Skip to content

June 7 2014

June 9, 2014




USAF ISR Head: Changes Needed to Prepare For Future

May. 30, 2014 – 04:25PM | By AARON MEHTA | Comments


With no sign that the sequestration-imposed budget cuts are going away, the Air Force is going to have to change how it handles its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) architecture, the services top ISR official said Friday.

“We need to change direction in how we approach the architecture, and we’re looking for ideas,” Gen. Robert Otto told an audience of industry executives at an event hosted by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association. “So we’re concentrating on that right now. The notion is we get away from a propriety, very hierarchical type of system to something that is government owned, open architecture with competitions for the various applications.”

Otto highlighted the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) program, which aims to collect information from various ISR sources and give it a central clearinghouse, as a platform that works very well but needs to be altered to fit the new fiscal realities.

“It’s a tremendous architecture which can do incredibly powerful things that has delivered unbelievable success on the battlefield,” Otto said of the system. “It’ also completely unaffordable, and if we don’t change the way we do business we will fail.”

The movement towards an open architecture is hardly confined to the ISR world – the service’s simulation community has also expressed a desire to move in that direction – but Otto indicated a desire to move in that direction sooner rather than later.

In order to change how it operates, the Air Force needs flexibility for planning from the men and women who control the purse strings.

“What [sequestration] really means is we need to reform,” Otto said. “We need the help of Congress in order to be able to reform the way that we do things going forward.”

That includes being given the flexibility to retire either the U-2 spy plane or Global Hawk unmanned system, something that has been blocked on the Hill so far.

“Our plan right now is to divest the U-2,” Otto said. “We supported the department’s position on that this year. The Air Force was going to divest the global hawk before. Our point is we can’t afford both, and so far we have been unable to make the case to retire either one.”

He highlighted how the cuts last year directly impacted two key ISR assets, the U-2 and the Rivet Joint manned aircraft.

“Last year for the U-2 we had about a $210 million budget and we had to cut about $55 million from that, about one fourth….what that really meant was our aircraft availability decreased by 15-20 percent,” Otto said. “Or you can look at the Rivet Joint which had a bout a $270 million budget for the year and we cut about $90 million of that. What happened was, we had to ground two of the airplanes. It’s a 17 airplane fleet, so if you ground two you’re going to have impact on what we can present going forward.”


Otto, who spoke with Defense News in January about the future of the service’s ISR strategy, said he is still a firm believer in the role of drones – he joked about the service’s “unsuccessful” campaign to get people to refer to them as “remotely piloted aircraft” – for the future, noting that he expects an “explosion” of those systems by the early part of the next decade.

Spending money on unmanned systems is probably “a good investment,” he told the crowd. ■


The Pros and Cons of Obama’s New Carbon Rule

By Eric Pianin,

The Fiscal Times

June 2, 2014


President Obama on Monday is unveiling a controversial environmental and energy initiative: an executive order to force coal-fired power plants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030—the boldest move yet in the administration’s efforts to fight climate change.

Coal-fired power plants account for some 40 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, which scientists say are the main cause of global warming. At 39 percent in 2013, they are also the largest supplier of fuel powering electricity in the U.S. “I refuse to condemn our children to a planet beyond fixing,” the president said Saturday during his weekly radio and Internet address. “In America, we don’t have to choose between the health of our economy and the health of our children.”

Drafted by the EPA, the new rule puts a national limit on carbon pollution from coal plants, as The New York Times and others have reported. It also gives the states flexibility to devise their own approaches, such as creating energy-efficiency technology, using more wind and solar power, and starting or joining “cap-and-trade” programs, which allow utility companies to buy and sell government-issued pollution permits.


Obama Prepares To Push For New Power Plant Rules

President Barack Obama is planning a public show of support for new climate change rules that his administration will unveil Monday. The White House says Obama will spotlight the…

Obama tried previously to push “cap and trade” through Congress as part of an effort to control carbon emissions, but it died in 2010 in the Senate. The GOP, Tea Party groups and the coal industry attacked Democrats who supported it, warning the legislation would raise energy prices and cost jobs.

Now the president is invoking executive authority instead, and Republicans and energy insiders are complaining that Obama is circumventing lawmakers on a critical policy that could raise energy costs and shutter many coal-fired power plants.

In drafting the executive order, the EPA turned to a little-used provision of the Clean Air Act (CAA), since carbon dioxide isn’t regulated under government air pollution programs. States and industry groups are preparing to wage legal challenges to the rule, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Last September, the administration announced new regulations setting strict limits on the amount of carbon pollution that can be generated by new U.S. power plants. The proposal sparked a backlash from supporters of the coal industry and is certain to face legal challenges.

The president’s latest targeting of existing power plants is pitting major environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), against industry and business organizations, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Long a booster of “cap and trade,” the NRDC says the executive order would stem carbon emissions while encouraging economic development and job creation – while the Chamber of Commerce warns of $50 billion in economic costs per year.

Both groups have issued dueling assessments of the plan’s likely impact. Here are 6 major arguments in favor of, and 6 against, Obama’s executive order, based on a summary the NRDC provided to The Fiscal Times and on excerpts from a Chamber of Commerce study.


6 Reasons to Support Obama’s Carbon Rule, from the NRDC:

•Carbon pollution fuels climate change, which triggers more asthma attacks and respiratory disease, worsens air quality, and contributes to destructive, costly and deadly extreme-weather events.

•In 2012 alone, extreme weather cost the U.S. more than $130B, and taxpayers picked up nearly $100B of the cleanup’s cost, according to an NRDC analysis.

