Overnight Defense: Republicans move to ban Russian rocket engines

THE TOPLINE: The military's reliance on Russian-made rocket engines for national security space launches would be banned under a bill introduced Wednesday by two Republican powerhouses.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn McCainTrump: Illegal immigrants treated better than veterans Trump should apologize to heroic POWs McCain urges sports leagues to return 'paid patriotism' money MORE (Ariz.) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's (Calif.) measure would repeal a provision in this year's government spending bill allowing unlimited purchases of the engines.

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McCain had successfully limited further purchases of the RD-180 rockets in the annual defense policy bill for 2016, but a provision in the omnibus spending bill reversed that decision.

McCain and other opponents of the move argue that continuing to purchase the engines -- which cost about $30 million each -- would reward "Vladimir Putin and his cronies with a windfall of hundreds of millions of dollars."

Air Force Secretary Deborah James, who testified at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, recommended a stockpile of 18 rocket engines until a comparable American-made engine can be tested and fielded. That could take until as late as 2021.

 

OBAMA TAPS NEW AFGHAN COMMANDER: Army Lt. Gen. John "Mick" Nicholson, a veteran of the Afghanistan War, has been nominated to command U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan.

His nomination comes amid growing concerns about increased violence in the country.

If confirmed by the Senate, Nicholson will succeed Gen. John Campbell, who has served as commander in Afghanistan since 2014 and is expected to complete his tour shortly.

"For nearly 18 months, Gen. Campbell has given his all to the mission as our top commander in Afghanistan, and his personal sacrifices on behalf of his troops and the Afghan people will be remembered by us all," Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook on Wednesday quoted Defense Secretary Ash Carter as saying.

There will be more news about Campbell's future in the coming days, Cook added.

Nicholson is currently the commander of NATO's Allied Land Command, headquartered at Izmir, Turkey. He has also served as commanding officer for the 82nd Airborne Division and deputy commanding general for operations in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2012. 

 

IRAN WARNS US WARSHIP TO LEAVE WATERS: The Iranian military warned a U.S. Navy ship Wednesday that it was too close to a naval drill in the Persian Gulf, semi-official Iranian news agencies reported.

The U.S. Navy characterized the incident as a routine Iranian announcement that it was conducting naval exercises.

The incident comes a little more than two weeks after the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) detained 10 U.S. sailors who had strayed into Iranian waters.

Wednesday's confrontation, which happened near the Strait of Hormuz, involved Iran's regular navy, not the more hardline Revolutionary Guard.

The Tasnim and Fars news agencies, both semi-official, reported a U.S. warship turned around after receiving two warnings from Iranian naval vessels.

In a statement, U.S. Navy Cmdr. Kevin Stephens said U.S. naval operations had not been altered and that it's common to announce when ships are too close to live fire exercises.

 

REPUBLICAN ASKS FOR PRICE TAG TO CLOSE GITMO: A Kansas congresswoman wants a full accounting of how much it would cost to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) wrote a letter Wednesday to Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Director Keith Hall requesting a study on the closing costs.

President Obama has promised to close the facility by the time he leaves office. Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said he delivered the president a plan that would close the facility and move the remaining detainees to a facility in the United States.

Obama reportedly scuttled an earlier plan last year because of its high cost.

Pentagon teams have assessed sites in South Carolina, Colorado and Kansas for the potential to house detainees should Guantanamo close. The Kansas site was Fort Leavenworth, located in Jenkins's district.

In her letter, Jenkins specified that the CBO study should include costs to the community, including spending on increased law enforcement and economic losses due to people moving away. She also expressed concern about the effect moving Guantanamo detainees would have on international military officers enrolling in Fort Leavenworth's Command and General Staff College.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

-- Ex-Pentagon chief donates to Feingold campaign

-- House Republican backs senator's blockade of Army nominee

-- Two senior VA officials appeal demotions for a second time

-- US, China clash over North Korea sanctions

-- Republican proposes select panel on prisoners of war

 

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