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RealClearDefense Morning Recon - 12/18/2013

By RealClearDefense

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Good Wednesday morning, and welcome to Morning Recon!

BUDGET AGREEMENT LIKELY TO PASS

From the Associated Press: “The Senate is on track to clear the bill Wednesday for President Barack Obama's signature after a 67-33 vote Tuesday in which it easily hurdled a filibuster threshold.

“The measure would restore $45 billion, half the amount scheduled to be automatically cut from the 2014 operating budgets of the Pentagon and some domestic agencies, lifting them above $1 trillion. An additional $18 billion for 2015 would provide enough relief to essentially freeze spending at those levels for the year…

“One provision, cutting the inflation increases of pensions for military retirees under the age of 62, was proving to be especially unpopular. Members of the military are eligible to retire after 20 years at half pay. The provision was included in the bill at the direction of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

“Top Democrats said they would revisit the cut, which raises $6 billion over 10 years, before it takes effect in two years. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash. - Ryan's negotiating partner on the budget agreement - was grilled by Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., on whether she knew the cut could reduce by $80,000 the lifetime benefit of a soldier who retires in his or her early 40s.” http://apne.ws/1c0hFyg

NDAA STILL ON TRACK

From The Hill: “Leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee don’t see any significant obstacles that would prevent 60 votes on the Defense authorization bill on the heels of Tuesday’s 67-33 budget deal vote. The Senate plans to vote to end debate on the Defense bill on Wednesday afternoon, after it votes to pass the budget agreement. Both measures cleared the House last week.

“The heads of the Armed Services panel from both parties said it appeared that at least a handful of Republicans would join with Democrats to get to 60 votes, despite Republican anger that their amendments will not be considered. ‘I’m optimistic,’ Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) told reporters. ‘My ranking member strongly supports it; I think most Republicans on the committee would, so I’m optimistic there will be a lot of Republican support.’

"Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the panel, said he thought he had enough votes within his party. ‘This is the only way we’re going to have a bill,’ Inhofe said Tuesday. ‘Do they really want to be the first time in 51 years we don’t have a bill? The answer is no.’” http://bit.ly/IUKHEB

Let’s Try This Earlier Next Year? From Defense News: “Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin says he will push Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid to bring the annual Pentagon policy to the floor sooner than late in the year…Pro-defense senators from both parties acknowledge the Armed Services Committee finished its bill long enough ago that Reid could have brought it to the floor months before budgetary crises and political bickering created, as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., puts it, a ‘poisonous’ Senate environment. ‘We got this bill passed out of committee in mid-June,’ Levin told Defense News. ‘We can’t do it faster.’” http://bit.ly/1cQvJdN

HAPPENING TODAY

The CSIS Project on Nuclear Issues Fall 2013 Conference continues in its second and final day. http://bit.ly/1bMa0m0

10:00AM The Senate resumes consideration of the Ryan-Murray budget agreement. Following a final vote on the bill expected sometime today, the Senate is expected to take up the NDAA.

1:00PM The Brookings Institution will hold an event on China’s role in regional security in the Asia-Pacific. http://bit.ly/1gFDNBC

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F-35 AS BAD AS BUYING JET FOR EACH SERVICE

From Bloomberg: “Lockheed Martin Corp.’s (LMT) F-35 jet fighter, designed by the Pentagon to serve the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, is likely to end up costing more than it would to build separate planes for each service, a Rand Corp. study has found.

“‘Under none of the plausible conditions we analyzed did’ the F-35 ‘have a lower life-cycle cost estimate,’ Rand, a nonprofit research institution, said in the report released this week on the plane known as the Joint Strike Fighter. The report questions a fundamental tenet of the Pentagon’s costliest weapons program -- that building different versions on a common base will reduce costs. Rand analyzed an estimated $1.5 trillion ‘life-cycle cost’ that includes acquisition plus long-term support of the fleet.” http://bloom.bg/1kUHXD5

LOCKHEED’S BOLD PREDICTION ON F-35 COST

From Breaking Defense: “No one should believe that the battle between Boeing and Lockheed for the right to build Navy fighters is over. Boeing keeps pushing the low cost, readiness and availability of the F-18. It’s here, it’s proven, and, they say, a new F/A-18E/F Super Hornet will cost just over $50 million for a fully equipped airplane, should the Navy decide to buy more.

