The Insider

By Jason Sherman
April 20, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Today marks the beginning of the third week of April -- a week the Obama administration had once targeted for transmitting the fiscal year 2010 budget request to Congress.

Today, an official at the White House Office of Management told Defense:Next that the current plan for sending details of the Pentagon's $534 billion spending to lawmakers is “sometime at the end of April or early May.”

In other words: Maybe next week, maybe the week after.

In March, first reported that the schedule could slip into next month.

By Christopher J. Castelli
April 20, 2009 at 5:00 AM

At 4:30 p.m. today, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Vice President Joe Biden were scheduled to meet with President Obama in the Oval Office. No word on the agenda for the session, which was closed to the media.

Earlier today, Obama held his first official cabinet meeting. The president also spoke to CIA leaders and employees this afternoon.

By Christopher J. Castelli
April 17, 2009 at 5:00 AM

This morning at the scenic campus of the Naval War College in Newport, RI, Defense Secretary Robert Gates was asked whether the Defense Department is focusing enough on commercial-off-the-shelf technologies, as opposed to developing the most advanced systems possible from scratch.

“I think we are beginning to take what is commercially available more seriously in the acquisition and procurement arena,” Gates told the audience. “Frankly I think that getting more civilian professional acquisition employees will create new opportunities for that. Obviously, there’s a certain inherent conflict of interest when you have contractors managing contractors and a desire to get the most technologically advanced -- and by happenstance the most expensive -- capability that you can.”

Gates noted there were instances in his recent fiscal year 2010 budget decisions, including in the classified arena, where DOD walked away from a very high-risk, high-technology capability in favor of buying COTS.

By Christopher J. Castelli
April 17, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Two key nominations were announced today by the White House. Michael Nacht is President Obama's nominee to be the Pentagon’s assistant secretary of defense for global strategic affairs. Robert Litt is the nominee to be the general counsel in the office of the director of national intelligence. Here are their bios, as released by the White House:

Michael Nacht, Nominee for Assistant Secretary of Defense (Global Strategic Affairs), Department of Defense
Michael Nacht is currently Professor of Public Policy and former Aaron Wildavsky Dean at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California - Berkeley. Nacht served a three-year term as a member of the U.S. Department of Defense Threat Reduction Advisory Committee, for which he chaired panels on counter terrorism and counter proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, reporting to the Deputy Secretary of Defense. He continues to consult for Sandia National Laboratories and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. From 1994-1997, Nacht was assistant director for Strategic and Eurasian Affairs at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, leading its work on nuclear arms reduction negotiations with Russia and initiating nuclear arms control talks with China. He participated in five summit meetings with President Clinton - four with Russian President Boris Yeltsin and one with Chinese President Jiang Zemin. Nacht has testified before Congress on subjects ranging from arms control to the supply and demand for scientists in the workplace. Nacht earned his B.S. in aeronautics and astronautics at New York University and began his career working on missile aerodynamics for NASA before earning a Ph.D. in political science at Columbia University.

Robert S. Litt, Nominee for General Counsel, Office of the Director of National Intelligence
Robert S. Litt is a Partner at Arnold & Porter LLP, where he specializes in white collar criminal defense. Prior to joining the firm, Litt served for five years at the Department of Justice as Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General and as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Criminal Division. In these positions, his responsibilities included matters relating to national security, healthcare fraud, public corruption, computer crime and intellectual property. From 1978 to 1984, Litt served as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, including as Chief Appellate Attorney. Litt is a member of the governing Council of the Criminal Justice Section of the American Bar Association and is a member of the Advisory Committee to the ABA’s Standing Committee on Law and National Security. He clerked for the Honorable Edward Weinfeld in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and the Honorable Potter Stewart on the U.S. Supreme Court. Litt holds an A.B. from Harvard College, a M.A. from Yale University and a J.D. from Yale Law School.

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

Defense Secretary Robert Gates yesterday said he is looking forward to talking with Congress about his recent program decisions, partly because he believes there is "some misunderstanding about the nature" of these decisions among lawmakers.

Lawmakers' reactions to a raft of program terminations and realignments, announced earlier this month, weren't altogether kind.

In his speech at the Army War College in Carlisle, PA, Gates let audience members in on some of the finer insight into decision-making at the highest levels of government.

Whenever a decision requires the authority of the president or the defense secretary, "more often than not, you're having to choose the least bad option," Gates said.

"If there was a good option, somebody at a lower level would have made the decision and taken credit for it," he said.

By Jason Sherman
April 17, 2009 at 5:00 AM

The Environmental Protection Agency today issued a proposal that finds greenhouse gas emissions pose a danger to the public's health and welfare. The document also says pollution that warms the planet poses U.S. national security risks.

