News Briefs – August 22, 2018


Retired Navy captain indicted in massive bribery scandal

A retired U.S. Navy captain in Hawaii has been indicted on federal charges of receiving at least $145,000 in bribes from a Malaysian defense contractor.
David Haas is the latest former or current Navy official to be caught up in a wide-ranging bribery and fraud scandal, which the Navy said cost taxpayers nearly $35 million, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Saturday.
Leonard Francis, a contractor nicknamed “Fat Leonard,” pleaded guilty in 2015 to bribery and fraud charges in a decadelong conspiracy to overbill the U.S. Navy for fuel, food and other services that his company provided to ships in Southeast Asia.
Haas used his influence to steer ships to ports controlled by Francis’ company and otherwise advance Francis’ interests, according to the indictment Aug. 16.
In return, the Justice Department alleges, Francis paid for expensive dinners, prostitutes and alcohol for Haas and others on different occasions in 2011 and 2012.
Haas is now a Federal Emergency Management Agency coordinating officer in Hawaii.
“FEMA is aware of the grand jury indictment against Mr. David Haas,” spokeswoman Brandi Richard said Friday. “The agency takes all charges and allegations of misconduct extremely seriously. However, as with any personnel matter, we cannot comment further at this time.”
Neither Haas nor his San Diego-based attorney could be reached for comment.
Dozens of former Navy officers and others have been charged in the scandal that the Justice Department called a betrayal of “epic proportions.” To date, 32 defendants have been charged, and 20 have pleaded guilty. AP

Russian military braces for massive war games

Russia’s defense minister says the military forces in the country’s east have been put on high alert in the run-up to massive war games that also involve China and Mongolia.
Sergei Shoigu said the five-day drills that began Aug. 20 will pave the way for the Vostok (East) 2018 military exercise. Shoigu said those maneuvers, set for next month, will be the largest since the massive Soviet war games in 1981.
Shoigu said army, air force and navy units will take part in the exercise that will be held across the Far East and Siberia. He added that military units from China and Mongolia will also take part.
The Russian military has increased both the scope and frequency of its maneuvers amid tensions with the West. AP

Air Force plans $150M runway extension at Alaska base

The U.S. Air Force is planning a $150 million project to extend the runway at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, so it can to reduce airspace congestion and ease jet noise over neighborhoods.
The Air Force plans to extend the north-south runway by 2,500 feet to the north, making that strip the main arrival runway, the Anchorage Daily News reported Aug. 18.
The base’s current main arrival is the east-west runway, with its approach passing through crowded Anchorage airspace.
“The most important takeaway for the Anchorage area is that this plan will relieve air traffic congestion over the city, which is some of the busiest airspace in the world,” said Col. Robert Davis, commander of the base’s 3rd Wing. “If we can contribute to air traffic safety in our shared aviation community between JBER, Ted Stevens, Lake Hood and Merrill airfields, I’m all for it.”
The project is expected to save the military up to $28 million each year in fuel expenses because the extended runway will allow planes to take more direct routes to and from range areas, he said.
Residents of the Mountain View neighborhood south of the base have urged the Air Force to extend the runway. They have complained that air traffic noise has caused disruptions and some cited concerns the noise could hamper the neighborhood’s economic revitalization efforts.
The project involves moving large amounts of earth and disturbing about 28 acres (11 hectares) of wetlands, according to the environmental analysis.
Officials will work with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency to mitigate the loss of wetlands, said Keisha K. Lafayette, an Air Force public affairs specialist.
A start date for construction has not been set, but the extended runaway is expected to be operational by 2025, officials said. AP

Russia, Egypt pledge to strengthen military ties

Russia and Egypt have discussed ways to expand their military ties and boost anti-terrorism cooperation.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said during talks Aug. 20 with his Egyptian counterpart, Mohamed Zaki, that Moscow strongly supports Egypt’s efforts to combat militants in the Sinai Peninsula.
Shoigu said the Russian military is ready to share the experience of its military campaign in Syria with Egypt. Zaki noted that Moscow and Cairo have a shared view of current security challenges.
An Islamic State affiliate downed a Russian airliner over Sinai in October 2015, killing all 224 people aboard and raising concerns over security at Egyptian airports. Moscow suspended flights to Egypt and only allowed them to resume in April after Egyptian authorities enhanced the airport security. AP

Swedish Air Force JAS 39 fighter jet crashes, pilot safe

A Swedish jet fighter has crashed in southern Sweden, apparently after striking a bird.
Sweden’s Armed Forces said Aug. 21 that the pilot of the Swedish-built JAS 39 Gripen fighter jet ejected safely after the bird strike.
He has been taken to a nearby hospital, likely for checks.
The plane crashed near Karlskrona — 99 miles east of Malmo, Sweden’s third largest city.
No other details were immediately available. AP

Serbia takes delivery of two Russian fighter jets

Serbia’s air force on Aug. 21 took the delivery of two Russian MiG-29 fighter jets, part of an arms purchase that could heighten tensions in the Balkans and increase Moscow’s influence in the region.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic attended the ceremony at a military airport close to the Serbian capital, Belgrade, thanking Russian President Vladimir Putin for helping make Serbia’s armed forces stronger.
In October, Serbia received six MiG-29 jets from Russia which has also promised the delivery of 30 battle tanks and 30 armored vehicles. Serbia, a Russian ally, was at war with neighbors Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s during the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia.
Moscow gave the secondhand jets to Serbia for free and the two that flew on Tuesday have undergone an extensive overhaul. The repairs of all six will cost Serbia around 185 million euros ($213 million).
Vucic, a former ultranationalist, said that the repaired MiGs should be named after Serbian pilots and other “heroes” who died during the “NATO aggression” in 1999 when Serbia’s air force was depleted during the Western alliance’s 78-day air war against the Balkan state because of its bloody crackdown against Kosovo Albanian separatists.
Serbia, which claims military neutrality, is negotiating additional arms purchases from Russia, including attack and transport helicopters and air defense systems.
Vucic said that he expects eight refurbished MiGs to fly at a military parade that Putin is expected to attend in Belgrade in November.
“Today is an important day for Serbia. Today we have seen the mighty wings of Serbia,” Vucic said, adding: “Serbia will no longer be an easy target.”
Serbia faces a mini arms race with NATO-member Croatia, which has recently agreed to purchase 12 used F-16 fighter aircraft from Israel.
Serbia formally wants to join the European Union, but under political and propaganda pressure from Moscow, Belgrade has steadily slid toward the Kremlin and its goal of keeping the countries in the region out of NATO and other Western organizations. AP