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September 20 2014

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Recapitalizing the Future: Service Juggles Demands of 6 Foundational Programs

Sep. 14, 2014 – 02:25PM | By AARON MEHTA | Comments


WASHINGTON — The US Air Force has six major aircraft recapitalization programs it must balance in the next five years during an era of budget reductions.

The top priorities are the “big three” — the F-35 joint strike fighter, KC-46A Pegasus tanker and new long-range strike bomber.

The service has largely protected those three programs from cuts so far and has indicated it would make big sacrifices to make sure they are safe.

“You have to decide what kind of technology do you need to be successful in the fight over time, and then you build your investment plan around that,” Gen. Mark Welsh, Air Force chief of staff, told Defense News. “The top three acquisition programs we have did not just appear because they are cool or they cost a lot. The reason they are our top three is because if you use the logic I just described, they move to the top of the list.”

The second tier of recapitalization programs comprises the T-X trainer replacement program, the combat rescue helicopter (CRH) recapitalization, and a next-generation version of the joint surveillance target attack radar system (JSTARS) fleet.

“Is there any one of those six I’d worry more about pushing to the right? I don’t know that I’d say that,” William LaPlante, service undersecretary for acquisition, said. “I think each one has its own challenges.”

LaPlante and his team are relying on a new 20-year budget strategy to lay out a way forward and avoid the dreaded “bow wave,” when acquisition programs stack up just outside the future years defense plan.

Whether the new budget strategy will work remains to be seen, but in the meantime, these six programs will be fighting for funds for the rest of the decade.


F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

Target IOC: Mid-to-late 2016 for Air Force F-35A model

FY 2015 PB Request: $33.3 billion over FYDP

Status: Low-rate initial production and test flight

The Air Force represents the largest F-35 customer, with a planned procurement of 1,763 of the Lockheed Martin-designed stealthy fighters. Because it represents such a major procurement for the service, leaders have been adamant that the F-35 buy be protected in the budget.


“Our older legacy fighters will not compete against generation 4.5 or 5 fighters, for all kinds of reasons,” Welsh said. “They cannot compete equally with them. So, we have got to have a new capability.”

Problems remain, however. Most of the F-35 fleet is operating under flight restrictions following an engine fire that heavily damaged an F-35A model in June. While program officials believe they have a fix for the engine problem, any delays in implementing it could in turn delay test dates, which, if not mitigated, could affect the Air Force’s IOC date.


KC-46A Pegasus Tanker

Target initial operating capability (IOC) date: FY 2017

FY 2015 President’s Budget (PB) Request: $6.6 billion over FYDP

Status: Test plane under production

The KC-46A is the first in a three-step process to replace the Air Force’s tanker fleet. Boeing is locked into a taxpayer-friendly engineering and manufacturing development contract for the program that caps service costs at $4.9 billion; anything over that, the company is responsible for.

The program is largely on track, although there are warning signs of potential future problems. The company has had to move first flight of its test aircraft from a June date to sometime before the end of this year. First flight of an official KC-46A is scheduled for sometime in the first half of 2015; one source familiar with the program says April is the target date, but that may shift. Both Boeing and the Air Force note first flight dates are company-set milestones and are not contractual obligations.

“If [first flight of the test plane] slips into next year, I think everybody is going to start to be concerned,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said.

“I do not like to worry too early about things that have not happened yet. But, I think every time there is a slip in a major program, especially one that is due to deliver starting here in 2016, we want to make sure we stay on track,” Welsh added. “We are close to the first aircraft being delivered, and so anything that happens between now and then has an impact.”


▲ Long-Range Strike Bomber

Target IOC: Mid-2020s

FY 2015 PB Request: $11.4 billion over FYDP (Total black budget unknown)

Status: Request for proposals issued

The Air Force has been very cagey about the Long-Range Strike Bomber program. What is officially known: The service wants 80-100 of the planes, with a $550 million per-plane target cost. An award is expected in the first half of 2015, with Northrop Grumman going up against a team of Lockheed and Boeing for the right to produce it by its “mid-2020s” IOC target.

“No reasonable person would declare confidence in an IOC date 10 years from now,” Welsh said when asked if the plane will be on schedule. “So, we will see. I am confident with where we are today.”

“I can’t predict what they will be but we’ll have challenges there,” LaPlante said. “It’s a big program.”

Because so much of the program funding is in the “black” budget, it is unclear exactly what has been done so far on the bomber, but speculation abounds. J.J. Gertler, an analyst for the Congressional Research Service, penned a memo noting that the bomber’s budget profile looks more like a production than an research and development program, hinting that much of the technological development and testing has already happened behind the scenes.

The program may also produce a family of systems rather than a single plane. For instance, it could be a two-ship program — one gathering ISR and providing targets for a second plane to perform the actual strike. Expect more details as a selection is made.