“During a briefing here before the rollout ceremony for the one hundredth Joint Strike Fighter, Lockheed Martin’s direct, articulate, and fittingly named general manager for the JSF, Lorraine Martin, made this bold pledge during a briefing for reporters: By 2019, the F-35A (the Air Force version) will cost $75 million a copy in current dollars ($85 million in good ole then-year dollars, i.e. counting future inflation), which will be ‘less than any fourth generation fighter in the world.’ That means no other fighter already flying (one sold in US dollars or Euros) will cost less — not the famously inexpensive Gripen, not the French Rafale, the Russian MiG-35, the Boeing F-15 Eagle, or the European Typhoon.

“And Martin, known for helping to right Lockheed Martin’s most important program — which had been very wobbly — went even further: ‘I think we can do even better.’ Skeptics will, of course, note that her prediction can’t be tested for five years. That’s forever in Pentagon budget terms. In legislative years, it’s not quite as far away — only two elections. Is it marketing? Of course it is. But it’s also a clear sign that Lockheed continues to target the Navy above all other clients.” http://bit.ly/18W5qBu

MILITARY TRIAL IN U.S. CONSIDERED FOR RUSSIAN DETAINED IN AFGHANISTAN

From the Washington Post: “The Obama administration is actively considering the use of a military commission in the United States to try a Russian who was captured fighting with the Taliban several years ago and has been held by the U.S. military at a detention facility near Bagram air base in Afghanistan, former and current U.S. officials said.

“The Russian is a veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s who deserted and ended up fighting U.S. forces after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. U.S. officials said the man, thought to be in his mid- to late 50s, is suspected of involvement in several 2009 attacks in which U.S. troops were wounded or killed. He was wounded during an assault on an Afghan border post that year and later captured. Little else is known about him except for his nom de guerre, Irek Hamidullan.

“A decision to move him to the United States would mark the first time a post-Sept. 11 detainee was brought before a military tribunal here and could lead to a clash with Congress, which has barred transfer to the United States of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. No similar barrier has been enacted to prohibit the transfer of detainees from Afghanistan, largely because the question has never arisen.

“But as it nears the deadline for the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the administration is faced with what to do with several dozen non-Afghans it retained custody of when it turned over thousands of Afghan prisoners to the Kabul authorities under an agreement signed in March. The remaining 53 third-country nationals are deemed a continuing threat to the United States, according to U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.” http://wapo.st/JGXQ4M

AFGHAN BSA TO BE SIGNED IN “TIMELY MANNER”

From the Associated Press: “The Afghan ambassador to the United Nations said Tuesday he's certain a security agreement with the United States for a training and counterterrorism mission there after 2014 will be signed ‘in a timely manner,’ while the U.S. again pressed for the delayed signing to happen ‘promptly.’

“Afghanistan Ambassador Zahir Tanin did not promise anything Tuesday. ‘We are certain the agreement will be signed in a timely manner,’ he said. Much is at stake if the security deal falls apart. Afghanistan could lose up to $15 billion a year in aid, effectively collapsing its fragile economy and making it unable to pay its 350,000-strong army and police…A post-2014 mission in Afghanistan could involve around 8,000 U.S. and 6,000 allied troops.” http://apne.ws/JANzGJ

Iraqi Official to Afghanistan: Take America’s Deal. From the New York Times: “With one of the most important chapters of Afghanistan’s history open before him, President Hamid Karzai took time this month for a personal meeting with the longtime foreign minister of Iraq, Hoshyar Zebari.

“It had been years since an Iraqi official had been to Afghanistan, and the trip was nominally meant to ease the passage of Afghan Shiites to holy shrines in Iraq. But it came right as Mr. Karzai had chosen to dig in and delay signing a security agreement with the United States, leaving long-term Western military support, and billions of dollars in aid, hanging in the balance.

