Here are five noteworthy stories and events to start your week.
Army Secretary Nominee Bows Out
Vincent "Vinnie" Viola, the billionaire West Point graduate and former Army officer nominated by President Donald Trump to become Army secretary, withdrew his candidacy late Friday amid difficulties severing ties to his business interests. "I appreciate the confidence President Trump showed in me," he said in a statement obtained by Military Times. "I offer my continued support for President Trump and his administration, and look forward to redoubling my efforts to support the Army and its veterans as private citizens." The news came days after The New York Times reported Viola was in talks to "swap his majority interest in Eastern Air Lines for a smaller stake in Swift Air, a charter company with millions of dollars in hard-to-track government subcontracts."
F-35A to Cost Less Than $100 Million Per Plane
The U.S. Air Force's F-35A Joint Strike Fighter is set to cost less than $100 million per plane under the latest deal between the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin Corp., Military.com reported Friday. The agreement for production Lot 10 calls for the conventional variant of the single-engine stealth fighter to have a price tag of about $95 million. Unit costs for Marine Corps F-35B and Navy F-3C models are also expected fall by several percentage points to $123 million and $122 million, respectively, as production volume increases. Lockheed spokesman Bill Phelps said President Donald Trump's "personal involvement in the F-35 program accelerated the negotiations and sharpened our focus on driving down the price."
SpecOps Troops Make Up Majority of Recent Casualties
Two-thirds of the U.S. service members killed in action in the past year served in Special Operations units, the New York Times reported Sunday. Of the 18 troops who have died since the start of 2016, 12 were elite trainers and commandos serving with Army Special Forces or Navy SEALs, according to the newspaper. Most recently, Chief Special Warfare Operator William "Ryan" Owens, 36, of Peoria, Illinois, was killed Jan. 29 during an information-gathering raid in Yemen that left six more troops killed or injured. Meanwhile, the president is making his first visit Monday to U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa to receive a briefing on U.S. operations against militants affiliated with the Islamic State, the Associated Press reported.
Top US Commander in Afghanistan to Testify Before Senators
Army Gen. John W. Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is scheduled to testify 9:30 a.m. Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, headed by Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona. The comments from Nicholson, whose official title is Resolute Support Commander of U.S. Forces -- Afghanistan, may shed light onto what kind of military and financial support the Trump administration plans to provide the mission in the country, where about 8,400 American troops are serving and where the U.S. has been at war for 15 years. While the conflict in Afghanistan didn't get much attention during the presidential campaign, a total of 14 American service members were killed in the country in 2016.
New Dental Provider Coming This Spring
The Tricare dental contract for active-duty family members, Guard and Reserve members and their families will switch from MetLife to United Concordia on May 1, Military.com reported. Military retirees and their families are covered by a separate contract with Delta Dental, which is not affected. No dental benefits or coverages are being dialed back by the switch. Instead, some coverages are expanding while children will be automatically enrolled in the system as beneficiaries starting at one year old rather than four years old. Among the expansions is an increase to the annual maximum benefit from $1,300 to $1,500 and a change that makes sealants free instead of carrying a 20 percent co-pay.
-- Oriana Pawlyk, Hope Hodge Seck and Amy Bushatz contributed to this report.