▲ Combat Rescue Helicopter

Target IOC: FY 2021

FY 2015 PB Request: $1.08 billion over FYDP

Status: Contract awarded

The CRH program covers 112 new helicopters to replace the service’s aging Pave Hawk combat search-and-rescue machines, and could be worth as much as $7 billion over the life of the program.

The Air Force wanted a wide-open competition, but one-by-one, competitors dropped out, citing restrictions with the requirements. At the end, Sikorsky was the sole competitor to file a bid, and was awarded the contract in June.

Notably, the CRH was a last-minute budget addition for the Air Force. A general was told it had been added just before he briefed the press during a budget rollout. The Air Force has claimed the program could be endangered if it is not allowed to retire the A-10 attack plane, likely a political move given the strong support CRH has in Congress; analysts agree the new helicopter is likely safe because of protectors such as Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.


▲ T-X Trainer Replacement

Target IOC: FY 2023

FY 2015 PB Request: $503 million over FYDP

Status: Requirements Being Decided

The winner of the T-X competition will replace the service’s T-38 trainers with 350 new aircraft, a contract that has drawn significant competition.

“The challenge with T-X is, can we truly get a good trainer for a good price without doing development? That’s kind of our goal, not develop something new,” LaPlante said, noting one challenge is “making sure the requirements on that are reasonable enough that we can make sure there is a good, healthy competition for a non-development solution.”

Officials also have to decide if T-X should be a pure trainer, or if it should be a multirole plane that can perform ISR or light attack operations as well. An RFP is expected in 2017.

Three existing trainers are being offered for the T-X: The Hawk Advanced Jet Training System, a joint program led by BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman; Lockheed Martin’s offering of the Korean Aerospace Industries T-50; and the T-100, a collaboration between General Dynamics and Italy’s Alenia Aermacchi based on the latter’s M-346 design.

There are two newer designs competing as well. Boeing and Saab are teamed on a “clean-sheet” design, one the companies said will not be based on Saab’s Gripen fighter. In addition, Textron AirLand has announced its intention to compete a trainer variant of its Scorpion jet.


▲ JSTARS Replacement

Target IOC date: Q1 FY 2022

FY 2015 PB Request: $2.3 billion over FYDP

Status: Requirements being decided

The Air Force wants a commercial aircraft for its next-generation joint surveillance target attack radar system (JSTARS) command-and-control aircraft, but what that system will look like is unclear.

Boeing intends to offer a machine based on its 737-700 design, but the service may look for a smaller, business jet solution. In that case, companies such as Bombardier or Gulfstream would likely make a play.

Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group said that decision will be based in part on whether the Air Force believes it can have certain processing capabilities off-board or if it wants to keep everything on the physical platform.

LaPlante said the problem with the recap will be integration.

“The idea is to use a commercial jet so it’s not a new or developmental airplane, and to use proven technology for the sensor and proven battle management command-and-control software,” he said. ■


DoD rescinds DISA cloud-broker memo

Sep. 12, 2014 |



The Defense Information Systems Agency is no longer the Pentagon’s officially designated cloud broker. Defense Department officials have apparently rescinded the 2012 memo, signed by then-DoD CIO Teri Takai, that designated DISA as the priority choice for defense agencies seeking cloud services. The move was part of a broader military cloud strategy.

The memo appears to have been rescinded in the past week, according to Lt. Gen. Mark Bowman, director, command, control, communications and computers/cyber and chief information officer at the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“People can do a business case analysis and decide where they want to go to get their cloud support, if someone can figure out the secret sauce on how to get it cheaper,” Bowman said Sept. 11 at AFCEA’s TechNet event in Augusta, Georgia, according to SIGNAL Magazine. “It has to be provided to the right security standards, and it will have to be checked.”


Bowman also seemed to indicate defense agencies in some cases may be able to opt out of DoD CIO calls to migrate to defense enterprise e-mail, which all of the Army has transitioned to as well as other agencies including the Joint Staff and parts of the Air Force.

“There are people who want to contract out unclassified email. The difference in cost-per-seat ranges from 100 bucks a seat down to $24 something a seat. Industry is telling us they can do it for 15 bucks a seat. I think you’ll see us trying some of that stuff,” he said. “Our problem in the Defense Department is that once we lock on something, we seem to lock on it and stay on it. My belief is that once you start something like enterprise email, and you’ve got a million plus users, you can’t just declare victory.”

Bowman’s announcement came just a day after DISA CIO Dave Bennett cautioned government decision-makers against moving too hastily to the cloud.

“Everybody’s looking at cloud as being the answer to all issues, but we need to understand what it means to start to leverage the cloud as we go forward,” Bennett said Sept. 10 at the MeriTalk cloud computing brainstorm in Washington. “Are we going to take everything to the cloud? My sense of the game is no, we won’t.”


