Metro-East News

Roger That: McCain raises questions about funding for Air Force long-range strike-bomber

The powerful chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. John McCain, told reporters Thursday he would not authorize the Air Force’s Long Range Strike-Bomber so long as it was procured using a cost-plus contract — a contracting vehicle he has railed at in the past, according to Air Force Times.

“I am saying I will not authorize a program that has a cost-plus contract — and I told them that,” McCain, R-Ariz., said at a Defense Writer’s Group breakfast in Washington, D.C.

McCain's comments came ahead of a formal, closed briefing during which Air Force officials will brief the committee on LRS-B, a top general told Defense News.

“My biggest concern is the cost-plus provision in the contract. I will not stand for cost-plus contracts. They will say its because they’re not sure of some of the things they need in the development stage," the senator said.

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The Italian government recently cleared the way for expanded U.S. drone operations from an air base in Sicily, giving the American military more options for tracking — and potentially targeting — Islamic State militants and their spread across North Africa, according to Military Times.

The agreement, reached last month, allows armed unmanned aircraft operating from Naval Air Station Sigonella "to conduct defensive operations, such as force protection against adversary threats to U.S. personnel," Pentagon spokeswoman Laura Seal told Military Times. Previously, Italy allowed the U.S. to conduct only unarmed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, Seal said.

As first reported by The Wall Street Journal, the move comes as the U.S. is lobbying allies across the region for expanded basing options to facilitate its war on ISIS. Last summer, Turkey cleared the way for American combat aircraft and armed drones to fly from Incirlik Air Base, Turkey.

"We're in continuing dialogue about our broader defensive cooperation," Seal said

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A major Veterans Affairs Department initiative to collect the DNA of a million vets for the purpose of medical research is getting a boost starting today from the Pentagon, which has authorized soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen to donate their blood to the cause.

Military.com is reporting that word of the program's expansion came from the White House, which said VA program would play a role in the Precision Medicine Initiative President Obama announced in January 2015. The initiative is intended broaden medical research to find new treatments for a range of diseases as well as tailor health care to individuals based on their genetic makeup.

"The [VA's] Million Veterans Program has enrolled more than 450,000 veterans to date," said Dr. John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, "and as will be announced [on Thursday] this innovate research platform will be open to active duty women and men, as well as veterans."

The massive DNA collection -- which will be the largest biorepository in the world -- will provide qualified researchers with samples or cohorts in large enough numbers to see measurable results.

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Russia's official media Wednesday played up a report that the U.S. may have supplied Javelin anti-tank missiles to Syrian Kurds as the U.S. and Moscow traded accusations ahead of a tentative truce in the civil war that is supposed to start Saturday, according to Military.com.

Continued fighting has blocked international aid convoys from reaching some areas, forcing the United Nations World Food Program to resort Wednesday to an airdrop of supplies to the northeastern city of Deir ez-Zor, which has been under siege by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

British diplomat Stephen O'Brien, the UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, told the Security Council, "Earlier this morning, a WFP plane dropped the first cargo of 21 tons of items into Deir ez-Zor." The "high altitude" drop was challenging, he said, but initial reports from teams on the ground indicated that the "pallets have landed in the target area as planned."

It was not immediately clear what type of aircraft was used or which country supplied the plane, but a relief airdrop would not be a first for the UN. Last year, the WFP used a C-130 cargo aircraft from Australia to deliver humanitarian relief to East Timor.

Mike Fitzgerald: 618-239-2533, @MikeFitz3000

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