CAPITOL HILL: Tracking the winners and losers of this year’s House authorization markup — the draft bill produced by the House Armed Services Committee — is one of Washington’s most exhausitng pastimes. The final bill often does not appear until 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 or even later in the morning the day… Keep reading →

WASHINGTON: Singapore is expected to announce sometime in the next 10 days that it plans to buy its first squadron –12 planes — of some 75 of Lockheed Martin’s F-35Bs, further bolstering what had been the flagging fortunes of the world’s most expensive conventional weapon system.

The fact that American allies in the Pacific are the ones committing to the controversial and over-budget aircraft is telling. If you want to understand the calculus driving these choices, first look at China, which to countries such as Singapore, Japan, Australia, and South Korea is the primary long-term threat. Keep reading →

Sitting in the cockpit of her A-10 Warthog somewhere over Florida’s Eglin Air Force Base on Jan. 10, Maj. Olivia Elliott flipped a switch. In an instant her blunt, twin-engine warplane with the 30-millimeter cannon in the nose was transformed. No longer just the Air Force’s most heavily-armed attack jet, now the A-10 was also a flying wireless router, providing Internet connectivity to anyone in range — and with the right password.

The final test of the Network-Tactical, or Net-T, upgrade to the Northrop Grumman LITENING and Lockheed Martin Sniper targeting pods, carried by A-10s and other warplanes, is the latest in a long chain of communications breakthroughs by the U.S. military and the defense industry. Keep reading →

WASHINGTON: The US plays a “dominant role” in keeping the peace in the Pacific, and that’s a good thing, said Singaporean Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen — but the US still needs to cooperate with China, not confront or contain it. That’s the word to the wise from one of America’s closest military partners in the Pacific.

“The US, as a ‘resident power,’ should continue to play its dominant role in maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific… within the regional security architecture,” Ng said carefully, using a diplomatic term of art — “resident power” — that emphasizes America’s long-standing presence in East Asia. A Scottish-trained surgeon turned politician who took over the Defense Ministry last year, Ng spoke at an event sponsored by the Center for a New American Security, this morning before heading to the Pentagon to meet with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta this afternoon. Keep reading →


CAPITOL HILL: The budget cuts known as sequestration would “break” the KC-46 and Littoral Combat Ship contracts, forcing the Pentagon to renegotiate those deals, the presumptive head of DoD acquisition told the Senate Armed Services Committee today. Keep reading →

The Air Force’s MC-12 Liberty surveillance plane, in heavy use in Afghanistan, is one of the scarce assets Southern Command chief Gen. Doug Fraser hopes to see freed up for drug interdiction as the war winds down.

The U.S. military command covering South America intercepts only about a third of the drug shipments and other illegal traffic that it knows about, because it and allied nations simply lack the assets to intercept most of the suspect boats and aircraft that their intelligence identifies, locates, and tracks. That shortfall in interception results in part from a shrinking U.S. Navy and the diversion of Air Force reconnaissance assets to the war zone in Afghanistan. “We intercept about 33 percent of what we know is out there, and that’s just a limitation on the number of assets,” said Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, chief of the U.S. Southern Command, at a breakfast with reporters this morning. And, Fraser admitted, that percentage is “going down… More is getting through.” Keep reading →

PENTAGON: In what may come to be called the dawn of the 21st century drawdown of the American military, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta today unveiled a budget he hopes balances smaller forces with sustained and far reaching threats.

Panetta said the force that will result from the $525 billion budget request for fiscal 2013 will be “smaller and leaner, but agile, flexible, ready and technologically advanced.” Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered the important point that the budget was predicated on the assumption that “capabilities are more important than size.” Since the Army will shrink to 490,000 from its current 570,000 and the Marines will come down to 182,000 from 202,000 under the five-year request that will be crucial to retaining America’s overwhelming military superiority. Keep reading →

UPDATED: Budget Cuts 8 JHSVs; Two LCS; Two LSDs Retire Early; 1 Virginia Sub Slips Past FYDP; Analyst Says Retirements AND Cuts Mean Service Won’t ‘Ever’ Hit 313 Goal
WASHINGTON: The Navy plans to cut a total of 16 ships from its five-year budget, reducing the number of ships funded in fiscal 2013 by three, from 13 down to 10.

