The Insider

February 9, 2009 at 5:00 AM

This just out from Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin's (D-MI) spokesman (note the last sentence):

This evening, February 9, 2009, the Senate voted to confirm:

Robert F. Hale to be Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and Chief Financial Officer;

Michèle Flournoy to be Under Secretary of Defense for Policy; and

Jeh Charles Johnson to be General Counsel, Department of Defense, reported out of Committee on February 5, 2009.

The Senate did not take action on the nomination of William J. Lynn III to be Deputy Secretary of Defense, also reported out of Committee on February 5, 2009.

-- John Liang

February 6, 2009 at 5:00 AM

A new survey conducted by the National Research Council and the American Association for the Advancement of Science queried scientists about their attitudes toward research that could be used for both good and evil.

According to an NRC statement, "rapid advances in the biological sciences over the last several decades have yielded great benefits such as medical therapies and vaccines. But some of these same scientific advances could also be used for malicious purposes, a threat that has become more salient to the science and policy communities since the terrorist attacks of 2001."

To that end, the survey "also explored actions the scientists might support to reduce the risk of misuse of research, as well as steps that scientists may already be taking in response to these concerns," the statement continues. The survey's results are summarized in a new NRC report that "includes recommendations for next steps."

While the survey had "a low response rate and uncertainties about whether the sample reflects the broader life sciences community limit the ability to generalize from the responses about the full U.S. life-sciences community” the survey results are nonetheless said to be “useful and informative," according to the statement.

The results suggest that survey respondents perceive a potential but not overwhelming risk of a bioterror attack in the next five years, a risk they believe is greater outside the U.S. Most respondents do not believe it is likely that dual-use knowledge, tools, or techniques will facilitate a bioterror attack in that time period.

Survey results also indicate that some respondents -- more than the committee had expected -- have been so concerned about dual-use issues that they have already taken action to try to avert misuse of research in the life sciences, even in the absence of guidelines or government restrictions. Some respondents reported that they had broken collaborations, not conducted some research projects, or not communicated research results.

Many of respondents' precautionary actions were taken during design, collaboration, and initial communication stages of research, before reaching the publication stage, the report notes. Of particular interest and concern to the committee, a few respondents offered comments about foreigners as potential security risks, which may be reflected in the reported avoidance of some collaborations.

"The fact that some scientists are changing their research activities may indicate that the life sciences community is responsibly responding to reduce the risk of misuse of science," said committee chair Ronald Atlas, professor of biology and public health at the University of Louisville. "But it is also possible that some scientists are overreacting to the perceived threat, for example by breaking collaborations and excluding foreigners from their laboratories. Our committee feels that it's important to further investigate how research activity is being changed in response to dual-use concerns."

With regard to future actions that the life sciences community would support to reduce the threat of misuse of research, the survey results indicate that life scientists in the U.S. may be more willing to consider mechanisms to reduce risks if they are developed and implemented by the scientific community itself. Most respondents favor their professional societies prescribing a code of conduct to help prevent misuse of life science research, for example, while a minority supported greater federal oversight. Among possible government restrictions, respondents were more supportive of restrictions on access to biological agents and certification of researchers than of any control of scientific knowledge generated from the research.

In addition, respondents showed support for mandatory training by institutions for practicing life scientists regarding dual-use concerns, as well as education materials and lectures for students.

The Carnegie Corp., the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the National Academies' Presidents' Circle Communications Initiative sponsored the project.

-- John Liang

February 6, 2009 at 5:00 AM

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently released the results of a Federal Aviation Administration-sponsored study looking into the feasibility of using alternative fuels for civil and military aviation and the results (no surprise here) weren't pretty.

The report -- eloquently titled "Life Cycle Assessment of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Alternative Jet Fuels" -- concluded that every single alternative jet fuel available for use in the next decade fails to meet federal greenhouse gas emission standards. The report has a particular impact on coal-base jet fuels which the Air Force had been pushing to adopt for stateside training missions by 2016. The service has been working to certify its aviation fleet to fly on the coal-to-liquids (CTL) fuel for several years now. However, the production process for these fuels emits far more greenhouse gases than standard aviation fuel.

Current law prohibits the service from buying any fuel that pollutes more than regular jet fuel. The study also claims that non-algae based biofuels such as those made from soy or palm oil would also pollute far more than current jet fuel.

