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April 13 2013

April 15, 2013




Drone maker AeroVironment sputters as defense spending dries up

The Monrovia company, the Pentagon’s top supplier of small robotic planes over the last decade, is now hoping to diversify its customer base.

April 04, 2013|By W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times

At the height of the wars in the Middle East, AeroVironment Inc. — a drone maker based in Monrovia — soared into the public limelight.

In the last decade, AeroVironment became the Pentagon’s top supplier of small drones. Its financial balance sheet prospered, its drones delivered results and its technology landed on the cover of Time magazine as one of the year’s best inventions in 2011.

But these days, not so much.

Over the last month the company’s shares have plummeted more than 18% as federal spending begins to dry up and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan come to an end. It lowered its revenue guidance by nearly one-third, to $230 million to $250 million from $348 million to $370 million.

“We have seen delays in U.S. government procurement of our small unmanned aircraft systems … resulting from ongoing federal budget uncertainty,” AeroVironment Chief Executive Timothy E. Conver said. “Those delays impacted our current year results, requiring us to reduce our fiscal 2013 guidance in our third-quarter earnings release.”

Conver owns 12.7% of the company’s stock. Last year, he owned more than 14%.

The company’s small robotic planes, which are designed to fit into a soldier’s rucksack and then be tossed into the sky like a football, give troops on the ground a bird’s-eye view of what’s happening over a ridge or around a bend.

In March, AeroVironment posted that its drone sales for its fiscal third quarter fell 34.1%, to $37.7 million from $57.2 million in the same quarter last year. The company reported net income of $3.9 million, or 17 cents a share, for the quarter that ended Jan. 26. Analysts on average had forecast earnings of 37 cents a share.

Analysts at Arlington, Va.-based FBR Capital Markets said in a recent note to investors that AeroVironment is one of the defense companies most at risk and cut its target price for buying the stock in half.

“Based on the lower guidance and general head winds related to procurement and order timing, we are lowering our price target from $35 to $19,” the investment bank said.

AeroVironment shares rose 4 cents to $18.02 on Wednesday.

Few aviation buffs would have predicted that a company that initially started in 1971 as a research outfit that focused on solar and electric power technologies would become a major player in the fast-evolving world of tiny robotic planes.

Founded by the late aviation pioneer Paul B. MacCready, AeroVironment’s aviation ambitions began with attempts to win a much-needed $100,000 prize for the first human-powered airplane. It won the prize with Gossamer Condor, which hangs at the National Air and Space Museum.

MacCready then built the Gossamer Albatross, which crossed the English Channel on pedal power.

All the while, quietly in the company’s backrooms, engineers were also dabbling in a new frontier in aviation — making planes ever smaller and closer in design to small birds. That research paid off after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as the Pentagon began to look for ways to protect U.S. troops from elusive insurgents.

It wasn’t long after the World Trade Center twin towers fell in New York that the Pentagon went looking for new technology for the guerrilla-type warfare it would face in the Middle East.

When special forces units were dispatched in 2001 to the desolate outcroppings of Afghanistan to stalk and eradicate the Taliban, the commandos were outfitted with radios, night-vision goggles and automatic rifles. But they also carried a tiny robotic spy plane, so small it would fit in a backpack. The technology enabled them to avoid ambushes and pinpoint the location of enemy positions.

AeroVironment went on to develop an array of the small drones — including the Raven, Wasp, Puma and Switchblade models — that quickly became a staple of U.S. military operations. Its technology fueled the growth of the once-tiny company into a publicly traded defense contractor by 2007 with thousands of drones at work in the war zone.

The company’s annual sales went from $29.4 million before the war to $325 million last year. About 83% of AeroVironment’s revenue comes from the federal government.

Andrew Carolus, an investment banker with Mesirow Financial Holdings Inc., said larger defense companies have longer contracts, more diverse portfolios and are better-positioned to withstand the downturn in sales coming in the defense sector.

“AeroVironment is trying to find other ways to utilize their technology,” he said. “The company has exceptional engineering and has looked for ways to diversify for a while now.”

Although AeroVironment recognizes its reliance on the military, the company still has high hopes. It makes and sells charging systems for electric vehicles. For instance, it makes residential charging stations for the Nissan Leaf and continues to expand internationally.

The company, which makes its small spy drones in Simi Valley, hopes to diversify its customer base in the coming years with the Federal Aviation Administration’s impending introduction of regulations that would allow small drones into U.S. airspace in 2015.

Currently, drones are not allowed to fly in the U.S. except with special permission from the FAA. But as interest in drones has increased among police departments and businesses, the agency has appeared willing to ease restrictions.



Obama to propose cuts in federal retirement benefits

Federal Times

Apr. 5, 2013 – 11:03AM |



The White House on Wednesday will propose $35 billion in cuts to federal retirement benefits and reductions in retirees’ future pension increases as part of the fiscal 2014 budget.

In a written statement to Federal Times, a senior administration official said that its budget will include proposed savings from a deficit reduction plan the White House released last month. That plan calls for the government to “reform federal retirement programs” and projects it would save $35 billion.

The Obama administration did not post details about how it would reform federal retirements. But in the administration’s proposed fiscal 2013 budget, released last year, it called for increasing federal employees’ retirement contributions by 1.2 percentage points, phased in over three years. The administration said that would help cut the federal pension plans’ unfunded liabilities, which in 2011 hit $761.5 billion.

If approved, the White House proposal would increase the contributions of employees covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) and who were hired before 2013 from 0.8 percent to 2 percent. Employees covered by the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) would see their pension contributions go up from 7 percent to 8.2 percent. The government has already hiked the contributions of FERS employees hired beginning in 2013 to 3.1 percent, and it is unclear whether their contributions would be further increased.

The administration official said that President Obama also will propose switching to a less generous measure of inflation known as the chained Consumer Price Index. This would translate into lower cost-of-living adjustments for federal retirees’ pensions, and also reduce the growth in Social Security benefits.

The chained CPI is usually 0.25 to 0.30 percentage points lower each year, on average, than the standard CPI measurements that are used to determine COLAs. Switching to a lower CPI at first would mean a few hundred dollars less per year for federal retirees. But its effect would compound over the years until, eventually, some retirees would likely earn tens of thousands of dollars less than they would under the current method of setting COLAs.

Obama last year flirted with the chained CPI as part of a deal to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, but it was eventually taken off the table. Federal employee groups blasted the idea, calling it a faulty measure of inflation that does not account for seniors’ health care costs.

But critics of the government’s current method of setting inflationary rates say it does not account for changes in consumers’ buying habits as prices increase. For example, if apples become more expensive, most consumers will adjust by buying fewer apples or switching to a cheaper fruit. The chained CPI attempts to take those changes into account.

The White House said that Obama included the chained CPI proposal as part of an effort to compromise with Republicans.

Chained CPI and other unnamed proposals in the budget “were key Republican requests and not the president’s preferred approach,” the administration official said. “This is a compromise proposal built on common ground, and the president felt it was important to make it clear that the offer still stands.”

But federal employee groups such as the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association are dismayed by the White House’s decision to adopt the chained CPI.

“We are disappointed to learn that the president’s first proposed budget since his re-election will embrace a policy designed to balance the budget by cutting the earned benefits of America’s seniors, veterans and those with disabilities,” NARFE National President Joseph Beaudoin said Friday. “If President Obama endorses the chained CPI inflation formula to calculate the cost-of-living adjustments for Americans, as has been reported, he will be turning his back on the populations most in need of assistance.”


Retirement numbers continue outpacing projections

Federal Times

Apr. 5, 2013 – 03:09PM |


More than 10,000 federal employees submitted retirement claims in March — more than twice as many as the government expected.

According to statistics released Friday by the Office of Personnel Management, 10,183 feds retired last month. The government had predicted 5,000 feds would retire in March. And March’s retirement figures are well over the 7,090 who retired in March 2012.
Some experts think the continuing increases in monthly retirement figures show the government is experiencing a troubling retirement wave. So far, 52,744 employees have retired in 2013. That is almost 51 percent more than the 34,984 who retired in the first quarter of 2012, 66 percent higher than the 31,629 who retired in the first quarter of 2011, and nearly twice the number who retired in the first quarter of 2010.

