The Insider

By Zachary M. Peterson
November 23, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Pentagon acquisition chief Ashton Carter told reporters today that the logistical hurdles presented by a war in Afghanistan are second only to those that would be faced on the icy continent at the South Pole.

“Getting into Afghanistan, which we need to do as quickly as we can possibly do it, is very difficult because, as I always say, next to Antarctica Afghanistan is probably the most incommodious place from the logistics point of view to be trying to fight a war,” Carter said at a press round table at the Pentagon. “It's landlocked and rugged and the road network is much, much thinner than in Iraq.”

Fielding valuable equipment like Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles and their lighter-weight cousins, M-ATVs, to the landlocked central Asian country is a continual challenge, Carter noted.

“We can produce MRAPs faster than we can get them to the soldiers,” he said. “It's not our production capability that limits the rate at which soldiers will get MRAPs or M-ATVs in Afghanistan. It's the rate at which you can ship them in there, get the soldiers back, trained and what limits that? Do you have enough concrete slab to park the trucks on? Where do you buy concrete in Afghanistan? You don't, you get it in Pakistan.”

By Marcus Weisgerber
November 20, 2009 at 5:00 AM

U.S. Special Operations Command today announced it is interested in ideas on an airborne system that can provide close air support to troops in contact, according to a government notice.

“The area of interest includes new ideas and innovative approaches to rapidly mature proven technologies to a production readiness state, as well as applications of existing ((commercial-off-the-shelf)) solutions that may be integrated onto an existing airframe,” the notice printed today in Federal Business Opportunities states. “Considerations include speed to field, integration complexity, Technical Readiness Level TRL level of solutions proposed, and overall mission capability provided.”

For years, the Pentagon has been trying to field as many airborne assets as possible to provide intelligence and fire support for troops in the ground. The Defense Department has maxed out its unmanned MQ-1 and MQ-9 production lines in an attempt to get the drones to the battlefield as soon as possible.

Still, manned fighter and attack jets -- like the F-15E Strike Eagle, the F-16 Viper F/A-18 Hornet and the A-10 Warthog -- perform the majority of low-level close-air support missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Air Force is considering purchasing propeller-driven attack planes for irregular warfare CAS missions as well.

Air Force Special Operations Command's AC-130 gunships provide top cover for SOCOM troops. However, because only a small number of planes exist, the high-demand aircraft can only perform so many missions per flight.

By Sebastian Sprenger
November 19, 2009 at 5:00 AM

The Defense Department today published a final rule in the Federal Register implementing an ethics provision of the Fiscal Year 2008 National Defense Authorization Act. The legislation requires former DOD employees who were involved with acquisition programs exceeding $10 million to obtain a written opinion from a DOD ethics counselor before jumping on the payroll of a contractor. The law applies to the first two years after officials leave their DOD jobs.

According to the legislation, the employment-seeking official's request to the ethics counselor must detail information about "government positions held and major duties in those positions, actions taken concerning future employment, positions sought, and future job descriptions, if applicable." The ethics counselor's opinion, in turn, must then discuss the "applicability of post-employment restrictions to activities that the official or former official may undertake on behalf of a contractor."

Since publishing an interim rule in January, officials received one lone comment on the issue, according to the FR notice. The commenter requested that the records of the written opinions be made available to the public.

But DOD rulemakers chose not to implement the suggestion, arguing the legislation does not "authorize" the opinion database to be publicly accessible. (Although the particular section of the law doesn't appear to prohibit this, either.)

In any case, the law tasks the DOD inspector general with conducting periodic reviews of the ethics opinions process, with the first due no later than two years after enactment of the FY-08 defense authorization legislation. That puts the due date in late January 2010.

By Sebastian Sprenger
November 19, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Opponents of the idea that U.S. nuclear warheads should be redesigned to ensure their effectiveness had a field day today after news broke that a panel of scientists believes the warhead stockpile can be maintained by simply replacing aging parts.

National Nuclear Security Administration officials sent out the unclassified summary of the report to reporters, but not without slapping a statement on the front page. Curiously, the statement includes a vague caveat.

