TIME Military

How the Pentagon Bombs Budget Estimates to $mithereens

An artist's conception of what the Air Force's new Long Range Strike Bomber might look like. Northrop Grumman

And why skepticism should accompany Monday's proposed 2016 defense budget

President Obama is sending his proposed $585 billion 2016 Pentagon budget to Capitol Hill on Monday. It consists of reams of documents, charts and tables that make it difficult for normal folks to understand. So let’s take a look at a single line item—the Air Force’s new bomber, for which the service is expected to seek about $1.5 billion next year—for insight into why Pentagon numbers don’t always add up.

The new bomber—designed to augment, and ultimately replace, the nation’s aging fleets of B-52, B-1 and B-2 aircraft—is so new that it doesn’t even have a name yet, beyond the generic title Long Range Strike Bomber.

But the highly-classified warplane already has a well-publicized price.

The cost, the Pentagon has been saying since 2011, is $550 million per bomber. It’s the only price tag attached to the new bomber and, and a result, it’s the one cited when the new plane is discussed.

“It’s like $550 million per copy,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said earlier this month. “It’s an estimate based upon multiple reviews of the program and not a single source.”

“Five hundred million dollars per copy sounds like a lot of money, but for the capability that we will be achieving, it actually is considered to be affordable,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told Bloomberg last summer.

A team of Boeing and Lockheed Martin is competing against Northrop Grumman to build the Air Force’s next crown jewel.

The $550 million figure has been cited so often that those not playing close attention could be forgiven for thinking that it’s the actual cost of the airplane. Kind of like the bottom line on the sticker you see on the window of a new car. But it’s not. Like any bureaucracy dedicated to expansion, the $550 million sum is the lowest figure the Air Force number can say with a straight face.

After repeatedly planting that $550 million flag in the minds of lawmakers and taxpayers, Pentagon officials have sometimes acknowledged that the $550 million represents what is known inside the military as the “APUC,” or average procurement unit cost. What’s important about that figure isn’t what it includes, but what it leaves out.

First of all, the $550 million price tag is based on buying between 80 and 100 of the bombers. Driving the price per plane down to $550 million requires economies of scale that only come over such long production runs. Early aircraft off the assembly line are very expensive, as the radar-eluding B-2 “stealth” bomber made clear. “Cost of Stealth Bombers Soars to $450 Million Each,” the Washington Post reported breathlessly on its front page nearly 30 years ago, in May 1988. Few believed at the time that a bomber could cost so much. But that was for a planned buy of 132 planes. The Air Force ended up buying only 21. The B-2’s ultimate price: $2.1 billion each.

Second, the $550 million doesn’t include the research and development needed to actually build the plane. Without the R&D, the plane would truly be stealthy—because it wouldn’t exist. Experts inside and outside the Pentagon estimate the new bomber’s development will add between $20 billion and $25 billion to the Pentagon’s projected $55 billion procurement price tag for 100 planes.

Third, the $550 million price is based on the value of a 2010 dollar. That’s 12 years before the first pair of bombers is slated to be delivered. Accounting for inflation since has already driven the cost per plane close to $600 million, and that number will keep rising in the future. Delays in the plane’s production schedule will push it even higher.

Finally, the $550 million estimate doesn’t include anything for the all-but-certain cost overruns a weapons program like this will experience. No one can say how much unanticipated costs will add to the bomber’s ultimate price, but one can declare with certainty that it won’t be zero.

Todd Harrison of the nonprofit Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments estimates the bomber program’s true cost—assuming 100 planes and no cost overruns—at $90 billion. That’s $900 million a copy, 64% higher than the Air Force’s official $550 million figure.

“I actually think it’s very important that we buy the bomber,” Harrison says. “I just think we should acknowledge what it is likely to cost.” He also thinks there will be cost overruns, and that fewer than 100 will be bought. That’ll drive the price per plane into the B-2’s billion-dollar stratosphere.

Harrison isn’t the only one with doubts, judging from what some Air Force officials have said while describing the new bomber’s advertised price. Eric Fanning, the Air Force’s #2 civilian, has called the $550 million figure “a pretty firm chalk line.” Chief Air Force weapons buyer William LaPlante describes it a “marker in the sand.”

Whatever. It’s obvious that the Air Force’s $550 million estimate isn’t carved in stone.

TIME faith

Pope Francis to Visit Sarajevo to Promote ‘Brotherhood and Peace’

Pope Francis smiles during a meeting with young people at Manila university
Pope Francis smiles during a meeting with young people at Manila university, Jan. 18, 2015. Stefano Rellandini—Reuters

Bosnia was ravaged by war 20 years ago

Pope Francis said Sunday that he will visit Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in June.

