The Insider

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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 Opportunies 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 "uniqe human phenomenology," including anatomical, physiological, and behavioral characteristics, the notice reads.

-- Sebastian Sprenger

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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.

-- Christopher J. Castelli

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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.

-- Sebastian Sprenger

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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.

-- Jason Sherman

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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 Armes Services Committee.

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

-- Sebastian Sprenger

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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.

-- Dan Dupont

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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.

-- Marcus Weisgerber

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February 1, 2010 at 5:00 AM

Maj. Gen. Kurt Stein late last week took over as commander of TACOM Life Cycle Management Command, succeeding Maj. Gen. Scott West.

According to a statement issued by the service, the ceremony was conducted by Army Materiel Command chief Gen. Ann Dunwoody and held at Selfridge Air National Guard Base.

Stein, the release adds, previously served in Iraq as a deputy chief of staff for the Combined Joint 1/4/8 directorate of Multi-National Force-Iraq.

West had served as TACOM's commander since April 2008 and retired after 33 years of service.

-- Marjorie Censer

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February 1, 2010 at 5:00 AM

Though the White House's spending cap aimed at reducing the deficit does not apply to the Defense Department, President Obama noted this morning the Pentagon is not exempt from budget common sense or the need to look for savings. As an example, he cited the Air Force's C-17 program.

The Quadrennial Defense Review and DOD's fiscal year 2011 budget request call for terminating production of the Boeing planes. The cut will save $2.5 billion, Obama said. Congress has previously provided unrequested money for unnecessary C-17s, he lamented in a speech, adding, "It's waste, pure and simple."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has previously argued the department needs no more C-17s. At a hearing last April, he told the Senate Appropriations Committee that the Air Force and U.S. Transportation Command believe the military has more than enough capacity for airlift over the next decade or so. He also cited a legislative prohibition on decommissioning C-5A cargo planes. “As we look at the capacity that we have with those 59 C-5As and we get more and more C-17s we just are continuing to build excess capacity,” Gates said.

Inside the Air Force recently reported the Air Force will ask Congress for permission to retire a number of its oldest C-5A aircraft when the service sends its FY-11 budget proposal to Capitol Hill.

-- Chris Castelli

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February 1, 2010 at 5:00 AM

Defense Secretary Gates, outlining the fiscal year 2011 defense budget request for reporters at the Pentagon, just served notice that he will "strongly" recommend the president veto any defense bill that includes funding for more C-17s or the Joint Strike Fighter alternate engine.

-- Dan Dupont

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February 1, 2010 at 5:00 AM

Pentagon officials plan to finish work on the congressionally mandated space posture review by June, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy said today. The review is delayed because the Defense Department drill is wrapped up in work on a White House-level review of the national space policy, she said. Flournoy made her comments during a briefing on the Quadrennial Defense Review, released today. She said work was under way to "sequence" the two reviews, ensuring the Pentagon's review would build on the president's.

-- Sebastian Sprenger

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February 1, 2010 at 5:00 AM

Defense officials need the $33 billion included 2010 supplemental request by Memorial Day, May 31, to keep operations on track, according to Defense Department Comptroller Robert Hale. The money is subject to congressional approval.

Depending on the rate of spending at the time, the military may be able to hold out only "a little bit longer" beyond the holiday, he told reporters at the Pentagon today.

-- Sebastian Sprenger

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February 1, 2010 at 5:00 AM

Friends and what the Pentagon might call near-peer competitors alike now have the chance to read results of the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review in their native tongues. That's thanks to the Defense Department, which offers executive summaries in Russian, Chinese, Arabic, French and Spanish.

As for China, the English version of the document reiterates a longstanding Pentagon complaint about the transparency of Beijing's military buildup. "China has shared only limited information about the pace, scope, and ultimate aims of its military modernization programs, raising a number of legitimate questions regarding its long-term intentions," the QDR report states.

As noted by InsideDefense.com over the weekend, however, the final version of the QDR does downplay an earlier draft's language on China as a potential enemy.

-- Sebastian Sprenger

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January 29, 2010 at 5:00 AM

The Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization has challenges ahead, particularly in contracting, according to the farewell speech delivered Dec. 30, 2009, by Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, the organization's outgoing director.

Though he acknowledged JIEDDO's accomplishments, Metz said the "narrow link" is contracting. "JIEDDO’s establishment was a mandate to bring us to the reality of the enemy we currently face," he said. "I strongly feel that we must be prudent with our citizen’s money, and JIEDDO has embraced a transparent set of analytically driven processes to make sure we properly manage the funds allocated to us."

However, he warned, additional "layers of bureaucracy" would mean the Pentagon is "relinquish((ing)) the initiative to the enemy."

"The Department can significantly help JIEDDO with its mission by bringing a contracting capability inside the organization thus streamlining the processes while being prudent with our citizens’ money," Metz added. He urged allowing JIEDDO to operate in a "risk-tolerant environment"so potential solutions can get to soldiers quickly.

"If forced into a box of externally controlled, risk-averse processes, then close JIEDDO, because JIEDDO will no longer be able to do what it does best -- operate inside the Department’s 0- to 24-month capabilities delivery window, a place where DOD’s requirements validation and budget development processes and our contracting regulations are very difficult to maneuver," Metz added.

Additionally, he recommended the Quadrennial Defense Review -- set for release next week -- recognize the IED as "the enemy's weapon of choice" and require the Pentagon to continue aggressive efforts to combat IEDs.

That same day, Lt. Gen. Michael Oates, formerly the commanding general of the 10th Mountain Division (Light) and Ft. Drum, NY, assumed the JIEDDO directorship.

-- Marjorie Censer
 

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January 29, 2010 at 5:00 AM

French air force Gen. Stéphane Abrial almost made big news last week when he spoke to an audience of senior U.S. military officials and defense policy experts.

Unfortunately, he left out a bit of information of the kind that could spark a more public examiniation of how NATO's International Security Assistance Force does business in Afghanistan.

The story: Abrial, the first European to head the alliance's U.S.-based Allied Command Transformation, was giving a talk -- titled "International Perspectives: Developing Global Partnerships " -- at a conference in Washington sponsored by the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis and Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

During his Jan. 21 address, Abrial touched on the problem of intelligence sharing among ISAF nations during operations in Afghanistan. Almost in passing, he noted just how bad it still is, according to a transcript of the relevant section later provided by a spokesman.

And of course working in a coalition poses the very real question of the sharing of intelligence. Operations in  Afghanistan have shown the difficulties arising from an insufficient ability to do it. Inability to access national intelligence justifying a target being placed on a Joint Prioritized Effects List has kept whole nations outside much of the targeting process. On the other hand, some nations will not share intelligence which could result in kinetic actions.

Naturally, we were curious as to which sharing-averse nations Abrial was referring to.

It took a few days to get this question straight with the folks at ACT. In their initial response they acknowledged that, yes, we captured the general's comments correctly in formulating our question.

But which countries was he talking about? He won't say, Abrial's spokesman, Roy Thorvaldsen, told us in an e-mail.

"I don't think GEN Abrial would want to drop any names," one public affairs officer said to another, according to e-mails exchanged within the command.

"This is all that you are going to get out of this," Thorvaldson finally told us, after we prodded again. "Remember that NATO is an Alliance of 28 individual nations and a complex political balance. A Strategic Commander needs to be very careful not to step on any toes."

-- Sebastian Sprenger