While we endorse the recommendations and consider them well-aligned with NNSA’s long-term stockpile management strategy, certain findings in the unclassified Executive Summary convey a different perspective on key findings when viewed without the context of the full classified report.

You can read the executive summary of the JASON report here.

By Sebastian Sprenger
November 18, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) this morning brought up a couple of his favorite topics during a hearing on defense budget trends with think tank experts. For one, he said, the Defense Department should address vulnerabilities to an electromagnetic pulse attack. These kinds of attacks can be produced by detonating an atomic weapon high above U.S. soil, and they would knock out much of the country's power grid.

Bartlett also warned of the similar effects of a large-scale solar storm, which he said could lead to the death of 80 percent of the American population.

He was probably disappointed by the response he received.

The witnesses -- experts from the Congressional Budget Office, the Congressional Research Service, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the American Enterprise Institute -- didn't spend a word addressing solar storms and how well DOD may be prepared to deal with them.

As for the general topic of high-impact attacks on America, CSIS's David Berteau predicted the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review report would devote a good amount of attention to the issue.

By Kate Brannen
November 18, 2009 at 5:00 AM

The Army has decided to boost its French language skills so that it is better equipped to operate in Africa and other parts of the world, according to Col. James Stockmoe, director for operations and plans in the Army's intelligence office (G-2).

Speaking at a military intelligence conference in Washington today, Stockmoe said the Army is still struggling to develop sufficient language skills and plans to continue investing in language training.

The Army has decided it would be a smarter investment to teach French, which is widely spoken in parts of Africa, than to teach lots of soldiers Swahili, he said.

Another indicator of the service's commitment to increased language training is Training and Doctrine Command's inclusion of cultural and foreign language proficiency in its recommendations for the Army's first capabilities package, a key component of its revised modernization strategy.

In the meantime, Stockmoe said it's likely the Army will have to continue contracting out language capability until the requisite skills are well developed internally.

By Marjorie Censer
November 18, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Following comments by Pentagon acquisition executive Ashton Carter earlier this month, BAE Systems representatives today argued strongly that the company's protest of the Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles "rebuy" contract is not a frivolous one.

At a Nov. 2 event at the Pentagon, Carter warned that DOD takes protests seriously. "The entire department is concerned about protests becoming common or routine, and we take the protest process very seriously,” Carter said in response to a reporter's question. “We expect it to be rare, and we expect it not to be used frivolously.”

But during a conference call with reporters today, Dennis Morris, president of BAE's global tactical systems division, said the company does not believe its FMTV protest to the Government Accountability Office is frivolous.

"When it comes to protests, BAE Systems does not protest often," he said. "We are willing to admit that if we get beat in a competition, we got beat."

As an example, Morris added, the company lost to Oshkosh in the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicle competition. "We did not protest that decision," he said.

Al Crews, BAE's vice president for legal and contracts and chief counsel for the company's global tactical systems division, noted that protests cannot be taken lightly. During the same call, he said BAE is spending its own funds -- "money that's coming directly from our bottom line" -- to pursue the issue.

"Protests are extremely expensive, they're time consuming and they divert a lot of resources regardless of whether we're successful in the protest or not," Crews added.

By Sebastian Sprenger
November 17, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Defense firms and their government clients are "well positioned" to accelerate the development and fielding of alternative energy sources that would obviate the dangerous practice of sending fuel resupply trucks to the front lines in Afghanistan and elsewhere, concludes a recent report by consulting giant Deloitte. Still, a "game-changing shift" to that end has yet to occur, the document states.

Defense Department officials should be familiar with the report's main argument in favor of new energy technologies: Less petroleum-based fuel required on the battlefield means fewer casualties during resupply missions, more operational flexibility for commanders and, perhaps, lower costs.

The document proposes four areas of "partnership" between the U.S. government and industry that could help make this a reality: "Common biofuels" for use across the services, hybrid/electrical/biofuel technologies for ground vehicles, solar power systems, and engine and propulsion technology research.

"First and foremost, energy security is essential to wartime casualties," the report states. "With the significant numbers of U.S. soldiers supporting the transport, logistics and deployment of fossil fuel to the front lines, there is a call to action to reduce dependence on oil in war," it adds.