•Setting federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants is essential: Power plants are responsible for 40 percent of U.S. carbon pollution, the single largest source. Right now, we limit mercury, arsenic, lead, soot and other dangerous pollutants from power plants, but not carbon pollution.

•While many states and communities have taken action, the new federal safeguard will set commonsense limits on carbon pollution, inspire investment in infrastructure to protect communities, and spur innovation to power America with clean energy in the 21st century.

•States have flexibility to implement plans to increase efficiency, improve resiliency and remove carbon pollution. Carbon standards can create hundreds of thousands of jobs and save American households and businesses billions on electricity bills, NRDC claims, as energy efficiency is ramped up.

•New clean energy technologies that produce less carbon pollution will create a new generation of clean energy jobs. Carbon pollution limits will spur investment and innovation in clean energy technologies to modernize and clean up power plants. Since 1970, every dollar invested in compliance with Clean Air Act standards has yielded $4-8 in economic benefits.


6 Reasons to Oppose Obama’s Carbon Rule, from the Chamber of Commerce:

•It will negatively affect national GDP, employment, and real income per household. A Chamber of Commerce study predicts a peak decline in GDP of $104B in 2025, with an average of $51B per year from 2014 to 2030. It also predicts the loss of up to 442,000 jobs.

•It will have a very small impact on global CO2 emissions, which are set to rise rapidly. The Chamber’s analysis finds the proposal would address “a mere 1.8 percent of global CO2 emissions.” Regardless of national emissions reduction policies and adverse economic impacts, global CO2 emissions will grow rapidly.

•It will be extremely costly. Regulating CO2 emissions will generate adverse economic impacts in the U.S. in exchange for reductions overshadowed by rapidly rising emissions elsewhere. The plan would shave $51B off GDP annually and increase electricity costs by $289B.

•The law governing mercury and other toxins is a huge economic drain; the new plan would be even worse. To date, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS) is the most expensive power sector rule issued by the EPA, at a projected total cost of $9.6B per year… The average compliance cost of the EPA’s CO2 regulations is nearly triple that, at $28.1B, over a 17-year time frame.

•The plan will force the energy industry to deal with the cost of decommissioning or retrofitting existing, functional power-delivery infrastructure and replacing it. The total cost for incremental generating capacity, supporting infrastructure (electric transmission, natural gas pipelines, CO2 pipelines), decommissioning, stranded asset costs, and offsetting savings from lower fuel use and operation and maintenance is nearly $480B.

•The proposal places unrealistic demands on states, resulting in more burden on individuals and businesses, says the Chamber: “In regulating CO2 emissions, it appears the EPA will attempt to mandate a level of CO2 emissions reductions that is unachievable at the source (power plants).”


The Real Threat to the Electric Power Grid Is Not Terrorism

By Rob Garver,

The Fiscal Times

May 28, 2014


The combination of declining costs for solar panels and dramatic improvements in both price and capacity of lithium ion batteries is bad news for the giant electrical utilities that currently supply the majority of power to homes and businesses in the United States.

In a research note released last week, analysts in the credit research division of Barclays investment bank warned that the day when cost-effective solar power will be available to the individual consumer is closer than many expect, and will create huge disruptions for existing electrical utilities.

“In the 100+ year history of the electric utility industry, there has never before been a truly cost-competitive substitute available for grid power,” said a note authored by a team of analysts led by Yung Chuan Koh. “We believe that solar + storage could reconfigure the organization and regulation of the electric power business over the coming decade.”

In fact, the authors note, solar power has already become cost-competitive with traditional grid power in Hawaii, where prices per kilowatt hour of solar-generated power are less than half of grid power. The Barclays team believes that solar will reach parity with grid power in California by 2017 and in New York and Arizona by 2018. In the years following, multiple states join the group until, by 2024, electrical utilities in all but a handful of states will face major competition from solar power.

The reason for solar’s sudden surge in competitiveness, the authors say, is two-fold: photovoltaic (solar) panels are becoming cheaper, and the lithium ion batteries, like those used to power electric cars, have become both cheaper and more efficient.

This combination has solved two of solar power’s biggest problems: upfront cost and continuity of power. In the past, many who would have liked to use solar power were put off by the cost, which in some cases would take many years to recoup through reduced electric bills. Others were troubled by the unreliability of the power source – without the availability of copious storage, solar could only be counted on during the limited time in which direct sunlight was available.

With both of those constraints going away, Koh and his co-authors note, there is virtually no way the electricity business won’t see major disruption in the coming years, and they warn that “the market can turn very quickly.”


Google Invests in Satellites to Spread Internet Access

Company Projects Spending More Than $1 Billion to Connect Unwired Reaches of the Globe

By Alistair Barr and Andy Pasztor

June 1, 2014 7:48 p.m. ET


Google plans to spend $1 billion on a fleet of satellites to extend Internet access to unwired regions of the world. Associated Press

Google Inc. GOOGL -1.59% plans to spend more than $1 billion on a fleet of satellites to extend Internet access to unwired regions of the globe, people familiar with the project said, hoping to overcome financial and technical problems that thwarted previous efforts.

Details remain in flux, the people said, but the project will start with 180 small, high-capacity satellites orbiting the earth at lower altitudes than traditional satellites, and then could expand.

Google’s satellite venture is led by Greg Wyler, founder of satellite-communications startup O3b Networks Ltd., who recently joined Google with O3b’s former chief technology officer, the people said. Google has also been hiring engineers from satellite company Space Systems/Loral LLC to work on the project, according to another person familiar with the hiring initiative.

Mr. Wyler has between 10 and 20 people working for him at Google and reports to Craig Barratt, who reports to Chief Executive Larry Page, one of the people said. Mr. Wyler couldn’t be reached.

