The Insider

By John Liang
February 20, 2009 at 5:00 AM

The Cobra Dane early warning radar has been officially transferred from the Missile Defense Agency to the Air Force, MDA announced today.

As Inside Missile Defense reported last December:

The transfer of the Shemya, AK-based L-band, phased-array Cobra Dane radar was originally scheduled to take place in fiscal year 2008, but was delayed as service and agency officials were unable to complete discussions on the specifics of the transfer before the end of the fiscal year.

The other upgraded radars that provide the early warning function of the Ballistic Missile Defense System include systems based at Beale Air Force Base, CA, Thule Air Base in Greenland and Royal Air Force Station Fylingdales in the United Kingdom. As for those, “MDA and Air Force ((are)) still working transfer issues, nothing has been transferred formally yet, but we are working towards that objective,” Lehner told IMD in a December e-mail. “The upgrades to the radars (Beale, Fylingdales, and Thule) have been very successful. As you know, the modifications allow for missile defense missions to be supported without impacting the legacy missions of missile warning and space situational awareness. The software update makes improvements to the tracking capability of the radar, among other improvements, that support missile defense for the nation.

“The Thule radar upgrade was completed in record time and the radar at Beale AFB and RAF Fylindales are also performing extremely well,” Lehner’s e-mail continued. “As with any extensive hardware and software upgrade program, there will always be a few issues to work through; but, as demonstrated . . . during MDA’s ((Dec. 5)) missile intercept test, the radar at Beale AFB was on-line and performed flawlessly.”

According to today's MDA statement:

The upgraded COBRA DANE became available for ballistic missile defense operations in 2004, and is the first missile defense capability MDA has transferred to the Air Force. For decades COBRA DANE has supported intelligence data collection for purposes of treaty verification and tracking of Earth orbiting satellites. The radar continues to perform these missions in addition to its integration into the nation's missile defense system. The radar provides missile target tracking, object acquisition and classification and transmits target data to the missile defense command and control network.

In 2005, COBRA DANE participated in a special missile flight test involving a threat-representative missile dropped from a U.S. Air Force transport aircraft, and has also took part in numerous "ground" tests in which missile flight data is injected into the radar data processor to stimulate the software. COBRA DANE also supports missile defense system integration laboratory tests in Huntsville, Ala. using replicated COBRA DANE site data processing and missile defense communications hardware.

The Air Force Space Command will maintain COBRA DANE, including the hardware that supports the missile defense mission, and will operate the COBRA DANE in support of intelligence, space surveillance, and missile defense.

An August 2008 report to Congress from the Institute for Defense Analyses called on MDA to put “renewed emphasis” on BMDS research and development while transferring the responsibility for operating and maintaining key programs to the services as quickly as possible, IMD reported last October.

MDA “should remain a defense agency whose principal focus is ((research, development, test and engineering)) to develop, field, and integrate ballistic missile defense capabilities, including follow-on RDT&E,” the report states.

By Sebastian Sprenger
February 20, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Admittedly, there are probably a few obstacles standing in the way of some kind of U.S.-Russian ballistic missile defense cooperation. But the thought of long-range nuclear-tipped missiles flying out of Iran one day has leaders in Moscow and Washington worried enough that the idea has gained some appeal while the Bush-era plans for a Poland- and Czech Republic-based system are under review.

Dean Wilkening, a Stanford University professor researching the technical feasibility of various European missile defense configurations, now throws a hypothetical, suitable Russian site into the mix that could come out of such an unprecedented pact.

In an updated briefing he sent us this week, Wilkening argues the combination of a tracking radar and interceptors located in Armavir, Russia, would cover most of Europe plus a good chunk of Russia against ballistic missiles from Iran.

According to his slides, the joint U.S.-Russian site would ...

"-- Protect western Russia, Europe and the US from non-stressing threats; -- protect Europe (except Turkey) and western Russia (except southern Russia) from depressed trajectories and low-((radar cross section)) threats; ((and)) -- protect the United States from low-RCS threats."

No word on whether an Armavir site will be featured in an upcoming Congressional Budget Office report about European missile defense options.