That call to action likely would be answered by DOD's director of operational energy plans and programs, a congressionally mandated position. But the job has yet to be filled.

By Thomas Duffy
November 17, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Yesterday the Pentagon provided a look at its books when it released its fiscal year 2009 financial report detailing how the Defense Department used approximately $666 billion during the 12-month period.

A glaring weakness in the recent financial statements DOD has issued is that none can be held up to an audit. The law requires it; however, DOD cannot meet that standard. The problem is the financial management systems the department relies on cannot produce the kind of detailed data about what monies were spent where and when that an auditor needs, Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale told the House Budget Committee in March. The systems “weren't designed to do that, and they don't do it,” he told the committee

Hale, who authored the newly released Fy09 report, says in the preface that the department has made progress toward what he terms “audit readiness” in recent years.

However, many of the most difficult problems remain, and the Department has not created a focused plan that offered a realistic chance of success in a reasonable period of time. After careful review, I have decided to implement a new strategy. DOD will focus on improving information and achieving audit readiness in those areas where we most use the information to manage, including the Statement of Budgetary Resources and the existence and completeness of weapons and other items. DOD is currently working to devise specific plans to carry out this new strategy.

Also available are the military services' 2009 financial statements: Army, Navy and Marine Corps and Air Force.

By Marcus Weisgerber
November 17, 2009 at 5:00 AM

The U.S. Court of Appeals today sided with the Air Force, rejecting a claim by Alabama Aircraft Industries that the service unfairly awarded a $1 billion-plus KC-135 maintenance contract to defense giant Boeing back in 2007.

The decision paves the way for Boeing to begin executing scheduled depot maintenance on its aging fleet of Stratotanker aerial refueling aircraft.

The Air Force awarded the depot maintenance contract to Boeing in September 2007. Alabama Aircraft Industries protested that decision to the Government Accountability Office, which “denied the protest on all grounds raised by AAII, with the exception of the agency's cost/price evaluation,” according to the decision.

“The GAO concluded that the record was insufficient for the GAO to determine the reasonableness of the agency’s price-realism analysis,” the decision reads.

The Air Force then reexamined both companies' proposals and determined the prices presented “were realistic and reasonable.” The Air Force affirmed the contract award to Boeing in March 2008. AAII protested for a second time; however, GAO denied the claim.

The company then filed a complaint in the Court of Federal Claims. That court ruled the Air Force's price realism analysis was “arbitrary and capricious” because the agency failed “to deal explicitly with the aging-fleet issue in the RFP” and then sought “to sidestep the aging-fleet issue in the price-realism analysis of Boeing’s prevailing offer,” according to the decision.

The court ordered the Air Force to resolicit the contract. The Air Force and Boeing subsequently appealed the ruling, which the U.S. Court of Appeals reversed today.

Alabama Aircraft Industries -- in a last-ditch chance to have the contract voided -- could petition the U.S. Supreme Court to review today's decision.

By Jason Sherman
November 16, 2009 at 5:00 AM

The first Joint Strike Fighter variant designed for short takeoffs and vertical landings arrived in Maryland at Naval Air Station Patuxent River yesterday, after flying from Lockheed Martin's JSF assembly line in Fort Worth, TX, via Marietta, GA, the company said in a statement today.

The aircraft, known as BF-1, in December will begin hover and vertical landing flight tests, reported last month.

“We have high confidence in the capabilities of this aircraft, and we fully expect that it will meet or exceed the expectations of our customers,” Dan Crowley, Lockheed Martin executive vice president and F-35 program general manager, said in a statement. “At Patuxent River, this aircraft will continue the process of validating our revolutionary STOVL propulsion system through a series of short takeoffs, hovers and vertical landings.”

While flight engineers ready BF-1 for an initial round of tests, senior Pentagon officials are closely watching another part of the program -- its price tag. As has reported, the JSF Joint Estimate Team has determined the program requires more time and billions of additional dollars to develop.