However, Inside the Air Force recently reported that the service is moving to certify its fleet to fly on algae-based biofuels. This move came after Congress denied the service permission to sign long term contracts with CTL fuel makers -- something coal-based synthetic fuel makers say is necessary to offset the tremendous costs of building and operating CTL refineries.

The service dealt another blow to the CTL-fuel industry last month when it decided scrap its plan to build a CTL plant at Malmstom Air Force Base in Montana. If built, the plant would have produced 20,000 gallons of coal-based synthetic fuel per day and sold it to the Air Force at a discount.

-- John Reed

February 6, 2009 at 5:00 AM

As the newly minted Obama White House formulates policies on everything from economic stimulus proposals to defense spending, one initiative being pursued by the new administration has raised the hackles of a small but influential circle of lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

The issue that has lawmakers up in arms is a recent memorandum issued by the Office of Management and Budget requesting a cost-benefit assessment on transferring the National Nuclear Security Administration and the national laboratories from the Energy Department to the Pentagon.

First reported by media outlets in New Mexico, OMB's request calls upon DOE to “assess the costs and benefits” of shifting NNSA to DOD beginning in fiscal year 2011.

“The idea of moving NNSA into the DOD is not a new one, and has been rejected in the past for good reasons,” according to Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA), chairwoman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee.

NNSA's assignment to DOE is necessary to “ensure some independence from the military,” and the move would send a message to the international community that the United States was “militarizing control” of the nuclear weapons portfolio, she said in a Feb. 5 letter to OMB Director Peter Orszag.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and others in the Pentagon have taken significant steps to reinvigorate the importance of the nuclear mission after a number of high-profile gaffes in the handling and transport of nuclear weapons in recent years.

But those efforts, according to Tauscher, have done little to restore lawmakers' confidence in the Pentagon's ability to manage the entire nuclear portfolio. “With all the recent evidence of military neglect of the nuclear mission, it is an odd time to consider relying on that vast bureaucracy to manage the activities” of either NNSA or the labs, Tauscher's letter states.

While opposed to the effort, the California Democrat suggested that if the White House was intent on exploring this option, it should do so in a broad-based manner, “and not focused on one option for improved management.”

“Such an examination would also be best formulated in consultation with Congress, particularly the committees of jurisdiction,” she writes.

-- Carlo Munoz

February 5, 2009 at 5:00 AM

The Missile Defense Agency has revamped its ground-test schedule, according to a spokesman.

In its fiscal year 2009 budget request, MDA listed three line items for ground tests dubbed "GTX-03c," scheduled for the first quarter of 2009, "GTX-09" in the second quarter of 2009 and "GTI-09" in the third quarter of 2009.

MDA conducted the first phase of GTX-03c in early December 2008, and ran "additional risk-reduction runs" late last month, according to MDA spokesman Rick Lehner:

GTX-03c simulated an engagement of an intermediate range ballistic missile target using the SM-3 interceptor and evaluated data transmission with the transportable AN/TPY-2 forward based radar. This ground test served as risk reduction for the upcoming Aegis BMD flight test FTM-15, scheduled to take place this spring.

The other two tests have been renamed as GTX-04a and GTI-04, respectively, Lehner told Inside Missile Defense today. Asked when the tests would take place, he responded: "Both ground tests are still pending determination of their final execution schedules."

GTX-04a, the first test of this campaign, will focus on theater-level missile defense capabilities, and assess the ((Ballistic Missile Defense System's)) ability to simultaneously execute multiple engagements, while integrating several BMDS elements, including PATRIOT, THAAD, Aegis BMD, AN/TPY-2 radar, and the Command Control, Battle Management and Communications (C2BMC) system).

While specific test objectives for GTI-04 are still under review, "the test will assess the BMDS ability to simultaneously execute multiple engagements using both theater- and strategic-level assets," he added.

As we told you last week, MDA completed a new testing plan last November that cancels out what had been the agency's testing roadmap that had been in place since March 2005. In response to questions posed by, MDA said the change was made "to reflect the natural evolution of the agency's testing policy, which has occurred with the maturation of the ((ballistic missile defense)) system."

-- John Liang

February 5, 2009 at 5:00 AM

We told you yesterday about a missile defense researcher outside the government using the free Google mapping software to create pretty sophisticated visualizations. But government workers themselves -- Navy folks, to be exact -- also are employing the software giant's technology.