Most of these ships are expected to be the Joint High Speed Vessel, built for both the Navy and the Army, and other support ships. Several well informed analysts told me they do not expect the Navy to cut warships or submarines if it can possibly avoid that. Keep reading →

Washington: Last week Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the U.S. military would turn into a ‘paper tiger’ if it is hit with a $1 trillion dollar budget cut over the next decade. Today, he described in painstaking detail what exactly that would mean.

In a letter sent today to Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member John McCain, Panetta listed a litany of programs and services that he said would have to be cut if the congressional super committee fails to cut $1.2 trillion from the national debt. The panel has little over a week to come up with that plan. If it can’t, Pentagon coffers could be slashed by $500 billion. Piled on top of the cuts already mandated by the White House, the Pentagon would be staring down a $1 trillion spending cut. Keep reading →

Washington: Iran has ambitious plans for its future naval fleet, which could pose serious trouble for the United States and its region allies if Tehran can pull it off.

Last week, a senior Iranian naval officer announced his country was moving forward with plans to build a new aircraft carrier, along with a number of other advanced warships,

The Iranian navy has approved initial designs for the new carrier and will begin initial research and testing for the vessel soon, the official Iranian news agency IRNA reported.

The announcement comes almost two months after China’s surprising announcement that it had begun sea trials for its new aircraft carrier.

While it’s unknown whether Iran has the means or the know-how to see the carrier development through, it is latest move by the country to put some very dangerous teeth into its naval forces, according to a recently released report by the Washington-based defense think tank the Institute for the Study of War.

The Iranian navy already has carried out missions as far as the Red Sea and the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea with its fleet small, fast-attack vessels and Soviet-era subs.

But if Tehran can pull this massive naval expansion plan together, it will be able to push its forces to “the Caspian Sea, the Gulf of Oman, and the area from Bandar Abbas, near the Straits of Hormuz, near Pakistan,” according to the report.

That expansion, and its its impacts, will be felt first and foremost by the Navy’s Fifth Fleet — the biggest U.S. naval force in Central Command.

Aside from some flare ups near the Straits of Hormuz and elsewhere, Fifth Fleet commanders have kept the Iranian navy in check for the most part, due to its relatively small size.

But Iran’s maritime plans — which include new warships, ballistic anti-ship missiles and possibly a new aircraft carrier — could force the Navy to pour more money and manpower into operations to contain that bolstered force.

Fifth Fleet already has its hands full with counterpiracy and counterterrorism operations. Adding a expanded Iranian navy into that mix may prove to be a difficult juggling act for the Navy, especially in light of the extreme fiscal pressure the service and DoD is facing back in Washington.

This naval expansion could also affect American interests in Iraq. With combat operations now winding down, Iran has sought to expand its influence in the country that it fought a long, bloody war with in the 1980s.

Iran is already providing weapons and support to Islamic militants looking to destabilize the Iraqi government as a way to gain a foothold in the country.

A strong naval presence — a traditional sign of a country’s power and influence — could be another way Tehran shows Iraqi leaders that an alliance with Iran, and not the United States, is the way to go.

While this naval expansion may make Iran a much bigger headache for the Pentagon, American allies in the region, namely Saudi Arabia, could provide a much-needed counterbalance.

Riyadh has kicked off a multibillion effort, known as the Saudi Naval Expansion Program II (SNEP II), to bolster its maritime forces along the country’s eastern waters. The program, estimated to be worth between $10 and $20 billion, will likely feature the newest ships, helicopters and aircraft in the U.S. Navy’s fleet.

DoD and their counterparts in Saudi Arabia are discussing potential sales of the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship, the MH-60R Knighthawk helicopter, the P-8 Poseidon intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft and MQ-8 Fire Scout unmanned drone as part of SNEP II.

Aside from having the very best hardware the U.S. Navy has to offer, the SNEP II sales will ensure American and Saudi forces will be able to coordinate its forces, should a situation flare up with Iran or any other regional power.

Again, all this may be for naught, if this plan proves too ambitious for Tehran to see through.

But if the country’s efforts to build a nuclear weapon are any indication of how this plan plays out, its safe to say that Washington and others in the region will be keeping a close eye on Iran’s shipyards over the next few years.

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