The Insider

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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.

-- Sebastian Sprenger

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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.

-- Jason Sherman

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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.

-- Chris Castelli
 

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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 validaton 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."

-- Sebastian Sprenger

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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.”

-- Chris Castelli

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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.

-- John Liang
 

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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.

-- John Liang
 

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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.

-- Chris Castelli

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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 Secreary 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."

-- Dan Dupont

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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.

-- Sebastian Sprenger

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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 Afhanistan, 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.

-- Sebastian Sprenger

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April 14, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Northrop Grumman announced today it has completed a full-scale dress rehearsal for the first Kinetic Energy Interceptor booster flight test, which is scheduled for later this year.

The Northrop team put together a full-scale booster using inert rocket motors and flight-qualified parts to make sure everything checked out with the booster, ground support equipment and facility structures, the company said. The work took place at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA, the site of the upcoming flight test.

Using an extremely fast booster rocket, the KEI is being developed to provide combatant commanders with a mobile, land-based interceptor to defeat medium- to long-range ballistic missiles during the boost, ascent or midcourse phases of flight, according to the Missile Defense Agency.

A recently released environmental assessment of the KEI flight test programs shows the first four tests will consist of a two-stage booster, an avionics section and the nosecone/shroud. None of the first four flight tests would carry a kill vehicle. Future tests will likely include third-stage rocket motor and a government-furnished payload.

According to information MDA sent Congress with its fiscal year 2009 budget request, the first KEI flight test will take place before the end of June.

Under the budget plan announced April 6 by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, however, the Defense Department will take a long, hard look at the boost-phase intercept mission. KEI and the Airborne Laser are both vying for the BPI mission. But ABL's fortunes seem to be waning as Gates announced he is recommending the program stay in research and development and forgo any thoughts of production.

During the April 6 briefing, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright said DOD has a good midcourse and terminal missile defense capability.

“What do we need in the boost phase? What kind of attributes does it have for mobility and location, et cetera? Those are the things that we've got to understand before we go any further with the boost phase.”

-- Thomas Duffy

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April 14, 2009 at 5:00 AM

The Obama administration today announced several more national security-related nominations. According to their bios, as released by the White House:

Andrew C. Weber, Nominee for Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Programs), Department of Defense

Andrew Weber is currently an adviser for threat reduction policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, where he is responsible for Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction initiatives to reduce the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. He is also an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, where he teaches a course on force and diplomacy in the Foreign Service Program. He was previously a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State, where he served in diplomatic assignments in Saudi Arabia, Germany, Kazakhstan, and Hong Kong. Weber has an MS from Georgetown University and a BA from Cornell University. He lives in Arlington, Virginia with his wife Julie and daughter Eleanor. . . .

Bonnie D. Jenkins, Nominee for Coordinator for Threat Reduction Programs (with the Rank of Ambassador), Department of State

Dr. Jenkins is the Program Officer for U.S. Foreign and Security policy at the Ford Foundation. Her grant making seeks to strengthen public engagement in US foreign and security policy debate and formulation in order to promote support for multilateralism, the peaceful resolution of disputes, and the rule of international law. Prior to joining the Foundation, Jenkins served on the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (“9-11 Commission”), as counsel. She was the lead Commission staff member on counterterrorism policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and on U.S. military plans to go after Al Qaeda prior to 9-11. She wrote part of the 9/11 report, which has since become a national bestseller. Jenkins also served as General Counsel to the U.S. Commission to assess the organization of the federal government to combat proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and as a consultant to the 2000 National Commission on Terrorism. She also worked at the RAND Corporation in their National Security Division. She recently served as a Lieutenant Commander in the US Naval Reserves and completed a year of deployment at CENTCOM. Jenkins has worked in the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Policy Planning as a consultant of the Kosovo History Project. An expert on arms control and nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, Jenkins also served for nine years as legal advisor to U.S. Ambassadors and delegations negotiating arms control and nonproliferation treaties during her time as a Legal Advisor in the Office of General Council at the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. She began her years in government when appointed as a Presidential Management Fellow. Jenkins is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and the American Bar Association. She received a Ph.D. in international relations from the University of Virginia; an LL.M. in international and comparative law from the Georgetown University Law Center; an MPA from the State University of New York at Albany; a J.D. from Albany Law School; and a BA from Amherst College. She also attended The Hague Academy for International Law. . . .

