NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
A senior senator called out Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta this week over Pentagon cooperation with Russia’s state arms exporter amid new reports of weapons transfers by Moscow to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, restated in a letter to Mr. Panetta the “grave concerns I previously raised with you about the Department of Defense’s ongoing business relationship with Rosoboronexport.”
“Rosoboronexport, as the Assad regime’s chief supplier of weapons, is an enabler of mass murder in Syria,” Mr. Cornyn said.
In June 2011, the Pentagon awarded a no-bid Army contract to Rosoboronexport for the purchase of Mi-17 helicopters for the Afghan military.
That contract was reached after an earlier contract for several Mi-17s was canceled with a European contractor and U.S. broker who had offered the same transports at lower prices and with faster delivery times to the Afghan military.
The non-Russian Mi-17 contract was scrapped after Pentagon officials caved in to Moscow’s demand that only Mi-17s sold through Rosoboronexport could be purchased for the Afghans, despite concerns about the exporter’s past sanctions-busting and links by its agents to Russian intelligence organizations, according to defense officials close to the deal.
The turn to Rosoboronexport for the Mi-17s was part of the Obama administration’s conciliatory “reset” policy that critics say has produced few positive results for the United States, the officials said.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton confirmed on Tuesday that she is concerned about Russia’s transfer of attack helicopters — not Mi-17 transports — to Syria.
“We have confronted the Russians about stopping their continued arms shipments to Syria,” Mrs. Clinton said Tuesday. “They have, from time to time, said that we shouldn’t worry, everything they’re shipping is unrelated to [Syria’s] actions internally.
“That’s patently untrue, and we are concerned about the latest information we have that there are attack helicopters on the way from Russia to Syria, which will escalate the conflict quite dramatically.”
Mr. Cornyn, in his letter, said he remained “deeply troubled that [the Defense Department] would knowingly do business with a firm that has enabled mass atrocities in Syria.”
“Such actions by Rosoboronexport warrant the renewal of U.S. sanctions against it, not a $1 billion [Defense Department] contract,” he said.
The senator asked Mr. Panatta to make sure that future contracts for Mi-17s sent to Afghanistan are done through “full and open competition.”
Also, he asked the Pentagon’s Defense Contract Audit Agency to conduct a “complete audit” of the Army’s sole-source contract agreements with Rosobornexport.
Mr. Cornyn also suggested that the nomination of Heidi Shyu to be assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition could be held up.
Pentagon spokesman George Little, asked about the Cornyn letter, said a response to the senator is planned.
“The Mi-17 helicopter, from our vantage point, is about Afghanistan,” Mr. Little said.
“We understand the concerns,” he said. “We’re not ignoring them. But I would make the point that, in the case of Afghanistan, the Mi-17 is about giving them what they need and what they can use effectively to take on their own fights inside their own country.”
ADDING MEAT TO AIR SEA BATTLE
Behind the scenes of Mr. Panetta’s recent travels in Asia were questions about whether the U.S. military, in a time of fiscal constraint, can adequately build up forces in Asia following plans outlined in a secret directive on the Air Sea Battle Concept.
Mr. Panetta, during the eight-day visit, explained the U.S. “pivot” to Asia that includes the military’s Air Sea Battle Concept for countering China’s high-technology weapons.
He was asked by reporters in New Delhi whether efforts to bolster military ties to India and Vietnam, among others in Asia, is leading to a new cold war with China.
“In many ways,” the defense secretary said, “this was an effort to define the strategy so that they understood what the strategy was about and what it meant for the countries in this region,” he said.
“We now have to put meat on the bone, which means that we’ve got to follow through with actions.”
Those actions will include improving regional military capabilities, developing a U.S. military “rotational presence,” conducting military exercises, and providing training, advice and assistance.
“We’ve got to show that we can deliver, and that’s going to be the next step.”
According to AOL Defense, a U.S. military officer during a recent Army War College conference said that the Air Force and Navy have presented more than 100 ideas for research funding for Air Sea Battle in projecting power overseas against advanced weaponry. Most of those ideas remain secret, and the Army is seeking to join the effort but remains several years behind.
A reporter asked Mr. Panetta about the contrast of his meetings with Vietnamese and Indian military officials and their interest in obtaining high-tech U.S. weapons, as China hosted a meeting of Russian, Central Asian and Iranian military officials as part of the anti-U.S. alliance called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
Asked about a U.S.-China cold war, Mr. Panetta said: “The important element of all of this is that this is not about retrenchment; this is about outreach. And the outreach is not just to our traditional allies.
“The outreach is to China, it’s to Russia, and it’s going to be to others, to try to ensure that, you know, we build better [military-to-military] relationships with all of those countries and build diplomatic ties, build trade ties to all of those countries for the future.”
The comment appeared to sidestep the growing anti-Americanism in the militaries of both China and Russia. Chinese military writings, almost daily, describe the United States as the main enemy and “hegemon” to be driven from Asia. Russian leaders have recently warned of preemptive attacks on U.S. military facilities in response to plans for missile defenses in Europe.
“You know, look, the United States has to look at the world realistically, not be naive about, you know, the challenges that are out there, but at the same time not be afraid to engage,” Mr. Panetta said.
“And I guess that is going to be a key to our ability to not only implement our strategy, but achieve the goals that I think we’re all interested in.”
WOUNDED WARRIOR SHOOTOUT
Nearly 1,000 lacrosse players, from age 10 to over 50, will turn out Thursday and Friday in Baltimore for a marathon 24-hour lacrosse game to raise funds for wounded U.S. troops.
The Shootout for Soldiers was the brainchild of Tyler Steinhardt, a student at the Boys’ Latin School of Maryland, who wanted to do something to help wounded warriors.
Two teams will divide into Stars versus Stripes for the game that is expected to set a world record for the longest lacrosse game in a sport that is considered one of Maryland’s most significant exports.
Each player is paying $20 and several teams have been set up in one-hour slots.
“Through the common bond of lacrosse, the goal is to raise significant funds for wounded American soldiers as well as establish a stronger connection with local veterans,” says group’s web site (shootoutforsoldiers.com)
The game begins Thursday at 9 a.m. at the school at 822 West Lake Ave.