Sources: Expect Next Year’s USAF Budget To Continue Push for Cuts

Sep. 14, 2014 – 02:56PM | By AARON MEHTA | Comments

WASHINGTON — When the US Air Force rolled out its budget request in March, it was billed as a realistic look at the post-sequestration world, one filled with necessary tough choices but still maintaining current capabilities.

Air Force leaders’ intent to modernize the force quickly crashed against a brick wall in the shape of Congress, as both chambers made clear that cuts to the A-10 close air support plane, and to a lesser extent the U-2 surveillance aircraft, have little support.

With the Hill dug in, the Air Force seems prepared to stick to its guns on its FY 2016 proposal. Multiple sources tell Defense News that the service’s budget proposal hews closely to what was submitted in 2015, despite expected congressional pushback.

While “if at first you don’t succeed, try again” doesn’t always work in budget negotiations, service officials said they stand by their strategic decisions made for last year’s budget plan.

In an August interview, Gen. Mark Welsh, Air Force chief of staff, discussed the need to respect his service’s strategic analysis.

“If something is the right answer one year, it is probably the right answer the next year,” Welsh said. “If you try to change the right answer each year, all you do is run into a different group of resistance.

“The military view of this is pretty straightforward. The operational analysis is pretty clear and we have shared it with everybody, [and] we will continue to share it with everybody,” he added. “There is no question what the right military answer is. And, if we are not going to be allowed to do the right military answer, then tell us what the right answer is and we will move forward.”

Given the struggles the service has had with credibility among members of Congress — most notably during a fiscal 2013 budget fight where the service made what critics called disproportionate cuts to the reserve and Air National Guard components — it is important that service leaders hold fast to their recommendations, said Mackenzie Eaglen of the American Enterprise Institute.

“If the Air Force kept flipping again and again, it would be a disaster,” Eaglen said, highlighting last year’s switch to support the Global Hawk unmanned system over the U-2 spy plane, after several years of arguing for the opposite.

“Air Force leadership is trying very hard to rebuild credibility on Capitol Hill for the substance of their decisions and the analytics behind them,” she said. “It makes sense they would continue to stand behind their decisions from last year.

“Politically speaking, the Air Force can never flip again.”

That doesn’t mean the budget will be a carbon copy of 2015, of course.

In April, DoD issued a memo defining what the Air Force would need to trim if the 2016 budget restrictions were not raised. That included small cuts to the number of F-35 joint strike fighters and KC-46A tankers being procured over the future years defense program.

Additionally, 39 MQ-9 Reaper unmanned systems would be cut between fiscal 2018 and 2019 and 10 MC-130J special operations aircraft would also not be procured over that same time period. A new-start, next-generation engine program would be dead on arrival.

Perhaps the most controversial cut would be removing the KC-10 tanker fleet from service. That keeps in line with the Air Force’s strategy of finding maximum savings by dropping entire fleets, a more efficient model than taking cuts from multiple fleets due to the logistics “tail” that goes into supporting a type of aircraft.

The House Armed Services Committee included language in its 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that prevents the Air Force from spending any funds to retire, or begin to retire, the A-10, U-2 and KC-10 aircraft. While the NDAA has yet to be voted on, Welsh pre-emptively warned that blocking cuts to any fleet will force the service to find cuts elsewhere.

“We have presented a whole list of things that we would have to do at the BCA [Budget Control Act] level. If we are not allowed to divest programs to get us to the BCA level, we are just going to have to walk down that list,” Welsh said. “The problem we have got is whatever next stop that we go to, there will be another group of people in Congress who do not think it should go.

“It is hard if you try and pay the bill, and everybody who gave you the bill tells you, no, you cannot pay it with that, eventually you get down to a discussion that there is no other place to take it,” Welsh added. “So, we are going to tell them our best military advice on where this ought to come from.

“Congress has the final decision authority here. I understand that, and we will adjust to what they give us,” Welsh acknowledged. “But there is only X amount of money in the budget. Somebody is going to have to prioritize. We will prioritize the way we think is right, and if Congress chooses to prioritize in a different way, they just need to tell us what that is.”


Decisions Remain

One senior source with knowledge of the budget discussions noted that unresolved issues from the 2015 budget fights — most notably Congress’ actions to protect the A-10 — have cast a pall over 2016.

“If Congress says the Air Force must sustain these weapon systems, then it will drive some turbulence and pain trying to find where those offsets will come from,” he said.

The ongoing efforts of the Total Force Continuum (TFC), a group set up by Welsh to help advise him on force structure among the active, reserve and Air National Guard components, is also affecting budget discussions.

Welsh has ordered that group to provide “high-velocity analysis” of every weapon system in the service, and several of those are still being looked at. TFC’s recommendations to move those systems around are expected to drive fiscal 2016 decisions, but may not be finalized until the end of this year.