The projected price ranges from about $1 billon to more than $3 billion, the people familiar with the project said, depending on the network’s final design and a later phase that could double the number of satellites. Based on past satellite ventures, costs could rise.

Google’s project is the latest effort by a Silicon Valley company to extend Internet coverage from the sky to help its business on the ground. Google and Facebook Inc. FB -0.30% are counting on new Internet users in underserved regions to boost revenue, and ultimately, earnings.

Google’s Project Loon is designing high-altitude balloons to provide broadband service to remote parts of the world. In April, Google acquired Titan Aerospace, which is building solar-powered drones to provide similar connectivity. Facebook has its own drone effort.

“Google and Facebook are trying to figure out ways of reaching populations that thus far have been unreachable,” said Susan Irwin, president of Irwin Communications Inc., a satellite-communications research firm. “Wired connectivity only goes so far and wireless cellular networks reach small areas. Satellites can gain much broader access.”

Google’s efforts to deliver Internet service to unserved regions—through balloons, drones and satellites—are consistent with its approaches to other new markets. Even if one or more projects don’t succeed, Google can often use what it learned in other areas.


A Google spokeswoman said the company is focused on bringing hundreds of millions of additional people online. “Internet connectivity significantly improves people’s lives. Yet two thirds of the world have no access at all,” she said. She declined further comment.

Tim Farrar, head of satellite-consulting firm TMF Associates, expects Project Loon’s balloons eventually to be replaced by Titan’s drones. Drones and satellites complement each other, he said, with drones offering better high-capacity service in smaller areas, and satellites offering broader coverage in areas with less demand.

Mr. Farrar worked as a consultant for Teledesic LLC, which tried to build a constellation of low-earth-orbit satellites to deliver Internet service in the 1990s. Teledesic, backed by Microsoft Corp. MSFT -0.16% and telecommunications entrepreneur Craig McCaw, considered using drones to provide additional capacity for the satellite system in some areas, he said. The more than $9 billion project halted satellite assembly in 2002 amid technical hurdles and cost overruns.

Earlier, Iridium Satellite LLC went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization less than a year after starting voice and data services in 1998.

History is replete with ambitious satellite plans that failed, according to Roger Rusch, who runs TelAstra Inc., a satellite-industry consulting firm. Google’s project will end up “costing far more than they can imagine today,” he said, perhaps as much as $20 billion. “This is exactly the kind of pipe dream we have seen before.”

Google also will have to overcome regulatory hurdles, including coordinating with other satellite operators so its fleet doesn’t interfere with others.

O3b, in which Google was an early investor, has been working on providing broadband Internet connectivity from satellites weighing about 1,500 pounds each. O3b has been planning to launch about a dozen satellites, aiming to serve large areas on either side of the equator.

Google hopes to cover the entire globe with more, but smaller, satellites weighing less than 250 pounds, the people familiar with the project said.

Jamie Goldstein, an O3b director and a partner at North Bridge Venture Partners, which backs the company, said he couldn’t comment on what Mr. Wyler is working on, citing a nondisclosure agreement with Google. An O3b spokeswoman didn’t respond to requests for comment.

During a conference in March, Google CEO Mr. Page mused about spanning the globe with Internet access delivered by Project Loon. “I think we can build a world-wide mesh of these balloons that can cover the whole planet,” he said, noting that they are cheaper and faster to launch than satellites.

But satellites are more flexible and provide greater capacity. In recent years, costs to build and launch satellites have dropped sharply, according to Neil Mackay, CEO of Mile Marker 101, an advisory firm.

Consultant Mr. Farrar estimated that 180 small satellites could be launched for as little as about $600 million.

If Google succeeds, it “could amount to a sea change in the way people will get access to the Internet, from the Third World to even some suburban areas of the U.S.,” said Jeremy Rose of Comsys, a London-based satellite consulting firm.

Google also is hoping to take advantage of advances in antennas that can track multiple satellites as they move across the sky. Antennas developed by companies including Kymeta Corp. have no moving parts and are controlled by software, which reduces manufacturing and maintenance costs.


Kymeta hopes to sell its ground-antenna systems for hundreds of dollars, said CEO Vern Fotheringham. They would substitute for phased-array antennas which cost roughly $1 million a decade ago, he said.

Kymeta supplies antenna technology for O3b and worked closely with Brian Holz, a former O3b chief technology officer. Mr. Holz recently joined Google’s satellite project, along with Mr. Wyler and David Bettinger, technology chief of satellite-communications company VT iDirect Inc., Mr. Fotheringham said.

Technology news website the Information reported on May 27 that Google had hired Messrs. Holz and Bettinger for a satellite project.

“Google certainly has the resources to do something exciting in this area,” Mr. Fotheringham said. “We and everyone else in the industry are keen to hear more about what they’re working on.”


China’s Strategy Has Completely Eluded Washington

By Patrick Smith,

The Fiscal Times

June 2, 2014


The Chinese dragon, awake and alert for some time, is suddenly stretching its arms and embracing what it thinks with conviction is its destiny as a Pacific power. Will the American protectorate in place for 70 years hold, they ask in Tokyo, in Seoul, in Manila, and now even in Hanoi.

The short but unqualified answer is, “No.”

China’s emergence is a matter of history, of geography, and, since Deng opened the reform period in 1978, of accumulated economic power. Behind the rise we witness now lie Beijing’s view that the post 1945 order in the western Pacific must be corrected and a fulsome measure of Middle Kingdom determination. In one of the world’s wounded civilizations, the recovery of lost greatness has been the national dream since Mao took Beijing in 1949.

Does the Obama administration grasp any of this? This has not been clear for some time and grows more questionable now.


