News Briefs – July 15, 2019

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General: Early Afghanistan troop pullout would be mistake

The Army general nominated to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs says that pulling American troops out of Afghanistan prematurely would be a mistake. He says the U.S. should keep a “modest number” of forces in Iraq and Syria to maintain stability.
Gen. Mark Milley is also assuring the Senate Armed Services Committee that he will give his candid advice to the president and won’t be intimidated into making “stupid decisions.”
President Donald Trump has pressed for pulling U.S. troops out of Syria and Afghanistan. But so far there have been few reductions, reflecting military commanders’ urgings to maintain the status quo for now.
Milley says he won’t be intimidated “by no one, ever.”
He has been nominated to replace outgoing chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford. AP
 

Judge sides with Pentagon, Amazon in cloud bidding case

A federal judge is dismissing allegations that bidding for a $10 billion cloud computing contract with the Pentagon was rigged to favor Amazon.
The July 12 ruling dismissing Oracle’s claims clears the Defense Department to award the contract to one of two finalists: Amazon or Microsoft.
It will be a boon for whichever company gets to run the 10-year computing project, which the U.S. military sees as vital to maintaining its technological advantage over adversaries and accelerating its use of artificial intelligence in warfare.
Oracle and IBM were eliminated during an earlier round, but Oracle persisted with a legal challenge claiming conflicts of interest.
Court of Federal Claims Judge Eric Bruggink said that Oracle can’t demonstrate favoritism because it didn’t meet the project’s bidding requirements to begin with. Bruggink also sided with a Pentagon contracting officer’s earlier finding that there were no “organizational conflicts of interest” and no individual conflicts that harmed the bidding.
The Pentagon says it wants to pick a vendor as soon as Aug. 23.
Formally called the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure plan, or JEDI, the military’s computing project would store and process vast amounts of classified data, allowing the Pentagon to use artificial intelligence to speed up its war planning and fighting capabilities. AP
 

U.S. deciding how to punish ally Turkey over Russian arms deal

The United States is edging closer to crisis with NATO ally Turkey, now that it has started receiving components of a Russian-made air defense system in defiance of Trump administration warnings.
Washington has said the deal would trigger economic sanctions and deprive the Turks of America’s most advanced fighter jet, although administration officials on Friday announced no final decisions.
Acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he would consult with his Turkish counterpart.
The Turkish Defense Ministry said the first shipment of the S-400 system arrived at a Turkish airfield on July 12, although it is not yet fully in place or ready for use. For months, Washington urged Turkey to buy the American-made Patriot air defense system instead and has repeatedly insisted that buying from Russia would result in economic and military penalties. AP
 

Russia launches major new telescope into space after delays

A Russian Proton-M rocket successfully delivered a cutting-edge space telescope into orbit July 13 after days of launch delays, Russia’s space agency said.
Roscosmos said the telescope, named Spektr-RG, was delivered into a parking orbit before a final burn Saturday that kicked the spacecraft out of Earth’s orbit and on to its final destination: the L2 Lagrange point.
Lagrange points are unique positions in the solar system where objects can maintain their position relative to the sun and the planets that orbit it. Located 0.93 million miles from Earth, L2 is particularly ideal for telescopes such as Spektr-RG.
If all goes well, the telescope will arrive at its designated position in three months, becoming the first Russian spacecraft to operate beyond Earth’s orbit since the Soviet era. The telescope aims to conduct a complete x-ray survey of the sky by 2025, the first space telescope to do so.
Work on Spektr-RG telescope began in the 1980s but was scrapped in the 1990s. Spektr-RG was revived in 2005 and redesigned to be smaller, simpler and cheaper. In its modern form, the project is a close collaboration between Russian and German scientists, who both installed telescope equipment aboard the Russian spacecraft. AP
 

N. Korea vows to respond to South’s purchase of F-35 jets

North Korea has slammed South Korea for purchasing high-tech U.S. stealth fighters, warning that it will respond by developing unspecified special weapons of its own.
The July 11 warning comes as North Korean and U.S. officials are expected to soon resume nuclear negotiations to follow up on their leaders’ third meeting at the Korean border late last month.
The North’s Foreign Ministry says it has “no other choice but to develop and test the special armaments to completely destroy the lethal weapons reinforced in South Korea.”
It says South Korea should abandon “the preposterous illusions” that an opportunity for improved inter-Korean ties would come if it follows the U.S.
South Korea is to buy 40 F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin by 2021. The first batch of F-35s arrived in March. AP
 

Boeing changes executive in charge of the 737 Max factory

The executive who manages the Boeing 737 Max program and the Seattle-area factory where the now-grounded plane is built is retiring.
Eric Lindblad has been in the job less than a year, taking over as Boeing struggled with shortages of engines and fuselages from suppliers.
A Boeing spokesman said Thursday Lindblad’s retirement was long planned and is unrelated to two Max accidents.
Lindblad will be replaced by Mark Jenks, a vice president overseeing possible development of a new mid-size plane. Jenks previously managed the Boeing 787 program.
The 737 Max was grounded in March after crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed 346 people. Preliminary reports highlighted the role of new flight-control software that pushed the planes’ noses down. Boeing hopes to submit a fix to federal safety regulators in September. AP