February also saw an exceptionally large number of federal employees retire: 20,374. OPM attributed that to U.S. Postal Service buyouts. But experts also think that pay freezes, announced furloughs and the threat of more pay and benefits cuts are encouraging many older employees to retire.

OPM Director John Berry referred to the alarming increase in retirements during a March 20 labor-management partnership council meeting, where he warned that cracks are starting to show in the federal workforce’s recruitment and retention efforts.

“I’ve seen it this year just in terms of the number of retirements,” Berry said. “They are continuing to climb far beyond what we originally projected.”

Despite the surprising increase in retirements, the backlog of unprocessed pension claims declined in March, from 41,103 to 36,603. OPM processed 14,683 claims last month, far more than the 11,500 it expected to process.

Berry has vowed to fix the longstanding problem of federal retirees having to wait months for their full pensions. OPM will release a plan to automate pension processing as part of the fiscal 2014 budget April 10.



Why Sticks and Stones Will Beat Our Drones

The persistent dangers of low-tech warfare.



“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought,” Albert Einstein warned President Truman, “but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

It doesn’t do to quarrel with Einstein, and he’s no doubt right about World War IV. But implied in Einstein’s famous adage is an assumption that right up until the moment we knock ourselves back into the Stone Age, the technologies of warfare will evolve in one direction only: They will become ever more advanced, complex, sophisticated, and lethal.

Today, much rhetoric about future wars makes this assumption. We assume that military technological innovation is a one-way ratchet. High tech measures taken by one side will be followed by high-tech countermeasures taken by the other, which will be met with still more advanced counter-countermeasures, and so on, ad infinitum — or at least until some Einsteinian nuclear catastrophe ends the cycle, crashing us back to the age of sticks and stones.

But Einstein’s cautionary words overlook one detail: For all our technological sophistication, warfare has never truly moved past sticks and stones — and even today, their bone-breaking power remains surprisingly potent.


Technological Teleology

It’s easy to forget the continued role of sticks and stones. When we think of the history of warfare, we think in terms of perpetually advancing technologies. Certainly, history offers plentiful examples of escalating technological “measure, countermeasure, counter-countermeasure” cycles: As swords and spears grew more lethal, armor became heavier. As armor became heavier, horses were needed to increase speed and maneuverability, and the invention of the stirrup further increased the lethal effectiveness of mounted cavalry. The development of the long-bow enabled distance warfare and the decimation of mounted troops armed with swords and spears, but then guns and artillery displaced longbows, automatic weapons displaced single-shot weapons, and so on through the atom bomb — for which Einstein’s work so ambivalently paved the way.

Or consider electronic warfare. During World War II, for instance, Allied forces developed active sonar to locate submerged German U-Boats, while ship-based high-frequency radio direction finders were produced to intercept radio transmissions sent by surfaced U-Boats. Germany then equipped U-Boats with radar detectors, which led the Allies to deploy newly developed centimetric radar, which German radar detectors could not detect. In the context of aerial warfare, the evolution of radar systems to detect incoming aircraft led to the use of chaff and the development of radar jammers, which in turn led to new counter-countermeasures intended to making jamming more difficult, such as frequency hopping and radiation homing.

In each of these cases, technological innovation in warfare sparked new technological innovations by adversaries, and today, as in World War II, we’re often inclined to assume the inevitability of such technological escalation.

This is the assumption that underlies much current thinking about cyber-threats, as well as the Pentagon’s Air-Sea Battle paradigm. In cyber, the development of Internet-based communications systems is countered by the development of new methods of detecting and disrupting Internet communication; cyberattacks lead to new cyber-defenses, which lead to new and more sophisticated cyberattacks. The Air-Sea Battle paradigm is similarly premised on the assumption that technology marches forward: U.S. air and naval dominance incentivizes near-peer competitors — a.k.a. frenemies, a.k.a. China — to develop anti-access and area denial technologies. And so, the logic goes, we need to invest in anti-anti-access technologies, and technologies to deny area denial.

This, of course, just happens to take money, and lots of it. It also just happens to involve significant investment in the Air Force and Navy, the two services pushed to the sidelines, relatively speaking, during a decade of slow, plodding land war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fearing displacement themselves, the Army and Marines are pushing their own high-tech visions of their future. As Lloyd Freeman argued in these pages last week, the Marine Corps needs to transform itself, for “in future conflicts, [ground troops] will only play a secondary role. Land forces will no longer win wars. Computers, missiles, planes, and drones will.” In the future, argues Freeman, the old “every Marine a rifleman” slogan will need to be replaced with a new concept: “every Marine a JTAC” (joint terminal air controller). “Marines will manage and become experts on dozens of different communications platforms,” asserts Freeman. “Live video feeds will stream continuously.”


Maybe so, maybe not.

Here’s what we seem eager to forget: Military technological evolution can go in both directions. In biological evolution, there’s no teleology: The simple doesn’t inevitably become more complex, and while life forms change and evolve in response both to random mutation and environmental conditions, they don’t inevitably “advance.” In modern warfare, the same is true. High-tech measures aren’t inevitably countered by more high-tech measures. Sometimes, the opposite is true: The most successful countermeasures are low-tech — and historically, this has been demonstrated just as often as has the opposite.


We know this, of course. We just don’t like it.


Red meat chemical ‘damages heart’, say US scientists

By James Gallagher Health and science reporter, BBC News

7 April 2013 Last updated at 20:08 ET


A chemical found in red meat helps explain why eating too much steak, mince and bacon is bad for the heart, say US scientists.

A study in the journal Nature Medicine showed that carnitine in red meat was broken down by bacteria in the gut.

This kicked off a chain of events that resulted in higher levels of cholesterol and an increased risk of heart disease.

Dieticians warned there may be a risk to people taking carnitine supplements.

There has been a wealth of studies suggesting that regularly eating red meat may be damaging to health.

In the UK, the government recommends eating no more than 70g of red or processed meat a day – the equivalent of two slices of bacon.

Saturated fat and the way processed meat is preserved are thought to contribute to heart problems. However, this was not thought to be the whole story.

“I would strongly recommend that unless you’re a vegetarian or vegan, there is a potential risk from taking L-carnitine, lecithin, choline or betaine supplements in an attempt to ward off cognitive decline or improve fat metabolism ”

End Quote Catherine Collins Dietitian

“The cholesterol and saturated fat content of lean red meat is not that high, there’s something else contributing to increases in cardiovascular risk,” lead researcher Dr Stanley Hazen told the BBC.


Gut bugs

Experiments on mice and people showed that bacteria in the gut could eat carnitine.

Carnitine was broken down into a gas, which was converted in the liver to a chemical called TMAO.

In the study, TMAO was strongly linked with the build-up of fatty deposits in blood vessels, which can lead to heart disease and death.

Dr Hazen, from the Cleveland Clinic, said TMAO was often ignored: “It may be a waste product but it is significantly influencing cholesterol metabolism and the net effect leads to an accumulation of cholesterol.

“The findings support the idea that less red meat is better.

“I used to have red meat five days out of seven, now I have cut it way back to less than once every two weeks or so.”

He said the findings raised the idea of using a probiotic yogurt to change the balance of bacteria in the gut.

Reducing the number of bacteria that feed on carnitine would in theory reduce the health risks of red meat.

Vegetarians naturally have fewer bacteria which are able to break down carnitine than meat-eaters.

Victoria Taylor, Senior Dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This is certainly an interesting discovery and sheds some light on why red meat might have an impact on heart health.

“While the findings won’t necessarily mean a change to existing recommendations, these scientists have served up a good reminder for us to think about alternative sources of protein if we regularly eat a lot of red or processed meats.”