Last Saturday, Reuters reported the U.S. issued one of its strongest warnings to China when Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told an Asia-Pacific conference that the U.S. “will not look the other way when fundamental principles of the international order are being challenged.”

Hagel said the United States took no position on the merits of rival territorial claims in the region, but added, “We firmly oppose any nation’s use of intimidation, coercion, or the threat of force to assert these claims.”

The posture here is not right. The primary lesson to be grasped in Washington and the Asian capitals is that the less time spent with fingers in the dike the better. The task now is to devise sensible, imaginative, sustainable policy responses that protect the interests of the U.S. and its allies while altering the climate in Asia from the poisonous antagonism we have to accommodation and on to cooperation.

This can be done, providing the wit and guts are there.

Recommendation No. 1 for Washington: Cut out the political appointees game in the foreign service. Restore the State Department’s institutional memory with good brains versed in history, the languages, and culture as opposed to rational choice theory.

Recommendation No. 2: Take control of the policy process away from Defense and the military and give it back to State, thus correcting an error that has for decades been detrimental to U.S. interests and the American profile in Asia.

The moment to rebuild strategy, ground up, is upon us for a simple reason: China has chosen it. Beijing has for many years waited for the right occasion to assert itself with concrete actions. As our jargon has it, China is “calling us out.”

There is not much ambiguity on this point. China has been increasingly aggressive in asserting its position in an islands dispute with Japan since last year. Six months ago came its declaration of an air defense zone that intersects with those Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan have had in place, courtesy of American cartographers, since the early Cold War years.

More recently Beijing has advanced maritime claims in the South China Sea that place its rights within a few dozen miles of the Philippines shoreline and 300 miles from the mainland. In its boldest moves to date, it recently towed an oilrig into waters claimed by Vietnam, prompting protests in Hanoi that resulted in four deaths.

These are not separate questions. They are better understood as the start of China’s campaign to renovate the power balance in the western Pacific. David Pilling, Asia editor at the Financial Times, sees savvy tactical design as a unifying theme across the region. “China’s probing the edge of what it can do,” Pilling said the other day. “These are issues Beijing knows America will not react to other than rhetorically.”

Pilling, who is among the most astute Asia analysts now in the field, takes a very long view of Chinese thinking. China turned inward after the 1949 revolution, he says, finding Washington’s Pax Pacifica objectionable but expedient. So did Deng, who said in effect, “Let’s proceed with our reforms and choose our moment carefully.”

“Some people took acquiescence in the post-1945 order to be permanent policy, but it’s a misreading,” Pilling said. “If one is to take one’s time, the only question left is, “When?” And it now starts to look as if the answer is, “Now.”

O.K., Pilling, but why now?

The 2008 financial crisis was a tripwire, in Pilling’s view. America no longer appeared infallible; China, as America’s biggest banker, a WTO member, and ahead of Japan as the No. 2 economic power, gained confidence. “There’s a prestige factor here, too,” Pilling added.

Equally, the Law of the Sea had long been on the U.N.’s docket, but only recently have nations marked out formal territorial claims. When Hillary Clinton, then Secretary of State, asserted America’s role in protecting Asian sea lanes on a visit to Hanoi in 2010, Beijing’s back stiffened. “Critical point,” Pilling thinks. “China saw no role for America in Asian disputes. What if relations with the referee turned hostile?”

At the security conference in Singapore at the end of last week, the shared concern among Hagel and his counterparts was the pressure Beijing now intentionally exerts to weaken Washington’s network of alliances with regional capitals. This is almost certainly an accurate perception.

Yet, it would be a mistake to assume China intends to replace Pax Americana with a Pax Sinica. It is too busy at home, cannot afford any such an ambition, and has proven from Mao to Deng and since that pragmatic self-interest figures high in its calculations. This is the door to renovated relations Washington must not fail to step through.

Hagel’s criticism of Beijing’s recent moves in the region—”intimidation and coercion,” he said—was a mistake on numerous counts. First, it was Hagel’s remark. The defense secretary should do less traveling in Asia and Secretary Kerry more. Second, Hagel betrayed anxiety, and one must avoid that with the Chinese. Third, he signaled that Washington remains determined to fight the forlorn fight against the incoming tide.

Finally, Hagel elicited two reactions in the region, neither desirable. Beijing denounced the conference point blank. Elsewhere, Hagel’s talk will merely confirm the widely shared impression that talk is all Washington finally has on offer.

Asia Sentinel, an authoritative online journal published in Hong Kong, said it this way in a recent edition: “For a nation that is supposedly paying more attention to Asia and building relationships with old and new friends, the U.S. response to recent Chinese moves against Vietnam and the Philippines has been mealy-mouthed.”

Not the desired effect, to put the point mildly.



Sen. Durbin: Early July Is ‘Goal’ for Defense Spending Bill

Jun. 3, 2014 – 03:45AM | By JOHN T. BENNETT | Comments


WASHINGTON — US Senate appropriators are aiming to take up their 2015 Pentagon spending measure just after Independence Day, says Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.

“First week of July,” the Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee chairman said as he ducked into an elevator near the Senate chamber. “That’s the goal.”

The coming markup will be Durbin’s second since his surprising ascension to subcommittee chairman. Since, defense firms have upped their campaign contributions to the Senate majority whip.

The House’s full Appropriations Committee likely will take up its version of the 2015 defense appropriations bill next week, an aide says. Its defense subpanel last week approved a version that would give the Defense Department $570.4 billion.

The House version adds monies for fighter jets, electronic-attack planes and maintains 11 aircraft carriers.

The House Appropriations Defense subcommittee proposes a $491 billion base Pentagon budget and a $79.4 billion overseas contingency operations (OCO), or war funding, section.

