The Insider

By Jason Sherman
December 22, 2008 at 5:00 AM

The Pentagon today named researchers at seven universities to spearhead the Minerva Research Initiative, a project Defense Secretary Robert Gates launched this spring that aims to expand collaboration between social scientists and the U.S. military in order to improve the Defense Department's “intellectual capital” to wrestle with new security challenges.

The researchers, their academic affiliation, and titles of their winning proposals are:

Susan Shrink, University of California, San Diego: The Evolving Relationship Between Technology and National Security in China: Innovation, Defense Transformation, and China’s Place in the Global Technology Order

Mark Woodward, Arizona State University: Finding Allies for the War of Words: Mapping the Diffusion and Influence of Counter-Radical Muslim Discourse

Patricia Lewis, Monterey Institute of International Studies: Iraq’s Wars with the US from the Iraqi Perspective: State Security, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Civil-Military Relations, Ethnic Conflict and Political Communication in Baathist Iraq

Jacob Shapiro, Princeton University: Terrorism Governance and Development

David Matsumoto, San Francisco State University: Emotion and Intergroup Relations

James Lindsay, The University of Texas at Austin: Climate Change, State Stability, and Political Risk in Africa

Nazli Choucri, Massachusetts Institute of Technology: ECIR - Explorations in Cyber International Relations

In total, the seven contract awards are expected to be worth as much as $50 million over five years, which will be supported by a total of 16 universities, including three non-U.S. institutions, according to a Pentagon statement announcing the awards.

“These grants lay the groundwork for exciting new research and relationships that will bring the best work of academics to bear on our country's most pressing national security challenges," Thomas Mahnken, deputy assistant secretary of defense for policy planning, said in a statement.

Selected from a submission pool of 211 white papers, the winning projects were selected based on “merit review by panels of subject matter experts in the pertinent fields,” the Pentagon said in its statement.

By Sebastian Sprenger
December 19, 2008 at 5:00 AM

Amid the reviewing of the strategy and requirements for the war in Afghanistan, biometric capabilities are a sure bet to be one of the requirements on the rise there, we're told. According to military officials, biometric technologies have made a sizable contribution to pacifying Iraq because the systems enable ground troops to reliably identify individuals and, thus, tell ordinary citizens from suspected extremists.

Biometric technologies also had an impact on the fight against improvised explosive devices in Iraq, where they were used in conjunction with forensic capabilities. Military officials, along with experts from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, use DNA or fingerprints left at IED explosion sites to try to piece together the web of individuals involved in bomb making.

In the fall, officials shipped the first -- and so far only -- forensic analysis lab to Afghanistan. The numbers of attacks with IEDs has steadily climbed there over the last year. The lab, housed in a container-like structure, is supposed to be fully operational just about now, a defense officials tells us.

Pentagon officials are still awaiting word on what exactly the requirements are going to be when the U.S. Central Command Assessment Team finishes its review. The military use of biometrics typically involves collection systems, often handheld, and the requisite network infrastructure and databases to process biometric information.

"Will there be more requirements than we've got there now? Yes there will be," the defense official said. "But it's unclear what they'll be."

By Sebastian Sprenger
December 19, 2008 at 5:00 AM

Congressional authorizers recently approved a renewed Defense Department reprogramming request that would fully fund the Minerva initiative. The first request was denied.

The goal behind Minerva is building closer ties with social scientists, who defense officials believe have much to offer in understanding the roots of extremism worldwide.

With the approval from the House and Senate Armed Services committees came instructions for how to tweak the programs funding channels and management, according to House panel spokeswoman Lara Battles.

"((The committees)) gave direction to restructure the program -- specifically, to move the funding to a traditional research (6.1) program element and to begin building an in-house capacity for the types of efforts within Minerva," she told us in an e-mail.

The notation "6.1" is Pentagon budget shorthand for a basic research program.

A senior defense official said earlier this month the appropriations committees, which must also approve the reprogramming request, have already signaled they would do so soon.

By Kate Brannen
December 19, 2008 at 5:00 AM

Along with discussions of future warfare and force structure comes the question of what role Special Operations Forces will play. In the world outlined by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in his recent and much-discussed Foreign Affairs article, will more SOF forces be needed? What will an increase in SOF numbers do to its capabilities?

"For SOF in particular that poses a lot of dilemmas that I don't think have been adequately answered," Stephen Biddle , a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said at a luncheon with reporters this week. He posed the question, what happens to the capabilities of Special Operations Forces when their size is dramatically increased?