Climate change impacts in certain regions of the world may exacerbate problems that raise humanitarian, trade and national security issues for the U.S. Climate change has been described as a potential threat multiplier regarding national security issues. This is because, as noted above, climate change can aggravate existing problems in certain regions of the world such as poverty, social tensions, general environmental degradation, and conflict over increasingly scarce water resources.

This echoes findings of a 2008 National Intelligence Assessment on Climate Change that determined a steady increase in Earth's temperature could trigger a range of global crisis that would impair U.S. military readiness by diverting key transportation assets and combat support forces.

By Christopher J. Castelli
April 17, 2009 at 5:00 AM

For the record, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said this morning at the Naval War College that unmanned aerial systems would play a "big part" in the Pentagon's future.

He touted the Reaper drone's range of 3,000 nautical miles, compared to the F-16's range of 500 nautical miles. He also praised the Reaper's capability to dwell over a target for hours before attacking the enemy.

The combination of 187 F-22 Raptors, the Joint Strike Fighter program and unmanned aircraft will give the United States "unparalleled" tactical airpower, Gates predicted.

"But we have to think of things not as individual, isolated systems or programs but ((as)) a portfolio of capabilities," he told the audience.

The military officer who raised the topic of drones asked Gates particularly about the role of unmanned ground vehicles, but the defense secretary stuck mostly to aviation in his response.

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

As defense officials begin the Quadrennial Defense Review, questions over Washington's course of action in Somalia loom large. In a speech yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates himself hinted at a high-level review of the issue, but he was hesitant to reveal too much about the process.

"Well, I don't want to get too far ahead of our headlights here," he said in a speech at the Army War College in Carlisle, PA. "We're thinking about this right now. The ((National Security Council)) is carrying forward frequent meetings, practically daily, in terms of looking at those options."

Whatever those options may end up being, the problems surrounding the impoverished nation could serve Gates as a validation for his focus on irregular warfare as he gears up for a fight with lawmakers over proposed cuts to certain weapon systems, according to one Washington defense analyst.

"It's a clear illustration that the issue of failed states is not just a matter of ground forces," the analyst added in light of the Navy's role in combating piracy off the coast of Somalia.

According to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO), establishing a functioning government in Somalia should be a "long-term" goal, while increased counter-piracy efforts should get immediate attention.

"I encourage you to pursue these pirates beyond the waters we are currently patrolling and into the safe havens where they are operating," Skelton wrote in an April 14 letter to Gates. "In most cases we already know the cities in which they are operating and often even the names of those organizing the attacks. Pirate attacks and rhetoric have only become more brazen in recent months and cannot be allowed to continue."

By Christopher J. Castelli
April 16, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he’s upbeat about the prospect of the Senate approving the nomination of Ashton Carter, who is in line to be the Pentagon’s next acquisition executive. The confirmation is on ice because of opposition from Sens. Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who have concerns about the Air Force’s tanker program.

“I have every hope and expectation that Dr. Carter's nomination will be moved in the near future,” Gates said yesterday during a visit to Ft. Rucker, AL. “At a time when most in the Congress believe there is a need for acquisition reform in the Department of Defense, to delay the confirmation of the person who is supposed to lead that effort clearly is counterproductive. And we have a secretary of the Air Force, we have a chief of staff of the Air Force, and so I'm confident that we'll have the people in place that we can go forward with this.”

By John Liang
April 16, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Defense Secretary Robert Gates this week embarked on a barnstorming tour of several military bases across the country to further sell his multibillion-dollar changes to the fiscal year 2010 budget. During a press conference at Ft. Rucker, AL, on Tuesday, Gates defended his $1.4 billion cut to the Missile Defense Agency's proposed budget for fiscal year 2010, as well as the cancellation of the Multiple Kill Vehicle program and the second Airborne Laser aircraft.

The secretary also wants the president and the Congress to shift hundreds of millions of dollars to fund more theater missile defense systems, including Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense as well as Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense. When asked about it on Tuesday, Gates elaborated a bit on the BMD effort:

My view is that we kept in place and strengthened programs having to do with each aspect of missile defense. Terminal defense, we've added money for both THAAD and SM-3, Standard Missile-3, a significant amount of money to maximize production there. For mid-course, we will sustain the 30 interceptors in Alaska and California and, as I said, robustly fund continuing R&D so that those capabilities can continue to improve. And we have a number of programs, some of them classified, that deal with the boost phase.

I've kept alive the Airborne Laser. It's clear that that program doesn't make any sense to go to a full procurement, but we are keeping alive the first 747 research vehicle and we will continue to put money into that program because we think high energy or directed energy has some real potential for that.

