The Insider

By John Liang
December 1, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Earlier this afternoon, the White House held an on-background, curtain-raiser briefing featuring "senior administration officials" regarding President Obama's plan for a 30,000-troop build-up in Afghanistan.

According to one official in the transcript released by the White House:

In his speech tonight at West Point the President will begin by reaffirming the core goal of the United States in the region, which comes -- draws from the March 2009 strategic review. And just to be clear, that goal is to disrupt, dismantle and eventually defeat al Qaeda and to prevent their return to either Afghanistan or Pakistan.

In order to achieve that goal we have subordinate goals for first Pakistan and then Afghanistan, which I'll outline briefly before getting to your questions.

In Pakistan we need to sustain our focus on al Qaeda and we need to help the Pakistanis stabilize their state. That second part, stabilizing Pakistan, really has three dimensions: a political dimension, an economic dimension and a security dimension. The Pakistanis require help across all three of these aspects, in particular on the security front where they face internal extremists, the Pakistani Taliban, if you will, who actually threaten their state. But also on the political and economic front, the Pakistanis require our assistance, and our long-term aim with Pakistan is to establish and then sustain a strategic partnership, which helps them bring stability to their state; in turn, to the region.

Let's shift to Afghanistan. There, our goal is to prevent the return of the Taliban -- I'm sorry, of al Qaeda -- and to prevent the Taliban from overthrowing the Afghan government. The President tonight will announce a new approach as to how we will accomplish those goals in Afghanistan. The concept that he'll describe is to surge American forces to do several things: first, to reverse the Taliban's momentum, which has been building steadily over the last three or four years; to secure key population centers, especially in the south and the east; to train Afghan forces, and then as quickly as possible transfer responsibility to a capable Afghan partner.

Just to review the bidding, in terms of what that means for troops, today there are just at 68,000 American troops in Afghanistan; 33,000 of those were committed this year, in 2009. The President will announce tonight that those 68,000 will be joined by an additional 30,000 Americans by next summer, by the summer of 2010. He will also announce that this surge, if you will, will be for a defined period of time. For more details on the timelines and so forth, you should tune in to the speech tonight.

Now, what will these troops be doing? They'll have the following military mission. First of all, they aim to degrade the Taliban in order to provide time and space to develop Afghan capacity. Most directly, the Afghan capacity we're developing are the Afghan security forces, so the army and the police. They also want to degrade the Taliban for a second purpose, and that is so that as we begin to hand off responsibility to the Afghan army and police, those emerging security forces are able to handle the Taliban because it's at a diminished strength.

The other key task for the military, this additional 30,000 over the coming months, is to train and partner with the Afghan security forces to accelerate their development. The broad aim here is to open a new window of opportunity for Afghanistan and to create conditions to begin to transfer to Afghan responsibility by a date which the President will specify in his speech.

By Dan Dupont
November 30, 2009 at 5:00 AM

It's been a bit of a dry spell for the Defense Science Board; a quick glance at the DSB web site shows the organization hasn't been tapped for any new studies since February (none, at least, that the Pentagon has acknowledged publicly).

It hasn't published one of its normally quite information-rich newsletters since May 2008, either -- again, at least not publicly.

The DSB has put out more than 10 reports this year, the latest released in September. But with no new studies announced since February, and no newsletters to provide any info on the status of ongoing reports, the board's status has been a bit of a question mark.

We've got part of the answer in a story published today:

The Obama administration has lined up a new team of outside advisers to provide the Pentagon's top weapon buyer independent advice on scientific, technical and manufacturing matters as well as acquisition process issues.

A new roster for the Defense Science Board is set to be unveiled next month as the panelists -- including approximately 40 board members and 20 senior fellows -- on the longstanding advisory group prepare for their first meeting in early January, according to the board's leader.

“It will be a whole, newly composed board,” Paul Kaminski, the DSB board chairman, told today in a brief telephone interview. Kaminski declined to identify the new members, who he said will be announced by the Pentagon sometime in December.

Kaminski also noted that the board "is drafting proposals for as many as three new task force studies."

More to come.