Depending on how those force structures shake out, the service could shuffle significant portions of the legacy fleet over to the reserve component. In turn, that would give them the opportunity to use National Guard and Reserve Equipping Appropriation (NGREA) funds, which are appropriated by Congress each year to help maintain existing inventory, for these aircraft added to the non-active roster.

If the NGREA funds can be used for modernization and upkeep on planes such as the F-15, F-16 and C-130, it would free up money to focus on recapitalization priorities. The House has recommended $2 billion in NGREA funds for this year.

“We have a real opportunity here to focus NGREA on some of the legacy systems and take pressure off the budget of modernization,” the senior source said.

One area the service wants to protect remains the readiness accounts, something Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James stressed during an interview with sister publication Air Force Times.

“I’m estimating maybe 70 percent of our [fiscal 2015] plan will go forward, and of course that leaves about 30 percent, if I’m right, that won’t be agreed to,” James said. “The chief and I constantly are saying; please don’t take it out of readiness. Don’t pay for it out of readiness, because readiness is so crucial to us.

“So if I had to say, you know, my No. 1 concern, it would be what will Congress do with our readiness accounts in FY15. So that’s a challenge, and we continue to try to tell our message, because of course, Congress hasn’t completed its work yet.”


What else is there to cut?

The senior source predicted F-15 and F-16 fleets could face cuts, estimating that 350-400 planes would have to be cut in order to compensate for the lost A-10 savings, which the service claims comes with a $4.2 billion price tag. Service officials have also highlighted the B-1 as a fleet that could take losses.

Structurally, the service is copying last year’s program objective memorandum (POM) and Alt-POM planning method, which allowed Air Force budgeteers to plan for both a sequestered and non-sequestered funding stream.

The senior source indicated that the sequestered budget has been the true focus, as officials are working under the assumption that sequestration levels will not be changed for fiscal 2016.

“I see the budget being driven by sequestration,” he said. “I see a lot of verbiage about needing to rethink the budget because of rising threats, but we won’t know if that’s going to happen until Congress tells us and gives us some relief in FY16 on sequestration.”■


Senate has a secret book of rules

Donovan Slack and Paul Singer,


2:23 p.m. EDT September 14, 2014

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate has for years lived by a secret book of rules that governs everything from how many sheets of paper and potted plants each Senate office is allotted to when Senators can use taxpayer money to charter planes or boats.

The document has never been available to the public — until now.

USA TODAY has obtained and is making available on our website a copy of the 380-page U.S. Senate Handbook, which describes itself as “a compilation of the policies and regulations governing office administration, equipment and services, security and financial management.”

U.S. Senate Handbook:
Table of Contents (PDF)
Part I: Administration (PDF)
Part I: Appendices (PDF)
Part II: Equipment and Services (PDF)
Part IV: Financial Management (PDF)
Part IV: Appendices (PDF)

The handbook reads something like an employee manual, explaining how new senators and staff members can get ID cards and how many parking passes each senator will be issued. But it also contains detailed rules on how each senator can spend their official, multi-million-dollar, taxpayer-funded budget on things like meals and travel.

Yet, because it has not been released, it’s been impossible for the public to know whether a senator has violated the rules — for example by charging taxpayers for an improper charter flight.

The handbook is referenced in rules published by the Senate Ethics Committee, Congressional Research Service reports and history books. But the Rules Committee, which produces the handbook, does not release it. The Library of Congress does not even have a copy.

Asked for a copy by USA TODAY, the committee provided a book called the “Senate Manual,” which includes rules for legislating, a few historical documents and some Senate trivia like “Electoral Votes, President and Vice President, 1789-2013.” When pressed, Rules Committee spokesman Phillip Rumsey said the handbook is not public.

“In the past, the Senate handbook has not been made publicly available because it contains sensitive security information regarding Senate operations,” he said. “The handbook is currently undergoing significant revisions and updates, and when the new version is completed, the Senate Rules committee will consider making the handbook available to the public.”

The U.S. House of Representatives, on the other hand, has published its handbook online for years.

In light of the Senate’s security concerns, USA TODAY is not publishing the 10-page section of the handbook governing Senate security, which includes information about law enforcement operations and explains how to respond to a bomb threat.

The handbook lays out detailed rules for spending the approximately $3 million-$4 million each senator is allocated annually in taxpayer funds to operate their offices. The total for each senator is based on population of his or her state and the distance from Washington.

The Senate pays the actual bills from those accounts when senators submit expense reports, accompanied by receipts or other supporting documentation. Travel expenses are generally limited to those “essential to the transaction of official business.”

Senators are allowed to charter planes or boats if it would be “advantageous to the Senate.” USA TODAY has reported that senators took nearly $1 million worth of charter flights last year at taxpayer expense.

The U.S. Senate Handbook

Prohibited expenses include “personal services,” gifts, flowers and awards or certificates and entertainment, “such as alcohol or movies.” And senators cannot hire family members with official funds.