That $491 billion figure is $5 billion lower than the Pentagon’s $496 billion base budget request. When factoring in another $5 billion in military construction, which the panel does not oversee, the HAC-D’s portion of the base budget roughly matches the Pentagon’s request.


Lawmakers: Sequestration, End of Arms Buys Could Weaken US Industrial Base

Jun. 3, 2014 – 02:56PM | By JOHN T. BENNETT | Comments


WASHINGTON — US House members are worried about the impact of sequestration cuts and the scheduled end of some major weapon buys, warning the dual hit could damage the defense industrial base.

The lower chamber’s version of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), passed May 22, contains a provision that raises concerns that the across-the-board defense budget cuts “will reduce procurement spending over the next several years, leaving some sectors of the national technical and industrial base with a limited number of viable suppliers,” states a report accompanying the legislation.

The House report says the scheduled end of some major weapon programs coupled with sequestration, “could result in continued financial losses to several high-risk sectors, which could force consolidations, decisions to forgo defense contracts, and facility closures.”

Lawmakers are worried about each issue because major Pentagon programs typically spread work across many facilities in many states, meaning a long list of lawmakers could have a stake in any given weapon system or company.

The legislation “directs” the defense secretary to “examine the impacts of such budget reductions as part of the department’s sector-by-sector, tier-by-tier review of the defense industrial base,” states the House report.

If the provision is included in the final version of the NDAA, it would require Pentagon officials to brief the four congressional defense committees with an “analysis of sectors and tiers of the private industrial base found to be at highest risk and how the risk assessment has changed since enactment of the Budget Control Act of 2011, and the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013.”

The former created sequestration and the latter initially softened the effect of the cuts for two years but also extended the spending caps two years into the next decade.

The proposed briefing also would have to cover which other sectors and tiers of the industrial base “might be considered high risk as a result of those [laws]; and steps necessary to protect those high risk sectors and tiers.”

The hawkish House Armed Services Committee, which crafted the bill and the report, is concerned that cuts of around $45 billion annually to an annual budget expected to again approach $550 billion in a few years will erode the military’s readiness and lethality, while also weakening the industrial base.

But some experts shoot back that US defense spending is historically high, and that there is ample work for arms makers.

For instance, a recent report released by Third Way, a Washington think tank, states the Obama administration’s 2015 defense request “provides a robust level of military spending — less than wartime peaks but still more than President Reagan’s highest defense budget in real terms.”



Space Architecture Changes to Boost US Intelligence Gathering

Jun. 3, 2014 – 01:20PM | By MARCUS WEISGERBER | Comments


WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is changing the way it uses its space intelligence-gathering assets, which would give the Defense Department the ability to watch over areas for long periods of time, a senior DoD official said on Tuesday.

While his comments were fairly vague, Michael Vickers, DoD undersecretary for intelligence, said changes in “overhead space architecture” will be “some of the biggest changes … that we’ve seen in several decades.”

“It will be possible … through techniques — such as activity-based intelligence and associated architecture capabilities to go with it — to have persistence we’ve never had before to where we can look at things for long periods of time,” he said during a presentation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank. “You can imagine the benefits that will give us.”

Another “revolutionary” change is integration, Vickers said.

“Rather than having an overhead architecture … that is a set of individual systems with supporting systems, we will have for the first time going forward a really integrated architecture that can tip and cue — and there’s tremendous benefits that can come from that,” he said.

Tip-and-cue refers to autonomously triggering a response to an action. For example, a satellite fixed on a house could give a “tip” to a second satellite or intelligence aircraft if someone enters or exits the house. If someone exits, it could order a satellite or unmanned or manned aircraft to track the person.

While Vickers comments were vague, they could mean one of a only few things, said Marco Caceres, senior analyst and director of space studies at the Teal Group, a Virginia-based consulting firm.

One is that National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) satellite sensors are getting more powerful. The other is an increasing call to put these top-secret sensors — used only on government spacecraft — on commercial satellites, a concept called hosted payloads.

“The only new wave, new trend that I see that’s going to potentially have a huge impact is going to be hosted payloads,” Caceres said. “We could put up a lot more stuff, a lot more sensors [and] a lot more listening devices.”

As military satellites get increasingly more expensive to build and launch, the hosted payload options would dramatically lower the cost of launching dedicated satellites and widely expand the number of space-borne sensors orbiting the Earth. It would make it tough for an adversary to tell where the NRO sensors are located.

“We’re not going to know where NRO is putting its sensors,” Caceres said.

A disadvantage to using this method is DoD would not have full control of the satellite, Caceres said. But the advantage is DoD could pay a fee to place sensors on any US satellite scheduled for launch, assuming the company that owns the spacecraft allows it.

“Wherein the past you might put up a handful of new sensors every year, now there’s really no limitation because there’s dozens of satellites available out there going up all the time,” he said.

DoD is also looking to take some of the lessons it has learned for more than a decade of counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and adapt them to what the Pentagon perceives as future threats, Vickers said.

“We’re focused as a strategy on adapting some of the techniques we’ve learned in counterterrorism where we have gotten incredibly precise, and apply that to these higher-end environments,” he said.




FAA Weighs Letting Film, TV Industry Use Drones

Regulators Consider Approving Drone Use for Some Companies, Signaling End of Legal Logjam

By Andy Pasztor

Updated June 2, 2014 4:12 p.m. ET


Federal regulators are considering exempting seven companies working for the film and television industry from current prohibitions against commercial uses of drone aircraft in U.S. skies.

Monday’s announcement by the Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t immediately end those restrictions. But it signals that the agency, after months of controversy and pressure from drone proponents to allow some limited commercial flights, is looking to end the legal logjam by authorizing some independent cinematography companies and individuals to use drones.