"If you're going to double the size of the SOF, part of what makes the SOF so good is they're trained so well and they're equipped so well, but part is that they're very carefully selected," said Biddle. "I personally have not seen a good study of what will happen to SOF proficiency if you expand it by X percent."

Speaking at the same event, Maj. Gen. David Fastabend, director of strategy, plans and policy in the office of the deputy chief of staff (G-3/5/7), said that because today's conventional forces have such a high level of combat experience, they already have a greater growth potential than past U.S. forces.

Also, because the deployment schedule in the Army is so rigorous -- a year off and a year on for years in a row -- soldiers are “kind of self-selected for that type of lifestyle," said Fastabend.

"((SOF)) can probably grow more readily than in the past, but certainly there's an upward bound to it," he said.

A May 16, 2008, Congressional Research Service report laid out Pentagon plans for near-term SOF growth:

As mandated by the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) SOF continues to expand. USSOCOM added 6,643 military and civilians in 2007. By the end of FY2009, USSOCOM hopes to grow to 55,890 civilian and military personnel, of which 43,745 will be active duty military, 4,310 Guard, 2,560 Reserves, and 5,275 government civilians. These increases roughly translate into adding five additional Special Forces battalions, four additional Ranger companies, 300 additional SEALs, 2,500 Marine Special Operations Forces, and additional special operations aviators.


Recent and related stories:

December 18, 2008 at 5:00 AM

FYI: The latest issue of Inside the Air Force is up early.

(Editor's note: You're going to see that kind of thing a lot over the next few days because of our holiday schedule. So stay tuned.)

Here are some highlights:

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, CO -- The Air Force will not be able to reach U.S. Strategic Command’s desired operationally responsive space end-state of 2015 without restoring recent funding cuts made by Pentagon officials, Space Command’s ORS division chief told Inside the Air Force this month.

The Air Force plans to take lessons learned from a light-attack plane sensor integration program and apply them to a potential acquisition program later down the road, according to service officials.

The Joint Requirements Oversight Council is reviewing a change made by the Air Force to a key performance parameter for missile survivability on a dozen new C-130J-based special operations and rescue tankers that the service is hoping to field by 2012, according to documents reviewed by Inside the Air Force.

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, CO -- Air Force Space Command officials still envision small constellations of “very capable” satellites performing future protected communications mission even as concerns have been continuously raised in recent months about the expense of the service’s next constellation, a command official told Inside the Air Force this month.

By Christopher J. Castelli
December 18, 2008 at 5:00 AM

Defense secretary Robert Gates was the sole guest on PBS' Charlie Rose program last night. It was a wide-ranging discussion on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Russia, China and Gates' historic decision to become the first sitting defense secretary to serve an incoming administration.

The full interview is online here.

Gates noted President-elect Barack Obama's administration must decide what the U.S. objectives are in Afghanistan and whether some of the current goals are too long-term and idealistic.

Perhaps the United States needs to scale back its objectives there for the next two to three years and focus above all on preventing Afghanistan from again becoming a safe haven for violent extremists, he said. That is easier said than done, he acknowledged, adding the solution cannot simply be military in nature.

"My biggest concern in Afghanistan is the history of foreign armies in Afghanistan going back to Alexander the Great. As long as the Afghan people see us as their friend and ally, as long as they see us as in this fight for them, as well as for ourselves, then I think we'll be OK," Gates said. "But if we get too many forces in there, if they come to see us as in it only for ourselves, and not as their ally, and they turn against us, then I think we cannot be successful."

The solution is to accelerate the growth of the Afghan army and get them in the lead with the United States in a supporting role, Gates opined.

By Sebastian Sprenger
December 17, 2008 at 5:00 AM

Defense Department officials working on the military's first-ever biometrics science and technology roadmap were concerned their forthcoming document might be perceived as merely another technical piece of writing amid the flurry of Pentagon roadmaps, plans, strategies and what-have-you.

So they decided to give it a bit more authoritative oomph by submitting it for review -- and, presumably, endorsement -- to the Defense Science and Technology and Advisory Group, or DSTAG. Membership on that panel includes senior S&T officials from the services, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the Joint Staff.

The blessing of jointness comes with a price, of course. It could still be months until the roadmap will be considered done, we're told.

By Christopher J. Castelli
December 17, 2008 at 5:00 AM

With little more than a month left in office, President Bush is scheduled today to visit the Army War College in Carlisle, PA, to talk about defense matters.