By John Liang
February 19, 2009 at 5:00 AM

With Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Europe this week, one of the areas of discussion will likely be the status of the previous administration's proposal to base missile defense interceptors in Poland and an early warning radar in the Czech Republic, an issue that the Obama administration has pledged to review. When asked about it during an impromptu briefing en route to Krakow yesterday, Gates said:

I think that the message will be the same message that the vice president delivered in Munich: We are concerned about the Iranian missile threat and as long as that threat exists we will continue to pursue missile defense, as long as we know it will work, as long as we can make sure it works and that it's cost effective, and we want to pursue it in partnership not only with our NATO allies but also with the Russians. And frankly my -- I am hopeful that -- with a new start that maybe there are some opportunities with the Russians that we can pursue.

. . . The other fact of life is that by law we cannot begin construction on either the site in the Czech Republic or in Poland until both the ((Status-of-Forces Agreement)) and the missile defense agreements are ratified by both of their parliaments. So even if we had a different policy, we couldn't do anything until they do something.

By Dan Dupont
February 19, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Inside the Army's Joe Gould this week has a piece on the Army and the QDR that sums up the official line and taps some outside experts for their thoughts on what it's all going to mean for the service once it's all said and done.

A taste:

The Army expects to tackle big questions in the upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review, from how big the Army should be to whether China is a friend or foe, but the service has yet to receive any direct guidance, according to the director of the Army’s QDR office.

“We’re waiting to know when we can cross the starting line to see what issues we will be working on,” Brig. Gen. Francis Mahon, director of QDR for the office of the deputy chief of staff, G-8, said last week. “As we look forward to the QDR, the game hasn’t started; we haven’t been given, really, a focus.”

That guidance may come soon. Defense Secretary Robert Gates hosted a Defense Senior Leaders Conference Feb. 13 to discuss the budget with the Pentagon’s highest-level military and civilian leaders, including the combatant commanders and recently confirmed administration appointees (see related story).

Gates had said earlier this month that he planned to launch the review by the end of February.

Meanwhile, the service is looking for clues where they can find them from Gates’ previous speeches, articles and testimony to Congress.

“We’re probably going to launch using the June 2008 National Defense Strategy as our starting point, and all the things the secretary has been saying,” said Mahon in a presentation to retired officers and defense contractors on Feb. 13. “He may give us a narrow focus in this QDR. In his testimony, he’s said we’re going to make some ‘hard choices.’”

Mahon’s slides quoted from Gates’ recent speech at the National Defense University, a much discussed article Gates wrote for Foreign Affairs magazine, and comments he made recently to reporters that touched on stability operations, Russia and China, among other big issues.

“Is China an adversary or a competitor?” asked Mahon, referencing a Gates quotation. “He thinks they’re more of a competitor. If you read some of President Obama’s writings, or his staff’s writings, he thinks we ought to embrace China.”

Quoted in the piece are several outside experts, including John Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security and a retired Army officer; and Lt. Col. Gian Gentile, director of the military history program at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Both had lots to say on the Future Combat Systems program, among other issues.

If you're interested in more of what both had to say, you can read the transcripts of Joe's interviews.

And to keep tabs on the QDR, see our QDR Watch page and sign up for our QDR Alert.

By John Liang
February 19, 2009 at 5:00 AM

President Obama made his first international trip today, jetting to Ottawa to meet with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. On the agenda were issues related to "responding to international security challenges," according to a joint statement released after their meeting:

The President and the Prime Minister agreed on the importance of Canada and the United States cooperating closely on a number of key international priorities for both countries, with a particular focus on Afghanistan which is a top priority for both countries and which will be a major subject of attention at the upcoming NATO Summit. The Leaders also agreed to work together closely in the Americas, including promoting effective discussion and meaningful results at the Summit of the Americas in April.

Our Foreign Ministers will meet in Washington next week, and Ministers of Defence the following week, to pursue a strengthened dialogue on these and other key international challenges.

By John Reed
February 18, 2009 at 5:00 AM

The Air Force is quietly resuscitating its long-dormant human-based intelligence corps, according to Maj. Gen. Paul Dettmer, the service's assistant deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

In the early 1990s the air service cut its human intelligence (HUMINT) division to focus on high tech spy satellites, planes, radars and other signals intelligence (SIGINT) platforms after the fall of the Soviet Union.

However, in the wake of 9/11, the Defense Department was directed to reinvigorate or even build “from scratch” human-based intelligence teams, according to Dettmer.

Over the last three years, the service has formed a much smaller cadre of HUMINT professionals focusing on getting the scoop on the latest technology being developed by air forces around the globe, said Dettmer during a Feb. 17 speech at an Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association luncheon in Arlington, VA.