Stephen W. Preston, Nominee for General Counsel, Central Intelligence Agency

Stephen W. Preston is currently a Partner at WilmerHale, where he is co-chair of the Defense, National Security and Government Contracts Practice Group, and a member of the Regulatory and Government Affairs and Litigation/Controversy Departments. He joined the firm in 1986, and later returned in 2001 after serving at both the Pentagon and the Justice Department. He was the Principal Deputy General Counsel of the Department of Defense from 1993 to 1995, during which time he served for an extended period as Acting General Counsel. From 1998 to 2000, Preston served as General Counsel of the Department of the Navy, a Presidential appointment requiring Senate confirmation. Mr. Preston’s responsibilities covered the full range of legal matters confronting the Defense Department and the national security establishment. He was actively involved in criminal, inspector general and congressional investigations, civil fraud and contract claims litigation and alternative dispute resolution. From 1995 to 1998, Mr. Preston served as the Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice, responsible for civil litigation in the courts of appeals on behalf of the United States. In addition to overseeing work in a wide variety of substantive areas and assisting the Solicitor General in cases before the Supreme Court, he also argued several significant appeals involving constitutional law, statutory interpretation, federal court jurisdiction and testimonial privileges. Mr. Preston holds a B.A. from Yale University and a J.D. from Harvard University.

Other appointments of note: David Heyman is President Obama's choice for assistant homeland security secretary for policy. Heyman is a senior fellow and director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Homeland Security Program and an adjunct professor in security studies at Georgetown University. Also, P.J. Crowley, a former National Security Council public affairs director and Pentagon spokesman during the Clinton administration, has been nominated to become assistant secretary of state for public affairs.

-- John Liang
 

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April 13, 2009 at 5:00 AM

A proposed end to the production of the Lockheed Martin F-22A fifth-generation fighter has raised concerns among U.S. allies in the Middle East, Raptor fan Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) said today.

“They are very concerned about the discontinuance of . . . aircraft that would have the ability to go into any territory where ((there are)) surface-to-air missiles that will take F-15s or F-16s out of the air on a fairly regular basis,” Chambliss said during a conference call with reporters early this afternoon.

Chambliss is at the tail end of a trip to the Middle East, where he said the possible curtailment of Raptor buys was among the topics of discussion. The congressional delegation -- led by Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) -- visited Egypt, Israel, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Iraq and Afghanistan. All of the countries save for Iraq and Afghanistan have Lockheed F-16s or Boeing F-15s in their air forces. Israel flies both fourth-generation fighters.

The Republican senator's comments come one week after Defense Secretary Robert Gates said his fiscal year 2010 budget plan calls for ending F-22A production at 187 aircraft, much to the chagrin of Chambliss. Raptors are assembled by Lockheed in Marietta, GA.

“I think this decision was not ((thought)) through from the standpoint of anything than other than being purely budget-driven,” he said.

Today, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz penned a letter in the Washington Post claiming they did originally request 60 F-22As beyond the current cap of 183 aircraft, but withdrew that request at the eleventh hour of internal Pentagon budget deliberations. The Pentagon requested its last four F-22As in an emergency warfighting supplemental last week.

Chambliss also said Donley told him several times over the past several months that he would push Defense Secretary Robert Gates for more Raptors.

The senator also criticized Gates' budget proposal because, he said, “it basically says . . . we're committed to fighting a back-alley war, we're committed to fighting a war strictly against terrorists and we're basically giving up the ability to fight a conventional war.”

-- Marcus Weisgerber

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April 13, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Industry responses are due today for an Army project that offers an interesting glimpse into the U.S. information operations strategy in Afghanistan.

Officials running the External Information Program-Afghanistan (EIP-A) were seeking a contractor for the development and dissemination of all sorts of promotional material aimed at driving a wedge between violent extremists and ordinary citizens, according to a solicitation posted on the Federal Business Opportunities Web site recently.

The "themes," as the solicitation calls them, include these:

  • "Report ((improvised explosive device)) activities. The theme is that security is everyone’s concern. The concept is to use media to encourage the local populace to stop violence by reporting IED activities and facilitators to the ((Afghan security forces))."
     
  • "Killing Muslims is against Islam. The theme is that bombing and IEDs result in the murder of innocent Muslims. The concept is to use media to denounce IEDs as un-Islamic acts of violence and results in murder of innocent Muslims."
     
  • "((Afghan National Security Forces)) are legitimate security forces. The theme is the ANSF represent the ((Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan)) and protects its communities. The concept is to use media to show the ANSF is a legitimate security force capable of protecting its communities and ensuring peace."

The contractor is responsible for designing print products, like pamphlets and newspaper ads, and writing scripts for radio and television programs, according to the solicitation.

The Army took over funding of the External Information Program last year, the solicitation states. Officials also "realigned" the program at that time, broadening its goal from a counter-IED-only information operations effort to a more broad campaign aimed at getting  "undecided Afghans" to accept the country's central government.

-- Sebastian Sprenger