The handbook also offers some remarkable insights into the byzantine customs of the Senate. For example, office space is assigned by seniority, and if two senators took office on the same day, the one who is a former member of House will get preference over the one who is a former governor.

The architect of the Capitol can provide a compact refrigerator for a senator’s office and a piano for events. And “each Senator receives annual paper allowances for blank paper, letterhead paper and envelopes” based on population with a formula of “one and one-third sheets of blank paper per adult constituent.” Thus the Illinois senators each receive 11,605,333 sheets of blank paper; the West Virginia senators receive only 1,874,667.

Congressional watchdogs say it’s imperative that the Senate handbook be made public.

“If it’s describing Senate rules of procedure, and it’s not public information and even describes and offers guidance to senators as to how they’re supposed to use official resources and it’s not public, that is outrageous,” said Craig Holman, chief legislative affairs representative for nonpartisan watchdog Public Citizen.

“I mean that’s the type of guidance that the public should be able to see as well as senators and Senate staff so we can all monitor compliance with the rules.”

Two years ago, the ethics watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington asked the Senate Rules Committee to release the handbook.

“Good government groups, journalists and the public-at-large should have access to the Handbook so they can evaluate senators’ conduct in light of its guidance,” CREW argued in a March 2012 letter to the committee. “Without access to the Handbook, no one even knows the standards to which senators and Senate employees and officers are held.”

The Rules Committee never responded to CREW’s request.



Russia Starts Building Military Bases in the Arctic

By Matthew Bodner, Alexey Eremenko

Sep. 08 2014 20:07


By the end of 2014, Russia will have moved military units to Kotelny Island, located north of the Sakha Republic in eastern Siberia, and a motorized rifle brigade to Alakurtii, a village in Murmansk oblast, to coincide with deployments to the Franz Josef Archipelago and Novaya Zemlya.

Set on restoring the once formidable Soviet military presence in the highly contested and resource-rich Arctic, the Russian military has begun building new military bases in the region, a Defense Ministry spokesperson said Monday.

“On Wrangel Island and Cape Schmidt, block-modules have been unloaded for the construction of military camps. The complex is being erected in the form of a star,” Colonel Alexander Gordeyev, a spokesperson for the Eastern Military District, was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti.

Russia has been talking about militarizing the Arctic for years as part of its greater strategy to explore and industrialize the pristine region, which is wealthy in oil and gas and offers a strategic trade route capable of rerouting the global trade flows.

The locations named by Gordeyev are deep into the Arctic circle in the Chukchi Sea, close to Alaska.

President Vladimir Putin in April stepped up his commitment to the region, calling for the creation of a unified command structure to coordinate military operations in the Arctic and create a new government entity to execute Russia’s policy in the region.

Putin sees control of the Arctic as a matter of serious strategic concern for Moscow. Below the Arctic lies vast stockpiles of largely untapped natural resource reserves; estimates vary, but the more optimistic ones put the undiscovered reserves of oil and gas in the Arctic at 13 and 30 percent of the world’s total, respectively.

Russia is vying for control of the region’s oil, gas and rare metals with the other “polar nations” — Canada, Denmark, Norway and the U.S. — leading many observers to point at the region as one of the world’s most volatile flashpoints.

The construction of the new Arctic bases, which will be the first new facilities established in the area since the Soviets abandoned their Arctic positions in the waning years of the Cold War, marks a milestone in Russia’s militarization of the region.

Wrangel Island is classified by the Russian government as a nature reserve and was never used by the Soviets as a military base. In late August, the Russian navy carried out an expedition to the island and planted a flag, which Pacific Fleet spokesperson Captain First Rank Roman Martov said “heralded the station of the first ever naval base on [Wrangel Island].”

Cape Schmidt, on the other hand, saw use during the Cold War as a base for long-range strategic bombers. The Soviet government established airbases throughout the Arctic for its bomber fleet, as this was the closest geographic point to the United States.

The two sets of 34 prefabricated modules being installed on Wrangel Island and Cape Schmidt will contribute to Putin’s aspirations by giving Russia’s Arctic forces a comfortable home in an unforgiving environment. The base will consist of residential, commercial, administrative and recreational units, RIA Novosti reported.

Roman Filimonov, director of the Defense Ministry’s department for state procurement of capital construction said in July that it intends to establish six such compounds in the Arctic “to further develop the stationing of ground forces in the Arctic … They will be contemporary military communities. We will call them ‘The North Star’ since the shape of the community resembles a star.”



Meanwhile, Russia’s Northern Fleet, which is based out of Murmansk, in the western part of Russia’s vast Arctic territory, is being reinforced with Russia’s newest nuclear attack submarines — the Yasen-class. The first Yasen, called the Severodvinsk, joined the Northern Fleet in June. With three additional vessels slated to follow her, the Yasen-type submarines will phase out the older Soviet-era Akula and Alfa-class attack submarines. This will leave Russia with a formidable underwater force to complement the already hard-hitting capabilities of the Northern Fleet.

