The Insider

July 29, 2009 at 5:00 AM

The Army has conducted its first tropical environment testing of the Stryker vehicle, according to the latest issue of Army AL&T Magazine.

The tests were held in an unlikely place: Suriname, which the magazine notes is South America's smallest country and has a per capita income less than 10 percent that of the United States.

Though Yuma Proving Ground, AZ, where the Stryker has undergone extensive testing, "also maintains test facilities in Hawaii, Honduras, and Panama, none of the three were suitable for the unique requirements of testing the several dozen-ton vehicle," the article says.

But readying for testing in Suriname wasn't easy, it adds. The Army had to find living quarters for testers and quickly build a compound "with security fencing, wiring, and communications networks." A test vehicle operator staked out 30 miles of existing roads for the evaluation, while the test vehicle endured a four-week boat trip from Texas to Suriname, delayed by a hurricane and other bad weather.

The testing was insightful, the magazine says, noting, for example, that the vehicle often sank in clay saturated by tropical rains. Testers learned that keeping the tires inflated at highway pressures would prevent sinking while also ensuring jungle biomass did not "compromise the space between the wheel and the tire."

"These types of insights would not have been generated by testing the vehicle in a simulation chamber," the article says.

Ultimately, it adds, the testing was completed five weeks ahead of schedule.

-- Marjorie Censer

July 29, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Credit agency Standard and Poor's announced today that it has lowered Boeing's credit rating from "A+" to "A" due to changes in Pentagon spending and weaker commercial air traffic.

"Boeing Co.'s defense business remains stable, but changes in defense-spending priorities could constrain the long-term growth and competitiveness of the unit," the S&P statement reads, adding:

"The downgrade reflects concerns about the possibility of further production cuts due to airline order deferrals and cancellations, risks related to the development of the midsize 787 jetliner, which is two years behind schedule, and the potential for higher customer financing needs," said Standard & Poor's credit analyst Christopher DeNicolo. "The long-term effect of changes in U.S. defense spending, and substantial pension liabilities were also factors," he continued.

-- John Liang

July 29, 2009 at 5:00 AM

In late October the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center will host a three-day leaders' workshop to look at COIN operations in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The title of the workshop: “What is counterinsurgency and how as a military, do we approach the problem.”

The Army’s Ft. Leavenworth, KS, will be the host site.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, was asked by The Los Angeles Times yesterday if there was too much focus on counterterrorism in the Afghanistan operation.

“I think there hasn't been enough focus on counterinsurgency,” he said. “I am certainly not in a position to criticize counterterrorism. But at this point in the war, in Afghanistan, it is most important to focus on almost classic counterinsurgency.”

The COIN workshop gets under way on Oct. 27 with a counterinsurgency overview and presentations on the insurgent environment and cultural competencies. Day two leads off with a presentation on COIN lessons learned from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

Day three will feature Philadelphia Inquirer foreign affairs columnist Trudy Rubin speaking on “Regional Developments.” That day, and the workshop, concludes with a panel discussion.

-- Thomas Duffy

July 29, 2009 at 5:00 AM

White House Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag today announced a change to the Federal Acquisition Regulations aimed at cutting back on the use of cost-reimbursement contracts.

Compared with fixed-price contracts, these types of contracts allow companies to bill the government for all incurred costs. This could turn out to be a bad deal for Uncle Sam because companies have no incentive to keep their costs down.

Upcoming changes in the FAR will address under what circumstances cost-reimbursement contracts are "appropriate" and the necessary government "acquisition workforce resources" required to oversee them, Orszag wrote in a memo to agency leaders.

According to the document, the change will come "soon." It includes no specific date.

The Obama administration wants to reduce the use of cost-reimbursement and other high-risk contract types by 10 percent in fiscal year 2010.

-- Sebastian Sprenger

July 28, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Hawker Beechcraft's first AT-6B light-attack plane made its inaugural flight yesterday at the company's Wichita, KS, production facility.

The aircraft -- dubbed AT-1 -- flew “uneventfully” for just under 50 minutes, meeting all of its test objectives, according to a company official.

Hawker Beechcraft plans to demonstrate an AT-6B equipped with a number of high-tech communications equipment, datalinks and sensors to the Air National Guard initially in the fall and then again more robustly next year.

Air Force officials plan to use the findings from the congressionally directed AT-6B demonstration when conducting a potential OA-X light-attack plan acquisition program or programs. In recent months, Air Force officials have talked about using a propeller-driven irregular warfare plane as a tool for building partnerships with countries that cannot afford them, and have no need for high-end fighter jets.