“In a moment of candor, Mr. Zebari offered a piece of advice to the president that would have been unthinkable from an Iraqi official just two years ago: Get over your differences with the Americans and sign the deal. ‘Don’t be under the illusion that no matter what you do the Americans are here to stay,’ Mr. Zebari told Mr. Karzai. ‘People used to say that about the American presence in Iraq, too. But they were eager to leave, and they will be eager to leave your country as well.’” http://nyti.ms/1bOOPfz

WESTERN NATIONS SIGNAL ASSAD MAY STAY

From Reuters: “Western nations have indicated to the Syrian opposition that peace talks next month may not lead to the removal of President Bashar al-Assad and that his Alawite minority will remain key in any transitional administration, opposition sources said.

“The message, delivered to senior members of the Syrian National Coalition at a meeting of the anti-Assad Friends of Syria alliance in London last week, was prompted by rise of al Qaeda and other militant groups, and their takeover of a border crossing and arms depots near Turkey belonging to the moderate Free Syrian Army, the sources told Reuters. ‘Our Western friends made it clear in London that Assad cannot be allowed to go now because they think chaos and an Islamist militant takeover would ensue,’ said one senior member of the Coalition who is close to officials from Saudi Arabia.” http://reut.rs/1kUFBnN

DOD LESS DEPENDENT ON CHINA’S RARE EARTHS

From Bloomberg: “China’s virtual monopoly on rare earth elements used in high-technology applications has been loosened, decreasing the risk that supplies to U.S. defense contractors could be disrupted, according to the Pentagon’s latest assessment of the nation’s industrial base.

“‘Global market forces are leading to positive changes in rare earth supply chains, and a sufficient supply of most of these materials likely will be available to the defense industrial base,’ said the Pentagon report by Elana Broitman, the Defense Department’s top official on the U.S. industrial base. ‘Prices for most rare earth oxides and metals have declined approximately 60 percent from their peaks in the summer of 2011.’” http://bloom.bg/1jhlPHx

SENATE WANTS CIA REPORT ON INTERROGATIONS

From the New York Times: “The Senate Intelligence Committee has asked the C.I.A. for an internal study done by the agency that lawmakers believe is broadly critical of the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program but was withheld from congressional oversight committees.

“The committee’s request comes in the midst of a yearlong battle with the C.I.A. over the release of the panel’s own exhaustive report about the program, one of the most controversial policies of the post-Sept. 11 era. The Senate report, totaling more than 6,000 pages, was completed last December but has yet to be declassified. According to people who have read the study, it is unsparing in its criticism of the now-defunct interrogation program and presents a chronicle of C.I.A. officials’ repeatedly misleading the White House, Congress and the public about the value of brutal methods that, in the end, produced little valuable intelligence.

“Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, disclosed the existence of the internal C.I.A. report during an Intelligence Committee hearing on Tuesday. He said he believed it was begun several years ago and ‘is consistent with the Intelligence’s Committee’s report’ although it ‘conflicts with the official C.I.A. response to the committee’s report.’ ‘If this is true,’ Mr. Udall said during a hearing on the nomination of Caroline D. Krass to be the C.I.A.’s top lawyer, ‘this raises fundamental questions about why a review the C.I.A. conducted internally years ago — and never provided to the committee — is so different from the C.I.A.’s formal response to the committee study.’” http://nyti.ms/1cQw53T

CIA Nominee Snubs Senate on Legal Memos. From Politico: “President Barack Obama's nominee to be general counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency indicated at her confirmation hearing Tuesday that she opposes giving members of Congress access to Justice Department legal memoranda that govern CIA activities such as interrogation and drone strikes. The nominee who rebuffed Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, Caroline Krass, has served as a top lawyer in the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel and at times as the acting director of that office…

“Feinstein opened her questioning of Krass by asking her if she would commit to sharing OLC opinions with the Senate panel. ‘This isn't just idle curiosity. It is really to understand the direction and rules under which certain programs operate,’ Feinstein said. ‘We have found that these opinions are actually indispensable to effective oversight.’ She said that an inspector general report found the CIA waterboarded 9/11 suspect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a manner inconsistent with the OLC opinion on waterboarding.

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