The Kearns Group Daily Defense Update With Tripp Skipper

We pull the most important aviation news coming out of Washington D.C. each day and compiled it in one spot. Check back daily for the latest news. 

HAPPENING TODAY — SENATE SETS VOTE TO CONFIRM WILSON AS AIR FORCE SECRETARY: The Senate has scheduled a confirmation vote this evening on former Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) to be Air Force secretary. If confirmed, as expected, she would be only the second of President Donald Trump's nominees to be approved for the Pentagon, behind Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

An Air Force Academy graduate, Wilson had drawn some Democratic concern about past ethics issues from her tenure as a consultant for Sandia Corp., a Lockheed Martin subsidiary. The Senate Armed Services Committee approved her nomination, 22-5.

MEANWHILETRUMP'S SECOND PICK FOR ARMY SECRETARY, MARK GREEN, WITHDRAWS: "President Donald Trump's pick to be Army secretary, Mark Green, has withdrawn from consideration in the face of mounting opposition over controversial statements about Muslims and LGBT rights.

"Green is the second person to withdraw from the position. Trump's initial choice, Vincent Viola, a billionaire New York financier, withdrew in early February amid difficulty untangling his finances.

"In a statement Friday, Green blamed misrepresentations of his religion by Democrats, which he argued came at the expense of his qualifications for the Army's top civilian post."

MACRON'S ELECTION IN FRANCE GIVES NATO A SHOT IN THE ARM: "Emmanuel Macron, the not-yet-40 former economy minister and banker, carried the French presidential election on Sunday, beating Marine Le Pen by a wider-than-expected margin of 66 to 34...

"Le Pen comes from a long family tradition of warm relations with Moscow and hostility to the alliance with America. Of all the leading contenders in France, Macron pushed the hardest line on Russia — and this weekend's massive hack of his campaign email suggests that Moscow had identified him as a threat.

"With his overall approach to foreign policy, including France's reengagement with the U.S.-led NATO alliance initiated in 2009, Macron represents continuity with the past decade (and with his two predecessors). He signals a pragmatism on relations with Washington and a defense of French interests everywhere, even if he would prefer to do so from within the EU and in consultation with Germany. He says he won't support any lifting of sanctions against Russia without signs of progress toward resolving the ongoing conflict in Ukraine."

COMING THIS WEEK — SASC CONSIDERS DoD FINANCE NOMINEES: The Senate Armed Services Committee holds hearingson Tuesday for three Defense Department positions: David Norquist for comptroller, Elaine McCusker for deputy comptroller and Robert Daigle to head the Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation.

— AND A SENATE JUDICIARY SUBCOMMITTEE EYES RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE IN THE 2016 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: The Senate Judiciary Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee hears this afternoon from former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on Russian interference in last year's presidential election.

HOUSE PANEL PROBE IRAN DEAL: "Citing a investigation, Republican leaders of the House oversight committee said Friday they have launched a sweeping investigation into whether the Obama administration, in trying to win support for a nuclear deal and prisoner swap with Tehran last year, undermined an ambitious U.S. counterproliferation effort to thwart Iranian weapons trafficking networks.

"Also in response to the investigation, 13 Republican senators have demanded answers about whether the Obama administration jeopardized U.S. national security as a result of its protracted top-secret negotiations with Tehran, and then misled the American public when disclosing the terms of the two deals in January 2016.

"The House and Senate lawmakers cited various portions of an April 24 report by POLITICO that found that the Obama administration, through actions in some cases and inaction in others, significantly hampered a much-touted federal law enforcement effort known as the National Counterproliferation Initiative at a time when it was making unprecedented headway in thwarting Iran's illicit weapons proliferation activities."

The probe comes as Iran's presidential candidates vow during a televised debate to uphold the nuclear deal, via The Washington Post.

PENTAGON BACKS ASIA SECURITY INITIATIVE, via The Wall Street Journal: "The Pentagon has endorsed a plan to invest nearly $8 billion to bulk up the U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific region over the next five years by upgrading military infrastructure, conducting additional exercises and deploying more forces and ships.

"The effort is seen by backers as one way to signal more strongly the U.S. commitment to the region as Washington confronts an increasingly tenuous situation on the Korean peninsula, its chief security concern in the area."

— NORTH KOREA DETAINS ANOTHER AMERICAN, reports the NYT: "North Korea has detained another American citizen on charges of committing 'hostile acts' against the country, the North's official news agency reported on Sunday.

"The man, identified as Kim Hak-song, was arrested on Saturday and was under investigation by the country's related government agencies, the state-run Korean Central News Agency, or K.C.N.A., said..."

"The detention would raise to four the number of Americans known to be held in the secretive North."

— NORTH KOREA THREAT FUELS SENATE MISSILE DEFENSE PROPOSAL: "Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) is planning to introduce legislation as early as next week to strengthen missile defense in the face of the growing threat from North Korea — including by acquiring more interceptors in Alaska and California.