Catherine Collins, a dietitian at St George’s Hospital, said: “It’s a very persuasive argument, but we know that eating a couple of portions of red meat weekly is of no risk, heart wise.

“There’s no need to change our dietary recommendations from this – a Mediterranean-style diet with modest meat, fish, dairy and alcohol intake, coupled with more pulses, vegetables fruits, wholegrains and mono-unsaturated fats, remains the nutritional blueprint for a healthy and healthful life.

“But I would strongly recommend that unless you’re a vegetarian or vegan, there is a potential risk from taking L-carnitine, lecithin, choline or betaine supplements in an attempt to ward off cognitive decline or improve fat metabolism.

“If the evidence is confirmed these supplements would do more to damage arteries than provide health benefits.”


The drone age

8 April 2013


WASHINGTON – The dawn of the age of aerial civilian drones is rich with possibilities for people far from the war zones where they made their devastating mark as a weapon of choice against terrorists.

The unmanned, generally small aircraft can steer water and pesticides to crops with precision, saving farmers money while reducing environmental risk. They can inspect distant bridges, pipelines and power lines, and find hurricane victims stranded on rooftops.

Drones — some as tiny as a hummingbird — promise everyday benefits as broad as the sky is wide. But the drone industry and those eager to tap its potential are running headlong into fears the peeping-eye, go-anywhere technology will be misused.

Since January, drone-related legislation has been introduced in more than 30 states, largely in response to privacy concerns. Many of the bills would prevent police from using drones for broad public surveillance or to watch individuals without sufficient grounds to believe they were involved in crimes.

Stephen Ingley, executive director of the Airborne Law Enforcement Association, says resistance to the technology is frustrating. Drones “clearly have so much potential for saving lives, and it’s a darn shame we’re having to go through this right now,” he said.

But privacy advocates say now is the time to debate the proper use of civilian drones and set rules, before they become ubiquitous. Sentiment for curbing domestic drone use has brought the left and right together perhaps more than any other recent issue.

“The thought of government drones buzzing overhead and constantly monitoring the activities of law-abiding citizens runs contrary to the notion of what it means to live in a free society,” Sen. Charles Grassley, a Republican, said at a recent hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

With military budgets shrinking, drone makers have been counting on the civilian market to spur the industry’s growth. Some companies that make drones or supply support equipment and services say the uncertainty has caused them to put U.S. expansion plans on hold, and they are looking overseas for new markets.

“Our lack of success in educating the public about unmanned aircraft is coming back to bite us,” said Robert Fitzgerald, chief executive of the BOSH Group, which provides support services to drone users.

“The U.S. has been at the lead of this technology a long time,” he said. “If our government holds back this technology, there’s the freedom to move elsewhere . . . and all of a sudden these things will be flying everywhere else and competing with us.”

Law enforcement is expected to be one of the bigger initial markets for civilian drones. Last month, the FBI used drones to maintain continuous surveillance of a bunker in Alabama where a 5-year-old boy was being held hostage.

In Virginia, the state General Assembly passed a bill that would place a two-year moratorium on the use of drones by state and local law enforcement. The measure is supported by groups as varied as the American Civil Liberties Union on the left and the Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation on the right.

Gov. Bob McDonnell is proposing amendments that would retain the broad ban on spy drones but allow specific exemptions when lives are in danger, such as for search-and-rescue operations.

Seattle abandoned its drone program after community protests in February. The city’s police department had purchased two drones through a federal grant without consulting the city council.

In Congress, Rep. Ed Markey, a Democrat and cochairman of the House’s privacy caucus, has introduced a bill that prohibits the Federal Aviation Administration from issuing drone licenses unless the applicant provides a statement explaining who will operate the drone, where it will be flown, what kind of data will be collected, how the data will be used, whether the information will be sold to third parties and the period for which the information will be retained.

Privacy advocates acknowledge the many benign uses of drones. In Mesa County, Colorado, for example, an annual landfill survey using manned aircraft cost about $10,000. The county recently performed the same survey using a drone for about $200.

Drones can help police departments find missing people, reconstruct traffic accidents and act as lookouts for police special tactics teams. Real estate agents can have them film videos of properties and surrounding neighborhoods, offering clients a better-than-bird’s-eye view — though one that neighbors may not wish to have shared.

“Any legislation that restricts the use of this kind of capability to serve the public is putting the public at risk,” said Steve Gitlin, vice president of AeroVironment, a leading maker of smaller drones.

Yet the virtues of drones can also make them dangerous, privacy advocates say. The low cost and ease of use may encourage police and others to conduct the kind of continuous or intrusive surveillance that might otherwise be impractical.

Drones can be equipped with high-powered cameras and listening devices, and infrared cameras that can see people in the dark.

“High-rise buildings, security fences or even the walls of a building are not barriers to increasingly common drone technology,” Amie Stepanovich, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Council’s surveillance project, told the Senate panel.

Civilian drone use is limited to government agencies and public universities that have received a few hundred permits from the Federal Aviation Administration. A law passed by Congress last year requires the FAA to open U.S. skies to widespread drone flights by 2015, but the agency is behind schedule and it is doubtful it will meet that deadline. Lawmakers and industry officials have complained for years about the FAA’s slow progress.

The FAA estimates that within five years of gaining broader access about 7,500 civilian drones will be in use.

Although the Supreme Court has not dealt directly with drones, it has approved aerial surveillance without warrants in drug cases in which officers in a plane or helicopter spotted marijuana plants growing on a suspect’s property.

But in a case involving the use of ground-based equipment, the court said police generally need a warrant before using a thermal imaging device to detect hot spots in a home that might indicate that marijuana plants are being grown there.

In some states economic concerns have trumped public unease. In Oklahoma, an antidrone bill was shelved at the request of Republican Gov. Mary Fallin, who was concerned it might hinder growth of the state’s drone industry. The North Dakota state Senate killed a drone bill in part because it might impede the state’s chances of being selected by the FAA as one of six national drone test sites, which could generate local jobs.

A bill that would have limited the ability of state and local governments to use drones died in the Washington legislature. The measure was opposed by the Boeing Co., which employs more than 80,000 workers in the state and which has a subsidiary, Insitu, that is a leading military drone manufacturer.

Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican, recently drew attention to the domestic use of drones when he staged a 13-hour speech, demanding to know whether the president has authority to use weaponized drones to kill Americans on American soil. The White House said no, if the person isn’t engaged in combat. Industry officials worry that the episode could temporarily set back civilian drone use.

“The opposition has become very loud,” said Gitlin of AeroVironment, “but we are confident that over time the benefits of these solutions are going to far outweigh the concerns, and they’ll become part of normal life in the future.”


U.S. Air Force designates six cybertools as weapons

New designations should allow the programs to better compete for increasingly scarce Pentagon funding, an official says.

by Steven Musil

April 8, 2013 8:51 PM PDT


Six cybertools have been designated as weapons by the U.S. Air Force, allowing the programs to better compete for increasingly scarce Pentagon funding, an Air Force official said on Monday.

Lt. Gen. John Hyten, vice commander of Air Force Space Command, told a conference held in conjunction with the National Space Symposium that the new designations would boost the profile of the military’s cyberoperations as countries grapple with attacks originating from the Internet.

“This means that the game-changing capability that cyber is, is going to get more attention and the recognition that it deserves,” Hyten told conference attendees, according to a Reuters account of the speech. “It’s very, very hard to compete for resources. … You have to be able to make that case.”

Hyten, who said the Air Force was working to integrate cybercapabilities with other weapons, offered no details on the new cyber weapons.

The Air Force plans to increase its cyber workforce by 20 percent, adding 1,200 people to its current 6,000, he said.

“We have to do this quickly. We cannot wait,” he said.

It’s widely believed that the United States and Israel created Stuxnet, a sophisticated computer virus that attacked a nuclear enrichment facility in Iran in 2010. Rather than steal data, Stuxnet left a backdoor, meant to be accessed remotely, to allow outsiders to stealthily knock the facility offline and at least temporarily cripple Iran’s nuclear program.