Such developments have alarmed the other members of the so-called Arctic Council, a group of nations that share borders in the region. In late August, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird raised the alarm on Russia’s military buildup in the region, vowing that it would not hesitate to defend Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic.

By the end of 2014, Russia will have moved military units to Kotelny Island, located north of the Sakha Republic in eastern Siberia, and a motorized rifle brigade to Alakurtii, a village in Murmansk oblast, to coincide with deployments to the Franz Josef Archipelago and Novaya Zemlya.

By 2015, Russia hopes to restore the entirety of its former-Soviet defense infrastructure in the region, RIA Novosti said.


Resource War

Russian state companies Gazprom and Rosneft, which have a monopoly on Arctic oil and gas exploration, have worked since 2011 to begin production in the region.

Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya offshore platform in the northern Pechora Sea shipped the first tanker with 70,000 tons of Arctic-grade oil in April.

But further exploration has come into question due to U.S. and EU sanctions that have curbed sales of equipment for oil and gas exploration in the Arctic to Russia as part of penalties imposed over Moscow’s alleged meddling in war-torn Ukraine.

Gazprom and Rosneft lack the technologies for offshore drilling in freezing seas, which led the former to partner with Royal Dutch Shell and the latter with ExxonMobil and Statoil on their Arctic projects.

Arctic oil exploration is vehemently contested by environmentalists, who say it is unprofitable — with production costs estimated at from $115 up to $700 per barrel — and hazardous for the Arctic’s fragile ecosystem, given the absence of technologies to efficiently clean oil in freezing seas.

Greenpeace stormed the Prirazlomnaya twice, in 2012 and 2013, to protest its operations. However, Russian security services detained the activists at gunpoint during the non-violent protest last year and charged them with piracy and later hooliganism, a criminal offense. They were released on amnesty after several months in prison in what Greenpeace called an intimidation campaign.

Adding insult to injury, Wrangel Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site, where any construction, let alone massive military deployment, is forbidden.

The Defense Ministry did not comment on the island’s protected status on Monday.



Fresh sanctions will freeze big foreign oil projects in Russia

By Olesya Astakhova, Katya Golubkova and Vladimir Soldatkin

MOSCOW Sun Sep 14, 2014 8:22am EDT


(Reuters) – Fresh U.S. and EU sanctions imposed on Moscow will bring an abrupt halt to exploration of Russia’s huge Arctic and shale oil reserves and complicate financing of existing Russian projects from the Caspian Sea to Iraq and Ghana.

On Friday, the United States imposed sanctions on Gazprom, Gazprom Neft, Lukoil, Surgutneftegas and Rosneft, banning Western firms from supporting their activities in exploration or production from deep water, Arctic offshore or shale projects.

The new measures, designed to put further pressure on President Vladimir Putin over Russia’s actions in Ukraine, are a major broadening of the previous sanctions, which only banned the export of high technology oil equipment into Russia.

Projects now in jeopardy include a landmark drilling program by U.S. giant Exxon Mobil in the Russian Arctic that started in August as part of a joint venture with the Kremlin’s oil champion Rosneft.

Now this and dozens of other projects that Rosneft and Gazprom Neft agreed with Exxon, Anglo-Dutch Royal Dutch Shell, Norway’s Statoil and Italian ENI will have to be put on hold.

“Cutting off U.S. and E.U. sources of technology and services and goods for those projects makes it impossible, or at least extraordinarily difficult for these projects to continue…There are not ready substitutes elsewhere,” a senior U.S. administration official told a briefing on Friday.

The companies will have 14 days to wind-down activities.

“There is no contract sanctity,” the U.S. official said.

Russia, the world’s second-largest oil exporter, is counting on its Arctic and “tight” shale oil reserves to sustain production at around 10.5 million barrels per day, amid declining output at old West Siberian fields.

Valery Nesterov from Russian state bank Sberbank, which was also sanctioned by the EU and the United States, foresaw serious complications.

“What is really worrying are sanctions on tight oil. Russian companies haven’t invested enough in research and technology. They were heavily relying on Western technologies and now it is simply too late,” he said.



Key among Russian tight oil reserves are the Bazhenov formations, which are located beneath existing mature west Siberian fields.

They are estimated to contain as much as a trillion barrels of oil – four times the reserves of Saudi Arabia.

Rosneft and Gazprom Neft are working on Bazhenov with Exxon and Shell.

“When we learnt about the first sanctions we decided to speed up work on all fronts to minimize the damage to the company,” said a Rosneft source.

Rosneft’s chief Igor Sechin, a close ally of Putin, said earlier this month the company had approved a program to replace all Western technology in the medium-term.

Spokesman Mikhail Leontiyev said Rosneft’s lawyers were studying the sanctions and their implications for joint Arctic drilling with Exxon.