"Sullivan's bill would speed the development of new missile interceptors by accelerating testing and authorize the procurement of 28 additional Ground-Based Interceptors, among other provisions."

The bill drops after the Pentagon launches a review of the nation's ballistic missile defense posture

And a Chinese-North Korean mining venture shows how much sanctions can miss, writes the WSJ.

U.S.AND SAUDI ARABIA PUSH FORWARD ON ARMS DEAL, reports Reuters: "Washington is working to push through contracts for tens of billions of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, some new, others in the pipeline, ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump's trip to the kingdom this month, people familiar with the talks told Reuters this week.

"Saudi Arabia is Trump's first stop on his maiden international trip, a sign of his intent to reinforce ties with a top regional ally."

WAR REPORT — TRUMP COUNTERTERRORISM STRATEGY URGES ALLIES TO DO MOREvia Reuters: "A draft of President Donald Trump's new counterterrorism strategy demands that U.S. allies shoulder more of the burden in combating Islamist militants, while acknowledging that the threat of terrorism will never be totally eliminated.

"The 11-page draft, seen on Friday by Reuters, said the United States should avoid costly, 'open-ended' military commitments.

"'We need to intensify operations against global jihadist groups while also reducing the costs of American 'blood and treasure' in pursuit of our counterterrorism goals,' states the document, which is expected to be released in coming months."

— AFGHANISTAN REVEALS SUCCESSFUL RAID AGAINST ISIS LEADER, via The New York Times: "The leader of the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan who orchestrated audacious attacks that further upended the country's deteriorating security situation was killed in a special forces raid last month, the president of Afghanistan said in a statement on Sunday.

"The militant leader, Abdul Hasib, had overseen a number of bloody attacks that directly challenged the authority of President Ashraf Ghani, including a massacre at the main Afghan Army hospital in Kabul that killed at least 50 people.

"Mr. Hasib was killed in an operation on April 27 in eastern Nangarhar Province, along the border with Pakistan, according to the statement by Mr. Ghani's office."

— PAKISTAN AND AFGHANISTAN SNIPE AFTER BORDER CLASH, writes The Associated Press: "Pakistan said Sunday its forces killed at least 50 Afghan troops and destroyed five checkpoints in clashes along the disputed border two days earlier, while Afghanistan dismissed the account, saying only two border police and a civilian were killed.

"The two armies traded fire Friday around the Chaman border crossing, which has been closed by Pakistan, stranding people on both sides. The clashes, which ended after a few hours when local commanders contacted each other via an emergency hotline, marked a dangerous escalation between the two U.S. allies."

But the return of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar could signal progress in the Afghan government's efforts to consolidate the country,adds the BBC.

— SYRIAN KURDS REPORTED ARMED WITH SENSITIVE U.S. WEAPONS, reports The Military Times: "Syrian Kurdish fighters are newly armed with sophisticated American combat equipment as they close in on the Islamic State's stronghold in Raqqa, Military Times has learned, weaponry the Pentagon says it is barred from providing to those forces.

"The gear includes U.S.-manufactured night-vision goggles, rifles and advanced optics among other items, the same as that used by American special operations forces and the foreign commando units they train."

And the Syrian army advances despite a peace deal brokered by Russia, Reuters adds.

— U.S. CONTRACTOR IN IRAQ DENIES SECURITY RISKS, PROSTITUTION, via the AP: "An embattled U.S. contractor accused of failing to promptly disclose sex trafficking, alcohol smuggling and security violations on a nearly $700 million contract to secure an Iraqi air base has denied many of the charges.

"Investigators who uncovered those findings were fired by Sallyport Global in March, but their attorney says the company's explanations don't stand up to scrutiny."

And ISIS kills two in an attack on an Iraqi Kurdish base before U.S. airpower helped repel the attack, the AP also reports.

— SOMALIA RAID KILLS SHABAB LEADER, reports the AP: "A regional leader of the al-Shabab extremist group has been killed in a raid by Somalia's military, the government announced Sunday, as the country's new offensive against the fighters moves ahead.

"The statement by Somalia's information minister said Lower Shabelle regional leader Moalin Osman Abdi Badil and three associates were killed Friday in Bariire village west of the capital, Mogadishu."

The raid comes after a Navy SEAL was killed supporting an operation in the same area, the AP adds.

— ITALY ROLLS OUT FIRST FOREIGN-MADE F-35B, reports Defense News: "The first F-35B to be assembled outside the U.S. was rolled out in Italy on Friday at a ceremony at the country's assembly line, attended by the country's top military brass.

"The aircraft, BL-1, will fly for the first time in late August and is due to be delivered to the Italian ministry of defense in November, Lockheed Martin said in a statement. An Italian pilot will then fly the jet in early 2018 to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, for 'Electromagnetic Environmental Effects certification,' Lockheed Martin said."

And the Air Force will send the F-35A fighter to the Paris Air Show next month, the service announced.

The moves come as Lockheed touts Israel's acquisitions of the fighter jet during an event last week, Defense News adds.

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