“We have a nascent program started with a small detachment at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base” in Ohio, said Dettmer. “Our intent is not to regrow the old Air Force Special Activities Center that did covert, clandestine interrogation and a bunch of other things that would duplicate HUMINT efforts that are done elsewhere in DOD.”

Instead, the service's HUMINT professionals will focus on the newest, most secret tools being used by foreign air forces.

The Air Force's new spies “will focus on niche requirements of Air Force warfighting -- in particular, where we are lacking is HUMINT-resourced intelligence focused in the scientific and technical realm,” said Dettmer.

This plan to focus Air Force spies on technology was prompted after the service's F-15 fighter pilots were given a serious run for their money by Indian pilots -- who were in some cases flying modified MiG-21s -- during the Cope India exercise in 2004, according to the two-star. (Click here for Inside the Air Force's superb coverage of that event, from June 2004.)

“The Indians had some capabilities we were just not aware of, and it kind of blew our socks off in the air-to-air domain,” said Dettmer.

Mark Bowden recently wrote an analysis piece about the future of American air power in The Atlantic that discusses among other things how the Indian air force modified its fleet of soviet and French designed fighters to successfully compete against Air Force F-15s during the Cope India exercise.

A small country can buy a MiG 21 on the world weapons market for about $100,000, put in a better engine, add more-sophisticated radar and jamming systems, improve the cockpit design, and outfit it with “launch and leave” missiles comparable to the AMRAAM. These hybrid threats are more dangerous than any rival fighters America has seen in generations, and they cost much less than building a competitive fourth-generation fighter from scratch. The lower expense enables rival air forces to put more of them in the air, and because the F 15 can carry only so many munitions, American pilots found themselves overwhelmed by both technology and sheer numbers during the exercises over India.

By John Liang
February 18, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Last week, we reported on the worldwide threats assessment presented by retired Adm. Dennis Blair, the new director of national intelligence, to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. In addition to the defense implications of the worldwide economic slump, we also touched on Blair's support for an international cyberwarfare "code of conduct" as well as his assessment of missile defense cooperation with Russia.

One aspect we didn't touch on was the national-security implications of worldwide climate change and other environmental issues, something that this week's issue of sister publication Defense Environment Alert focuses on. The issue's top article reports that Blair is reviving the term "environmental security" -- a Clinton-era term stressing the significance of environmental threats to national security -- as a focus for the intelligence community, suggesting it will receive higher priority as a national security concern than it was afforded by the Bush administration.

“Climate change, energy, global health and environmental security are often intertwined, and while not traditionally viewed as ‘threats’ to U.S. national security, they will affect Americans in major ways,” Blair said in Feb. 12 testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “The Intelligence Community has increased its focus on these . . . critical issues,” he added, noting the oil price spike last year that focused governmental attention on energy issues. . . .

Blair’s testimony appears to sidestep a brewing debate over whether threats from climate change should take precedence over energy security threats, which environmentalists have viewed as a key indicator of whether the Obama administration is willing to scale back support for high-emitting fuels as a way to address concerns about dependence on foreign oil.

Late last year, Obama suggested that climate change concerns may be a greater threat to national security than potential threats due to dependence on foreign oil. . . .

But in his testimony, Blair avoids prioritizing the two issues, noting threats from both. “The already stressed resource sector will be further complicated and, in most cases, exacerbated by climate change,” says Blair. “Continued escalation of energy demand will hasten the impacts of climate change,” he says.

However, he warns that “Forcibly cutting back on fossil fuel use before substitutes are widely available could threaten continued economic development, particularly for countries like China, whose industries have not yet achieved high levels of energy efficiency.” Further, “a switch from use of arable land for food to fuel crops provides a limited solution and could exacerbate both the energy and food situations.”

Blair also raised concerns that “lower oil prices may weaken momentum toward energy efficiency and the development of alternative sources of energy that are important for both energy and environmental security.” Even here, however, the situation is complex. Blair notes that low oil prices discourage development of new refinery capacity, creating the conditions for another damaging oil price spike, but have the benefit of “undercutting the economic positions of some of the more troublesome ((oil)) producers.” . . .

Blair reiterates the findings of a National Intelligence Assessment (NIA), that Democratic lawmakers had pushed for and which was published by the National Intelligence Council (NIC) in June. The NIA found that climate change will be a significant destabilizing factor, or “threat multiplier.” This theory holds that although climate change and resource scarcity will directly impact the United States, in the near term the impact on other countries in already unstable regions such as Africa and the Middle East will be of more concern. . . .