Early this afternoon, in the college’s Thorpe Hall, he is slated to deliver a speech about "national security, homeland security and the freedom agenda."

After the speech, he plans to meet privately with Army War College students.

By Dan Dupont
December 16, 2008 at 5:00 AM

Inside the Army this week runs a story on the service's transition efforts that's based on a briefing you should check out even if you're not all that interested in the Army.

Army Transition Briefing for Senior Leaders
In a Nov. 25, 2008, briefing prepared for senior service leaders, Army officials lay out the service's positions on the roles and missions review and the presidential transition. Note: The briefing is labeled "FOUO - DRAFT - PREDECISIONAL."

Why? Well, for one thing, it goes into some broad transition issues -- and it contains a handy chart laying out the transition POCs in each major service and department. (Page 8 in the .pdf version.)

Also: The briefing gives a status report on the roles and missions report and on the 5100.1 directive rewrite, two issues that cross service lines.

On that note, this story, from yesterday:

Pentagon Revises Definition of Military Services' Core Roles, Responsibilities

Dec. 15, 2008 -- The Defense Department today hammered out the final wrinkles in a new agreement outlining the core functions of each military service and U.S. Special Operations Command, setting the stage for Defense Secretary Robert Gates to send Congress the 2008 Quadrennial Roles and Missions Review report before Christmas, according to Pentagon officials.

Service and SOCOM representatives met and resolved their differences over language in what one service official calls a “big update” to the Defense Department directive that sets forth the functions of the military components, adding a section for the Coast Guard and another for SOCOM, these officials say.

The revision of Defense Department directive 5000.1, prepared by the services and the Joint Staff, was undertaken as part of a congressionally mandated assessment of the roles and missions of the services that also includes an assessment of five specific capability areas Congress asked the Pentagon to examine.

The updated directive does not outline any significant realignment of responsibilities among the services, each of which was invited to write the portion of the directive describing its contribution to the enterprise, according to Pentagon officials.

By Christopher J. Castelli
December 15, 2008 at 5:00 AM

President-elect Barack Obama is slated to hold a national security meeting in Chicago in today. The Obama camp says the meeting will include Vice President-elect Joe Biden, Secretary of State-designee Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Attorney General-designee Eric Holder, Secretary of Homeland Security-designee Janet Napolitano, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, Ambassador to the United Nations-designee Susan Rice, National Security Adviser-designee Jim Jones, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, White House Chief of Staff-designee Rahm Emanuel and White House Counsel designee Greg Craig.

At the end of the day, Obama is scheduled to hold a press conference at the Drake Hotel to discuss the nation's energy and environmental future. He will reportedly announce his environmental team.

By John Liang
December 15, 2008 at 5:00 AM

And you thought Wall Street was having a tough year? Check out some excerpts from this press release just issued by the Government Accountability Office:

For the 12th year in a row, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) was prevented from expressing an opinion on the consolidated financial statements of the U.S. government -- other than the Statement of Social Insurance -- because of numerous material internal control weaknesses and other limitations.

“While significant progress has been made in improving financial management since the federal government began preparing consolidated financial statements 12 years ago, three major impediments have continued to prevent us from rendering an opinion on the accrual basis consolidated financial statements over this period of time,” said Gene L Dodaro, Acting Comptroller General of the United States and head of the GAO. “Those include serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense, the federal government’s inability to adequately account for and reconcile intragovernmental activity and balances between federal agencies, and the federal government’s ineffective process for preparing the consolidated financial statements.” Dodaro also noted three additional material weaknesses related to improper payments, information security, and tax collection activities. Dodaro added that at least three major agencies did not get clean opinions – the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

“The need for reliable, high-quality financial information has never been greater,” Dodaro said, pointing out that much work remains to be done on improving the state of federal financial management. “Continued improvement needs to be a top priority of the new administration and Congress to help provide the financial accountability the public deserves and the information decision makers need to help evaluate government programs and manage the government in a cost-effective manner."

DOD earlier this month did release its "FY 2008 DOD Agency Financial Report (AFR)," in which it stated the following liabilities:

. . . the Department has significant unfunded liabilities consisting primarily of actuarial liabilities related to military retirement pension and health care benefits. While the liability presents the Department with a negative financial position, the majority of the unfunded portion will come from annual appropriations outside the Department’s budget. The FY 2008 actuarial liability estimate totaled $2.0 trillion of which $1.3 trillion will come from the U.S. Treasury to cover liabilities existing at inception of the programs. Approximately $378.9 billion is currently covered with invested U.S. Treasury securities. Due to the significant growth in liability in recent years, the Board of Actuaries accelerated the liquidation of the initial unfunded liabilities by reducing the amortization period thus increasing the annual contribution amounts from the U.S. Treasury.

