OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Pentagon cuts furloughs to 11 days

The Pentagon furloughs will begin on July 8, and will occur one day per week through the end of the fiscal year in September.

The furloughs will save $1.8 billion this year out of the $37 billion the Pentagon says it must cut under sequestration, and will hit roughly 680,000 of the Pentagon’s 800,000 civilian workforce, more than three-quarters of which is outside the Washington metro area.

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The Pentagon had initially said it might need to furlough civilians for 22 days, a number that was cut in March to 14 after the full-year Defense appropriations bill was passed.

The furloughs also reignited the partisan bickering over sequestration, with Republicans blaming President Obama for the sequester causing furloughs and Democratic aides accusing Republicans of ignoring their role in voting for the Budget Control Act, which led to sequestration.

Lawmakers from both parties said the furloughs highlighted why sequestration must be reversed, and they are one of the most visible effects of the automatic budget cuts within the military.

But there’s little momentum in Congress currently to avert the cuts, and the Pentagon is staring at a $52 billion shortfall in its proposed 2014 budget.

Senior defense officials say the department will do everything it can to avoid furloughing civilians again next year, but they could not make any guarantees.

Navy shipyards exempt from furloughs: In announcing the 11 days of furloughs, the Pentagon said that it was exempting civilians who worked in Navy shipyards.

Navy officials had argued against furloughs to shipyards, saying they could make budget cuts without furloughing any civilians in the Navy or Marine Corps.

Lawmakers with ties to shipyards cheered the move, such as New Hampshire Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D) and Kelly Ayotte (R), who had written to Hagel last week.

"This announcement gives our shipyard employees the financial certainty they deserve and allows the shipyards to avoid furloughs that would have resulted in costly delays in ship and submarine maintenance," the senators said in a joint statement.

New Hampshire is home to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, the service's main maintenance dock for its fleet of nuclear-powered attack submarines, including the Los Angeles-class and next-generation Virginia-class boats. 

The Pentagon explained the decision in a memorandum that said shipyards were exempted because “it would be particularly difficult to make up delays in maintenance work on these vessels and these vessels are critical to mission success.”

Lockheed future seen in foreign markets: As U.S. defense firms search for relief from sequestration, one American weapons maker sees its future increasingly in foreign markets.

Defense giant Lockheed Martin wants to bolster its international sales portfolio up to 20 percent over the next fiscal year, Lockheed Martin President and CEO Marillyn Hewson said Tuesday.

The move is part of Lockheed's strategy to mitigate damage to its bottom line from the budget cuts under sequestration and from the overall reduction in military spending since the post-9/11 boom.

"The global security map is being redrawn ... [and] we recognize that we are in an intense budget environment," she said.

The company is poised to lose roughly $825 million in total sales this fiscal year due to the sequester, Hewson told reporters Tuesday.

Lockheed will try to make up for lost U.S. business by focusing on exports of missile defense systems and unmanned aircraft, as well as foreign sales of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Other, older aircraft and weapons in the U.S. military's arsenal, such as the Navy's MH-60 combat helicopter and the Air Force's F-16 fighter jet, are ripe for overseas sales, according to Hewson.

Navy drone launches off carrier for the first time: Launching fighter jets off the decks of aircraft carriers is nothing new to the Navy.

But Tuesday's launch off the USS George H.W. Bush was the first time Navy officials conducted such a launch with an unmanned aircraft.

A prototype version of the Unmanned Combat Air System Carrier Demonstration (UCAS-D) successfully took flight off the deck of the H.W. Bush during the drone's first live flight test at sea.

The Northrop Grumman-built drone, also known as the X-47B, did not return to the flight deck, but instead landed at Naval Air Station-Patuxent River.

But the first successful take off and landing of an unmanned drone from a Navy carrier marks a significant milestone for the UCAS-D.

Once fully functional, the drone will be the first sea-based, long-range intelligence and reconnaissance drone. Later versions of the drone will also have an airstrike capability.

The Navy posted photos of the launch here.


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