News Briefs – March 7, 2016


Daughter of Navy secretary christens newest submarine

The U.S. Navy’s newest Virginia-class submarine has been christened in Newport News.
Elizabeth Mabus, daughter of Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, smashed a bottle of sparkling across the bow of the future USS Washington to celebrate its christening on Saturday. Elizabeth Mabus is the ship’s sponsor.
The Washington is the 14th Virginia-class submarine and has been under construction since September 2011. Huntington Ingalls Industries said in a statement that the submarine will be the seventh of its kind that has been built in Newport News.
Secretary Mabus was the keynote speaker at the March 5 event and was joined by several other Virginia and Navy officials. AP

Military to move desert tortoises from California base

Military officials plan to move more than a thousand desert tortoises to keep them safe from training exercises in Southern California.
The Press Enterprise reports that the military is awaiting final approval to relocate 1,429 tortoises from land surrounding the Marine Corps base in Twentynine Palms. Congress approved adding that land to the Marine Corps base in 2013.
Training exercises with tanks and live ammunition are scheduled to begin in August.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Brian Croft says most of the animals would be moved to federal land near Barstow using helicopters.
Studies have shown that relocated tortoises have a higher death rate. The military says it will take efforts to minimize tortoise deaths and will follow the animals for decades, looking for information that will help the species recover. AP

China to boost military spending by about 7 to 8 percent

China said March 4 it will boost military spending by about 7 to 8 percent this year, the smallest increase in six years, reflecting slowing economic growth and a drawdown of 300,000 troops as Beijing seeks to build a more streamlined, modern military.
Fu Ying, the spokeswoman for the National People’s Congress, China’s ceremonial legislature, told reporters that China needs to consider its defense needs, economic development and the country’s fiscal position in drafting the defense budget.
The People’s Liberation Army, being trimmed to 2 million troops from 2.3 million, will still be the world’s largest standing military. It remains a major priority for China’s leaders who have pushed an increasingly aggressive campaign to assert territorial claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea, raising tensions with its neighbors.
This year’s budget comes as spending at all levels of government is being curbed because of a drop in the economic growth rate, which fell to a 25-year low of 7.3 percent in 2015 and is expected to decline further this year. For most years since 2000, China posted double-digit increases in military spending, and this will be only the third time in that period with a single-digit increase, including 2010’s increase of 7.5 percent.
China provides no breakdown of its defense budget and Pentagon and global arms bodies estimate actual military spending may be anywhere from 40 to 50 percent more, because the official budget doesn’t include the costs of high-tech weapons imports, research and development, and other programs.
China says its military is strictly for defensive purposes, but takes a broad view of what constitutes threats to its core interests — including protecting maritime territory that is in dispute with neighboring countries.
Its aggressive program of building islands on reefs and atolls in the South China Sea as part of its campaign to claim virtually the entire region has unnerved China’s neighbors. Meanwhile, China continues a low-level campaign of confronting Japanese ships and aircraft near a set of contested East China Sea islands. AP