On Monday, officials at the the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command (NMOC) said they had entered a cooperative research agreement with Google that allows the two organizations to share unclassified data about the world's oceans.

Under the agreement, NMOC officials are making available bathymetric data sets, sea surface temperatures and ocean current information, which can now be viewed in the latest Google Earth application.

In return, Navy officials received Google Earth enterprise licenses, which gives them an easy-to-use way of visualizing their vast amount of data.

-- Sebastian Sprenger

February 5, 2009 at 5:00 AM

The Senate Armed Services Committee today approved the nominations of William Lynn to be deputy defense secretary, Robert Hale to be Pentagon comptroller, Michèle Flournoy to be under secretary of defense for policy and Jeh Charles Johnson to be DOD general counsel, according to a panel spokeswoman.

The committee "was able to establish a quorum this afternoon and voted to favorably report the . . . nominations, en bloc and by voice vote," the spokeswoman said in an e-mail. "All nominations were immediately reported to the floor following the committee’s action."

As of 6:20pm today, the full Senate hadn't voted on the nominations.

-- John Liang

February 5, 2009 at 5:00 AM

The Air National Guard finally got its new boss on Tuesday when Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and National Guard Bureau Director Gen. Craig McKinley pinned three stars on Lt. Gen. Harry Wyatt during a Pentagon ceremony marking Wyatt's promotion to director of the ANG.

Wyatt succeeds McKinley, who was selected to be the first four-star director of the National Guard Bureau last year. McKinley's -- now Wyatt's -- deputy, Maj. Gen. Emmett Titshaw, served as acting director of the Air Guard following McKinley's promotion in December.

Wyatt takes the reins of the Air Guard as it faces dramatic reductions to its fighter fleet. Many of the Guard's 386 Block 25/30/32 F-16s will reach the end of their service lives as soon as 2016, while their replacement, the F-35 Lightning II, continues to suffer delays. This has left ANG leaders scrambling to find alternate missions for numerous flying units, Titshaw told an audience at the Reserve Officers Association Mid Winter Conference in Washington on Tuesday.

Time will tell if Wyatt is as outspoken as his predecessor about the need to recapitalize the ANG fleet. McKinley frequently told congress that the Air Guard was facing a fighter gap that would hurt its ability to perform the Operation Noble Eagle fighter patrols that defend stateside airspace against attack.

Wyatt was previously the adjutant general of the Oklahoma National Guard. The career fighter pilot has flown everything from F-100 Super Sabres to F-16 Vipers.

-- John Reed

February 5, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Army officials are beginning to tackle the enormous logistical task of bringing back the thousands of systems fielded for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and finding a home for them stateside.

"If the war ended tomorrow, what would we do with all of these systems?" asked Tim Owings, deputy project manager for the Army's unmanned aircraft systems, speaking to reporters at the AUVSI conference this week.

It's an especially big problem when it comes to UAVs, whose numbers grew dramatically over the past couple of years -- and they continue to grow as operations shift to Afghanistan.

The original acquisition for the Shadow platform was 44 systems, said Owings, and now it's at 116. Every system includes four actual Shadow aircraft.

The numbers for Sky Warriors are now as high as 35 to 40 and there are just "a ton of Raven systems," said Owings.

"We're getting concerned about, if the war ended tomorrow, how do we, one, continue to keep currency on all that with the soldiers, and secondly, how do we sustain the equipment stateside?"

He said the Army is beginning to look at what needs to be done to handle the future influx of these systems. It is considering such issues as military construction, hangar space and runway space, in addition to continued simulation and training for soldiers so that they can stay fluent on the systems once the equipment is stateside.

"It is an issue and it's something we're acutely aware of in terms of trying to address it," said Owings.

However, the Army doesn't expect these systems to come home overnight either, he added.

-- Kate Brannen

February 4, 2009 at 5:00 AM

If you read USA Today today, you saw two stories that may have looked familiar. One dealt with a Defense Department inspector general's report on the Army and Marine Corps Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle program. If you are a regular reader of ours you saw that report, marked "official use only," here in December.

And you also read USA Today's other story here first. That story was about the new, lighter weight, all terrain MRAP. You can link to our January story here.

-- Thomas Duffy

February 4, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Defense Department officials can no longer "categorically" deny Government Accountability Office investigators access to foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information, according to a new Pentagon instruction.