If the administrative exemptions are granted, such photo and video applications would have for the first time explicit FAA approval under specific conditions. The decision could open the door to other industry-by-industry exemptions—something drone manufacturers and users have been advocating for some time.

The FAA’s move is likely to be welcomed by companies itching to start flying commercial drones for a wide range of business applications.

Some drone operators and others say they have been flying drones for various video and photo uses despite the FAA’s ban, and that the FAA’s stretched enforcement arm hasn’t tried to shut them down. Drones also have been used for a number of other applications, including agriculture, because agency officials generally haven’t initiated enforcement actions.

The exemptions presumably would go into effect before the FAA finishes its current effort to formulate comprehensive rules for such small drones, or unmanned aerial systems, operating at low altitudes and weighing less than 55 pounds.

Proposed rules for small drones are expected to be issued by the end of the year, though they aren’t likely to become final until 2015 or later.

At the same time, the FAA continues work on drafting rules to integrate larger drones into U.S. airspace. Those proposals, however, are bound to be more complex and won’t be issued until later.

In its announcement, the FAA cited the “tangible economic benefits as the agency begins to address the demand for commercial [drone] operations.” But the agency said all “associated safety issues must be carefully considered to make sure any hazards are appropriately mitigated” before the FAA gives the green light.

The FAA said the Motion Picture Association of America “facilitated the exemption requests on behalf of their membership.”

The firms want exemptions for operational rules, pilot-training requirements and maintenance mandates. They also want to be exempted from federal design requirements covering the unmanned vehicles.

Seven companies, which aren’t generally known outside the motion picture industry, filed identical requests prepared by the same law firm and lawyer. They envision using “small, unmanned and relatively inexpensive” drones “under controlled conditions” in limited airspace off-limits to others. The filings also indicate anticipated safeguards including use of a pilot and an observer; flights remaining under 200 feet altitude and lasting for less than 30 minutes; and onboard backup systems to ensure that drones can land safely if they lose communication or navigation signals.


The Motion Picture Association released a statement praising the FAA for considering approval of unmanned systems that offer “an innovative and safer option for filming” than manned aircraft.

In addition to companies engaged in film production, the FAA said three other industries are considering asking for exemptions. They include some agricultural uses; aerial inspections of power lines and pipelines; and inspections of certain stacks at oil and gas facilities.

Law-enforcement agencies and other public users of drones already can rely on procedures to obtain FAA approval to fly some of the largest models in designated airspace.


Chinese Military Shows New Capabilities, Pentagon Says

By Tony Capaccio Jun 6, 2014 5:09 AM ET


China’s military is improving its military doctrine, training, weapons and surveillance to be able to conduct more sophisticated attacks against the U.S. and other adversaries, according to the Pentagon.

After jamming communications and mounting other forms of electronic and cyberwarfare, stealthy Chinese aircraft, drones and missiles could attack U.S. warships, aircraft and supply craft, the Defense Department said yesterday in its annual report on China.

The report, which is required by Congress, doesn’t suggest that such attacks are likely, only that the Chinese military last year continued to demonstrate new capabilities similar to those the U.S. began embracing at least 20 years ago, with mixed success. The buildup is occurring as China increasingly asserts itself in territorial disputes with its neighbors.

“Although the Pentagon was overstating the Chinese military threat to avoid more cuts in its budget, the speed of the People’s Liberation Army’s modernization has indeed exceeded western countries’ expectation,” said Ni Lexiong, director of national defense policy research at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.

“The gap is between 20 and 30 years,” he said. “At the current pace, China may catch up with the U.S. in 40 years, and may start to get ahead in 60 years,” he said.


Overcoming ‘Biases’

China’s military build up is appropriate and solely for defending its own sovereignty, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said today at a briefing in Beijing.

“We hope the U.S. gets rid of its biases, objectively and rationally regards China’s defensive capacity, and stops releasing these reports, and makes concrete contribution to China and U.S. military cooperation,” he said.

China views the Pentagon’s annual report as a relic of the Cold War, when the U.S. prepared similar studies on the Soviet military threat, said Song Xiaojun, a Beijing-based military commentator for state television CCTV.

Beijing’s anger is over “the fact that the U.S., whose military expenditure accounts for more than 4 percent of GDP and still runs the world’s biggest defense budget even with the proposed cutbacks, is accusing China of splashing out on the armed forces,” he said in an interview. “In Beijing’s mind, it’s like you can eat five pieces of bread but not allow me to eat even half a piece.”


Regional Tensions


China is using its growing military muscle to aggressively assert its territorial claims in neighboring seas. In November, China declared an Air Defense Identification Zone in November over a stretch of sea that overlaps with Japanese and South Korean zones. China also is embroiled in disputes with Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea that have led to confrontations.

The Chinese Navy last year commissioned nine new Jiangdao-class corvettes armed with anti-ship cruise missiles for operations close to shore, “especially in the South China Sea and East China Sea,” the Pentagon said. The Pentagon’s test office and internal Navy reviews have warned that the U.S.’s new Littoral Combat Ships are vulnerable to such weapons.

The report may provide new fodder for U.S. congressional advocates of more defense spending who argue for improving naval capabilities to blunt Chinese advances through systems such as Boeing Co. (BA)’s EA-18G Growler electronic-warfare plane and Raytheon Co. (RTN)’s new Air and Missile Defense Radar and Next Generation Jammer.


Secretly Happy

China “now has incredible economic clout and has become adept at applying pressure below the threshold that would trigger a strong military response from the U.S. or its allies,” said John Blaxland, a senior fellow at the Australian National University’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre in Canberra. “China may well be critical of this report but they’re probably secretly happy that that’s the perception.”