At the same time, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) has submitted an amendment to the fiscal year 2010 defense authorization bill that would require the defense secretary to coordinate development of an irregular warfare aircraft across all the military services, including the National Guard and Reserve. This includes “the requirements, concept development, demonstration and platform development.”

Brownback also wants the AT-6B demonstration to inform potential IW aircraft purchases down the road, according to the amendment.

Lawmakers have included funding in the Pentagon's FY-08 and FY-09 budgets for the AT-6B tests.

-- Marcus Weisgerber

July 28, 2009 at 5:00 AM

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency has a new director, the Pentagon announced today.

Kenneth Myers, a former senior staff member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was sworn in yesterday, according to a Defense Department statement:

Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, Ashton B. Carter, said, "The selection of Ken Myers as the director of DTRA is another significant step in transforming how we defend against the threat of weapons of mass destruction. He has the right background with 15 years of hands-on nonproliferation, counter-proliferation and arms control experience at the national level to lead the agency in its mission to protect the United States and its allies from weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and support a safe, secure and reliable deterrent." Carter added that Myers also brings experience with the Moscow and START treaties; export controls; the U.S. - India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act; and Cooperative Proliferation Detection, Interdiction Assistance, and Conventional Threat Reduction Act.

Myers has a bachelor's degree from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and a master's degree from the Catholic University of America, according to DOD.

-- John Liang

July 28, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Iraq this morning to meet with the 4th Brigade, 1st Armored Division, a combat unit that was recently transitioned into the Army's first "advise and assist" brigade. Its mission is to train and advise Iraqi security forces while the United States draws down its combat forces over the next year.

The brigade, trained specifically to carry out stability operations, marks a change in the United States' role in Iraq, as well as in how the Army is adapting to answer the demand for security force assistance in Iraq and Afghanistan. In March, Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, commander of the Army's Combined Arms Center at Ft. Leavenworth, KS, said eight brigades had been tapped for special training to become AABs, as Inside the Army reported.

The 4th Brigade, based at Ft. Bliss in El Paso, TX ,and known as the "Highlander" brigade, began operations in Southern Iraq on June 4.

-- Kate Brannen

Further reading:

July 27, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Even though the United States military is involved in two active wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the U.S. intelligence community is tracking terrorists throughout the Middle East and South Asia, the number of foreign language-speaking professionals involved in these pursuits is woefully inadequate, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said last week.

In its fiscal year 2010 authorization report released last week, the committee laments that five years after Congress asked the director of national intelligence to identify foreign language requirements of the intelligence community and produce a plan to meet those needs, neither request has been met.

The committee added:

Furthermore, individual agency and military service programs aimed at creating strategies to improve foreign language programs are inconsistent across the Intelligence Community. NSA has near-real-time visibility of its language capable employees and hires and trains according to actual needs, but most other Intelligence Community agencies have no similar capability. The new Director of the CIA recently announced a major overhaul of the CIA’s foreign language hiring, training, maintenance, and use policies which should eventually result in a more language capable workforce, but other agencies have not been similarly aggressive. DIA continues to suffer from chronic shortages of language-capable employees, but has not developed a strategy for improvement. To explain their failure to redress critical gaps in national security foreign language capacity, agencies point to their lack of control over clearance processes, shallow hiring pools, the inability to allocate time to training, insufficient resources, and, in some cases, a dearth of qualified instructors. Yet, the United States is one of the most polyglot of developed countries -- more than one in five Americans speak a language other than English in the home and more than a million citizens are of Middle East or South Asian descent.

The committee's answer? It now wants the comprehensive strategy sent to Congress by the end of this year.

The Defense Department has taken steps to boost the military’s foreign-language prowess and cultural competencies -- skills that save lives on the battlefield -- but different goals and approaches are stalling the effort, another congressional committee warned in a study that Inside the Pentagon reported on last November:

The services’ strategies for cultivating language and cultural skills should better align with the department’s for creating foundational language and cultural expertise, the House Armed Services oversight and investigations subcommittee states in its Nov. 20 report, “Building Language Skills and Cultural Competencies in the Military: DOD’s Challenge in Today’s Educational Environment.”

The services are more concerned with developing a culturally aware force than a linguistically capable one, the report states.

“We will begin to believe that ‘transformation,’ to use the department’s word, has occurred when, for example, language and cultural capabilities play a greater role in promotions, when unit readiness measures these skills, and when training in these skills takes place as early as recruit training alongside traditional warfighting skills, such as qualifying on the rifle range,” the lawmakers assert.

-- Thomas Duffy

July 27, 2009 at 5:00 AM

One of the largest and most senior Chinese delegations ever to come to the United States is in Washington this week for strategic and economic talks that will address national security issues.