Rosneft has a total of 44 offshore deposits in the Arctic and the Black Sea, with estimated reserves of 300 billion barrels. It had planned to develop them with Exxon, ENI and Statoil.

A Lukoil source said the new sanctions were a shock.

“We were really not expecting to end up on the sanctions list,” said a source at Lukoil, Russia’s largest private oil company.



Lukoil is the most active Russian company overseas and has assets ranging from deep-water projects off Ghana to shallow-water Caspian Sea activities and giant onshore operations in Iraq. It was planning to drill for tight oil in Siberia with French oil major Total.


U.S. administration officials said on Friday the new measures were designed in such a way as to avoid affecting conventional production or foreign projects by Russian companies.

“Lukoil’s operations in the U.S., like for instance their filling stations, should not be affected,” the senior U.S. official said.

However, bankers and traders working with Lukoil said the sanctions will further complicate the company’s ability to raise funds, including for its foreign projects like deep-water Ghana.

Lukoil was the last Russian oil firm to raise a big Western loan – $1.5 billion including money from U.S. banks – but since July, when Western sanctions were expanded, all lending to Russian energy companies stopped.

“Once you are on the sanctions list, lending becomes close to impossible,” said a senior oil trader at a Western trading house, who works with Russian oil firms.

U.S. administration officials said on Friday the new sanctions will further hit the Russian economy on the brink of recession and facing a 13-percent weakening of the rouble and $100 billion in capital outflows so far this year.

If the energy companies turn to the central bank for financing, that will only draw down on the state’s resources, the U.S. officials said.

Vitaly Kruykov, director of Russian think-tank Small Lettres, said Russia – with forex reserves of $460 billion – had enough internal resources to last a maximum of two years under current sanctions.

“Then Russia will have to go to Asia for financing but God knows what the cost of borrowing will be there. Asian lenders will quickly raise rates,” said Kruykov.


Wright-Patt makes list of finalists for new center, 350 jobs

Sep 16, 2014, 9:05am EDT


Joe Cogliano

Senior Reporter-

Dayton Business Journal


The U.S. Air Force has announced the list of candidates for the Installation and Mission Support Center. This summer, the center was launched at an interim home at Joint Base Andrews, Md. to centralize the oversight of bases and mission support activities.

A permanent site for the center is expected to be named early next year.

The center reports to Air Force Materiel Command, which is based at Wright-Patt, so that already concentrates more power in the Dayton region. However, getting those 350 or so jobs to come here would be an even bigger victory.

“Wright-Patt clearly meets all the Air Force’s criteria for the IMSC headquarters,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton. “I have spoken with the Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and General Janet Wolfenbarger multiple times about the viability of Wright-Patt as a location for the center.”

“On every occasion, I have continued to echo the value of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and urge its consideration in the IMSC strategic basing process,” Turner added.

The new jobs would also replace about the same number of jobs that were lost during the AFMC restructuring this summer.

The Air Force will use its standard strategic basing process over the next several months to evaluate potential locations and select a permanent site.

Other finalists include:

Barksdale Air Force Base, La.;

Ellsworth Air Force Base,, S.D.;

Hurlburt Field, Fla.

Andrews Air Force Base,, Md.

Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va.

Joint Base San Antonio, Texas;

Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.;

Scott Air Force Base, Ill.;

Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.


Cyber Iron Dome: Reality or Dream?

By Eric Chabrow, September 17, 2014.Follow Eric @GovInfoSecurity

“There’s an iron dome of cybersecurity that parallels the iron dome against the rockets and this allowed us the operating space to continue fighting and of course to continue with the daily life of Israel,” Netanyahu said in a speech delivered at the conference on Sept. 14.

Cyber-attacks from Israeli enemies increased dramatically during the Hamas conflict, but they proved to be more of a nuisance than damaging. Hamas loyalists, for instance, sent text messages to Israelis’ mobile phones, purportedly from Israeli security services, warning: “Rocket from Gaza hit petrochemical plant in Haifa, huge fire, possible chemical leak, advised to evacuate Haifa.” There was no attack or huge fire, but perhaps a few frayed nerves.


Finest Minds

“The fact that the cyber-attacks did not affect Israel’s daily routine and economy and they certainly did not affect the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] efforts – those facts derive from the fact that we have the finest minds, literally, the finest minds in Israel’s security community and our cyber industry working to give us those defenses,” Netanyahu said.

But Netanyahu may be ahead of himself. Cyber-attacks during the Gaza war had a negligible impact on Israel’s military, government and society, but it wasn’t necessarily an iron-dome type defense that furnished the protection.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Iranian cyber-attacks.