U.S. officials have blamed Iran for creating the Shamoon virus, which was responsible for a cyberattack that infected more than 30,000 computers at Saudi Arabian oil company Saudi Aramco and Qatar’s natural gas firm Rasgas in mid-August.



Navy set to deploy laser aboard Ponce

by Kris Osborn on April 8, 2013


The Navy will deploy a high-energy, solid-state directed energy, or “laser” weapon early next year on board the amphibious transport dock Ponce, Navy officials said Monday.

This will be the first such deployment of the Navy’s Laser Weapons System after it completed test shots last summer aboard the destroyer Dewey. The laser targeted fast boats and unmanned drones in the tests completed in the Pacific off the California coast.

Navy leaders have spent $40 million developing the solid-state laser weapons system over the past six years. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Greenert displayed a video of the laser weapons system at the Sea Air Space Expo on Monday at National Harbor, Md.

The laser weapon system began as a developmental effort by the U.S. Naval Sea Command and the Office of Naval Research.

“The CNO has tasked us to move this capability into the operational domain,” said Rear Adm. Matthew L. Klunder, Chief of Naval Research.”This is a new innovative technology to give sailors and Marines the advantage they need for the current and future fight.”

The idea is deploy a low-cost, high-energy effective weapon against a range of potential threats, including enemy drones, fast-attack boats and what is referred to as small boat swarm attacks wherein large numbers of small watercraft attack simultaneously.

The laser weapon system uses heat energy from the laser to destroy targets, Klunder explained. Each round is remarkably cheap compared to other forms of ammunition.

“One round of directed energy is equivalent to one U.S. dollar. This is real data for real performance,” Klunder said.

In fact, the laser weapons system can easily integrate with the electronics on-board Navy ships, most of which produce more than enough electrical power to support the weapon, said Rear Adm. Thomas J. Eccles, chief engineer and deputy commander for Naval Systems Engineering.

Thus far, the laser weapons system is a perfect 12 for 12 in test shots, said Eccles. At the Expo, senior Navy officers showed a video of a successful test engagement involving a test-firing of the laser weapon system on board the Dewey. The weapon successfully incinerated a “dummy” or mock UAS target.

The directed energy power emitted from the laser can be adjusted to lethal and non-lethal modes — giving ship commanders a range of options when it comes to executing their missions, Eccles said.

In fact, the senior Navy leaders explained that laser or directed energy weapons are likely to increase in use in the future as a way to supplement kinetic weapons or solutions, Navy leaders explained.

“As we look at a future of more and more energetic weapons like this, you can see efficiencies gained in a number of ways,” Klunder said.

Read more:




Hagel: ‘Everything on the table’

Apr. 8, 2013 – 09:33AM |



Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s call last week to overhaul the military structure focused on three primary Pentagon cost drivers: acquisition, personnel and overhead.

“I would say amen, alleluia, because [Hagel] has zeroed in on the bull’s-eye on the three areas that need to be looked at the hardest and reformed the most,” said Arnold Punaro, a retired Marine Corps major general, now a consultant member of the Defense Business Board.

These areas identified by Hagel, who has been Defense secretary for a little more than a month, have received more attention of late, particularly as the Pentagon’s budget faces a $500 billion cut from planned levels over the next decade.

Experts say the Pentagon should have been considering these types of changes even when budgets were increasing, but the current decline in federal spending now could drive major DoD reforms, even those unpopular with Congress.

During his first major policy address as Defense secretary, Hagel put DoD on notice.

“We need to challenge all past assumptions, and we need to put everything on the table,” Hagel said April 3 at the National Defense University.

Among those items on the table are weapon programs. Hagel said he is concerned the military’s modernization strategy depends on systems that are “vastly more expensive and technologically risky than what was promised or budgeted for.”

A powerful oversight group led by Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is looking at ways to put Hagel’s plans into action.

The so-called Strategic Choices and Management Review is looking at the Pentagon’s year-old military strategy to determine how planned budget cuts will affect DoD’s ability to carry out its missions. The panel is expected to report back to Hagel by the end of May.

Hagel’s speech comes at a time when the Pentagon must cut $41 billion from its 2013 budget over the next six months, with even more cuts looming.

The Pentagon is planning to submit its budget to Congress on April 10. That budget request is expected to be about $50 billion above the $475 billion cap mandated by the Budget Control Act, according to Todd Harrison, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington.

However, the items on Hagel’s reform agenda likely will not be addressed until the Pentagon submits its 2015 budget proposal next year. This is because the Pentagon’s 2014 budget was built before sequestration was triggered March 1 and the Strategic Choices and Management Review will not be complete until the end of May.

Rising acquisition, personnel and overhead costs have been crowding out other portions of the Pentagon’s budget, especially over the past decade.

Hagel “has apparently concluded that if he doesn’t focus on significant reforms in those three areas, we’re not going to have the defense capabilities we need down the road,” Punaro said.


Punaro, a former Senate Armed Services Committee staff director, played a major role in the construction of the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act, which reorganized the Defense Department by increasing jointness among the military services and establishing clear operational chains of command.

The Pentagon’s overhead costs, particularly the size of the organizations and agencies that support the fighting force, which Hagel referred to in his speech as the “back office,” have ballooned, according to Punaro. At the same time, the size of that fighting force has declined.

“The tooth-to-tail ratio, which was not great to start with, has gotten worse,” Punaro said.

Hagel said the Pentagon “should never be” run like a corporation but can learn from the private sector when it comes to reducing layers of middle and upper management.

“We need to examine whether DoD is structured and incentivized to ask for more and do more, and that entails taking a hard look at requirements — how they are generated, and where they are generated from,” he said.

Data shows the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Defense agencies and combatant commands account for more than 240,000 people who consume about $113 billion of the defense budget annually, Punaro said. These figures do not include contractors.

“We need to relook at funding for these activities, which won’t be easy,” Hagel said.

Moreover, Hagel said that despite shrinking in size dramatically during the 1990s following the end of the Cold War, the military has not adapted, as large commands led by three- and four-star generals and elaborate support structures have remained intact.

“If you’re able to do that in a way that eliminates levels of hierarchy, flattens it a bit and reduces your headquarters staffs, that could save you some money for real,” Harrison said during an April 5 briefing.

Harrison noted this type of excess Cold War structure is an area the Pentagon should address in the upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review.

“Left unchecked, spiraling costs to sustain existing structures and institutions, provide benefits to personnel and develop replacements for aging weapon platforms will eventually crowd out spending on procurement, operations and readiness — the budget categories that enable the military to be and stay prepared,” he said.

In the past 10 years, DoD has added more than 100,000 civilian employees, Punaro said.

One way to drive the changes is by reducing funding, said Gordon Adams, who oversaw defense budgets at the Office of Management Budget during the Clinton administration and is now a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center think tank.

“The way you get at the overhead is by removing the funding,” he said.

DoD officials, watchdog groups and analysts often point to over-budget and delayed acquisition programs as places to trim.

“What makes it compelling now is people are really beginning to understand that we’ve got to get more bang for the buck for the dollars we spend,” Punaro said.

For several months, Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s acquisition chief, has been rewriting the DoD weapon buying framework to simplify the now-laborious process.

Personnel costs, which have doubled over the last 10 years, also have driven cost increases, Punaro said.


If personnel costs grow at 2.6 percent — about 2 percent below the current average — over the next decade, they will consume about 46 percent of the defense budget in 2021, Harrison said. This assumes current defense budget caps are still in play.

Punaro, who has studied these costs extensively, said changes in this area must be phased in.

“Because of the accrual funds that we pay the military retirement and to the health care accrual for the 2.4 million that are now retired, you could save half of the sequester cut in the next 10 years if you just change the formula for people 20 years out, and you wouldn’t have to cut a ship or a plane or a tank or a bayonet or a bullet,” he said.

Now that Hagel has laid out his ambitious goals, the questions become: Can he deliver, and how long will it take?

Instituting these types of changes takes time, from three to five years, experts said.