Agenda items include “how both sides can maintain open investment policies” and “how the U.S. is going to protect national security . . . but at the same time, create a basis where Chinese companies can also come to the U.S. and create jobs in the U.S.,” a senior administration official told reporters last week.

The talks, being held today and tomorrow, will cover counterterrorism and nonproliferation as well as bolstering cooperation on regional security issues such as North Korea, Afghanistan-Pakistan and Iran. The agenda also includes global governance, health and infectious diseases, sustainable development, human rights, Tibet and the recent violence in China’s Xinjiang province.

China’s delegation is led by Vice Premier Wang Qishan and State Councilor Dai Bingguo. The State and Treasury Departments are leading the U.S. delegation, which also includes U.S. Pacific Command chief Adm. Timothy Keating.

“I think it's important to have Pacific Command in the room,” Keating told reporters last week. The two countries do not have a robust military-to-military dialogue right now, he said, but there’s “plenty of substance to discuss.” He said he hopes maritime security talks will be scheduled sooner rather than later.

-- Chris Castelli

July 24, 2009 at 5:00 AM

At a House Army Caucus breakfast earlier this week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates previewed the near future for operations in Afghanistan:

The next few months will be hard, especially as we clear and hold areas where we have not had a persistent presence, and as we attack an enemy that has, over the past few years, become more battle-hardened, lethal, and media-savvy. As with our troop increase in Iraq in 2007, we expect violence to increase before signs of progress and positive momentum start to show -- hopefully by sometime next summer.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq "will continue to affect the state of the Army for years to come," Gates said.

And, despite the stress of the two wars, the secretary said the Army would be able to meet its recruiting and retention goals "much earlier than planned."

As for long-term strategy, Gates said:

There is little doubt that the security challenges we now face, and will in the future, have changed -- and our thinking must likewise change. It simply will not do to base our defense strategy solely on continuing to design and buy -- as we have for the last 60 years -- only the most technologically advanced versions of weapons to keep up with or stay ahead of a superpower adversary, especially one that has been gone for nearly a generation.

We have to invest in new concepts and new technologies and take into account all the assets and capabilities we can bring to the fight. We have to measure those capabilities against the real threats posed by real-world adversaries with real limitations, not threats conjured up from enemies with unlimited time, unlimited resources, and unlimited technological acumen. And we have to prepare to wage future wars and break the habit of rearming for previous ones.

Some have called for yet more analysis before making any of the decisions in this budget. Or cited varying definitions of “requirements” in defense of the status quo. A number of the arguments I’ve heard remind me of the line about those who use statistics the way a drunken man uses a lamp post -- for support rather than illumination.

-- John Liang

July 24, 2009 at 5:00 AM

There has been a lot of buzz around Washington, and abroad, about a July 23 Congressional Quarterly article that says the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program will need two years of additional work. Several blogs have written about the story and at one point it even appeared on the Drudge Report.

What the industry grunts, lobbyists and bloggers seem to have forgotten is that Inside the Air Force reported this news eight months ago. To quote our lede:

“Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England has directed the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps to all but disregard a recent assessment by a highly esteemed team of military cost estimators that concludes the Joint Strike Fighter program requires two additional years of testing and development -- and a staggering $15 billion more than is currently programmed over the next six years.”

This all stems back to a 2008 analysis by the Joint Estimate Team (JET), a group of “independent” military cost analysts. ITAF reviewed an internal Air Force document that listed the team's findings. The CQ story references the same report, but quotes “congressional aides familiar with the findings.”

At the time, our story received a bit of bounce, appearing in the Pentagon's Early Bird roundup of defense-related news, in addition to being referenced in a number of defense blogs and newspapers, including the Ft. Worth Star Telegram (the story on the newspaper's Web site has been archived, but it has been reposted here).

What's more, the CQ piece claims the JET prognosis was kept a secret at a time when the Senate just voted to end F-22A production. Not the case. Former Pentagon acquisition czar John Young discussed the numbers with ITAF in November 2008. He also discussed the report with Bloomberg News here.

-- Marcus Weisgerber

July 24, 2009 at 5:00 AM

House Armed Services Committe Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) today called on Defense Department leaders to consider the equipment needs of the National Guard during the drawdown of forces in Iraq.

Current Defense Department plans envision a portion of U.S. gear being left behind and/or given to the Iraqi government when American troops begin leaving the country in large numbers next year.

"If it makes sense, some of that equipment should return to the U.S. to fill the stocks of our National Guard units" so these units are capable of responding to domestic disaster, Skelton said in a statement.

In a letter to National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Craig McKinley, Skelton asked for "information about any current shortage of equipment, caused by ongoing operations, which would slow the response to any significant natural disaster."

