize.
"But that would have meant so much red tape, since the Canadians are fighting in Afghanistan, meaning that the sale would not have been approved," the paper cited an unnamed army insider as saying.
This created consternation among some partners in the NATO military alliance, although "as luck would have it" Canada decided it was no longer interested, the daily added.
The paper said Austria bought the tanks for 1.3 million euros each in 1996.
TOKYO - Japan launched a new spy satellite into orbit Dec. 12 amid concerns over North Korea's missile program and to monitor natural disasters in the region, officials said.
The Japanese H-2A rocket carrying an information-gathering radar satellite lifted off at 10:21 a.m. local time from the Tanegashima Space Center in southwestern Japan.
"The rocket was launched successfully," said Toshiyuki Miura, a spokesman for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which built the satellite and worked on the launch with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
"The satellite was separated into orbit around the Earth later," Miura added.
The government decided to build an intelligence-gathering system after North Korea launched a missile in 1998 that flew over the Japanese archipelago and into the Pacific, shocking many in Japan.
In defiance of international pressure, North Korea launched what was believed to be a three-stage Taepodong-2 missile in April 2009, with an estimated range of 6,700 kilometers (4,100 miles).
Japan has three operating optical satellites. Two radar ones were successfully placed into orbit, but both broke down later. Another optical satellite was launched in September but is not yet functioning.
Demand for land surveillance grew, meanwhile, after Japan's March 11 quake and tsunami, which killed some 20,000 people and crippled cooling systems at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, northeast of Tokyo, causing reactor meltdowns.
"The project is aimed at boosting security and monitoring land in case of sizable natural disasters like the one in March," a government official said, adding that the current three satellites were used to track the March calamity.
"If everything goes smoothly, it will be the first radar satellite under the program," the official said. "With the radar satellite, we can introduce wider usage of the system."
Radar satellites are able to capture images at night and in cloudy weather, something that optical satellites cannot.
The latest satellite cost some 39.8 billion yen ($512 million) to develop, while the launch cost about 10.3 billion yen, Kyodo News reported.
JAXA and Mitsubishi Heavy had originally planned to launch the satellite Dec. 11, but it was postponed due to bad weather.