In Brief: USAF’s Big New Contract; Suicide Shocker; Rethink on Syria

Mike O'Brien

THE AIR Force has awarded a contract to Flight Safety Services Corporation on May 1, taking a major step forward in achieving its top acquisition priority - delivering a new aerial refueling capability to the warfighter.

The contract, which is valued at $78,369,818, includes an initial obligation of $1 million for engineering, manufacturing, and development of the KC-46A Aircrew Training System (ATS).

The aircrew training devices are scheduled to begin arriving at operational air bases in 2016 and will be used to prepare flight crews to operate the new tanker.

Maj. Gen. John Thompson, Program Executive Officer for Tankers, said: ""This is a vital step in the development of KC-46A. We have reached an award that is the product of a disciplined, meticulous and transparent source selection and delivers real value for the warfighter."

"Everyone recognizes the need to get value for our money," Thompson said. "Strong competition clearly benefits the taxpayer and, I think, benefits our industry partners as well. Effectively managing costs and schedule puts everyone in a winning situation."

THE SUICIDE rate among middle-aged Americans rose by a startling 28 percent in a decade, the government reported on Thursday.

The report, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showed that the trend was most pronounced among white men and women aged between 35 and 64. The suicide rate for that demographic group jumped 40 percent between 1999 and 2010.

Related: Current Trends in Military Healthcare Include Suicide Increases

Analysts are attributing the grim toll to the recession, which began at the end of 2007, when many middle-class Americans became worried about losing their jobs and homes.

During the 1999-2010 period, suicide went from the eighth leading cause of death among middle-aged Americans to the fourth, behind cancer, heart disease and accidents.

DEFENSE SECRETARY Chuck Hagel said on Thursday that the Obama administration is re-thinking its opposition to arming the Syrian rebels following allegations that chemical weapons have been used in the country's civil war.

At a Pentagon news conference, Mr. Hagel said: "Arming the rebels -- that's an option." Asked if the administration was reconsidering its opposition to that option, Hagel said "yes."

His comments came a few days after it revealed that U.S. intelligence found evidence that the regime used chemical weapons, specifically sarin, "on a small scale" in Syria. The White House, however, said investigators would have to find out more about how that nerve gas was released before acting on that intelligence, Fox News reports.

President Obama has in the past called the use of chemical weapons in Syria a "red line" that could prompt U.S. action if crossed.