The Pope revealed his one-day trip during after his weekly Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square, NBC reports. The Pope plans to “give rise to the development of good and contribute to the consolidation of brotherhood and peace,” while encouraging Bosnia’s small Catholic population.

The country is still recovering from the 1992-1995 Bosnian War, which claimed over 100,000 lives and gave rise to anti-government riots and high unemployment.

[NBC]

TIME China

Thousands March for Democracy in Hong Kong

Pro Democracy Supporters Stage A Rally In Hong Kong
Tens of thousands of protesters called for real universal suffrage during a march for democracy on Feb. 1, 2015 in Hong Kong. Lam Yik Fei—Getty Images

Organizers said 13,000 people participated

(HONG KONG) — Thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators marched through Hong Kong’s streets Sunday in the first major rally since mass protests last year.

Chanting “No fake universal suffrage. I want genuine universal suffrage,” the demonstrators held yellow umbrellas, which became a symbol of the earlier protests when the activists wielded them as a defense against police using pepper spray.

The event appeared orderly and peaceful throughout the day. The annual march usually is held on Jan. 1 but was delayed for a month this year to coincide with the government’s second round of consultations on electoral reform.

The demonstrators oppose the Chinese government’s decision that candidates in the 2017 election for Hong Kong chief executive will be vetted by a largely Beijing-controlled nominating committee.

The final election plan must be approved by a two-thirds majority in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council before submitting to authorities in Beijing. But pro-democracy legislators, who hold 40 percent of the seats, have said they would veto the screening proposal.

“This is pseudo universal suffrage, we do not have the rights to elect who we want,” said protester Julia Choi.

Organizers said 13,000 people participated, while police said they counted 8,000 at the march’s peak.

Police had raised no objection to the march, though the formal notice the department issued last weekend stressed that organizers should ensure none of the marchers tried to occupy streets as happened during the mass protests last year.

TIME Japan

Hostage Crisis Deepens Debate Over How to Defend Japan

JAPAN-IRAQ-SYRIA-CONFLICT-HOSTAGE
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe talks during a ministerial meeting on an online video purportedly showing a Japanese hostage being killed by the Islamic State at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo on Feb. 1, 2015. Kimimasa Mayama—AFP/Getty Images

The deaths of two Japanese men at the hands of ISIS could be trouble for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

The presumed deaths in Syria of a gentle children’s advocate and a troubled adventurer brings to a close a crisis that riveted Japan and brought much of the Japanese government to a standstill for more than a week.

But the fallout from the crisis could be far-reaching.

Japan already was facing a polarizing national debate over Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ambitious security agenda. And the hostage crisis—which ended Saturday with video of an execution at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS)—seems likely to weaken support among the public, while hardening attitudes among government leaders.

“Initially, there will be a boost for Abe as people rally around the flag. But down the road, he faces tougher questions,” says Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University’s Tokyo campus. “The public is still digesting the horrific events, but certainly there are doubts that Abe’s security agenda is making Japan safer.”

Since taking office for a second time 25 months ago, Abe has worked to boost defense spending, ease restraints on Japan’s military and develop a more assertive foreign policy. At least some of that agenda is in response to China’s rapidly growing military and aggressive territorial claims.

But Abe’s program of “proactive contributions to peace” failed badly during his six-day visit to the Middle East last month. Islamist extremists accused Abe of taking sides in the grisly conflict in Syria and Iraq by pledging $200 million in aid to countries opposing ISIS.

ISIS threatened to kill two Japanese men taken hostage earlier unless Abe met their demands, which initially called for a ransom equal to the aid package that Abe announced in a high-profile speech in Cairo.

The killers apparently followed through on those threats, releasing videos that purportedly show the murders of Haruna Yukawa, 42, a failed businessmen and would-be private military contractor, and Kenji Goto, 47, a respected freelance journalist who chronicled the suffering of children in war zones around the world.

Goto was kidnapped after entering Syria in October in a failed attempt to aid Yukawa, whom he described as a friend. Yukawa had been taken hostage while traveling with a Syrian rebel group in August.

Abe has argued that Japan, as a democratic nation and a major economic power, has a “responsibility” to play a more active role in world affairs. But the hostage crisis is likely to weaken public support for that view, says Brad Glosserman, executive director of the Pacific Forum CSIS in Honolulu.

“There has always been a powerful ‘disengagement mentality’ in postwar Japanese thinking and I worry that (the hostage crisis) will reinforce that,” Glosserman says. “It will feed the popular inclination to stay out of entangling affairs.”