The assessment comes in the wake of a request by the Pentagon to not only leave worn-out excess gear behind, but also $750 million worth of equipment that would additionally be given to the Iraqi government.

As we noted in this story today, Rep. Gene Taylor (D-MS) this week pitched the idea of crafting an inventory list of no-longer-needed DOD equipment, from which states and local communities could order items they deem useful for their disaster preparedness efforts.

-- Sebastian Sprenger

July 23, 2009 at 5:00 AM

An intercept test of the Arrow Weapon System last night was aborted when it encountered problems while still on the ground, according to a Missile Defense Agency statement:

The target missile was dropped from a C-17 aircraft and represented a future ballistic missile threat. The radar detected the target and transferred its tracks to the battle management control center. The AWS and the BMDS elements exchanged data in real-time on the target. Not all test conditions to launch the Arrow Interceptor were met, and it was not launched. Interoperability objectives, including a simulated intercept by the Aegis destroyer, USS Benfold (DDG 65), were achieved. Results are being analyzed by the program engineers.

While the MDA statement said only that the test took place "at a missile test range in the United States," The Associated Press reported that it took place off the California coast.

When asked what those test conditions were, an MDA spokesman told Inside Missile Defense in a short e-mail that those conditions were "still under review. Nothing more to add now."

According to MDA's statement:

The test also exercised the Arrow Weapon System interoperability with other elements of the U. S. Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS), including the Terminal High Altitude Area (THAAD) Program, the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense Program and the Patriot (PAC-3) Program.

At a breakfast with reporters last month, MDA Director and Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly offered a brief preview of the intercept test:

Part of that test will be to test against a missile that is in the range of over 1000 kilometers. One reason they're in the Pacific is, they're limited to the range of missiles that can test in the Eastern Mediterranean; there is a safety issue regarded there, so that's the primary purpose of them coming to the United States to use our test range. . . .

This upcoming test though, it also provides us the opportunity to have the Patriot System, the THAAD system and the Aegis system, all interacting with the Arrow system so we are demonstrating full interoperability as we execute this test. The systems as we were referring to them before, when they work together, they provide sensor data earlier and it's a very, very good test of our coalition architecture that we could deploy in that part of the world that would provide very powerful missile defense.

-- John Liang

July 22, 2009 at 5:00 AM

According to a decision issued yesterday, the Government Accountability Office found no evidence that a Rumsfeld-era Defense Department public outreach program involving retired military officers violated anti-propaganda statutes.

The scope of the review rested on three questions, according to a letter from acting GAO General Counsel Daniel Gordon to Congressional leaders: Did the program aim to hide the source of information presented, was it "purely partisan in nature," or did it constitute "self-aggrandizement?"

According to Gordon's letter, the answer is no.

But the missive is careful to note the limited scope of the review. Not examined, for example, were the business ties of analysts involved in the program.

Despite the program's legality from an anti-propaganda standpoint, Gordon's letter includes a piece of advice for the Pentagon's public affairs apparatus:

"While DOD understandably values its ties with retired military officers, we believe that, before undertaking anything along the lines of the now-terminated program at issue in this decision, DOD should consider whether it needs to have additional policies and procedures in place to protect the integrity of, and public confidence in, its public affairs efforts and to ensure the transparency of its public relations activities."

Meanwhile, the DOD inspector general also will weigh in on the issue in an upcoming report.

-- Sebastian Sprenger

July 22, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Retired Sen. John Warner (R-VA), former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is calling for Sentate's Armed Services and Intelligence committees to have a key role in formulating climate change legislation, sister publication Carbon Control News reports. This recommendation, the online news service reports in its blog -- In the Air -- ” reflects a growing push by cap-and-trade proponents to cast the climate change debate as a national security priority.”

Warner was a key sponsor of climate change legislation during the last Congress, and since having left the Senate in 2008 he has become spokesman for the newly formed Pew Project on National Security, Energy and Climate.

Speaking July 22 at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Warner also said the foreign relations panel chaired by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) should be the central committee driving the climate bill through the Senate. Approximately six committees currently claim jurisdiction over pending climate change legislation, and Warner's suggestion would further broaden that process.

Kerry said Warner's idea “is an excellent suggestion we will follow up on,” and told reporters that national security implications of climate change will likely be a feature of the final bill. He stopped short, however, of promising a full national security title as suggested by Warner.

Backing a role for the military in U.S. climate policy, Warner said “they deserve a title in this bill,” in light of the role the Defense Department is likely to play in responding to climate change exacerbated natural disasters and armed conflicts around the world.

-- Jason Sherman