He then attempted to assuage the fears of missile defense proponents:

So I think we -- for those who think we've slashed missile defense and so on, I think we have kept robustly funded each of the three elements of missile defense that makes sense. I would say that we have shifted emphasis perhaps somewhat in keeping the ground-based interceptor program where it is with additional funds for research and development, but we have put substantial funds into the terminal phase, into THAAD and SM-3, in no small part because they provide significant additional protection for our troops in the theater and that are deployed, the same thing with the six destroyers that we will convert to having an Aegis missile defense capability.

So anybody who thinks that we're not taking missile defense seriously, that we do not take seriously the North Korean launch and what North Korean capabilities are developing, I think has not looked carefully enough at the program.

By John Liang
April 16, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Figuring out the proper mix of manned bombers and fighter aircraft -- and whether it might make more sense to buy more unmanned aircraft -- is one of the questions the upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review will have to address, according to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

During a visit to the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, AL, yesterday, Gates was asked at a forum for servicemembers whether it wouldn't make more sense to pare down the Pentagon's proposed buy of 1,700 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to buy more long-range B-2 bombers, to which he answered:

You know, there are a lot of decisions that I made that I haven't talked about publicly. For example, I decided not to make any change in the 76 deployed B-52s. That force will remain.

But the question is, depending on where post-START ends up, if we go down significantly in the number of nuclear weapons that we have deployed, the question is whether the traditional triad makes sense anymore, and I think we have to address that.

The manned-aircraft portion of that triad might not be the best solution, according to the defense secretary:

Also, when you're looking for a long-range persistent capability, maybe a manned bomber isn't the answer. An F-16 has a range of about 500 nautical miles. Reaper has a range of 3,000 miles. It has a long-dwell capability. And as you all know, we can load them up with weapons.

So I think these are the kinds of issues that we have to look at in the QDR as we look forward to a very different environment than we had during the Cold War.

By Christopher J. Castelli
April 16, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Defense Secretary Robert Gates today responded to a recent story in The Washington Times reporting that he denied U.S. Northern Command the use of its most powerful radar to monitor North Korea’s recent rocket launch.

Gates told reporters traveling with him today that top military brass advised him not to approve the use of the radar. He also noted the radar was undergoing maintenance and added that it would have cost $50 million to $100 million to make it available, which did not seem worthwhile under the circumstances.

By Dan Dupont
April 15, 2009 at 5:00 AM

. . . about hearings. After the two-week congressional recess is over later this month, key Pentagon officials will be making plenty of trips to Capitol Hill. And the Office of the Secretary of Defense's legislative liaison office has put together a handy calendar of known dates and expected hearings.

Some highlights:

  • The Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee will hold an Air Force posture hearing April 22, a Navy/Marine Corps posture hearing April 29 and an Army posture hearing May 10. It will also entertain Missile Defense Agency witnesses May 20.
  • The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a Navy posture review April 30. Its readiness subcommittee will hold a hearing on ground forces' readiness April 22.
  • On the House side, authorizers are scheduled to review the GAO's list of "high-risk" programs May 6.

Much more in the full schedule, although many hearings -- notably those involving the defense secretary -- are "TBD."

By Sebastian Sprenger
April 15, 2009 at 5:00 AM

A proposal to replace the Joint Contracting Command-Iraq/Afghanistan with a new organization better focused on Afghanistan and Pakistan is still being vetted by defense officials, we're told. The concept for a Joint Theater Support Contracting Command, or JTSCC, directly underneath U.S. Central Command leaders was proposed recently by command officials. It has since reached reviewers on the Joint Staff, one official said.

Some details about the JTSCC are included in a briefing posted on a Pentagon Web site until recently. Shortly after our story on the subject last month, however, officials removed the document from the site. Of course, we still have it in our archive.

By Sebastian Sprenger
April 15, 2009 at 5:00 AM

The Pentagon yesterday requested $30 million for a new air traffic control system in Kyrgyzstan as part of the fiscal year 2009 supplemental spending request.

Of course, Kyrgyz leaders essentially told Washington earlier this year to pack up and leave Manas Air Base, located near the country's capital of Bishkek, by this summer. If it came to that, the move would hurt U.S. military operations because the base serves as a crucial hub for air traffic into the war zone in and around Afghanistan, defense officials have said.

So, is the Defense Department's request based on new developments toward a deal for Manas?

In an e-mail, Pentagon spokeswoman Army Lt. Col. Elizabeth Hibner didn't say one way or the other.

"I just checked with State Department and they said we are continuing to discuss our options with Kyrgyzstan. I have no further information in regards to the supplemental request at this time," Hibner wrote us.

A closer look at DOD's justification language for the project reveals a perhaps telling conditional clause.

"Should the U.S. remain at Manas, this system would provide a much needed air safety enhancement to Kyrgyz Republic airspace, thereby providing greater protection for U.S. and coalition aircraft," the document states.

Officials at the Kyrgyz Embassy in Washington could not be reached for comment this afternoon.