Even before the hostage crisis, Japan was being forced to do some hard thinking about its place in the world. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Abe, who has strong nationalist leanings, already had begun the contentious process of writing an official commemoration statement that critics worry will backtrack on previous apologies.

In a meeting with international reporters in Tokyo on Friday, the U.S. State Department’s fourth-highest ranking official, Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, pointedly said that the U.S. expects Abe’s statement to “promote reconciliation.”

Abe is expected to submit legislation to Japan’s parliament this spring that would allow the country’s military to fight alongside the U.S. and other friendly forces under circumstances currently forbidden by Japan’s pacifist, post-war constitution.

The hostage crisis revealed that even if Japanese law had permitted it, Japan’s military lacked the hardware, training or organization to attempt a rescue halfway around the world (though in truth, few countries have such capabilities). The lonely deaths of Yukawa and Goto might change that, says Grant Newsham, senior research fellow at the Tokyo-based Japan Forum for Strategic Studies.

“They could make some practical improvements in capabilities, but most importantly they could become psychologically willing to operate overseas and with a range of partners and allies,”says Newsham, a former Marine Corps liaison with the Japan Ground Self Defense Force. “The psychological aspect is key. Overcome that hurdle and Japan starts to look and act like a regular country.”

The hostage crisis is certain to deepen the debate over what kind of country Japan wants to be, says Nancy Snow, a visiting research professor and specialist in international affairs at Keio University in Tokyo.

“This is not a passing event,” says Snow. “The lesson for Japan is that no one is immune anywhere from the troubles of the world.”

TIME faith

Here’s What Stephen Fry Would Say to God

"How dare you?"

Actor-comedian Stephen Fry, an outspoken atheist, had an answer ready this week when asked what he’d say if “confronted by God.”

“Suppose it’s all true, and you walk up to the pearly gates, and you are confronted by God,” asked Gay Bryne, host of RTÉ One’s The Meaning of Life. “What will Stephen Fry say to him, her, or it?”

“I’d say, ‘Bone cancer in children? What’s that about?'” answered the 57-year-old Brit. “‘How dare you? How dare you create a world to which there is such misery that is not our fault? It’s not right, it’s utterly, utterly evil.'”

“‘Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain?'” Fry said. “That’s what I would say.”

[The Independent]

TIME Syria

Video Said to Show Second Japanese Hostage Killed By ISIS

Japanese hostage Kenji Goto Jogo captured by ISIL
In this file photo, dated Oct. 24, 2014, Japanese journalist Kenji Goto Jogo, captured by Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) and one of two Japanese hostages, is seen in Aleppo, Syria. Ahmed Muhammed—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Video was shared by extremists websites Saturday

An online video released Saturday night purported to show an Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) militant behead Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, ending days of negotiations by diplomats to save the man.

The video, released on militant websites and highlighted by militant sympathizers on social media sites, bore the symbol of ISIS’s al-Furqan media arm.

Though the video could not be immediately independently verified by The Associated Press, it conformed to other beheading videos released by the extremists, who now control a third of both Syria and neighboring Iraq in its self-declared caliphate.

The video, called “A Message to the Government of Japan,” featured a militant who looked and sounded like a militant with a British accent who has taken part in other beheading videos by ISIS. Goto, kneeling in an orange prison jumpsuit, said nothing in the roughly one-minute-long video.

“Abe,” the militant says in the video, referring to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, “because of your reckless decision to take part in an unwinnable war, this man will not only slaughter Kenji, but will also carry on and cause carnage wherever your people are found. So let the nightmare for Japan begin.”

Goto was captured in October, after he traveled to Syria to try to win the release of Haruna Yukawa.

The hostage drama began last week after militants threatened to kill Goto and Yukawa in 72 hours unless Japan paid $200 million.

Jordan and Japan reportedly conducted indirect negotiations with the militants through Iraqi tribal leaders.

National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan said the White House was aware of the video. “We are working to confirm its authenticity. The United States strongly condemns [ISIS’s] actions and we call for the immediate release of all remaining hostages. We stand in solidarity with our ally Japan.”

TIME World

French Tourists to Be Deported Over Nude Photo Shoot at Cambodian Temple

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The Angkor Wat temple complex at sunrise in Cambodia's Angkor National Park, Siem Reap province, Nov. 8, 2014. Alex Ogle—AFP/Getty Images

Court claimed three men were taking naked photos for use 'in publications such as a calendar'

A trio of tourists from France were arrested for taking nude photos of each other at a world-famous Cambodian temple, and will be deported.