“The number of years is not magic,” Adams said. “The stick-to-it-iveness is.”

The Goldwater-Nichols reforms of the 1980s took between three and four years to complete, Punaro said, and involved think tanks, retired military officials and lawmakers from the House and Senate. Numerous studies were conducted and those involved needed to spend time educating all parties on the challenges.

Congress must play a major role. Hours after Hagel’s speech last week, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon, a Republican from California and opponent of Hagel’s confirmation, said he looks “forward to working with Secretary Hagel to reform these institutions.”

“Many of the measures he recommends, like transforming outdated bureaucracies and cumbersome acquisition processes, are long overdue and should be executed absent the military’s current resource crisis,” he said.

The magnitude and scope of the changes sought cannot be achieved overnight, and unlike the Goldwater-Nichols era, the military now faces more immediate cuts to its budget.

“The bottom line here is, can he discipline the services?” Adams said. “The back office, which is where the money is, belongs to the services.”

Hagel needs to send a message to the Pentagon’s senior leadership that he is serious about the reforms, Punaro said.

“He’s just going to have to be a bureaucracy buster,” he said. “That’s about the only way you get this stuff done.”

Hagel must keep these goals on the front burner and maintain full control of the effort.

“It won’t happen if he lets it drift, if he lets other people do it, if he doesn’t focus on it every week; we’ll end up with a peanut-butter spread,” Adams said referring to equal spreading of the budget cuts across DoD. “He’s got to become Chuck the Knife.”



U.S. Delays Missile Test To Cool N. Korea Tensions


Apr. 7, 2013 – 12:14PM |

By JUNG HA-WON, Agence France-Presse | Comments

SEOUL — The U.S. has delayed an intercontinental ballistic missile test to avoid stoking tensions with North Korea, as fears escalated that weeks of angry rhetoric could erupt into conflict on the Korean Peninsula.


The Pentagon’s disclosure that it would reschedule the test due in California next week comes as the international community grows increasingly nervous that the situation could spiral out of control.

A U.S. defense official said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel postponed the Minuteman 3 test at Vandenberg Air Force Base until next month due to concerns it “might be misconstrued by some as suggesting that we were intending to exacerbate the current crisis with North Korea”.

“We wanted to avoid that misperception or manipulation,” the U.S. official told AFP. “We are committed to testing our ICBMs to ensure a safe, secure, effective nuclear arsenal.”

North Korea, incensed by UN sanctions following its nuclear and missile tests and by South Korean-U.S. military drills, has issued a series of apocalyptic threats of nuclear war in recent weeks.

It has also reportedly loaded two intermediate-range missiles on mobile launchers and hidden them in underground facilities near its east coast, raising speculation it is preparing for a provocative launch.

Foreign diplomats in Pyongyang huddled at the weekend to discuss a warning from the North’s authorities that their safety could not be guaranteed after April 10 if a conflict broke out.

Most of their governments have made it clear they have no immediate plans to withdraw personnel, and some suggested the advisory was a ruse to fuel growing global anxiety over the crisis.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Sunday he saw no immediate need to withdraw his country’s diplomats. Hague also told the BBC the North is showing no sign of gearing up for “all-out conflict” by repositioning its armed forces, and called for calm.

The top national security adviser to South Korea’s President Park Geun-Hye said Sunday the warning was another ploy to force the South and the United States to reach out with face-saving concessions.

“We believe the North is trying to turn the situation around by making the U.S. send a special envoy, the South to offer dialogue and China or Russia to act as a mediator,” Kim Jang-Soo said.


China is the North’s sole major ally but its patience with Pyongyang shows signs of wearing thin.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China opposes “provocative words and actions” from any party in the region and would “not allow troublemaking on China’s doorstep”, in sharply worded comments Saturday to UN chief Ban Ki-moon.

South Korea’s Kim, a former defense minister, warned a missile launch by the North was possible around the April 10 date given to foreign embassies, but said there was no sign it is preparing for a ruinous full-scale conflict.

The North’s mobilized missiles are reported to be untested Musudan models which are believed to have a range of around 1,860 miles (3,000 kilometers) that could theoretically be pushed to 2,485 miles with a light payload.

That would cover any target in South Korea and Japan, and possibly even reach U.S. military bases on the Pacific island of Guam.

The North has no proven inter-continental ballistic missile capability that would enable it to strike more distant U.S. targets, and many experts say it is unlikely it can even mount a nuclear warhead on a mid-range missile.

After non-stop escalation including the public deployment of U.S. warships and planes to the region, the Pentagon move was a welcome measure to cool tensions, said Yang Moo-Jin from Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies.

“The U.S. military may have felt that now was the time to pace itself after weeks of hectic military confrontation,” he told AFP.

“If the North really launches intermediate-range missiles as widely feared, the U.S. may be partially blamed for having pushed it to take such drastic action by deploying extremely threatening weaponry near the Korean peninsula.”

Western tourists returning from organized tours in Pyongyang — which have continued despite the tensions — said the situation there appeared calm.

“We’re glad to be back but we didn’t feel frightened when we were there,” said Tina Krabbe, from Denmark.

North Korea on Wednesday put in place a ban on South Koreans accessing their companies in the Seoul-funded Kaesong industrial zone on the North side of the border. There are no cross-trips on Sundays.

The estate is the only surviving example of inter-Korean cooperation and seen as a bellwether for stability.

But Seoul said Sunday that 13 South Korean firms there had so far been forced to suspend production because of a shortage of materials or personnel.


USAF Space Command Chief: Budget Cuts Force Hard Choices

April 9, 2013


COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Budget cuts and growing threats have forced the U.S. to a “fork in the road” when it comes to space policy, the head of Air Force Space Command said Tuesday.

“Every military operation, no matter how small, no matter how large, all the way from humanitarian operations through full-scale major combat operations, depend heavily on space operations,” Gen. William Shelton told a packed crowd at the 29th annual National Space Symposium here.

Maintaining that technology is key to American national security, Shelton said, but dominance is no longer assured.

“There are storm clouds that are on the horizon. Space was once a benign, much less crowded place,” Shelton warned the audience. “That’s no longer true.”

He said models show that more than 500,000 man-made objects are in orbit today, with U.S. systems tracking “less than” 5 percent. Most of those objects are too small to be picked up by current sensors, but represent potentially catastrophic dangers to satellites.

“We’ve got to get better at debris mitigation, we’ve got to get better at tracking this debris.”

In addition to the risk of accidental damage from space junk, Shelton warned of counterspace technologies from foreign enemies. Those include GPS jamming, laser weapons and kinetic-kill anti-satellite weapons.

“These aren’t just imaginary threats,” Shelton said, mentioning the successful Chinese anti-satellite missile test in 2007. In fact, debris from that 2007 test recently got within 23 meters of a non-maneuverable space craft.

Shelton quickly acknowledged the impact of budget cuts, opening up his speech with a public apology to the audience “on behalf of the federal government that we can’t have everyone here that we would like to have here.

“I think everyone understands the financial situation and why those decisions were taken to not allow people to travel here from the various government agencies, but I have to tell you, personally and professionally, I find this very embarrassing,” Shelton said. “So my apologies, from everyone who would like to be here but couldn’t.”

The budget situation will force the Air Force to make decisions about its space strategy, and while “status quo is an option, but to me, it’s not a very good option,” Shelton said. “I think we’re at a fork in the road. This time that we’re in, to me, absolutely begs for a change.

“I’ll be advocating for space, but there will be lots of other people, just at the Air Force table, advocating for their priorities, as well,” Shelton said. “So it will be a very difficult time over the next few years here as we decide what our new priorities are with reduced budgets, what our new strategies are across the Department of Defense.”


Sequestration Forces Choices

Talking to reporters after his speech, Shelton provided some details on the impact of sequestration on his programs. In addition to potential furloughs of up to 14 days for civilian works, Shelton said a third of the receivers used for the space fence program have been put in cold storage for the remainder of the year. That means the eastern part of the United States is no longer covered by the space fence program, which provides surveillance of objects flying over the continental United States.

