The U.S. Air Force has ordered work to stop on the Light Support Aircraft (LAS) contract for the Afghan Air Force, officials announced Jan. 4.
The service last month awarded the $355 million fixed-price contract to Sierra Nevada Corp. and partner Embraer for 20 A-29 Super Tucano light turboprop training and attack aircraft.
"Due to litigation currently pending before the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, the Air Force today has issued a temporary stop work order for the Light Air Support Contract … " Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Jack Miller said in a statement. "The competition and source selection evaluation were fair, open and transparent. The Air Force is confident in the merits of its contract award decision and anticipates that the litigation will be quickly resolved."
Hawker Beechcraft Corp., based in Wichita, Kan., has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government after the company's AT-6 light attack turboprop, an armed variant of the T-6 Texan II primary trainer, was ejected from the competition for submitting a "technically unacceptable" bid.
Hawker Beecher said that the Air Force has not explained why the bid was disqualified.
Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., said that the service needs to explain why the AT-6 was thrown out of the competition.
"It wasn't just the case that they awarded to Embraer and chose a different bidder," he said. "They kicked Beechcraft out of the competition after years of working on it, with literally no explanation."
Pompeo said the Air Force may have legitimate reasons to exclude the Hawker aircraft. "They simply have to let America in on that secret, and the company."
The U.S. Air Force wants the aircraft delivered by April 30, 2014.
A spokeswoman for Embraer said she was not aware of the stop-work order, while Sierra Nevada representatives didn't return calls for comment as of late Jan. 4. Hawker-Beechcraft did not respond as of late Jan. 4.
NEW DELHI - Five months after signing a $2.2 billion deal to upgrade its French Mirage aircraft, the Indian government Jan. 4 cleared an additional $1.18 billion deal to procure Mica air-to-air missiles from France.
The Indian Air Force will buy 500 Mica missiles from MBDA to mount on the 51 Mirage 200H aircraft that are to be upgraded by France's Thales and Dassault jointly with Bangalore-based Hindustan Aeronautics.
The Mica deal was cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Security, the nation's top government security agency and which is chaired by the prime minister.
Under the deal, MBDA will also have to execute compulsory defense offsets valued at about 30 percent of the total deal.
The Indian Air Force is upgrading 51 Mirage 2000H aircraft over the next 10 years. Two aircraft have already flown to France for the upgrade and will be delivered by July 2014.
The upgrade includes improved avionics, sensors, weapon capabilities and electronic warfare suite, in addition to a high-performance, multimode airborne radar with longer detection ranges.
The aircraft will be fitted with a new-generation digital electronic warfare suite and a glass cockpit with most of the flight and mission parameters projected on the head-up display.
SEOUL, South Korea - South Korea and the United States will soon sign a new plan on countering any North Korean attacks, Seoul said Jan. 4 amid international wariness over the abrupt leadership transition in Pyongyang.
"We believe there remains a possibility of provocations by the North during the power succession to Kim Jong Un," deputy defense minister Lim Kwan Bin told reporters.
The ministry said the South Korean military, in response to any attack, would ensure "the enemy threat, the source of the provocation and its supporting forces are completely removed".
The North has hailed Kim as "great successor" and appointed him military chief since his father and longtime leader Kim Jong Il died suddenly on Dec. 17.
Hopes that cross-border tensions might ease have not so far materialized, and some analysts believe the untested son, aged in his late 20s, may try to bolster his credentials by staging a limited border incident.
The new regime has already vowed retaliation against Seoul for alleged disrespect during the mourning period for Kim and vowed never to deal with its current conservative government.
More than 100,000 people rallied Jan. 3 in Pyongyang in support of Kim Jong Un, the North's state media reported. It also released footage of his visit Jan. 1 to an armored division.
The South's defense ministry, in a policy document for 2012, said the allies would sign the joint counter-provocation plan this month, as agreed last October.
U.S. and South Korean troops already hold regular annual joint exercises.
"Once the joint operational (counter-provocation) plan is signed, we will engage in more exercises that will help us execute it," Lim said. "It will specify how such exercises should be held."
The two Koreas have remained technically at war since their 1950-53 conflict ended only with a ceasefire. The United States has based troops in the South ever since and now has 28,500 in the country.
Cross-border tensions have been high since the South accused the North of torpedoing a warship with the loss of 46 lives in March 2010.
Pyongyang denied involvement but eight months later shelled an island near the tense Yellow Sea border and killed four South Koreans.
South Korea has since strengthened troops and weaponry on its "frontline" islands.
In Washington, the State Department said Jan. 3 that the North's stated refusal to engage with South Korea bodes ill for efforts to revive six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear disarmament.