By Christopher J. Castelli
December 15, 2008 at 5:00 AM

We've just posted a story on a new interim report by the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States. The panel is led by former Defense Secretary William Perry, an adviser to President-elect Barack Obama.

The report is the latest to discuss the possibility of a world without nuclear weapons. Notably, however, it acknowledges such a world is rather unlikely to show up any time soon. The Wall Street Journal took up that theme in an opinion piece published yesterday.

The commission's chairman is William Perry, a former Clinton Defense Secretary and a close Obama adviser. Mr. Perry is also one of the 'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,' the nickname given to him, George Shultz, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn for an op-ed published in these pages last year offering a blueprint for ridding the world of nuclear weapons.

The commission's interim report is due out any day now, and the advance word is that Mr. Perry has come back to Earth. We're told the report's central finding is that the U.S. will need a nuclear deterrent for the indefinite future. A deterrent is credible, the report further notes, only if enemies believe it will work. That means modernization.

By Sebastian Sprenger
December 12, 2008 at 5:00 AM

A few months ago, Defense Department officials announced plans to manage two of the 2009 Joint Capability Technology Demonstration candidates under the competitive prototyping approach, we reported last month. The idea was to "showcase" the merits of this much-touted acquisition technique, officials wrote in a September report.

But plans change. According to Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Darryn James, DOD no longer wants to try competitive prototyping on the High-Power Microwave Advanced Munitions Project (CHAMP). James said he had no information about what led to the decision.

Simply put, the project seeks to build an air vehicle emitting microwaves so powerful that they fry electronic equipment on the ground below. Exactly what that vehicle would look like is unclear. A formal announcement to industry, first released in October, talks of a Counter-electronics High-Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project -- as opposed to the term "munitions" that appears as part of the effort's name in other places.

According to a set of Air Force briefing slides from October, posted online, officials envision the vehicle to be some sort of fixed-wing craft capable of hovering over cities. (Note the graphic on page 18, including the types of buildings used in the illustration.)

The project's secrecy exceeds that of many other military high-tech efforts. Industry officials seeking a slice of the $40 million CHAMP development contract must be able to obtain the same types of clearances required for personnel working on atomic weapons, according to DOD's October notice to industry.

Defense officials still plan to pursue the Joint Medical Distant Support and Evacuation (JMDSE)  JCTD candidate as a competitive-prototyping effort, James said.

By Sebastian Sprenger
December 12, 2008 at 5:00 AM

The Army's Human Terrain Team program, which has repeatedly come under fire since its creation, is getting a shout-out from a counterinsurgency officer in Afghanistan. Army Col. John Agoglia, director of the Kabul-based Counterinsurgency Training Center-Afghanistan, told us in an interview last week he plans to soon integrate the teams' research into his organization's training curriculum.

Agoglia said he hasn't personally worked with any HTT personnel. But, he added, "the brigade commanders I've talked to felt they're getting very good information from them."

Under the HTT program, anthropologists deploy alongside U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan to facilitate troops' interactions with the local population.

But before CTC-A trainers can tap into the information gathered by HTT teams, officials must build the requisite information sharing infrastructure, including ways of exchanging secret information, Agoglia said.

"We need to get our pipes set up and we need to get our information sharing capabilities improved," the colonel said. "And then we'll start looking at what they have and start pulling them into the training we're doing at the center."

Wired magazine's Danger Room blog has chronicled some of the issues surrounding the HTT program here, here, and here.

A Human Terrain Team handbook, issued by the Army's Training and Doctrine Command in September, is posted here.

By Christopher J. Castelli
December 11, 2008 at 5:00 AM

President-elect Barack Obama will meet today in Chicago with former Secretaries of State James Baker and Warren Christopher, Chairmen of the National War Powers Commission.

This bipartisan panel , whose members include Lee Hamilton, former Attorney General Edwin Meese, Abner Mikva, former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, Anne-Marie Slaughter -- dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton -- and former Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, reviewed and made recommendations about the War Powers Act. Their report was released in July 2008. The meeting is being held at the request of the commission members.

In addition, Vice President-elect Joe Biden will be in Washington on Thursday and will have a private working breakfast with retired Marine Gen. Jim Jones, Obama's choice to be national security adviser, and Sen. Hillary Clinton, who is slated to become secretary of state.