A radar at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is capable of countering that loss, Shelton said, but doing so takes that radar out of its regular rotation.

“So there’s some risk we’re taking here, but it’s prudent risk,” he said.

The USAF is “very close” to being in a position to award a contract for the next version of space fence, Shelton said. But whether it will survive in the budget is unclear.

“The question for the space fence follow-on, the new space fence if you will, is ‘is this a priority investment for the future?’,” Shelton said.

“You kind of run into the misfortune of being at a certain point in the acquisition program when people are really talking about serious budget reductions. So that is one of those programs that is at a point [where] it is not yet on contract, and some serious decisions need to be made in terms of priorities, whether or not that’s a capability we want to invest in for the future.”

Shelton also talked about reductions to the missile warning network. A radar in North Dakota is being reduced to eight hours a day of usage, he said.

Another radar on the Aleutian islands was scheduled to go to quarter power, which would be “adequate” for missile warning but would harm its space surveillance mission. However, it was left at full power because of the rising tensions with North Korea. Leaving that satellite at full power for 2013 will cost $5 million, Shelton said.

“Obviously, the entire Department of Defense, us included, are paying very close attention to the provocations from the North Koreans,” Shelton said.

Despite these challenges, Shelton said sequestration is unlikely to impact a plan to buy bulk launches from the United Launch Alliance, a good sign for the Air Force as it looks for ways to lower launch costs for government satellites.

Shelton also expressed confidence that current contracts would not need to be renegotiated this year. However, if reductions continue past fiscal 2014, “we will be in a place where we have to look at literally every contract.”

Like other top Air Force officials, Shelton described looming budget decisions as a trade-off between readiness and modernization. With the current budget, it is impossible to maintain the ability to mobilize armed forces at a moment’s notice while simultaneously upgrading outdated systems.


What’s in Obama’s budget

By Jeanne Sahadi @CNNMoneyApril 10, 2013: 7:14 AM ET


President Obama on Wednesday will propose a $3.77 trillion budget for 2014 that would cut deficits by $1.8 trillion over the next decade, according to senior administration officials.

Obama’s budget blueprint — which has already drawn criticism from the left and the right — will offer changes to Medicare and Social Security. It will also include tax increases that would primarily hit high-income households and corporations.

The plan will call for greater spending on infrastructure, early childhood education and nondefense research. Those investments would be paid for by other measures so that they don’t add to deficits, officials said.

The president’s budget is late this year, coming after the Senate and House have each passed separate and very different 2014 budget frameworks.

While it’s not expected to fly on Capitol Hill, Obama’s budget nonetheless sets an important marker for continuing debt talks with lawmakers.

Boost infrastructure spending: The president’s budget will call for a $50 billion investment to, among other things, repair highways, bridges, transit systems and airports. He would also create a National Infrastructure Bank to bring together public and private capital for important projects.

Change how inflation is measured: Obama has already gotten blasted from the left for supporting a switch to “chained CPI,” which is a new way to measure inflation that would reduce projected federal spending by slowing the growth in federal benefits that are annually adjusted for cost of living. Those include Social Security benefits.

His budget, however, will also call for ways to compensate for the change for low-income veterans, recipients of Supplemental Security Income and the oldest Social Security beneficiaries, a senior administration official said.

Chained CPI would also raise more revenue, since many parts of the tax code are adjusted for inflation every year — including income tax brackets, the standard deduction and contribution limits to 401(k)s.

By 2020, the use of chained CPI could mean an average tax increase of $311 among the nearly 81% of households that would see a tax increase, the Tax Policy Center estimates.

Cap value of itemized deductions: As he has proposed before, the president wants to limit the value of itemized deductions and exclusions for high-income households.

Normally a taxpayer multiplies her top tax rate by the amount of a deduction to calculate the taxes saved. But Obama would cap that rate at 28%, which is below the top two income tax rates. So someone in the 39.6% bracket today would save $39.60 on a $100 deduction. Under Obama’s proposal, she would save $28.

Enact a Buffett Rule: Last year, Obama proposed the “Buffett Rule” as a guiding principle for tax reform.

The idea: to make sure that people earning more than $1 million paid their “fair share” of federal tax — which he defined as a minimum of 30%.

This year, he will include a more concrete version similar to one proposed in a bill last year by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, according to a senior official.

The Senate legislation would impose a minimum 30% effective federal tax rate on those with adjusted gross incomes above $1 million, although it phases in for those making between $1 million and $2 million.

Taxpayers subject to the Buffett Rule would still get a break for charitable deductions when calculating what they would owe under the Buffett Rule.

Impose new limit on tax-deferred retirement accounts: Among his new tax measures, Obama would set a limit on the tax-advantaged portion of an individual’s savings across IRAs and other tax-preferred retirement accounts.

The account balance threshold would be based on what could finance an annuity of $205,000 a year in retirement. In 2013, that would be $3 million, the administration estimates.

At that threshold, the proposal would affect far less than 1% of IRA and 401(k) account holders, according to estimates from the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Depending on how the threshold is adjusted in future years, however, that percentage could rise significantly.

Raise tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products: To fund expanded access to pre-K education, an idea raised in the State of the Union address, Obama will propose a new federal tax on cigarette and other tobacco products.

It won’t be the first time. In 2009, he signed into law a federal tax increase on cigarettes to help pay for an expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides health care for 8 million children.

Raise tax rate on investment fund manager income: Managers of private equity, venture capital and hedge funds are taxed 20% on the portion of their compensation known as carried interest, essentially paying the long-term capital gain rate. Obama wants carried interest to be treated as ordinary income. The result: fund managers could pay a rate as high as 39.6%, or more than 2.5 times the rate they pay now.

Reduce deficits by $1.8 trillion: Obama’s debt reduction proposal comes straight from an offer he made to House Speaker John Boehner last year during their fiscal cliff negotiations.

The proposal would replace the automatic budget cuts that went into effect last month.

Close to $600 billion of the $1.8 trillion would come from new revenue — specifically the cap on itemized deductions and the Buffett Rule.

The other $1.2 trillion would come from spending cuts: $200 billion from defense and nondefense programs on the discretionary side of the budget. Another $400 billion from Medicare and other federal health programs in ways that largely affect hospitals and drug companies. And $600 billion in cuts affecting non-health spending on things like agricultural subsidies and unemployment insurance.

A senior administration official characterized Obama’s offer to Boehner, which these measures represent, not as a starting point for talks but a “sticking point,” noting that if Republicans can’t agree to include revenue as part of any negotiated package “there will be no deal.”

It is unlikely the president’s proposals will be adopted wholesale. But if they were, his budget would bring total deficit reduction in his tenure to $4.3 trillion.


Reduced Flying Hours Forces USAF To Ground 17 Combat Air Squadrons

Defense News

Apr. 8, 2013 – 07:41PM |



The U.S. Air Force will begin grounding combat air squadrons Tuesday in response to forced spending cuts that have eliminated more than 44,000 flying hours through September, according to internal documents obtained by Defense News.

The Air Force’s budget for flying hours was reduced by $591 million for the remainder of fiscal 2013, making it impossible to keep all squadrons ready for combat, according to an April 5 memo signed by Maj. Gen. Charles Lyon, director of operations for Air Combat Command. The across-the board spending cuts, called sequestration, took effect March 1 when Congress failed to agree on a deficit-reduction plan.

Seventeen combat-coded squadrons will stand down effective Tuesday or upon their return from deployments, according to the documents. The Air Force will distribute 241,496 flying hours that are funded to squadrons that will be kept combat ready or at a reduced readiness level called “basic mission capable” for part or all of the remaining months in fiscal 2013, the documents said.

“Units will stand down on a rotating basis so our limited resources can be focused on fulfilling critical missions,” ACC Commander Gen. Mike Hostage said in a statement.