"That's not going to be conducive to getting back to the table," said spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
The North said last week it would never have dealings "with the Lee Myung Bak group of traitors", in a reference to the South's president.
Nuland said the North should improve ties with the South and show its commitment to denuclearization before the six-party talks can resume.
The talks - chaired by China and involving the two Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia - have been at a standstill since the last round in December 2008.
TRIPOLI, Libya - An umbrella group of former rebels who fought against toppled dictator Moammar Gadhafi have rejected the appointment of Yussef al-Mangush as chief of staff of the new Libyan army.
"We reject anybody who is not among the list of six candidates proposed by us to the NTC [National Transitional Council]," Behlool Assid, a founder of the Coalition of Libyan Thwars (Revolutionaries), said on the sidelines of a Jan. 4 news conference.
He said Mangush was not among the candidates proposed by his group, which represents factions of former rebels from major Libyan cities such as Benghazi, Misrata and Zintan.
Assid told reporters that his group was disappointed as NTC chief Mustafa Abdil-Jalil himself on Dec. 21 had urged the rebels to put forward names for the chief of the national army.
"The thwars had agreed to support the candidate who is selected from the list we proposed ... we feel that the procedure with which Mangush has been appointed is illegal," Assid said, adding that "selecting the army chief is not so easy."
NTC members Abdelrazzak al-Aradi and Fathi Baaja said Jan. 3 that Mangush, a former colonel in Gadhafi's military, had been chosen to head the army.
The post of chief of staff has been vacant since the July murder Gen. Abdel Fatah Yunis, who commanded the rebels in eastern Libya against Kadhafi's diehards. Yunis had been expected to head the new Libyan army when it was formed.
Mangush is currently the deputy defense minister in the interim government of Prime Minister Abdel Rahim al-Kib.
During the conflict, Mangush was arrested in the oil town of Brega in April by Gadhafi's forces and freed in late August following the fall of Tripoli.
Several officers in the former army have criticized the NTC for moving slowly on appointing a new chief of staff, saying the delay had also held back the formation of a new army and the integration of former rebels.
Forming a new army is seen as a key step towards disarming militias in Libya, especially in the capital Tripoli where a firefight between ex-rebels on Jan. 3 killed four people.
TEHRAN, Iran - Iran on Jan. 4 renewed its warning to America against keeping a U.S. Navy presence in the oil-rich Persian Gulf, underlining a threat that Washington has dismissed as a sign of "weakness" from Tehran.
"The presence of forces from beyond the [Gulf] region has no result but turbulence. We have said the presence of forces from beyond the region in the Persian Gulf is not needed and is harmful," Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said, according to state television's website.
"The long-term presence of the United States in the region increases insecurity and the possibility of tensions and of confrontation," the deputy chief of Iran's forces, Masoud Jazayeri, said, according to the Revolutionary Guards website.
"As a result ... the United States must leave the region," Jazayeri said.
Jazayeri noted the exit of the U.S. aircraft carrier John C. Stennis from the Gulf last week and said: "Since you've gone, don't come back, otherwise you'll be responsible for any problems."
The comments echoed a Jan. 3 warning that Iran would unleash its "full force" if a U.S. carrier is redeployed to the Gulf.
"We don't have the intention of repeating our warning, and we warn only once," Brig. Gen. Ataollah Salehi, the armed forces chief, said as he told Washington to keep its carrier out of the Gulf.
The White House on Jan. 3 brushed off the warning, saying it "reflects the fact that Iran is in a position of weakness" as it struggles under international sanctions.
The U.S. Defense Department said it would not alter its deployment of warships to the Gulf.
Iran has just finished 10 days of navy war games near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, at the entrance of the Gulf, meant to show it was capable of controlling the channel and closing it if necessary. Twenty percent of the world's oil ships through the strait.
The exercises climaxed on Jan. 2 with the Iranian navy test-firing three types of missile designed to sink warships.
The head of Iran's parliamentary national security and foreign policy commission, Aladdin Borujerdi, was quoted by the Fars news agency saying the U.S. description of Iran being weak "is a completely illogical stance."
He added: "The U.S. talks about sanctioning our oil but they should know that if Iran's oil exports from the Persian Gulf are sanctioned, then no-one will have the right to export oil through the Strait of Hormuz."
The developments have helped send the prices of oil soaring, though they pulled back a little on Jan. 4. Brent North Sea crude contracts in London were selling for $111.58 per barrel. New York trading of West Texas Intermediate crude was at $102.30 per barrel.
The Pentagon said in a statement it would continue the rotation of its 11 aircraft carriers to the Gulf to support military operations in the region and keep the Strait of Hormuz open.
"We are committed to protecting maritime freedoms that are the basis for global prosperity; this is one of the main reasons our military forces operate in the region," it said in a statement.
The increasingly tense situation in the Gulf was taking place as Iran struggled with turmoil on its domestic currency market.
Foreign exchange shops on Jan. 4 were shuttered as traders refused to comply with a central bank order putting an artificial cap on the value of the dollar against the Iranian rial, which has come under intense pressure in recent days.
The central bank also cut in half, to $1,000, the amount of dollars travelers flying abroad could buy.
Iranian authorities were trying to shore up their currency following its slide to a record low Jan. 2, days after the United States enacted new sanctions targeting Iran's central bank.
Tehran, however, insisted the volatility of the rial was not because of sanctions.
It "definitely has nothing to do with sanctions," foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said Jan. 3.
The United States and other Western nations have imposed sanctions on Iran's economy over Tehran's controversial nuclear program, which they believe is being used to develop atomic weapons. Iran has repeatedly denied that allegation, saying the program is purely for energy and medical uses.
HELSINKI - Sixty-nine Patriot missiles impounded in Finland after being found on a merchant vessel in mid-December were headed for South Korea, the Finnish government said Jan. 4, granting their transit through Finnish territory.
"The missiles in question had been sold to the Republic of Korea by Germany," the government said in a statement, adding that it had granted a license to Seoul's "Defense Acquisition Program Administration to transit through Finnish territory 69 Patriot missiles."
The surface-to-air missiles, produced by U.S. firm Raytheon, were discovered on December 15 aboard the British-registered Thor Liberty docked in the southeastern Finnish port of Kotka.
Confusion initially surrounded the shipment.
Finnish police said the goods were bound for China but did not have the necessary authorization to pass through Finland, while a German defense ministry spokesman said the missiles came from the German military and were destined for South Korea.
The spokesman said it was a "legal sale on the basis of an accord between two states at the government level" and that export authorizations were in order.
However a senior Finnish defense ministry official said Finland had not received any transit license application for the missiles from Germany.
A joint team of Finnish customs and police officials removed and impounded the missiles during an investigation for suspected illegal export of defense material.
The vessel's Ukrainian captain and first mate were also detained for questioning and later slapped with a travel ban which is still in effect.
Last week the customs service said it planned to widen the investigation.
"Next week ... we will want to hear more suspects or persons of interest in the case. It is possible there may be others of interest," the head of the Finnish customs anti-crime unit, Petri Lounatmaa, told AFP.
Finnish transport safety officials have cleared the Thor Liberty to leave Finland, but the vessel has remained in port due to the travel ban imposed on its first officers, and the removal of its cargo.
The final days of 2011 saw the Obama administration finalize two important weapon sales with countries in the Middle East: a $3.48 billion sale of a Lockheed Martin-made missile defense system to the United Arab Emirates, and a $29.4 billion sale of Boeing-made F-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia.
While the announcements come as tensions between the United States and Iran continue to rise over a dispute regarding access to the Strait of Hormuz, the deals themselves are not meant to address current events, State Department officials said.
The F-15 deal was finalized with Saudi Arabia on Dec. 24. However, the White House first notified Congress of that sale, which includes 84 new aircraft and the modernization of 70 existing aircraft as well as missiles, spare parts, training, maintenance and logistics, in October 2010.
During a Dec. 30 State Department news conference, Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, told reporters that the deal was not directed toward Iran, adding that work on the sale precedes the latest news out of the region.
"We did not gin up a package based on current events in the region," he said.
Over the last several weeks, the United States and Iran have stepped up the economic and military pressure on each other, with the latest threat coming from Iran, which warned the United States not to return one of its aircraft carriers to the gulf.
On Jan. 3, the Pentagon dismissed Iran's warnings.
"The deployment of U.S. military assets in the Persian Gulf region will continue as it has for decades," Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said in a statement. "Our transits of the Strait of Hormuz continue to be in compliance with international law, which guarantees our vessels the right of transit passage."
Meanwhile, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman is on a four-day trip to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
"While in the gulf region, she will consult with senior Saudi and Emirati officials on a wide range of bilateral and regional issues," according to the State Department. Her trip "further illustrates the robust strategic relationship the United States shares with both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates."
While the latest sales to the Middle East are being placed in this geopolitical context, the late December announcements are not tied to the escalating tensions, but part of a longer-term security plan, said Danny Sebright, president of the U.S.-UAE Business Council and a counselor at the Cohen Group, Washington.
"The overall sales with regard to both countries are definitely the result of a long-term concern with Iranian intentions, a long-term concern with wanting to improve individual countries' defense capabilities," Sebright said. "But, is the announcement of these two deals specifically tied to Iran? I would say no to that. I would say it's much more about internal decision-making in both countries - some with regard to terms and conditions of the sale, some with regard to budgeting, and some with regard to the Arab Spring."
According to Sebright, the United States gave the formal Letter of Offer and Acceptance to Saudi Arabia last spring and the Saudi government has been holding on to it until it was ready to sign.
"The basic deal had all but been done over a year ago, but they waited for internal and external reasons," he said.
A State Department official said, "While we decline to get into the specifics on the negotiations, the timeline here is not particularly atypical. A sale of this magnitude and complexity required close, continual consultations with our Saudi and industry partners to sort out the details."
Congress was first notified of the plan to sell UAE the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (THAAD) in September 2008. After negotiating the details of the contract, the United States and UAE signed the THAAD deal on Dec. 25. Lockheed Martin is on contract for four THAAD batteries for the U.S. Army, but the UAE deal is the program's first foreign sale.
Lockheed Martin's portion of the $3.48 billion sale is $1.96 billion. The overall deal includes two THAAD batteries, 96 missiles, two AN/TPY-2 radars, and 30 years of spare parts, support, and training to the UAE, according to the Pentagon.
Since the 2008 congressional notification, UAE trimmed the buy.
At first it was expected the country would buy three THAAD fire units, 147 missiles, and four radar sets for an estimated value of $6.95 billion.
The United Arab Emirates has asked Lockheed not to publicly discuss the delivery schedule of the weapon system, said Dennis Cavin, vice president of corporate business development at Lockheed Martin.
"This sale is an important step in improving the region's security through a regional missile defense architecture, and follows a number of recent ballistic missile defense-related sales," Little said in a Dec. 30 statement.
Sales from earlier in the year include a $1.7 billion direct commercial sales contract to upgrade Saudi Arabia's Patriot missiles and the sale of 209 Patriot GEM-T missiles to Kuwait, valued at about $900 million.
Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, also put the sale in the context of December's announcement that Iraq would buy Lockheed's F-16s and Oman's decision to double the size of its F-16 fleet.
"When combined with the modernization of the Saudi Air Force and the extensive F-16 inventory of the United Arab Emirates, it is clear Arab gulf states will be positioned to greatly outmatch the antiquated tactical aircraft fleet of Iran," he wrote in a blog for Forbes.
According to Lockheed Martin, demand for missile defense capabilities continues to climb around the world.
"With regional threats in the Middle East and the uncertainties of what's going on in North Korea, demand for a very capable missile defense system has never been stronger," Cavin said. "The U.S. government is in discussion with a number of countries who have expressed interest in the THAAD, but we'd prefer that the Missile Defense Agency address any specifics with regard to which countries have contacted them."
The Missile Defense Agency declined to provide further details.
In announcing the Saudi deal, the State Department emphasized it would improve interoperability between the Saudi and American air forces.
In addition to greater cooperation with the United States, the sales also bolster internal cooperation among the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, which include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Sebright said.
The gulf countries have taken more steps to improve internal coordination and work toward multilateral defense policies in the last year than they have over the last 25, he said.
TEL AVIV - Israel's Elbit Systems announced Jan. 3 that it has secured a contract to supply the Hermes 900 unmanned aerial system (UAS) to an unidentified American country. According to the firm, the approximately $50 million deal includes Hermes 900 airframes, universal ground control stations, the firm's advanced DCoMPASS electro-optical payloads and satellite communications links. Deliveries of the complete system will conclude in about a year.
SOURCES IN ISRAEL would only say that the end user was not an Air Force, but rather a government organization in a Central American country. (Elbit Systems)
The publicly traded firm declined to identify its latest customer for the Hermes 900, and defense and industry sources here were only willing to note that the end user was not an Air Force, but a government organization in a Central American country.
Less than six months after first flight of the prototype Hermes 900 in December 2009, Elbit began serial production of its self-funded system - first for the Israel Air Force and then for the Chilean Air Force.
The Hermes 900 medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAV is a higher-flying, heavier-hauling version of the firm's Hermes 450, operational in Israel, the United Kingdom and more than a half-dozen other countries. Like the Hermes 450, the Hermes 900 is designed for autonomous flight, automatic takeoff and landing, and full payload management by Elbit's universal ground control station. In addition to the redundant wideband line-of-sight datalinks built into the 450 model, the Hermes 900 features an advanced satellite communication channel for long-range missions at altitudes of more than 30,000 feet.
"We are proud that yet another customer has selected the Hermes 900, following orders by the Israel Defense Forces and Chile," Elad Aharonson, general manager of Elbit's UAS Division, said in the firm's Jan. 3 announcement.