"Such information may be furnished to GAO representatives having a legitimate need to know. Therefore, denials of access to such information must be carefully considered and supported legitimately," the Jan. 27 document states.

According to the Secrecy News blog, where the tidbit was first unearthed, there is a history of haggling over the issue.

GAO access to intelligence information has long been a subject of dispute and controversy. By law (31 U.S.C. 716d), the Comptroller General who directs the GAO cannot compel executive branch agencies to disclose intelligence information. The Central Intelligence Agency has generally refused to cooperate with GAO auditors, while defense intelligence agencies have historically been somewhat more forthcoming.

-- Sebastian Sprenger

February 4, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Thanks to Google Maps and Google Earth, satellite imagery analysis has become a treasured pastime of armchair generals worlwide. But making extensive use of Google Earth images to construct an entire briefing about the technical effectiveness of missile defense systems in Europe -- featuring radar ranges, earth curvature and all -- that's taking it to the next level.

Stanford University professor Dean Wilkening has done just that, and his graphics don't make the proposed Poland- and Czech Republic-based missile shield look good, we reported earlier today.

We can't say whether the plots are meant to be accurate or merely intended to be illustrative. But they sure look cool. 

The briefing slides are making the rounds on Capitol Hill and at NATO headquarters in Brussels, we're told. And not for their graphics. 

-- Sebastian Sprenger

February 4, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) wants a piece of the $800 billion economic stimulus package under debate in the Senate this week to go to defense.

To that end, Inhofe introduced an amendment today that would add $5.2 billion to the Defense Department's procurement accounts via the stimulus bill to manufacture or acquire vehicles, equipment, ammunition, and materials required to reconstitute military units, he said on the Senate floor.

"Investing in our nation’s defense provides thousands of sustainable American jobs and provides for our nation’s security," he added. "Major defense procurement programs are all manufactured in the U.S. with our aerospace industry alone employing more than 655,000 workers spread across over most of the U.S."


It is clear that infrastructure investment, along with defense spending and tax cuts, has a greater stimulative impact on the economy than anything else the government can do.

If our infrastructure needs repair, we equally need the tools to reconstruct military readiness. . . .

So we're accomplishing two things here: We're providing the jobs, we're also rebuilding our military.

Specifically, Inhofe's amendment would allow the buying of "aircraft, tracked and non-tracked combat vehicles, missiles, weapons, ammunition, communications equipment, maintenance equipment, naval coastal warfare boats, salvage equipment, riverine equipment, expeditionary material handling equipment, and other expeditionary items."

Inhofe emphasized that his amendment doesn't increase the cost of the bill because it also includes the following offsets that he said "highlight a part of the frivolous spending" included in the legislation that many Republicans have criticized. Those offsets include:

* $20 million for fish passage barrier removal,
* $20 million for trail improvements,
* $25 million for habitat restoration,
* $34 million to renovate the Commerce Department,
* $600 million for the federal government to buy cars – specifically hybrid and battery cars,
* $13 million to research volunteer activities,
* $650 million in coupons for digital TV (DTV) transition,
* $70 million for a support computer for climate change research,
* $1 billion for the Census,
* $850 million for Amtrak, and
* $2 billion reduction from $6 billion to use 'green technology' to revamp federal office buildings.

"This is a common sense amendment with real stimulative impact," Inhofe said. His spokesman told that a vote on the amendment could come later this afternoon.

UPDATE (Feb. 6): The amendment was defeated Feb. 5 "on a budget point of order" by a 38-59 vote, according to Inhofe's spokesman.

-- John Liang

February 3, 2009 at 5:00 AM

The GE Rolls-Royce team building the secondary engine to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has begun testing its first production-configuration F136 engine a month ahead of schedule, the companies announced this week.

The engine began testing Jan. 30 and represents the first complete engine assembled following government validation of the design in 2008, according to a GE Rolls-Royce statement. Several more engines are scheduled to be tested by the end of the year.

The statement touts: “The F136 engine is a product of the best technology from two world-leading propulsion companies. The GE Rolls-Royce Fighter Engine Team has designed the only engine specifically developed for the F-35 aircraft, offering extra temperature margin and affordable growth.”