By Dan Dupont
November 25, 2009 at 5:00 AM

A new version of the joint operating concept for irregular warfare is in the works and could be released as soon as next month, according to a document obtained by

The current version, 1.0, is dated September 2007. And version 2.0 could be out in December, the document states -- but it could also slip as far as February.

Two key reviews are approaching. The first, slated for Dec. 19, is a meeting of the three-star service operations deputies. After that will be a senior-level Tank review, which is not yet scheduled, the document states.

By Christopher J. Castelli
November 25, 2009 at 5:00 AM

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs today underscored the high price tag attached to the administration's new plans for Afghanistan, which President Obama will unveil next Tuesday.

"Well, look, guys, it's a billion dollars -- it's a million dollars a troop for a year," he told reporters. "It's -- 10,000 troops is $10 billion. That's in addition to what we already spend in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That also does not include training, and it doesn't include the maintenance of -- the maintaining of a security force. It's very, very, very expensive."

A reporter asked Gibbs whether that means there will be a supplemental budget request to cover the cost.

"I'm going to let the President make a decision before we go get the budget for the decision to implement what he does," Gibbs said. "I don't know what you guys would do on Tuesday if I just blurted it all out here."

By Kate Brannen
November 24, 2009 at 5:00 AM

The Army is nearing the release date for its revised Capstone Concept, a document that has received a lot of attention over the last few months. A new, slick video from the Army's Training and Doctrine Command introduces the ideas behind the latest version of the paper, which will be publicly released Dec. 21.

The Capstone Concept serves as a vision paper that looks out 10 to 15 years, describing what the Army sees as the future and its role within that.

"It is a logical assumption to conclude that what we'll experience in the future is very much like what we're experiencing now," says Col. Robert Johnson in the 15-minute video. He serves as chief of the Joint and Army Concepts Division at TRADOC's Army Capabilities Integration Center. Also making cameos in the video are Lt. Gen. Michael Vane, ARCIC director; Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who led the rewrite of the paper; and Gen. Martin Dempsey, TRADOC's commanding general.

This revision of the Capstone Concept is "particularly important," says Dempsey, because it captures the lessons of the last eight years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the Israeli experience in Southern Lebanon in 2006. One of the lessons learned is that major combat operations alone will not characterize the future operating environment, says Vane.

"The most fundamental shift in our thinking is to embrace the enduring uncertainty of war," says McMaster.

The video paints a future marked by urban population growth, water scarcity, poverty and political instability, making the case that situational awareness will require much more than advanced technology. Instead, human intelligence and knowledge of history and culture will prove crucial to success, according to McMaster.

Information dominance "was not my experience in Iraq," says Capt. Robert Green, a member of the concept-writing team. "Our information technologies and our reconnaissance and surveillance and UAVs and those kinds of things played a critical role in the operations that we did, but they probably gave us, in my experience, maybe 10 percent of the information that we acquired. Most of the information that we got was from doing reconnaissance the old-fashioned way -- going out, looking with our eyes, listening with our ears and talking to people."


By Marjorie Censer
November 23, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Oshkosh announced last week it has already completed the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicles required in November. The company was set to produce 664 of the trucks this month.

The order was finished on Nov. 19, according to the announcement, which notes that November "marks the fifth consecutive month the company has exceeded the accelerated M-ATV delivery schedule.

"Oshkosh will continue to increase production to meet December's requirement of 1,000 vehicles, with output remaining at that high level through April 2010," the announcement continues.

By Marjorie Censer
November 23, 2009 at 5:00 AM

President Obama last week nominated Maria Sally Matiella to succeed Nelson Ford as the Army's assistant secretary for financial management.

Matiella, who most recently served as assistant chief financial officer for accounting at the Housing and Urban Development Department, has 29 years of federal employment behind her, according to the White House's announcement. She has also served as chief financial officer for the USDA Forest Service, as staff accountant for the Pentagon comptroller's office and as financial manager for the Defense Finance and Accounting Service. Matiella holds a bachelor's degree and a business degree from the University of Arizona, the announcement reads.

By Zachary M. Peterson
November 23, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Pentagon acquisition chief Ashton Carter told reporters today that the logistical hurdles presented by a war in Afghanistan are second only to those that would be faced on the icy continent at the South Pole.