The three men in their early twenties were found Thursday inside Banteay Kdei temple at Angkor Archaeological Park, AFP reports, which houses Angkor Wat — a 12th-century temple and UNESCO World Heritage site.

The trio were arrested by Cambodian authorities and given a suspended prison sentence of six months, plus deportation from Cambodia and a four-year ban on coming back to the country. The men were also fined $750 each.

“They confessed to making a mistake and asked for the Cambodian people to forgive them for their actions,” prosecutor Koeut Sovannareth told AFP. The men claimed that they took the pictures as souvenirs, “but we believe that their intention was to use the photos in publications such as a calendar,” Sovannareth said.

[AFP]

TIME Syria

ISIS Fighters Admit Defeat in Syrian Border Town of Kobani

Syria Islamic State Kobani
A Syrian Kurdish sniper looks at the rubble in the Syrian city Kobani, Jan. 30, 2015. The Islamic State group has acknowledged for the first time that its fighters have been defeated in the Syrian town of Kobani and vowed to attack the town again. AP

Islamist fighters said the airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition were the main reason they withdrew

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has acknowledged for the first time that its fighters have been defeated in the Syrian town of Kobani and vowed to attack the town again.

In a video released by the pro-ISIS Aamaq News Agency late Friday, two fighters said the airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition were the main reason why ISIS fighters were forced to withdraw from Kobani. One fighter vowed to defeat the main Kurdish militia in Syria, the People’s Protection Units known as the YPG.

On Monday, activists and Kurdish officials said the town was almost cleared of ISIS fighters, who once held nearly half of Kobani.

An Associated Press video from inside the town showed widespread destruction, streets littered with debris and abandoned neighborhoods. The video also showed a new cemetery with fresh graves.

The town’s famous Freedom Square, with a statue of an eagle spreading its wings, stood intact in the middle of the destruction. The square is near the so-called Kurdish security quarter — an eastern district where Kurdish militiamen maintained security buildings and offices, and which was occupied by ISIS fighters for about two months until they were forced out earlier in January.

In the newly released ISIS video, the militant fighters acknowledged that they have been driven from the town.

“A while ago we retreated a bit from Ayn al-Islam because of the bombardment and the killing of some brothers,” said one masked fighter, using the group’s preferred name for Kobani. He spoke Arabic with a north African accent.

The failure to capture and hold Kobani was a major blow to the extremists. Their hopes for an easy victory dissolved into a costly siege under withering airstrikes by coalition forces and an assault by Kurdish militiamen.

The United States and several Arab allies have been striking ISIS positions in Syria since Sept. 23. The campaign aims to push back the jihadi organization after it took over about a third of Iraq and Syria and declared the captured territory a new caliphate.

Now Kurdish officials are hailing the retaking of Kobani as an important step toward rolling back the Islamic State group’s territorial gains.

“Kobani Canton is a representative of the resistance against terrorism in the world,” said senior Syrian Kurdish official in Kobani, Anwar Muslim. “We hope that the world will support us to come through our struggle against ISIS.”

Meanwhile the ISIS fighters vowed that their defeat in Kobani will not weaken them.

“The Islamic State will stay. Say that to (U.S. President Barack) Obama,” said the fighter, pointing his finger toward destruction on the edge of Kobani.

The fighters both laid blame for their defeat on the coalition air campaign, seemingly downplaying the role played by Kurdish militiamen — whom they refer to as “rats.”

Another ISIS fighter, also speaking in Arabic, said while standing on a road with a green sign with “Ayn al-Islam” sprayed on it: “The warplanes did not leave any construction. They destroyed everything, so we had to withdraw and the rats advanced.”

“The warplanes were bombarding us night and day. They bombarded everything, even motorcycles,” the fighter said.

ISIS launched an offensive on the Kobani region in mid-September capturing more than 300 Kurdish villages and parts of the town. As a result of the airstrikes and stiff Kurdish resistance, ISIS began retreating a few weeks ago, losing more than 1,000 fighters, according to activists.

More than 200,000 Kurds were forced from their homes. Many fled to neighboring Turkey.

Earlier this week, Kurdish officials said YPG fighters have launched a counterattack to retake some of the surrounding villages around Kobani, many of which remain in ISIS hands.

TIME Spain

March For Leftist Party in Madrid Attracts Thousands

Spain Podemos
People gather in the main square of Madrid during a Podemos (We Can) party march in Madrid, Jan. 31, 2015. Andres Kudacki—AP

Podemos, or 'We Can', hopes to follow in the footsteps of radical leftwing party Syriza, which won power in Greece last weekend

Hundreds of thousands of people marched through Madrid on Saturday in a show of strength by a fledgling radical leftist party, which hopes to emulate the success of Greece’s Syriza party in the Spanish general election later this year.

