The Insider

By Marjorie Censer
February 10, 2010 at 5:00 AM

If the news out of Toyota and Honda has you looking for a new ride, Car and Driver has nothing but good things to say about one you might not have considered: the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicle.

The mag even offers up a new name: The B'Gosh.

While the price is high -- $1.4 million, according to the magazine -- and it might not fit in your garage, the January 2010 article reports that the truck is easy to drive and “rides far better than you’d expect.”

“From the driver’s seat, it feels as if the M-ATV will take you home over any route you choose,” the author adds.

He notes that the truck offered “more than acceptable levels of jounce” over most drops and only “required minor steering inputs to stay the course.”

The truck’s “light steering, chassis stiffness, and lack of bump steer are impressive," he adds. "The thing just chugs over the mess.”

The whole thing's worth a read, but here's a bit more of the bottom line:

On-road, it’ll do a maximum of 65 mph. You wouldn’t call it nimble, but there’s little steering slop and the sense that if you hit something it’s not going to matter so much anyway. Acceleration is tank-like (although 0 to 60 in 32.8 seconds is quicker than an actual tank), and it’s noisy, with a little throttle lag.

Big brake drums require significant pedal pressure, but panic stops are drama-free. The nose dives, and you can actually see the anti-lock brakes pulse the M-ATV to a halt. An ATC test driver managed 0.46 g on our improvised 200-foot-diameter skidpad (an airfield helicopter ordnance-loading pad), the M-ATV tilting obscenely and actually lifting the unloaded front wheel. But really, your mom could drive this thing.

And that’s the point. The M-ATV is for fighting as well as driving. Ease of operation means experienced MRAP drivers need only about 14 hours of instruction, complete novices just 40 hours. The M-ATV has no formal name yet, but we’re tempted for obvious reasons to call it the “B’Gosh.” In Afghanistan, the M-ATV will endure months and perhaps years of the most arduous duty, where it must bring as many soldiers home as possible. Maybe they should call it the RTB.

By Carlo Muñoz
February 9, 2010 at 5:00 AM

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) has ceded his “blanket hold” on a slate of White House nominees awaiting Senate confirmation, according to a statement released by his office today.

But Shelby, who sought to block confirmation for over 70 of the administration's picks in a attempt to sway the Air Force's next-generation aerial tanker program known as KC-X, now opposes only those nominees “directly related” to the program, it adds.

That list of nominees includes Terry Yonkers, the administration's pick for the post of assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and logistics; Frank Kendall, for principal deputy under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics; and Erin Conaton, for under secretary of the Air Force, according to a congressional source.

A Northrop Grumman-EADS development team vying for the lucrative Air Force tanker contract plans to headquarter its manufacturing facility in Mobile, AL, if awarded the KC-X deal. However, Shelby's office was adamant that the Alabama Republican's actions were not intended “to determine the outcome of the competition,” according to the statement.

Shelby “is seeking to ensure an open, fair and transparent competition that delivers the best equipment to our men and women in uniform . . . ((and)) is fully justified in his concern given the history and current status of this acquisition,” it states.

By Christopher J. Castelli
February 9, 2010 at 5:00 AM

Inclement weather has postponed Vice President Biden's upcoming speech on nuclear defense matters. The speech had been slated for tomorrow at National Defense University, but a blizzard bearing down on the nation's capital has prompted the White House to reschedule the speech for Feb. 18.

In addition to discussing U.S. nuclear deterrent capabilities and plans to implement President Obama's nonproliferation and nuclear security agenda, Biden is expected to address how the administration's fiscal year 2011 budget request and other efforts will support the president’s vision of reducing the nuclear dangers and working toward a world without nuclear weapons.

By Sebastian Sprenger
February 8, 2010 at 5:00 AM

A somewhat tense discussion ensued at a House Armed Services Committee hearing last week when lawmakers questioned two key architects of the Quadrennial Defense Review. Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) and Ranking Member Howard McKeon (R-CA) pressed Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy and Vice Adm. Stephen Stanley, the Joint Staff's director for force structure, resources and assessment, for details about the new scenario approach underlying the Defense Department's force-sizing model.

The conversation turned to the possibility of a large-scale war breaking out on the Korean peninsula.

MS. FLOURNOY: We did look at that kind of scenario. And while I don't want to get into classified details in this setting, what I can say to you is that in many of those cases we found that a lot of the U.S. contribution would be heavy air and naval-intensive. And there was certainly adequate flex in our forces to provide that assistance to allies on the ground who were engaged. . . .

REP. SKELTON: It sounds like you're not going to put boots on the ground, but rely on the Navy and the Air Force in such a situation. Is that the case?

ADM. STANLEY: Again, we did three cases. Each case had different combinations of scenarios in them. So it's not three scenarios. It's three separate scenario cases that include multiple scenarios. Was Korea part of it? Yes. Okay, do we put boots on the ground in Korea? Yes. The forces --

REP. MCKEON: More than we have there right now?

ADM. STANLEY: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.