By Sebastian Sprenger
November 16, 2009 at 5:00 AM

The latest Pentagon report on the security situation in Iraq comes with a noteworthy new caveat in the foreword. Since U.S. forces withdrew from Iraqi cities in June, U.S. officials find it hard to obtain and verify source data for the performance categories discussed in the document.

As a consequence of the movement of U.S. forces out of Iraqi cities on June 30, 2009, the U.S. has experienced reduced visibility and ability to verify Iraqi reports. Without a robust U.S. presence, Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) has begun reporting metrics that include host nation reports that it may not be able to independently verify. The overall trends between Coalition force data and host nation data are very close, but some values may change. Current charts show a combination of Coalition and Host-Nation reported data. The combination of these reports causes baseline numbers to increase, making it difficult to compare these charts with those presented in previous publications of this report.

The congressionally mandated document examines a host of indicators that would tell U.S. lawmakers whether the government of Iraq is making progress in the areas of security, public services and economic development.

The latest version, dated September 2009 but released only this month, describes "generally positive trends" but also warns that Iraq remains fragile because "many underlying sources of instability have yet to be resolved, putting security gains at risk."

By Marjorie Censer
November 13, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Defense Secretary Robert Gates -- who criticized the Army earlier this year for failing to integrate Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles into its Future Combat Systems plans -- indicated yesterday he expects MRAP All-Terrain Vehicles will also be a part of the military's future fleet.

Speaking to employees at M-ATV manufacturer Oshkosh's production facility in Oshkosh, WI, Gates said improvised explosive devices "of various degrees of lethality and sophistication will be with us for some time today.

"And so the need for these kinds of vehicles will not soon go away," he continued.

However, he stressed that no vehicle can prevent all fatalities.

"((W))e must never forget that there is no fail-safe measure that can prevent all loss of life and limb on this or any other battlefield, especially against a ruthless and resourceful enemy. That is the crude reality of war," Gates told employees. "But vehicles like the M-ATV and the MRAP, combined with the right tactics, techniques and procedures, provide the best protection against roadside bombs and other improvised explosive devices."

At the facility to thank Oshkosh's workers, Gates noted a contrast between today's wars and those of the past.

"During the world wars of the past century, the war effort mobilized the entire American economy," he said. "That is not the case with most of our industry today, defense included. But you all have the opportunity to work on one of the few projects where your efforts have a direct and immediate impact on men and women fighting on the front lines."

By John Liang
November 13, 2009 at 5:00 AM

The Pentagon's Defense Research and Engineering office is calling for new fiscal year 2011 Joint Capability Technology Demonstration candidates, according to a recent memo.

In the Oct. 9 memo, DR&E Complex Systems Director Charles Perkins writes:

I invite you to submit FY 2011 candidates for the JCTD program. Candidates should have a Combatant Commander as the primary sponsor, support joint, coalition, or inter-agency capabilities and counter unconventional and time-critical threats by rapidly providing "leap ahead" capabilities for the warfighter while encouraging rapid technology transition within the department by matching customer needs with S&T innovation.

To be more responsive to the warfighter, I will accept candidates year-round. However, candidates that would like to be briefed at the Candidate Review Board (CRB) in March 2010 should submit documentation by Jan. 15, 2010. A second CRB will be held in September 2010.

JCTD candidates should be submitted to the Rapid Fielding Directorate using the Defense Research and Engineering office's Knowledge Management Information System (KIMS) on the office's Web site, according to the memo. Classified proposals should be submitted to the KIMS page found on the SIPRNET Web site.

By Sebastian Sprenger
November 13, 2009 at 5:00 AM

The recently released strategic communication joint integrating concept includes a bit of communications theory to make its point. It notes, for example, that it takes two for "communication" to take place.

Importantly, the act of transmitting a message does not constitute communication. Communication occurs only when the signal is received and interpreted, so it is not sufficient merely to "get our message out." . . . .

While the source may have an intended meaning in mind, it is the receiver who actually provides the ultimate meaning, which may or may not be the meaning the source intended.

In our experience, many a Defense Department public affairs officers believe "getting the message out" is precisely the point of strategic communication. Perhaps the JIC will help clarify a few things here.