Last year, the Chinese military “emphasized training under realistic combat scenarios” and the ability to execute long-range mobility operations, such as maritime exercises that involved all three Chinese Navy fleets, the report found.

The report doesn’t add new details to the U.S. contention that China is increasing its cyberattacks on the Pentagon, instead repeating paragraphs it published last year about China’s activities in 2012 in a section entitled “Cyber Activities Directed Against the U.S. Department of Defense.”


Technology Theft

Last month, the Justice Department escalated its effort to curb China’s technology theft from U.S. companies by charging five Chinese military officials with stealing trade secrets, casting the hacker attacks as a direct economic threat.

The Pentagon said China’s most significant military developments last year included air-defense upgrades to destroyers and frigates; testing of its Y-20 transport to fly ground forces quickly across great distances; at least eight launches to expand its intelligence and surveillance from space; and a “probable” Chinese drone conducting reconnaissance in the East China Sea.

China’s also starting to integrate anti-radar missiles into its fighter-bomber fleet, the report said.

The Chinese Navy continues to develop long-range, over-the-horizon radar that, in coordination with satellites, is intended to “locate targets at great distances from China” for targeting by its DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile, according to the Pentagon. The report said China continues to field a “limited but growing number” of the missiles.

It also continues to develop the stealthy J-20 fighter and J-31 that are “similar in size to a U.S. F-35 fighter,” the report said, without comparing capabilities.





Administration Overhauls Federal Health-Care Website

Federal Officials Seek to Avoid Problems That Plagued Launch of

Updated June 5, 2014 7:59 p.m. ET


The Obama administration is revamping and scrapping significant parts of the federal health-insurance marketplace in an effort to avoid the problems that plagued the site’s launch last fall, according to presentations to health insurers and interviews with government officials and contractors.

But the makeover—and the tight timeline to accomplish it—are raising concerns that consumers could face another rocky rollout this fall when they return to the site to choose health plans. Some key back-end functions, including a system to automate payments to insurers, are running behind schedule, according to a presentation federal officials made to health insurers.

Adding to the pressure, is still in the midst of transitioning to new government contractors to manage basic functions.

Four Million to Face Penalties for Lacking Health Coverage, CBO Says

Among the changes in the new version of a revamp of the site’s consumer-facing portion including the application for coverage most people will use, as well as the comparison tool that lets them shop for plans, according to slides from a May 20 meeting for insurers held by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees

The government is turning to cloud computing from Inc. AMZN +5.47% ‘s Web Services unit to host many of these functions.

Officials are also replacing separate software that people use to create accounts and log in to Glitches in that system, known as EIDM, locked many users out of the site altogether last fall.

Federal officials told health plans the new versions of some of these functions will need to be tested with insurers before open enrollment begins Nov. 15.

“We’re all going to be nervous until November 15,” said Shaun Greene, chief operating officer of Utah-based Arches Health Plan. “There is no wiggle room. They’re on a very tight time frame.” He and other industry executives said they were concerned about how will handle consumers who are renewing coverage. “The re-enrollment process is what scares me,” he said.

CMS officials said changes were adjustments built on the existing system, rather than a reinvention. They said they expected to begin testing some of the changes over the summer, but that other tests would likely take place closer to the start of the new enrollment season. Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman, also said the agency knew the identity-management component was a particular source of problems.

Improvements had already been made to, including increasing capacity, which helped the site function more smoothly by the end of the first enrollment period. Some 5.4 million people picked plans for 2014 via the site, which serves 36 states, and 2.6 million did so through state-run exchanges.

Some insurers also said the process of filing their 2015 plans with the federal government appears to be proceeding with far fewer hiccups than in 2014, a possible sign that this year’s enrollment will go more smoothly than last year’s, they said.

But officials are still grappling with problems from the first enrollments. Contractors are working through a backlog of 2 million consumers whose applications have discrepancies, CMS officials confirmed this week. Those consumers are getting tax credits toward the cost of coverage, but made income projections or statements about their immigration status that didn’t match federal data.

Such snarls are drawing fire from Republicans. “This system was unworkable from the start,” said Rep. Fred Upton (R., Mich.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “As we’ve said all along, this is much more than a website problem.”

For consumers looking to sign up for 2015, the site will have a new home page, visual design and tools to help them learn about the program, window-shop without registering and find local assistance. It will be optimized for mobile devices and run on Inc.’s cloud computing service.

It will also include a new screening tool that directs households with complex situations, such as multiple families living in one house, to a different part of the website. The majority of users will be directed to the new streamlined application, according to the slides from the meeting last month.

Bringing in Amazon marks the latest in a series of new contractors. Last year, federal officials hired Hewlett-Packard Co. HPQ +0.33% to replace Verizon Communications Inc. VZ +0.26% subsidiary Terremark as the site’s web-hosting provider.

A spokeswoman for Amazon declined to comment on its role.

The presentation also says the health law’s exchange for small businesses, delayed by technical problems last year, is on course to go live Nov. 15, with a pilot launch in October; it will launch without some functions, including the option for employers to contribute different amounts for part- and full-time employees.

At the back end, federal officials are also offering cloud services to insurers that participate in the program. They would be used as part of the system that will generate payments that blunt the costs associated with enrolling sicker consumers, a key aspect of the law.

The riskiest part of the overhaul, say contractors, is a replacement of the EIDM—the system that allows people to create an account.

Officials have been grappling with the system’s limitations for months. After the system locked out most users in the early days of, officials asked the contractor then responsible for the site, CGI Federal, to build a replacement “to improve access,” according to an Oct. 4 amendment to the company’s contract reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. But officials later decided replacing the system in the middle of enrollment was too risky and focused on improving the flawed component, people familiar with the matter said.