The emphasis of the intelligence chief on climate and environmental issues goes beyond that afforded by Blair’s predecessor Mike McConnell, who resisted a push by House Democrats in 2007 for the NIC to prepare a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), the most high level and involved type of intelligence analysis, on climate change.

By Joe Gould
February 17, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Counterinsurgency guru and Rhodes scholar John Nagl was named the president of the Center for a New American Security on Feb. 13.

Nagl, author of "Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam," takes over for Michèle Flournoy, who recently joined the Obama administration as the under secretary of defense for policy.

“In general, I would like to say that I have big shoes to fill, but that would imply that Michèle has big feet, and I don't want to do that,” Nagl quipped last week in an interview with Inside the Army.

On a more serious note, Nagl called Flournoy, a one-time research professor at the National Defense University's Institute for National Strategic Studies, “a wonderful leader, warm, caring, compassionate, and a patriot.”

Nagl plans to continue his advocacy of “strong, pragmatic defense policies,” with an emphasis on the Army's adaptation to irregular warfare, energy security and emerging threats.

As president, Nagl's role will include more contact with the nonprofit's corporate and foundation sponsors. He called the promotion from senior fellow "daunting” but an “extraordinary honor.”

“It's a fantastic place, but I have spreadsheets on my desk now and office diagrams,” said Nagl. “So my job is not just to talk to the press, and talk and speak, but it's also make the books come out in the black at the end of the month. I'm excited, I'm thrilled. It's a huge stretch for me.”

Nagl, who helped author the Army's counterinsurgency field manual, retired from the Army with the rank of lieutenant colonel last year.

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

Richard Danzig, the former Navy secretary who served as a senior adviser in President Barack Obama's White House campaign, will be the new chairman of the board of directors for the Center for a New American Security, the think tank announced today. Danzig had been a board member.

In his new role, Danzig succeeds William Perry, the former defense secretary who had led the think tank's board. Perry will stay on as a board member.

As you read here earlier today, John Nagl was named the new president of the Center for a New American Security on Feb. 13.

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

Two lawmakers last week made it clear they want nothing to do with the oft-cited "hard choices" that dominate defense budget conversations these days.

Republican Sen. James Inhofe (OK) and Rep. Trent Franks (AZ) introduced a joint resolution on Feb. 12 that supports a minimum annual defense budget equivalent to 4 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

The idea is hardly new, but it comes at a time when all signs point to an inevitable advent of declining defense budgets in the face of a deep economic crisis.

Advocates of a 4-percent floor believe such a move would make spending on defense programs more predictable and ensure a big-enough industrial base. Opponents say the requirement would tempt defense leaders into crafting national security strategies to fit a given defense budget -- instead of working the other way around.

In his remarks introducing the joint resolution on the Senate floor, Inhofe sought to cast his proposal as a means to counter the economic crisis.

The measure would "create and maintain jobs across America and sustain our military industrial base," he said. "Investing in our Nation's defense provides thousands of sustainable American jobs and provides for our national security at the same time. Experts estimate that each $1 billion in procurement spending correlates to 6,500 jobs."

Inhofe added: "Major defense procurement programs are all manufactured in the United States with our aerospace industry alone employing 655,000 workers spread across 44 States. The U.S. shipbuilding industry supports more than 400,000 workers in 47 States."

Irrespective of the 4-percent question, Inhofe's remarks foreshadow a drama that could soon unfold on Capitol Hill should defense leaders opt to recommend the axing of some of the big-ticket weapon programs this budget season.

Will lawmakers agree to cut Defense Department programs under the current economic pressure when the same economic pressure demands that they preserve defense-related jobs in their districts?

Talk about hard choices.

By Carlo Muñoz
February 13, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Newly appointed Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair has had a busy 10 days.

Since taking the reins of the U.S. intelligence community, Blair has gotten up to speed on the slate of current security threats and issued the community's annual assessment report to Congress on Feb. 12, as well as tackling issues such as a nuclear Iran, the spread of terrorist influences in Africa and Latin America and the impact of the ongoing economic crisis on national security.

Suffice to say, the former U.S. Pacific Command chief has little time to watch television.

