1. Judges from 49 states urge Congress to avoid more sequestration cuts
Federal judges in 49 states are urging lawmakers to avoid another round of automatic spending cuts that they say would have a "devastating and long-lasting impact" on the federal courts.
The unusual letter from the chief judges of trial courts in every state but Nevada says that the $350 million reduction in the judiciary's lower budget for this year has dramatically slowed court proceedings and jeopardized public safety. The judges say there are fewer probation and other law enforcement officers to deal with record numbers of convicts who have been released from prison or given alternative sentences.
The letter was sent this week to congressional leaders in both parties in the House and the Senate.
2. Florida-based Navy Squadron Completes First F-35C Sortie
This week, Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 101, the Navy's first F-35C Lightning II carrier variant aircraft squadron completed its first flight in its new aircraft at the squadron's home at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.
VFA 101 is the F-35C Fleet Replacement Squadron, training Navy aircrew and maintenance personnel to fly and repair the F-35C, a 5th-generation fighter that combines advanced stealth with fighter speed and agility, fully fused sensor information, network-enabled operations and advanced sustainment.
The F-35C will enhance the flexibility, power projection, and strike capabilities of carrier air wings and joint task forces and will complement the capabilities of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, which currently serves as the Navy's premier strike fighter.
By 2025, the Navy's aircraft carrier-based air wings will consist of a mix of the F-35C, F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growler, E-2D Hawkeye, Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike air vehicles, MH-60R/S helicopters and Carrier Onboard Delivery logistics aircraft.
3. Asian Aircraft Carrier Race -- China vs. India vs. Japan
Two aircraft carriers have been launched in the past two weeks on both sides of China. Last Tuesday Japan unveiled its biggest warship since World War II, a huge flat-top destroyer that has raised eyebrows in China and elsewhere because it bears a strong resemblance to a conventional aircraft carrier.
This week, India launched their own carrier. However, the Indian carrier will not be fully operational for another five years. The carrier is a 37,500-ton Vikrant and is the first "indigenous" aircraft carrier, entirely engineered and produced in India at a shipyard in Cochin on the southeastern coast.
As for China's carrier the Liaoning, the new name of a Soviet Navy ship that was launched 25 years ago, it's been rebuilt and sailing around the Yellow Sea for more than a year, but it's relegated to the role of a training vessel. Chinese shipyards are expected to try to produce home-made models in the next few years, advancing on much the same technology. At 55,000 tons, the Liaoning's got a flight deck 999 feet long – not all that much longer than the 860-foot flight deck of the Vikrant or the 814-foot flight deck of the Izumo– and can carry maybe 50 fighter planes compared with 36 on the Vikrant.
4. DoD Announces Same-Sex Spouse Benefits
After a review of the department's benefit policies following the Supreme Court's ruling that Section Three of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, and in consultation with the Department of Justice and other executive branch agencies, the Defense Department will make spousal and family benefits available no later than Sept. 3, 2013, regardless of sexual orientation, as long as service member-sponsors provide a valid marriage certificate.
Entitlements such as TRICARE enrollment, basic allowance for housing and family separation allowance are retroactive to the date of the Supreme Court's decision. Any claims to entitlements before that date will not be granted. For those members married after June 26, 2013, entitlements begin at the date of marriage.
5. Hagel Announces New Anti-Sexual Assault Initiatives
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced on Thursday seven new initiatives to strengthen and standardize the department's sexual assault prevention and response effort.
Among other moves, the secretary directed the services to improve victim legal support. He also directed the service secretaries to create a legal advocacy program to provide legal representation to sexual assault victims throughout the judicial process. He set Nov. 1, 2013, as an initial operating capacity for these measures and for it to be fully functional by Jan. 1, 2014.
-- Hagel directed that pre-trial investigative hearings of sexual assault-related charges are conducted by Judge Advocate General officers.
-- The secretary directed service secretaries to enhance protections calling on them to develop and implement policies allowing for the reassignment or transfer of members accused of committing sexual assault or related offense. Hagel wants this done in order to eliminate continued contact while respecting the rights of both victims and the accused.
-- Hagel is requiring timely follow-up reports on sexual assault incidents and responses to be given to the first general or flag officer within the chain of command.
-- He also directed the DoD Inspector General to regularly evaluate closed sexual assault investigations.
-- Hagel ordered the service secretaries to standardize prohibitions on inappropriate behavior between recruiters and trainers and their recruits and trainees across the department.
-- And, Hagel directed the DoD general council to develop and propose changes to the Manual for Courts-Martial that would allow victims to give input during the sentencing phase of courts-martial.
Lawmakers from both parties largely praised the Pentagon's rollout of new initiatives to address sexual assault in the military — while making sure to note their own ideas were also apparent in the military's proposals.
Many of the new initiatives that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced on Thursday are similar to legislative measures that have been included in the House and Senate's Defense authorization bills.
6. Hagel Issues Statement on Call to Egyptian Defense Minister
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel issued a statement describing his phone conversation yesterday with Egypt's Minister of Defense to discuss the U.S.-Egypt defense relationship.
Secretary Hagel's statement reads as follows:
Today (Thursday) I called Egyptian Minister of Defense Al-Sisi to discuss the U.S.-Egypt defense relationship. Since the recent crisis began, the United States has made it clear that the Egyptian government must refrain from violence, respect freedom of assembly, and move toward an inclusive political transition. Recent developments, including the violence that has resulted in hundreds of deaths across the country, have undermined those principles. As President Obama has announced, the United States military will not conduct the Bright Star training exercise scheduled for later this year.
In my discussion with Minister Al-Sisi, I reiterated that the United States remains ready to work with all parties to help achieve a peaceful, inclusive way forward. The Department of Defense will continue to maintain a military relationship with Egypt, but I made it clear that the violence and inadequate steps towards reconciliation are putting important elements of our longstanding defense cooperation at risk.
7. Air Force Nuclear Wing Fails Inspection
An Air Force unit based in Montana that operates intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) failed a safety and security inspection on Tuesday.
The 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana received an "unsatisfactory" rating in a test of the unit's operations, Air Force Global Strike Command said Tuesday.
Tactical-level errors were made during one of several exercises that were conducted, resulting in the failed grade for the entire so-called surety inspection, the command said. It did not elaborate on what mistakes were made.
Lt. Gen. Jim Kowalski, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, said the failed test did not put the safety of the nuclear arsenal at risk.
The failed inspection comes after 17 officers were stripped in May of their responsibilities to control nuclear missiles at Minot Air Base in North Dakota.
The 341st Missile Wing operates 150 Minuteman III ICBMs. The unit also failed inspections in 2008 and 2010, according to the Air Force Times.
Director, National Security / Foreign Relations Division