Where would U.S. forces come from if said war was to break out tomorrow, given that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are tying up a lot of resources? Stanley gave this response:

Another operation in the near term the size of a Korea would require the nation to mobilize. Okay, it would take away our ability to rotate the forces even as little as we are now, one to one. Would we still prevail? Yes. Would there be increased losses? Yes.

The two witnesses agreed to give lawmakers classified briefings with details about DOD's scenario approach.

By Dan Dupont
February 8, 2010 at 5:00 AM

Just released by his office:

Congressman John Murtha Passes Away at Age 77

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Congressman John P. Murtha (PA-12) passed away peacefully this afternoon at 1:18 p.m. at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, VA. At his bedside was his family.

Murtha, 77, was Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.

First elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in February of 1974, Murtha dedicated his life to serving his country both in the military and in the halls of Congress. A former Marine, he became the first Vietnam War combat Veteran elected to the U.S. Congress.

This past Saturday, February 6, 2010, Murtha became Pennsylvania’s longest serving Member of Congress.

By Christopher J. Castelli
February 8, 2010 at 5:00 AM

The Seattle Times is reporting Rep. Norman Dicks (D-WA), a big advocate of Boeing, is likely to succeed the late Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) as chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee.

"He likely will succeed Murtha," George Behan, chief of staff for Dicks, told the newspaper.

When Murtha died this afternoon Dicks became the highest-ranking Democrat on the subcommittee.

By John Liang
February 5, 2010 at 5:00 AM

More than one debt-ratings agency is pleasantly surprised by the effects of the Pentagon's fiscal year 2011 budget request on the defense industry's credit quality.

According to a Fitch Ratings statement released today:

The Department of Defense's (DOD) budget request for fiscal 2011 released Feb. 1, 2010, was more favorable than Fitch Ratings' expectations and contained no major surprises. The request and DOD spending levels continue to support the solid credit quality in the defense industry, which will likely remain the most stable industrial sector from a credit perspective for the next two years given the revenue visibility provided by both the fiscal 2010 budget and the fiscal 2011 request. Potential risks in fiscal 2011 from the Obama Administration's first full budget exercise and the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) did not materialize. The budget request contains modest top-line growth, but the growth rates have clearly slowed from the rates seen in the past nine years.

While the Office of Management and Budget's "forecasts for base defense spending beyond fiscal 2011 also show continued modest growth . . . Fitch believes these forecasts could be pressured by high federal budget deficits, which is the key risk for the defense sector," the statement continues.

Standard & Poor's thinks the defense industry's credit ratings should be fine, as well:

The aftermath of the global recession and the financial crisis have created a difficult operating environment for the commercial aerospace and business jet sectors, although industry conditions are beginning to stabilize with the improving economy, according to an industry economic and ratings outlook published today on RatingsDirect. The report, titled "U.S. Aerospace Continues To Feel The Pinch, But The Defense Sector Remains Steady," says Standard & Poor's Ratings Services believes the defense sector outlook appears stable, in contrast to commercial aerospace, as the former still benefits from high, fairly steady government spending.

By Christopher J. Castelli
February 5, 2010 at 5:00 AM

President Obama has picked a slate of members of the Council of Governors, which was created Jan. 11 by executive order. The council will work with the defense secretary, the secretary of homeland security and other national security advisers on issues related to the National Guard, homeland defense, synchronization and integration of state and federal military activities in the United States, and civil support activities.

Government officials on the council include the defense secretary, the homeland security chief, the Coast Guard commandant, the chief of the National Guard Bureau and the head of U.S. Northern Command, among others.

Here's the list of governors released yesterday by the White House:

  • Governor James H. Douglas, Co-Chair, Council of Governors
  • Governor Chris Gregoire, Co-Chair, Council of Governors
  • Governor Janice K. Brewer, Member, Council of Governors
  • Governor Luis G. Fortuño, Member, Council of Governors
  • Governor Brad Henry, Member, Council of Governors
  • Governor Robert F. McDonnell, Member, Council of Governors
  • Governor Jeremiah W. (Jay) Nixon, Member, Council of Governors
  • Governor Martin O’Malley, Member, Council of Governors
  • Governor Beverly Eaves Perdue, Member, Council of Governors
  • Governor M. Michael Rounds, Member, Council of Governors
By Sebastian Sprenger
February 4, 2010 at 5:00 AM

The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity wants to push the envelope of biometrics technologies. In short, the intelligence community's counterpart to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is looking for technologies capable of identifying people from afar, and without them noticing.

"The IARPA Smart Collection Office is seeking innovative ideas and concepts for the advancement of standoff biometrics technologies," reads a Feb. 2 notice posted on the Federal Business Opportunities Web site. "IARPA's objective is to maintain a high degree of recognition accuracy (i.e. level of confidence associated with the match/non-match of biometric signatures derived from two distinct observations), while pushing the range of acquisition as far as possible and requiring minimal cooperation from the subject," it adds.

IARPA officials want to capture and recognize people's "unique human phenomenology," including anatomical, physiological, and behavioral characteristics, the notice reads.