Podemos supporters from across Spain converged around the Cibeles fountain Saturday before packing the avenue leading to Puerta del Sol square in what was the party’s largest rally to date.

State broadcaster TVE said that hundreds of thousands were at the march, but no official attendance figures were provided.

Podemos (“We Can”) aims to shatter the country’s predominantly two-party system and the “March for Change” gathered crowds in the same place where sit-in protests against political and financial corruption laid the party’s foundations in 2011.

The party’s rise is greatly due to the charisma of its pony-tailed leader, Pablo Iglesias, a 36-year-old political science professor.

Hailing from the Madrid working class neighborhood of Vallecas, Iglesias prefers jeans and rolled up shirt sleeves to a suit and tie and champions slogans such as Spain is “run by the butlers of the rich” and that the economy must serve the people.

“We want change,” Iglesias told the crowd. “This is the year for change and we’re going to win the elections.”

Speaking at a meeting in Barcelona, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he didn’t accept the bleak picture of Spain that Podemos propagated.

“They’re a sad bunch, who go around saying how badly things are going,” he said, giving them no chance of winning the elections. “They’re not going to do it.”

Senior Podemos member Rita Maestre told The Associated Press that their aim was to show that the party is the instrument for change.

“We called the demonstration in the hope of lighting the torch (flame).”

In roughly a year, Podemos has leap-frogged from being the dream of a handful of university professors and activists to a political party.

Opinion polls show the party could possibly take the No.1 spot in upcoming elections and thus trigger one of the biggest political shake-ups in Spain since democracy was restored in 1978 after decades of dictatorship.

“The two-party framework has suffered a change. It now really does seem like a third political force can achieve government, so yes, I think it can have a great impact,” said literature student Alicia Sanchez, 20.

This year, Spain holds elections in 15 of its 17 regions this year followed by general elections.

Podemos’ first battle will be in the southern Socialist heartland of Andalusia in March, followed by regional and municipal elections in the crucial ruling Popular Party stronghold of Madrid in May.

“The political class has lost all credibility,” said unemployed lathe worker Marcos Pineda, 54. “The PP that governs today had its former treasurer in jail for corruption and the banks were bailed out with 40 billion euros ($52 billion) of European money, but the government refused to call it a bailout.”

Podemos has often expressed its support for some of the policies of left-wing governments in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, which makes many Spanish mainstream politicians bristle.

In Europe, it openly supports Syriza, which won national elections in Greece on Jan. 25 and which has pledged to challenge the austerity measures imposed on the country by the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

While there are major political and economic differences between Spain and Greece, both countries have suffered severe economic crises, massive unemployment and austerity measures while simultaneously having to put up with myriad political corruption scandals.

This combination has given rise to a nationwide anti-establishment movement that has boosted Podemos and Syriza immensely.

TIME United Kingdom

Benedict Cumberbatch Backs Call to Pardon Gay Men Convicted in U.K.

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch attends the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on Jan. 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Actor Benedict Cumberbatch attends the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on Jan. 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, Calif. George Pimentel—WireImage/Getty Images

Alan Turing, whom the actor played in The Imitation Game, was among those convicted

Benedict Cumberbatch has joined 40,000 others in signing an open letter to the British government demanding the pardons of thousands of gay men convicted under historic indecency laws in the UK.

“The U.K.’s homophobic laws made the lives of generations of gay and bisexual men intolerable,” reads the letter published in The Guardian. “It is up to young leaders of today, including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, to acknowledge this mark on our history and not allow it to stand.”

Cumberbatch played Alan Turing in the Oscar-nominated movie The Imitation Game, which documents the codebreaker’s struggles under the UK’s early twentieth-century anti-gay laws. In 1952, Turing was convicted of gross indecency—one of 49,000 men found guilty under the laws. He was chemically castrated and died by suicide two years later. Homosexual sex was outlawed in England and Wales until 1967.

MORE: The History Behind Benedict Cumberbatch’s The Imitation Game

In 2013, Turing was pardoned by the Queen, but 15,000 of the men convicted are believed to still be alive. Cumberbatch—along with many others, some of whom were involved with the film—are demanding for their records to be wiped clean. “We call upon Her Majesty’s government to begin a discussion about the possibility of pardoning all the men, alive or deceased, who like Alan Turing were convicted,” the letter reads.

[The Guardian]

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