A spokeswoman for CGI declined to comment.

Replacing EIDM “is a major change,” said one senior official of a government contractor. “My opinion, no way they can do that before next open enrollment. Tune and tweak? Yes. Replace? No way.” But he said the changes planned by CMS broadly made sense as a response to last fall’s troubles.

Insurers are also focused on timelines that are slipping further on key behind-the-scenesfunctions, such as the system to funnel subsidy payments to plans. The system, originally supposed to be ready for the launch in October,then later slated for completion by mid-March, is now scheduled to be fully operational in 2015, according to a slide laying out the timeline.

Currently, health plans are getting paid via a setup that requires them to send spreadsheets to the the government. Switching to the new system will require reconciliation of data and likely settling-up of over- or under-payments.


“The farther back it’s pushed, the more confusing it will be to insurance companies and to members,” said Cliff Gold, chief operating officer of CoOportunity Health, an insurer offering plans in Iowa and Nebraska.


Rasmussen Reports

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


Bottom of Form

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Voters have made it clear for years that the economy is their number one concern, and if President Obama’s approval ratings are any indication, money appears to be talking louder that the numerous controversies the administration finds itself in.

Investor confidence at week’s end remains higher than it has been since 2007. Consumer confidence is near highs for the year.

The Rasmussen Employment Index which measures worker confidence jumped five points in May to its highest level in over six years of monthly tracking.

Thirty percent (30%) of Employed Adults are looking for a job outside of their current company, up four points from April and the highest finding since March 2011. Forty-two percent (42%) believe their next job will be better than their current one, the highest level of confidence in two years.

Just as many Americans will be taking a summer vacation this year, but fewer will be cutting back on how much they spend.

The president’s  monthly job approval rating climbed to 49% in May, up two points from April and matching his previous high for the year reached in February. Obama’s approval rating hit a two-year low of 45% in November during the troubled rollout period for the new health care law, but it has generally remained at 47% or 48% for much of his presidency.

The headlines tell a different story. The president, for example, recently announced plans to withdraw all but 9,800 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year and fully withdraw troops by the end of 2016. Forty-eight percent (48%) of voters believe some U.S. troops should remain in Afghanistan through 2016, but nearly as many (44%) think the United States should withdraw all troops by the end of this year.

Voters are also almost evenly divided over the prisoner swap proudly announced by the president that freed the only known U.S. military POW in Afghanistan in exchange for five Taliban leaders held at the Guantanamo prison camp for terrorists. Most voters don’t approve of negotiating with terrorists. 

The exchange is seen as part of the president’s effort to close the prison at Guantanamo, but most voters think that’s a bad idea.

Opposition to Obamacare’s requirement that every American have health insurance has risen to 51%, its highest level this year.

The president has authorized new Environmental Protection Agency regulations on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants that critics claim will drive up energy costs. Fewer voters than ever (21%) believe the actions of the EPA help the economy. Twice as many (41%) believe the agency’s actions hurt the economy instead.

Obama also continues to call for new government spending as an economic stimulus, but most voters (56%) continue to think thoughtful spending cuts should be considered instead in every program of the federal government.

Other recent surveys have found that 62% think it’s likely the president or his top aides were aware of the serious problems with veterans’ care before they came to light in recent weeks. Most voters also think the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups and his administration’s handling of the Benghazi matter deserve further investigation.

Yet Obama’s daily job approval rating appears even better so far this month, despite new and continuing controversies of his own making.

By contrast, House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, is now the overall most unpopular leader in Congress, surpassing even House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi who has long held that title.

Democrats lead Republicans again on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot when voters are asked which party’s congressional candidate they would vote for if the election were held right now.

Still, many pundits think the GOP has a good chance of taking six seats away from Democrats this November to win majority control of the U.S. Senate. One possible Republican pickup is in Iowa where longtime Democratic Senator Tom Harkin is retiring. The Senate race there between Joni Ernst, the winner of Tuesday’s crowded GOP primary, and Democratic Congressman Bruce Braley is a dead heat.

To gain control of the Senate, Republicans need to hold onto the seats they currently have, and they appear very unlikely to lose the one in Idaho now held by Jim Risch. The GOP incumbent has a nearly two-to-one lead over Democratic challenger Nels Mitchell.

Republican incumbent C.L. “Butch” Otter holds a 14-point lead over his Democratic opponent in Idaho’s 2014 gubernatorial race.

Republican Governor Terry Branstad leads his Democratic opponent Jack Hatch by nine points in his bid for reelection in Iowa.

Republican Governor Tom Corbett trails his Democratic challenger Tom Wolf by 20 points in Rasmussen Reports’ first look at the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race.

Check out all the Senate and gubernatorial races nationwide on our new Election 2014 pages here.

In other surveys this week:

— Thirty percent (30%) of voters say the United States is heading in the right direction. Sixty-three percent (63%) think the country is headed down the wrong track.

— Edward Snowden made public the federal government’s spying on Americans’ phone calls and e-mails, and he says he’s a patriot. Sixty-three percent (63%) of voters think it’s good for the country that he revealed the National Security Agency’s surveillance program, but 42% still believe Snowden should be treated as a spy.

Seventy-one percent (71%) of Americans believe a free society like ours can never be made completely safe from a mass murder like the recent one in southern California.

— Forty-five percent (45%) think the media coverage of mass murders inspires other people to commit violent acts

— School districts around the country have been pushing to opt out of the school food guidelines championed by First Lady Michelle Obama. Just 25% of Americans think the federal government should set nutritional standards for schools.


From → Uncategorized

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: