The U.S. Defense Department has bungled the managing a fleet of Russian-built Mil Mi-17 Hip helicopters, the Pentagon's inspector general said in a report released Jan. 5.
The Pentagon has spent $1.6 billion over the last five years on what it calls non-standard rotary wing aircraft (NSRWA) and plans to spend an additional $1 billion in the future.
"DoD officials did not adequately manage the acquisition and support of NSRWA," the report reads. "Specifically, DoD officials were unable to identify a comprehensive list of all DoD-owned and supported Mi-17s, their total ownership costs, and all planned requirements in support of these aircraft."
That happened because the Pentagon didn't treat the program as a major procurement effort and instead took an ad hoc approach to managing the buy, the report says, and as a result DoD didn't get the most for its money.
The report recommends the Pentagon establish the NSRWA effort as a formal program, draw up proper documentation, consolidate various offices to which the program reports and designate the U.S. Army as executive agent for the aircraft.
JERUSALEM - Israel and the United States are to hold a joint missile defense exercise, the Israeli military said late Jan. 5.
Although the exercise, codenamed "Austere Challenge 12," comes at a time of spiraling regional tensions over Iran's suspected nuclear arms program, the army said the maneuvers were planned in advance.
"The exercise scenario involves notional, simulated events as well as some field training and is not in response to any real-world event," the military said in a written response to an AFP query
"The U.S. European Command and the Israel Defence Forces periodically conduct routine exercises in Israel. These exercises, which are part of along-standing strategic partnership, are planned in advance and part of a routine training cycle designed to improve the interoperability of our defence systems."
It did not say when the exercise would take place. Local media said that it would get underway in the spring and would be the biggest ever joint maneuvers between the two allies.
Israel and the United States have a longstanding strategic alliance and are jointly developing the Arrow anti ballistic missile system.
In November the Jewish state staged a major civil defense drill in the Tel Aviv region aimed at simulating a response to conventional and non-conventional missile attacks.
Although Iran says its nuclear program is for civilian use only, the international community believes it is striving to acquire nuclear arms and Israel says that it is a prime target of the Islamic republic.
Iran has threatened to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which 20 percent of the world's oil flows, if it is hit with sanctions, and has warned the United States not to send an aircraft carrier back into the Gulf.
Last week it test-fired three missiles during war games east of the strait at the entrance to the Gulf.
LONDON and WASHINGTON - Just before the Pentagon unveiled a new military strategy that emphasizes a shift in focus toward the Asia-Pacific region, Britain's Defense Secretary Phillip Hammond urged the U.S. government to maintain the strength of its commitment to the NATO alliance.
Speaking Jan. 5 in Washington on his first visit to the United States since taking over for Liam Fox in October, Hammond said that "however pressing the growing importance of the Asia-Pacific region is to the United States, the alliance between the U.S. and the countries of Europe is, and will remain, of vital interest to both continents."
Hammond said the growth in power and influence of other regions is a reason to strengthen the NATO alliance rather than weaken it.
The speech to an audience at the Atlantic Council, an organization formed to promote trans-Atlantic cooperation, was delivered right before U.S. President Barack Obama took the stage in the Pentagon briefing room to announce a new strategy that envisions a smaller military with resources increasingly devoted to the Pacific.
The eight-page strategy document says the United States remains committed to "bolstering the strength and vitality of NATO," but it also acknowledges that the strategic landscape in Europe has changed since NATO was first created and therefore the U.S. military posture must also evolve.
"Most European countries are now producers of security rather than consumers of it," the document says. "Combined with the drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan, this has created a strategic opportunity to rebalance the U.S. military investment in Europe, moving from a focus on current conflicts toward a focus on future capabilities."
Hammond said he planned to meet with his U.S. counterpart, Leon Panetta, later that afternoon to discuss the new defense posture and the impact of the U.S. military spending cuts on trans-Atlantic relations.
The strategy did not say how many U.S. troops could leave Europe, but some reports indicate 4,000 more may withdraw.
"Of course reductions in U.S. troop numbers are not going to be welcomed by European allies, but I think we all understand the budget pressure the United States, like all of us, is under," Hammond said.
NATO members also recognize the world is changing and that the United States may have to shift its strategic focus, he said.
"I think Europe needs to respond in a mature way, not in a histrionic way," he said.
The release of the strategy document did not include new programmatic details, including any information on potential changes to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Pentagon's largest and most expensive weapon program. The United Kingdom plans to buy the naval variant of the aircraft.
Hammond said he is particularly concerned with what a delay to the program's schedule or a reduction to the U.S. buy could do to the aircraft's unit cost and availability.
"We're already under some pressure from public opinion in the United Kingdom that we're going to have built and launched [aircraft] carriers some years before we have the aircraft to fly off them," he said.
His speech served to remind the United States of the importance of NATO as it makes its strategic transition toward Asia.
At the same time, Hammond wanted to address comments made by Panetta and former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who have both been critical of the unbalanced resources some European countries provide NATO and its operations.
Although Afghanistan and Libya had shown what the alliance was capable of, the contributions of many alliance members fell short "in terms of capability, the balance of contributions and in terms of the will to deploy."
In June, Gates said NATO had become a two-tiered alliance with some members shouldering the costs and participating in combat missions, while others enjoy the benefits of NATO membership without footing the bill or participating in difficult operations.
Despite these shortcomings, Hammond said people need to be realistic.
"Without strong economies and stable public finances, it is impossible to build and sustain in the long term the military capability required to project power and maintain defense," he said. "That is why today the debt crisis should probably be regarded as the greatest strategic threat to our nations."
With defense budgets continuing to be cut by NATO members, he warned the situation would get worse before it got better.
"Across the alliance, aggregate defense expenditure is certain to fall in the short term and, at best, recover slowly in the medium term," Hammond said.
Part of the answer to NATO's capability woes in a time of austerity lies in a series of capacity enhancing measures. He recommended a thorough assessment of NATO's capabilities and then stacking these against its current ambitions.
Such an analysis would provide the basis for choices regarding "greater pooling and sharing of capabilities; mission, role and geographic specialization; greater sharing of technology; cooperation on logistics; alignment of research-and-development programs, and more collaborative training."
The strategy document released by the Pentagon hinted at a similar approach.
"In this resource-constrained era, we will also work with NATO allies to develop a 'Smart Defense' approach to pool, share, and specialize capabilities as needed to meet 21st century challenges," it says.
Without more money, Hammond said the challenge was to maximize existing NATO capability.
"Prioritizing ruthlessly, specializing aggressively and collaborating unsentimentally. ... With budgets so tight, allies need to revisit approaches and ideas that might previously have seemed politically unacceptable," said Hammond.
Hammond also argued for greater cooperation with allies outside of NATO, naming Sweden, Australia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Japan and South Korea.
However, he said he is opposed to growing the alliance and rejected the idea that the European Union should be a member.
The Pentagon will abandon its ability to fight long, drawn-out wars like the ones fought in Afghanistan and Iraq as it enters the next decade.
IN AN EIGHT-PAGE document detailing a new U.S. defense strategy, the Pentagon said the U.S. military will shrink in size and will focus its efforts on the Pacific. (File photo / U.S. Air Force)
Instead, the size of the U.S. military will shrink, as expected, and the Pentagon will focus its efforts on the Pacific as China's military and influence in the region grows, according to the eight-page strategy designed to inform more than $450 billion in cuts to planned defense spending over the next decade.
The president also said the Defense Department will re-examine its mix of active-component and reserve troops, with the expectation that reserves will continue to play the prominent role they have during the past decade.
The strategy backs the Air Force's new bomber program, which the service had lobbied for extensively during the last year.
In addition, the strategy notes the United States is "investing in a long-term strategic partnership with India."
The Pentagon will abandon its long-time ability to fight two major wars simultaneously but will still be able to deny an aggressor in a second region while already engaged in another.
In Europe, the U.S. military posture will "evolve," however, the strategy does not say how.
The military will reduce its nuclear weapons stockpile, but the strategy does not mention specific weapons programs.
President Barack Obama is scheduled to discuss the strategy during a late morning briefing at the Pentagon. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other senior defense officials are also scheduled to appear.
The Pentagon also plans to cut overhead, headquarters and other support spending, though the strategy does not propose specific cuts. The strategy says defense must find further efficiencies in its business practices.
Defense also plans to reduce the growth of compensation and health-care costs, though the strategy said "we will keep faith with those who serve."
ANKARA - Turkey will buy a first batch of two F-35A Joint Strike Fighters as a sign of its commitment to the troubled U.S.-led program, the government's defense procurement agency said Jan. 5.
THREE F-35A TEST aircraft fly in formation over Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Turkey moved ahead with its first order of the jets, the country's defense procurement agency announced Jan. 5. (Lockheed Martin)
A statement said the government had authorized the order to meet the future needs of the Turkish air force for next-generation fighter planes.
Turkey has long planned to purchase about 100 jets to replace its F-4 and F-16 fleet, but the increasing costs have hampered the acquisitions.
The Joint Strike Fighter, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, is the Pentagon's most expensive weapons program ever.
Its cost has jumped to about $385 billion, and the price of each plane is now well over $100 million. U.S. officials said last month that it has encountered a spate of technical problems expected to delay production still further.
However, Japan said it had chosen the F-35 for its next-generation mainstay fighter, ordering 45 of the aircraft in a deal worth around $4.7 billion.
The Pentagon plans three versions of the plane: the standard F-35A that would replace the F-16 fighter, the F-35C designed to land on naval carriers to replace the F-18 and the F-35B vertical take-off model that would supplant the Harrier aircraft flown by U.S. Marines.
KABUL, Afghanistan - Two British men arrested in Afghanistan with 30 AK47 assault rifles have been charged with weapons smuggling, a government spokesman said Jan. 5.
The men, named as Julian Steele and James Davis, were paraded at a news conference which heard that they were detained while driving through Kabul and told police they were working for a private security company, Garda World.
"The detainees did not have any documentation for carrying weapons, so we have charged them with illegal smuggling of weapons and have handed them to the attorney general for further investigation," said spokesman Sediq Sediqqi.
"The National Police hereby also announce the dissolution of this company, and based on the order of the interior minister, the head and other officials of this company will be summoned to give account. The company has been dissolved," Sediqqi said.
Two Afghan nationals traveling with the men were also detained. They were also shown to the media along with the weapons, but all four men stood with their backs to reporters.
Afghanistan is home to thousands of foreign private security personnel providing services for foreign troops, diplomatic missions and aid organizations.
But relations with the authorities have deteriorated. President Hamid Karzai accuses the firms of breaking the law and taking business away from Afghans.
Perceptions that those working for security firms are little more than gun-toting mercenaries, roaming the countryside with impunity, have made them deeply unpopular among Afghans.