Israel to receive Bell-Boeing Osprey aircraft

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration said Thursday that it will provide six V-22 Bell-Boeing Osprey aircraft to Israel, making it the first foreign country to receive the advanced tilt-rotor planes.

The planes can land and take off vertically by tilting their two propellers, expanding the Israeli military’s ability to conduct long-range, high-speed troop movements into areas without runways and maritime search-and-rescue operations, officials said.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who announced the move in a speech to the Anti-Defamation League in New York, said the V-22 “will greatly enhance the range and effectiveness of Israeli special forces.” He said the Israeli shipment would be part “of the next order to go on the assembly line.”

The first planes are likely to be delivered in two years and will be modified “to meet the specific requirements” of the Israel Defense Forces, a senior U.S. Defense official said. He agreed to discuss the deal only if he was not identified by name.

The U.S. has long pledged to keep Israel’s military stronger than any combination of its regional rivals, a U.S. policy referred to as giving Israel a “qualified military edge.”

Though the planes will not be delivered for several years, the U.S. official said, the V-22 “will help the IDF better deal with threats emanating not only from Iran, but also stemming from the civil war in Syria” and “maritime challenges.”

Since entering service in 2007, the V-22 has been used by the Marines and the U.S. Air Force in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, and senior Marine officers said the plane has proved itself as one of the safest in its inventory, despite concerns during its development about its reliability.

For the Marines, the plane is a replacement for the CH-46 helicopter, which is used primarily to transport Marines ashore from ships.

Hagel also announced in the speech that he was ordering the head of the National Guard “to take immediate action” to ensure that same-sex spouses” of military personnel in the National Guard are able to register for full benefits and receive identification cards giving them access to military bases, in keeping with a Pentagon policy that went into effect in September.

Despite the new policy, National Guard commanders in nine states that do not permit same-sex marriage — Texas, Indiana, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and West Virginia — have refused to register same-sex spouses at National Guard installations and issue them identification cards, citing a “potential conflict” between state law and the Pentagon policy.

They required same-sex spouses to travel to federal military installations to register for benefits.

“Not only does this violate the states’ obligations under federal law, their actions have created hardship and inequality by forcing couples to travel long distances to federal military bases to obtain the ID cards they’re entitled to,” Hagel said.

He said the chief of the National Guard Bureau, Gen. Frank Grass, would meet with the nine National Guard commanders, who will be “expected to comply with both lawful direction and (Defense Department) policy.”

Hagel “is prepared to take further action should the states not come into compliance,” the senior Defense official said, noting that 114 Army and Air National Guard sites are not providing cards to eligible same-sex spouses.

Chad Griffin, the head of the Human Rights Campaign, a group that advocates on behalf of gays and lesbians, said, “Guard members and their families serve this country every day, and it is unacceptable that any state would make it unreasonably difficult for these heroes to access the benefits they are entitled to under federal law.”

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