However, the DNI's viewing habits were the subject of debate when Senate Select Committee on Intelligence member Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) questioned Blair during a Feb. 12 hearing on Capitol Hill. "I'm going to ask you a very different kind of question, but one which I think has enormous consequences both in this country and across the world," Rockefeller said as he began his unusual line of questioning.

Continuing on, the former committee chairman pressed Blair for his thoughts on the Fox Network's fictional spy drama "24," and whether or not the actions of the show's main character, intelligence operative Jack Bauer, glorifies the use of torture as a viable interrogation tool.

In the new season of "24," Bauer has been called to testify before a Senate investigations panel to answer for his use of questionable interrogation tactics to thwart a pending terrorist attack in the United States. During the show's season premiere last month, Bauer threatened to drive a ballpoint pen through an individual's eye, as a means of obtaining the location of a domestic terrorist cell.

Rockefeller noted that West Point Dean Brig. Gen. Patrick Finnegan tried "to convince the producers of this TV show '24' not to glorify torture," claiming the show was having a "toxic effect" on cadets' training and ethics.

Admitting the show is "celebrated in some circles" for its depiction "of the tough choices that have to be made in the war on terrorism," Rockefeller asked Blair whether he thought the show was an accurate portrayal of the ongoing global war on terror.

Blair's response: "I've never seen an episode of that show, senator, so I can't help you."

For hearing excerpts as well as Blair's prepared testimony, click here.

By Carlo Muñoz
February 12, 2009 at 5:00 AM

(UPDATE: Blair's prepared testimony is now available -- see link below.)

Today, Congress will receive its first glimpse into the Obama administration's views on the slate of national security threats facing the United States, and how the White House plans on addressing those threats in the near and long-term.

Newly minted Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair is set to testify before members of the Senate Select Intelligence committee, less than a month after the Senate confirmed his nomination to become the top U.S. intelligence official in January.

The former U.S. Pacific Command chief replaces former DNI Mike McConnell and is the first brand-new member of President Obama's national security appointees to assume his position under the new administration. Bush appointee Defense Secretary Robert Gates was asked to remain at the Pentagon by the White House.

While details are scant regarding the current threat assessment Blair plans to present to lawmakers today, issues regarding the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, the continuing spread of influence across the globe by violent extremist organizations like al Qaeda and the continuing hunt for Osama Bin Laden are likely to top the list.

However, Blair's testimony does coincide with a number of significant changes to intelligence and national security policy taken on by the new administration in recent weeks.

This week, Obama launched a new soup-to-nuts review on U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is expected to dramatically increase the number of American troops in that country.

Last month, the White House issued a slew of executive orders which set a timetable for the closure of the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and set new standards for interrogation tactics used against suspected terrorists.

For some background, click here to view the testimony from Blair's confirmation hearing.

Click here for Blair's prepared testimony on the intel community's latest worldwide threat assessment.

By Kate Brannen
February 12, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Given the state of the economy, voting for the economic stimulus package will essentially be equivalent to voting to reduce defense spending, Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-VA) said today.

After listening to defense experts explain what needs to be done in Afghanistan, House lawmakers questioned whether or not there would be sufficient resources to meet the military's operational objectives.

Can victory still be achieved in Afghanistan and Iraq with dramatic cuts to defense spending, Forbes asked at today's House Armed Services Committee hearing.

As it stands, Congress plans to vote on the economic stimulus package of about $789 billion tomorrow so that it can reach President Obama's desk by Monday.

The hearing panel included CSIS' Anthony Cordesman, Council on Foreign Relation's Stephen Biddle, retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, and Janet St. Laurent from the Government Accountability Office.

Keane said that when troops' lives are on the line, the resources they need will be met; however the Defense Department has to make budget choices based on the money made available to them.

"I don't believe operations and maintenance dollars will be cut," said Keane.

Where Defense Secretary Robert Gates does have discretion is in his investment and capital accounts, Keane told lawmakers.

"That's where he'll go to make cuts to live within the budget given to him," said Keane.

By Jason Sherman
February 12, 2009 at 5:00 AM

The Senate tonight unanimously confirmed Leon Panetta as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Sen. Diane Feinstein's office just announced.

By John Liang
February 11, 2009 at 5:00 AM

It may have taken a little longer than some expected, but the Senate today voted 93-4 to confirm the nomination of William Lynn for the No. 2 spot at the Pentagon.

Click here and here for our coverage of his nomination saga.