“Getting into Afghanistan, which we need to do as quickly as we can possibly do it, is very difficult because, as I always say, next to Antarctica Afghanistan is probably the most incommodious place from the logistics point of view to be trying to fight a war,” Carter said at a press round table at the Pentagon. “It's landlocked and rugged and the road network is much, much thinner than in Iraq.”

Fielding valuable equipment like Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles and their lighter-weight cousins, M-ATVs, to the landlocked central Asian country is a continual challenge, Carter noted.

“We can produce MRAPs faster than we can get them to the soldiers,” he said. “It's not our production capability that limits the rate at which soldiers will get MRAPs or M-ATVs in Afghanistan. It's the rate at which you can ship them in there, get the soldiers back, trained and what limits that? Do you have enough concrete slab to park the trucks on? Where do you buy concrete in Afghanistan? You don't, you get it in Pakistan.”

By Marcus Weisgerber
November 20, 2009 at 5:00 AM

U.S. Special Operations Command today announced it is interested in ideas on an airborne system that can provide close air support to troops in contact, according to a government notice.

“The area of interest includes new ideas and innovative approaches to rapidly mature proven technologies to a production readiness state, as well as applications of existing ((commercial-off-the-shelf)) solutions that may be integrated onto an existing airframe,” the notice printed today in Federal Business Opportunities states. “Considerations include speed to field, integration complexity, Technical Readiness Level TRL level of solutions proposed, and overall mission capability provided.”

For years, the Pentagon has been trying to field as many airborne assets as possible to provide intelligence and fire support for troops in the ground. The Defense Department has maxed out its unmanned MQ-1 and MQ-9 production lines in an attempt to get the drones to the battlefield as soon as possible.

Still, manned fighter and attack jets -- like the F-15E Strike Eagle, the F-16 Viper F/A-18 Hornet and the A-10 Warthog -- perform the majority of low-level close-air support missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Air Force is considering purchasing propeller-driven attack planes for irregular warfare CAS missions as well.

Air Force Special Operations Command's AC-130 gunships provide top cover for SOCOM troops. However, because only a small number of planes exist, the high-demand aircraft can only perform so many missions per flight.

By Sebastian Sprenger
November 19, 2009 at 5:00 AM

The Defense Department today published a final rule in the Federal Register implementing an ethics provision of the Fiscal Year 2008 National Defense Authorization Act. The legislation requires former DOD employees who were involved with acquisition programs exceeding $10 million to obtain a written opinion from a DOD ethics counselor before jumping on the payroll of a contractor. The law applies to the first two years after officials leave their DOD jobs.

According to the legislation, the employment-seeking official's request to the ethics counselor must detail information about "government positions held and major duties in those positions, actions taken concerning future employment, positions sought, and future job descriptions, if applicable." The ethics counselor's opinion, in turn, must then discuss the "applicability of post-employment restrictions to activities that the official or former official may undertake on behalf of a contractor."

Since publishing an interim rule in January, officials received one lone comment on the issue, according to the FR notice. The commenter requested that the records of the written opinions be made available to the public.

But DOD rulemakers chose not to implement the suggestion, arguing the legislation does not "authorize" the opinion database to be publicly accessible. (Although the particular section of the law doesn't appear to prohibit this, either.)

In any case, the law tasks the DOD inspector general with conducting periodic reviews of the ethics opinions process, with the first due no later than two years after enactment of the FY-08 defense authorization legislation. That puts the due date in late January 2010.

By Sebastian Sprenger
November 19, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Opponents of the idea that U.S. nuclear warheads should be redesigned to ensure their effectiveness had a field day today after news broke that a panel of scientists believes the warhead stockpile can be maintained by simply replacing aging parts.

National Nuclear Security Administration officials sent out the unclassified summary of the report to reporters, but not without slapping a statement on the front page. Curiously, the statement includes a vague caveat.

While we endorse the recommendations and consider them well-aligned with NNSA’s long-term stockpile management strategy, certain findings in the unclassified Executive Summary convey a different perspective on key findings when viewed without the context of the full classified report.