The grounding includes F-22s from the 1st Fighter Wing’s 94th Fighter Squadron at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. The squadron is returning from a deployment to the Pacific where airmen participated in a high-profile exercise in South Korea. Other squadrons to stand down when they return to the U.S. include F-16s from the 4th Fighter Squadron at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, which is returning from a deployment in the Pacific; B-1B Lancers from the 34th and 37th Bomb Squadrons at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D.; and A-10s from the 354th Fighter Squadron, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.

The other grounded units include B-52s from the 2nd and 5th Bomb Wings, F-15Es from the 336th, 492nd, 494th and 391s Fighter Squadrons; F-16s from the 77th Fighter Squadron, 555th Fighter Squadron, 18th Aggressor Squadron and the Thunderbirds; and A-10s from the 81st Fighter Squadron, which will close as a result of the fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.

Grounded associate units — Active units sharing aircraft with Air National Guard and Reserve units — include the 158th, 169th, 187th, 442nd and 917th squadrons.

Any flying hours not used by the grounded squadrons will be reallocated to meet Air Combat Command requirements. Additionally, all combat aircraft will stand down the last seven operation and maintenance days in September, the memo said.

“Historically, the Air Force has not operated under a tiered readiness construct because of the need to respond to any crisis within a matter of hours or days,” Hostage said in the statement. “The current situation means we’re accepting the risk that combat airpower may not be ready to respond immediately to new contingencies as they occur.”

Air Force officials had warned that mandatory budget cuts would lead to a reduction of flying hours by 18 percent, with readiness dropping to “sub-optimal levels,” according to information provided to Congress. The drop in flying hours would mean that it could take up to six months to repair the damage to readiness, the Air Force warned lawmakers in a February presentation.

Average aircrews lose currency to fly combat missions within 90 to 120 days of being grounded, and it takes from 60 to 90 days to conduct training to return aircrews o mission-ready status, according to Air Combat Command

“We’re entering uncharted territory in terms of how we’ve had to take this year’s cuts and make adjustments to mitigate the most serious impacts,” Hostage said. “Remaining as mission-ready as possible for combatant commanders is our priority, and we’re prioritizing spending to ensure this imperative is met.”

Air Combat Command officials announced a stand down and reallocation of flying hours for the rest of the fiscal year due to mandatory budget cuts. The limitation of flying hours means squadrons will stand down or maintain readiness at the reduced “basic mission capable” level, while others will remain at full “combat mission ready.”

The affected aircraft and units, by airframe:



94th Fighter Squadron — Grounded April 9

27th Fighter Squadron — Basic mission capable through September

3rd Fighter Wing — Two squadrons combat mission ready through September

15th Wing — One squadron combat mission ready through September

49th Wing — One squadron combat mission ready through September


F-15 C/D

67th Fighter Squadron — Basic mission capable through September

44th Fighter Squadron — Basic mission capable through July, then Combat mission ready through September

48th Fighter Wing — One squadron combat mission ready through September



336th Fighter Squadron — Grounded April 9

335th Fighter Squadron — Combat mission ready through September

48th Fighter Wing — Two squadrons stand down April 9

391st Fighter Squadron — Stands down April 9


F-16 C/D

8th Fighter Wing — Two squadrons combat mission ready through September

77th Fighter Squadron — Stands down April 9

55th Fighter Squadron — Combat mission ready through September

79th Fighter Squadron — Basic mission capable through July, then combat mission ready through September

555th Fighter Squadron — Stands down April 9

510th Fighter Squadron — Combat mission ready through September

13th Fighter Squadron — Combat mission ready through September

14th Fighter Squadron — Basic mission capable through September

51st Wing — One squadron combat mission ready through September

57th Wing — One squadron (Thunderbirds) stands down April 9

158th Fighter Wing — One squadron stands down April 9

169th Fighter Wing — One squadron stands down April 9

187th Fighter Wing — One squadron stands down April 9

354th Fighter Wing — One squadron stands down April 9


4th Fighter Squadron — Basic mission capable until redeployment

421st Fighter Squadron — Basic mission capable through September



75th Fighter Squadron — Basic mission capable through July, then combat mission ready through September

51st Wing — One squadron combat mission ready through September

52nd Fighter Wing — Closing

442nd Fighter Wing — One squadron stands down April 9

917th Wing — One squadron stands down April 9



18th Wing — One squadron combat mission ready through September

48th Fighter Wing — One squadron combat mission ready through September



7th Bomb Wing — One squadron combat mission ready through September

2nd Bomb Wing — Two squadrons stand down April 9



509th Bomb Wing — Two squadrons combat mission ready through September



2nd Bomb Wing — One squadron stand down April 9

5th Bomb Wing — Two combat squadrons combat mission ready through September



2nd Bomb Wing — Basic mission capable through September

18th Wing — One squadron basic mission capable through September

552nd Air Control Wing — One squadron basic mission capable through September



55th Wing — One squadron combat mission ready through September



55 Electronic Combat Group — One squadron combat mission ready through September




55th Wing — One squadron combat mission ready through September



55th Wing — One squadron combat mission ready through September



55th Wing — One squadron combat mission ready through September



55th Wing — One squadron basic mission capable through September



55th Wing (training) — One squadron basic mission capable through September



55th Wing. — One squadron combat mission ready through September


Defense Spending Would Be Trimmed 1%

April 10, 2013, 11:44 a.m. ET



WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama proposed a $526.6 billion defense budget on Wednesday that seeks to protect administration priorities in Asia and on cybersecurity while slightly reducing spending.

The administration’s proposed fiscal 2014 defense budget avoids tough decisions on cuts in troop levels and major equipment programs.

However, the administration is resurrecting its attempt to address the cost of the generous military health-care system by raising patient fees, and is proposing a modest pay increase for troops as it looks for ways to trim costs.

The proposed military spending, about a 1% decline from 2013 estimates, is likely to face significant proposals for revisions from lawmakers of both parties.


The spending plan defers decisions on further reducing the size of the Army, Marines and civilian workforce, steps that most analysts expect will be necessary as the Defense Department revamps its operations after a decade of ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The plan also avoids difficult decisions on significant cutbacks in most major weapons programs, sparing for now the next generation F-35 fighter jet and a new aircraft carrier.

Instead, the budget proposal outlines a series of narrower cuts to specific programs related to missile defense, drones, Army helicopters and cargo planes that are likely to face scrutiny from Congress, where lawmakers in past years have succeeded in protecting some of the projects.

Defense officials said they are waiting for a deficit-reduction deal before offering their own budget plan that proposes major Pentagon spending cuts. Military officials believe if they offer significant cuts now, they will be accepted with more required later. “Those who give early, give often,” said one official.

The budget does offer some modest cuts. It promises $19 billion in reductions from efficiencies, such has holding civilian pay raises to 1%. It includes a renewed push to kill programs such as the C-27 transport planes, made by Alenia North America, along with the current generation of Global Hawk surveillance drones, made by Northrop Grumman Corp., NOC +0.70% which have been plagued by operating cost overruns and high purchase prices.

While missile-defense spending will rise in some areas, the budget calls for the termination of a precision-tracking space system to save about $1.7 billion. That program encompasses a half dozen contractors, including Northrop Grumman.

And as previously signaled by the Pentagon, the Defense Department wants to restructure the next generation of the Aegis missile defense system, to save $2.1 billion. Defense analysts said most of the cuts were expected and won’t affect the current operation of the system.

Other major cost reductions include delaying the purchase of the BoeingBA +1.43% Co.-made Apache helicopters for the Army, a $1.3 billion savings.

The Pentagon will invest new money in maintaining and improving current systems, including, most notably, adding a “double V” hull to the Stryker combat vehicle, made by General Dynamics, GD +0.33% to make it more resistant to roadside bombs.

The defense budget doesn’t factor in the across-the-board spending cuts that took effect last month in the federal government. The $41 billion in reductions have forced the Pentagon to ground planes, impose a hiring freeze, delay training and enact plans for furloughs of civilian workers.

The Pentagon already is in the process of slashing costs as it winds down the war in Afghanistan and shifts its focus to other threats.