This program is one that the Defense Department has refused to fund in previous spending budgets, even though Congress has mandated the funding for the JSF's alternate engine and has time and time again re-infused F-35 coffers with monies to go to the GE Rolls-Royce power plant.

The question now is whether the F136 has similar issues as the fifth-generation jet's primary power supply, the Pratt & Whitney F135. Though the JSF program office has said repeatedly -- after the fact -- that officials were expecting it, a Pratt engine suffered “high-cycle fatigue” when it failed and a blade broke off during a test for the Marine Corps' short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing variant almost a year ago. This incident occurred roughly half a year after a similar incident on an engine for the Air Force's conventional takeoff-and-landing variant.

Program Executive Officer Maj. Gen. Charles Davis has said that these types of issues occur when testing new jets and engines, and has not come out to say that any of the F135 incidents were huge deals. But with all the Pentagon has done to try to kill the program, will it be more critical with problems on the F136?

-- Jason Simpson

February 3, 2009 at 5:00 AM

The Aerospace Industries Association is calling on the new administration and Congress to consider "rational reform of the current system and avoid specific complex and unique government acquisition processes that were unsuccessful in the past," according to a report released today.

In a statement, AIA President and CEO Marion Blakey called the report "industry's blueprint to be a constructive voice and partner with the government in achieving that goal."

Consequently, the White House and Congress should focus on three overarching themes this year, according to AIA:

Stability and fairness in contracting and financial policies;
Reform of the major elements of the defense acquisition system; and
Competitiveness and efficiency of the aerospace and defense industry.

In her foreword to the report, Blakey writes:

There has been substantial expansion of acquisition-related legislation in the national defense authorization acts passed during the past 10 years. Since the late 1990s, the number of acquisition provisions put in place by Congress has increased by three-to-four fold. In the past two years alone, the number has approached 100.

At the same time, there has been growth in the defense budget along with a dramatic reduction in the acquisition workforce-making it almost impossible for acquisition officials to perform their jobs efficiently and in compliance with all rules and laws. Moreover, there is a commensurate cost of compliance on the part of the defense industry included in the prices of goods and services.

The Aerospace Industries Association believes that now is the time to recalculate the imbalances in the defense acquisition system and take action for positive reform to ensure that the policies and processes that govern it are fair, reasonable and flexible.

The detailed AIA paper herein provides an overview of the acquisition system and offers recommendations for improvement. We welcome your comments and suggestions on this positive agenda.

But acquisition reform is a term that has been in use for decades by the Defense Department, and a White House national security paper issued not long after President Obama's inauguration has acquisition reform listed as one of the new administration's defense priorities:

Create Transparency for Military Contractors: President Obama and Vice President Biden will require the Pentagon and State Department to develop a strategy for determining when contracting makes sense, rather than continually handing off governmental jobs to well-connected companies. They will create the transparency and accountability needed for good governance, and establish the legal status of contractor personnel, making possible prosecution of any abuses committed by private military contractors.

Restore Honesty, Openness, and Commonsense to Contracting and Procurement: The Obama-Biden Administration will realize savings by reducing the corruption and cost overruns that have become all too routine in defense contracting. This includes launching a program of acquisition reform and management, which would end the common practice of no-bid contracting. Obama and Biden will end the abuse of supplemental budgets by creating a system of oversight for war funds as stringent as in the regular budget. Obama and Biden will restore the government's ability to manage contracts by rebuilding our contract officer corps. They will order the Justice Department to prioritize prosecutions that will punish and deter fraud, waste and abuse.

The Army's vice chief of staff thinks that the service's Rapid Equipping Force makes an excellent model for future acquisition reform by accelerating solutions that meet operational commanders' needs, Inside the Army reported this week:

The REF, as it is commonly known, streamlines procurement by focusing less on defining requirements and more on “finding point solutions to capabilities shortfalls on the battlefield,” said Gen. Peter Chiarelli at a Jan. 27 Institute for Defense and Government Advancement conference in Washington.

It does this by canvassing the military, government, industry and academia to see what is already available or nearly available that can be delivered in a short time frame to commanders in the field.

Chiarelli praised the organization’s contributions to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and argued that the regular procurement system should try to follow its example.

“It provides a great model for how we might improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the current procurement system in the future,” said Chiarelli. “Rather than waiting seven years for 95 percent solutions, we should work to get capabilities out to warfighters as quickly as possible.”

-- John Liang