You can read the executive summary of the JASON report here.

By Sebastian Sprenger
November 18, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) this morning brought up a couple of his favorite topics during a hearing on defense budget trends with think tank experts. For one, he said, the Defense Department should address vulnerabilities to an electromagnetic pulse attack. These kinds of attacks can be produced by detonating an atomic weapon high above U.S. soil, and they would knock out much of the country's power grid.

Bartlett also warned of the similar effects of a large-scale solar storm, which he said could lead to the death of 80 percent of the American population.

He was probably disappointed by the response he received.

The witnesses -- experts from the Congressional Budget Office, the Congressional Research Service, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the American Enterprise Institute -- didn't spend a word addressing solar storms and how well DOD may be prepared to deal with them.

As for the general topic of high-impact attacks on America, CSIS's David Berteau predicted the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review report would devote a good amount of attention to the issue.

By Kate Brannen
November 18, 2009 at 5:00 AM

The Army has decided to boost its French language skills so that it is better equipped to operate in Africa and other parts of the world, according to Col. James Stockmoe, director for operations and plans in the Army's intelligence office (G-2).

Speaking at a military intelligence conference in Washington today, Stockmoe said the Army is still struggling to develop sufficient language skills and plans to continue investing in language training.

The Army has decided it would be a smarter investment to teach French, which is widely spoken in parts of Africa, than to teach lots of soldiers Swahili, he said.

Another indicator of the service's commitment to increased language training is Training and Doctrine Command's inclusion of cultural and foreign language proficiency in its recommendations for the Army's first capabilities package, a key component of its revised modernization strategy.

In the meantime, Stockmoe said it's likely the Army will have to continue contracting out language capability until the requisite skills are well developed internally.

By Marjorie Censer
November 18, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Following comments by Pentagon acquisition executive Ashton Carter earlier this month, BAE Systems representatives today argued strongly that the company's protest of the Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles "rebuy" contract is not a frivolous one.

At a Nov. 2 event at the Pentagon, Carter warned that DOD takes protests seriously. "The entire department is concerned about protests becoming common or routine, and we take the protest process very seriously,” Carter said in response to a reporter's question. “We expect it to be rare, and we expect it not to be used frivolously.”

But during a conference call with reporters today, Dennis Morris, president of BAE's global tactical systems division, said the company does not believe its FMTV protest to the Government Accountability Office is frivolous.

"When it comes to protests, BAE Systems does not protest often," he said. "We are willing to admit that if we get beat in a competition, we got beat."

As an example, Morris added, the company lost to Oshkosh in the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicle competition. "We did not protest that decision," he said.

Al Crews, BAE's vice president for legal and contracts and chief counsel for the company's global tactical systems division, noted that protests cannot be taken lightly. During the same call, he said BAE is spending its own funds -- "money that's coming directly from our bottom line" -- to pursue the issue.

"Protests are extremely expensive, they're time consuming and they divert a lot of resources regardless of whether we're successful in the protest or not," Crews added.

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

Defense firms and their government clients are "well positioned" to accelerate the development and fielding of alternative energy sources that would obviate the dangerous practice of sending fuel resupply trucks to the front lines in Afghanistan and elsewhere, concludes a recent report by consulting giant Deloitte. Still, a "game-changing shift" to that end has yet to occur, the document states.

Defense Department officials should be familiar with the report's main argument in favor of new energy technologies: Less petroleum-based fuel required on the battlefield means fewer casualties during resupply missions, more operational flexibility for commanders and, perhaps, lower costs.

The document proposes four areas of "partnership" between the U.S. government and industry that could help make this a reality: "Common biofuels" for use across the services, hybrid/electrical/biofuel technologies for ground vehicles, solar power systems, and engine and propulsion technology research.

"First and foremost, energy security is essential to wartime casualties," the report states. "With the significant numbers of U.S. soldiers supporting the transport, logistics and deployment of fossil fuel to the front lines, there is a call to action to reduce dependence on oil in war," it adds.

That call to action likely would be answered by DOD's director of operational energy plans and programs, a congressionally mandated position. But the job has yet to be filled.