The budget includes a modest increase in funds for the growing U.S. Cyber Command and money to build new Navy ships that will play a critical role in the administration’s plan to shift more forces to Asia, where China and North Korea pose challenges to U.S. power.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered Pentagon leaders to conduct a new review of the nation’s military strategy in light of the fiscal uncertainty. In his first major policy address since taking over at the Pentagon, Mr. Hagel indicated in a recent speech that he is looking to reduce personnel and cut back on unnecessary military programs.

The military’s Tricare medical system in recent years has largely protected participants from rising health-care costs, in the process increasing the financial burden on taxpayers and giving rise to calls for change.

In its budget, the administration proposes new enrollment fees for Tricare’s standard fee-for-service program. That proposal would enact an annual $140 fee for families that would rise to $250 over the next five years.

Also included is a proposal to raise annual enrollment fees in Tricare’s HMO-style system from $539 per family to as much as $750.

Congress has rebuffed previous efforts to impose such changes. The latest proposals are certain to face strong opposition again this year.


Rasmussen Reports

What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls

April 13, 2013

The ongoing debates in Washington, D.C. over gun control and illegal immigration highlight an uncomfortable reality for the Political Class: A lot of Americans just don’t trust their government.

“Expanding background checks for would-be gun owners is a commonsense proposal much like requiring a photo ID before someone is allowed to vote,” Scott Rasmussen explains in his latest weekly newspaper column. But voters are “suspicious about the motives of those in government,” he says. “Those who would like to see stronger federal restrictions on gun ownership should start by supporting reforms that will enable the government to re-earn the trust of the American people.”

Similarly, voters overwhelmingly believe that tougher border control needs to come first in any immigration reform deal, but they don’t trust the government to actually work harder to secure the border.

There’s little talk about how exactly the government should go about doing that, so we tested some of the tools that have been mentioned to see how effective Americans think they would be at securing the border to prevent future illegal immigration.  Americans express the most confidence in strong penalties against U.S. employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants and ending all federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities. Nearly as many think limiting or ending automatic U.S. citizenship for children born to illegal immigrants here would reduce illegal immigration a lot.  Two of the most oft-mentioned solutions – building a fence on the U.S.-Mexico border and putting more Border Patrol agents along that border – are seen as less effective.

“Concerns about border security remain the biggest threat to passage of immigration reform,” Scott Rasmussen notes. “It’s interesting that solutions focusing on incentives for crossing the border are seen as more effective than physical deterrence at the border.”

Still, 57% think the United States should continue building a border fence.

Eleven percent (11%) of voters think people who want to secure the border and prevent illegal immigration are racist. 

Voters remain more concerned about Mexican drug violence coming to this country than they are about illegal immigration, though, and 69% favor use of the U.S. military on the border to prevent it. 

This weekend’s edition of What American Thinks
looks at another area where there’s a trust gap – the federal budget. Scott Rasmussen’s guests are Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Rex Nutting from Market Watch and Gretchen Hamel of the budget analysis group Public Notice.

What America Thinks  is a weekly television show that airs on 62 stations nationwide. Find a station near you.

Voters strongly favor reducing the federal budget deficit and think spending cuts are the way to go. But only 13% think government spending will be reduced under President Obama’s new budget plan released this past week. Fifty-one percent (51%) think Obama is more interested in increasing government spending than in reducing the deficit anyway. Thirty-eight percent (38%) believe congressional Republicans are more interested in cutting taxes than in reducing the deficit.

Just 28% think additional tax hikes are needed to fund the federal government. A plurality (44%) believes additional tax cuts are needed.

With more voters than ever thinking their taxes will go up under Obama, only 37% now rate the way the president is handling issues related to taxes as good or excellent. That’s down seven points from 44% in late January. On issues related to government spending, 35% of voters give Obama good or excellent marks.

Overall, voters are now evenly divided in their assessment of the president’s job performance in the daily Presidential Tracking Poll, but that’s still slightly ahead of where his ratings were for the two years prior to Election Day. 

Just over half of consumers and investors continue to believe that the country in a recession. There’s also a continuing tide of economic pessimism, especially among younger adults.

Americans are now almost evenly divided when asked if the United States has a free market economy or a crony capitalist one.  Crony capitalism is generally considered a system in which the most successful businesses have a close relationship with influential government officials, and this helps explain why Americans think more government involvement in the marketplace makes it less fair.

Most Americans still believe the majority of rich people earned their money by working hard, but there is a stunning generation gap on this question. Among those under 40, just 34% believe hard work is the path to riches. A plurality (36%) believes most rich people inherited their money, and 14% think they were just lucky. Among older voters, 63% see hard work as the key to wealth.

But then most Americans (54%) of all ages no longer believe it’s possible for anyone to work hard and get rich in this country.  Just half (49%) think it’s possible for anyone to work his or her way out of poverty. Americans also remain deeply pessimistic about the future for the nation’s children.

Scott Rasmussen argues in a recent newspaper column that one way to fight income inequality is break up “the private club that gives special preference to the wealthy and well-connected. That means either making the college admissions process more equal or placing less value on the credential of graduating from a self-selecting club.”

An education is the most important thing students get out of a state university or a community college as far as most Americans are concerned. But for those who attend elite colleges and universities, contacts and the name of their school are considered as valuable as what they learn

Most Americans don’t think it’s fair for colleges to give special treatment to children of large donors, and a sizable number believe that donations to those schools should no longer be tax deductible

However, 51% think it would be better for our country if more businesses offered jobs to high school graduates rather than requiring a college degree anyway. 

As for the nation’s top job, while every U.S. president for the last 25 years has been an Ivy League graduate, just five percent (5%) of Americans think it is better for the country to have presidents only from Ivy League schools

For the second month in a row, just eight percent (8%) of voters give Congress good or excellent marks for the job it’s doing.  Most voters also continue to think it’s likely their own congressional representative has sold his or her vote. 

Democrats lead Republicans again this week on the Generic Congressional Ballot

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In other surveys last week:

— In late February and early March as most Washington political leaders were trying to prevent the so-called sequester spending cuts from going into effect, confidence that the nation was heading in the right direction fell as low as 27%. Now that the threat of undoing the sequester has passed, the numbers have returned to earlier levels: 34% think the country is heading in the right direction.

Despite North Korea’s increasing threats, Americans now view a nuclear attack by the communist regime as even less likely than they did a month ago. They’re also more willing to help South Korea if it is attacked by its neighbor to the north.

— While most voters know the United States spends more on national security than any other nation, just one-in-three (33%) think the amount spent is too much. 

— When it comes to fiscal policy issues, there are still far more conservatives than liberals. However, on social issues, the numbers are even–34% liberal and 34% conservative

— Americans are fairly evenly divided as to whether law enforcement agencies can dramatically reduce gun violence among inner city gangs. Forty percent (40%) say it is possible; 33% disagree, and 27% are not sure

— There is a huge racial divide when it comes to personal experience with crime and the justice system.  Black Americans are three times as likely to know someone in prison and twice as likely to know someone who was murdered.

— While most voters are pro-choice, just 23% think it is too hard to get an abortion in this country. Even more (39%) still think it’s too easy to get one.

— Sixty-eight percent (68%) of Americans have at least a somewhat favorable opinion of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, including 36% who have a Very Favorable one. Thatcher who was President Reagan’s closest overseas ally died last week.

— Monday is the deadline for filing income taxes for most Americans, and 50% think filling out their income tax paperwork is worse than taking a trip to the dentist’s office.

Subscribers to Rasmussen Reports receive more than 20 exclusive stories each week for less than a dollar a week. Please sign up now. Visit the Rasmussen Reports home page for the latest current polling coverage of events in the news. The page is updated several times each day.

Wall Street Journal profile called Scott Rasmussen “America’s Insurgent Pollster.” The Washington Post described him as “a driving force in American politics.”  If you’d like Scott to speak at your conference or event, contact Premiere Speakers Bureau.

Remember, if it’s in the news, it’s in our polls.

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