By Christopher J. Castelli
February 4, 2010 at 5:00 AM

Rep. Gene Taylor (D-MS), the chairman of the House Armed Services seapower and expeditionary forces subcommittee, fired a warning shot across the Pentagon’s bow today during a hearing on the Quadrennial Defense Review. After complaining about the dwindling size of the Navy’s fleet and the service’s plans to retire vessels that could stay in service longer, Taylor threatened to block those retirements.

According to the Navy’s new 30-year shipbuilding plan, the service intends to decommission 10 ships in fiscal year 2011 -- including three frigates that would be sold to foreign forces -- while building nine new ships.

Taylor warned the witnesses -- Vice Adm. Stephen Stanley, the Joint Staff’s director for force structure, resources, and assessment; Pentagon policy chief Michèle Flournoy; and Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation chief Christine Fox -- that the committee would write legislation barring the retirement of surface combatants unless each ship going out is matched by two new ships being built. Taylor noted he had already consulted with full committee Chairman Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO) on the matter.

By Sebastian Sprenger
February 3, 2010 at 5:00 AM

Almost one year ago, the fate of Manas Air Base -- a key air traffic hub for U.S. military flights into Afghanistan -- became uncertain after the Kyrgyz government threatened to cancel the agreement allowing the Pentagon access to the installation. But officials in Washington and Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan's capital, resolved their issues over the summer, and Manas Transit Center, as it is now called, is still humming.

So much so, in fact, that the base needs an upgrade.

Tucked away in the fiscal year 2011 defense budget request are $6 million to build a "hot cargo pad" at the installation. In military lingo, hot cargo is code for ammunition, explosives and other hazardous material. Because the loading and unloading is so dangerous, hot cargo pads must be built at a safe distance away from flight operations, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

By Jason Sherman
February 3, 2010 at 5:00 AM

Cyber attacks against critical infrastructure now constitute the No. 1 threat to the nation, the top U.S. intelligence official said yesterday, in an annual assessment that bumped last year's most serious challenge -- the global economic crisis -- to the No. 2 slot.

Director of Central Intelligence Dennis Blair, in testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence yesterday, said that while last year's fears of a global depress have been tempered by “unprecedented policy" responses by government and central banks -- which pumped cash into their economies -- risks of new economic challenges lurk as governments now decide how and when to withdraw stimulus measures.

“Exit strategy missteps could set back the recovery, particularly if inflation or political pressures to consolidate budgets emerge before household consumption and private investment have begun to play a larger role in the recovery,” Blair said in his testimony.

The implications for defense budgets around the world?

The financial crisis has increased industrial country budget deficits and efforts to reduce those deficits are likely to constrain European and Japanese spending on foreign priorities -- such as supporting efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, assisting poorer countries in coping with climate change and reducing C02 emissions, and addressing humanitarian disasters -- and spending on their own military modernization and preparedness for much of this decade.

By Sebastian Sprenger
February 3, 2010 at 5:00 AM

Defense Secretary Robert Gates today cautioned lawmakers against thinking the military's aircraft recapitalization plans should be based on the simple equation of replacing one plane with another. With the advent of unmanned aerial vehicles as a major form or air power, the one-to-one formula no longer applies, Gates told members of the House Armed Services Committee.

As a notional -- and arguably simplistic -- example, he said it takes eight Reaper drones to perform missions that once required 16 F-16s, while carrying the same amount of weaponry as the manned planes.

By Dan Dupont
February 2, 2010 at 5:00 AM

The Senate Armed Services Committee this morning interrupted a hearing with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen because it had some pressing business -- a host of Defense Department nominations -- and a quorum.

According to the panel, the members approved the nomination of retired Lt. Gen. Malcolm O'Neill as assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, as well as:

Douglas B. Wilson to be Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs;

Mary Sally Matiella to be Assistant Secretary of the Army for Financial Management and Comptroller;

Paul Luis Oostburg Sanz to be General Counsel of the Department of the Navy; and

Jackalyne Pfannenstiel to be Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Installations and Environment

The committee also approved 1,802 "pending military nominations in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. All nominations were immediately reported to the floor following the Committee’s action."

After the vote was held, Gates responded to committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin's (D-MI) apology for the pause in his testimony by calling it a "most welcome" interruption.

By Marcus Weisgerber
February 2, 2010 at 5:00 AM

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said this morning that the Air Force might not field its Next-Generation Bomber until the 2020s.

Gates made the comment in response to a question about the program posed by Sen. John Thune (R-SD) today during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2011 budget request.

The Air Force's budget proposal includes $200 million to “invest in critical technologies for a long-range strike platform or a family of systems,” Air Force Budget Director Maj. Gen. Alfred Flowers said during a briefing with reporters last week.

The 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review called for a new Air Force bomber by 2018. However, the 2010 QDR has prompted a new long-range strike study. The study will detail the bomber's requirements, such as manned or unmanned, Gates said.

Gates touted the existing bomber fleet as sufficient until a new aircraft enters service.