Costly Endeavor

On the same day that Netanyahu delivered his speech, the Israeli business newspaper Calcalist reported that Danny Gold, who’s credited with creating the iron dome missile shield as the then-head of Israeli military research and development, is behind a new initiative to establish a cyber iron dome that could be deployed within three years at a cost of hundreds of millions of shekels (100 million shekels equals nearly $27.6 million). Gold heads the National Cyber Committee at the National Council for Research and Development, a body consisting of leading scientists, engineers and industrialists that advises the government on science policy and priorities.

The cyber iron dome would repel attacks on various component of Israel’s computer networks, including systems operated by individuals, the government, military and the private sector, according to the news report. The system would operate in four main layers: identify threats, protect systems from the threats, mitigate threats that exists within the network and launch retaliatory attacks against cyber-assailants. Any counter-offensive attack under the system would be launched by the Israel Defense Forces cyber command.

Unlike the iron dome that identifies incoming missiles to destroy, a cyber version wouldn’t initially launch an attack on its target but would provide the IDF with “pinpoint” information on where the attacks originated, Gold said. “The objective of the cyberdefense network is to locate the threat beforehand and to prevent it from materializing,” he said. “Eventually, it will also be able to attack hackers who have tried to breach the network.”


Collaborative Effort

The cyberdefense program would encourage Internet and technology companies, in Israel and abroad, to collaborate with the Israeli government and military on the initiative. Among the big companies Gold cited as possible partners are Google, IBM and Microsoft as well as two big Israeli defense companies that have cybersecurity units, Elbit Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries.

Getting large companies involved in the initiative would help the government shepherd the creation of a cyber iron dome. “There are some 200 start-up companies in the cyber field in Israel, but there is no body that integrates them,” Gold said. “A large company can decide that it is working with 10 small start-ups, each of which is developing a specific component in a system, and thus be able to provide a larger and more integrated system.” That’s a similar approach taken when Israel began to develop the kinetic iron dome, which the Israel Defense Forces contends had a success rate of 90 percent in the war with Hamas.

What would be impressive about this project is the international nature of it, nations and businesses facing common threats banding together to develop technology and processes to safeguard critical systems.

That Israel is moving ahead on such a collaborative initiative shouldn’t be surprising. Except for the United States, more cybersecurity enterprises are based in Israel than any other nation. Israel’s Chief Scientist office estimates that Israel is home to some 250 cyber companies as well as 15 cyber R&D centers operated by multinational corporations such as IBM, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft and Qualcomm.

The U.S. government will likely participate in this project. At the Tel Aviv cybersecurity conference, according to the Times of Israel, former U.S. National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander emphasized the need for diverse elements of society facing cyberthreats to cooperate in finding solutions.

It’s only through that type of cooperation that nations will be able to create systems like a cyber iron dome.



GAO: Has Security Flaws

HHS Disputes Audit Findings on Risks

By Eric Chabrow, September 17, 2014.

Federal government auditors have identified weaknesses in the technical controls protecting the security of the federally run Obamacare website and systems.

A Government Accountability Office report issued Sept. 16 says the Department of Health and Human Services unit that runs, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, has not always required or enforced strong password controls, adequately restricted access to the Internet, consistently implemented software patches and properly configured an administrative network.

“An important reason that all of these weaknesses occurred and some remain is that CMS did not and has not yet ensured a shared understanding of how security was implemented for the FFM among all entities involved in its development,” the audit says, referring to the federally facilitated marketplace, the part of Obamacare run by the federal government on behalf of 36 states.

“Until these weaknesses are fully addressed, increased and unnecessary risks remain of unauthorized access, disclosure or modification of the information collected and maintained by and related systems, and the disruption of service provided by the systems,” the report says.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Sept. 18 will hold a hearing dubbed, “Examining ObamaCare’s Failures in Security, Accountability, and Transparency” at which the GAO report is expected to be discussed.

Weaknesses Remain

GAO says CMS has taken steps to protect the security and privacy of data processed and maintained by the complex set of systems and interconnections that support, yet weaknesses remain in the processes used for managing information security and privacy as well as the technical implementation of IT security controls. The report says CMS took many steps to protect security and privacy, including developing required security program policies and procedures, establishing interconnection security agreements with its federal and commercial partners, and instituting required privacy protections.

“However,” the audit says, “ had weaknesses when it was first deployed, including incomplete security plans and privacy documentation, incomplete security tests, and the lack of an alternate processing site to avoid major service disruptions.”

HHS Disputes Findings

Jim Esquea, HHS assistant secretary for legislation, disputed some of GAO’s conclusions, contending that CMS developed consistent with federal statutes, guidelines and industry standards that help ensure the integrity of the systems data.

In a written response to GAO, Esquea says HHS does not concur with the audit findings that CMS accepted significant security risks when it granted the federally and state operated components of to operate last September and allowed states to connect to the data hub, which provides connectivity between the federally operated and state operated systems.

Besides the security controls examined by GAO, Esquea says CMS implemented other measures to protect personally identifiable information, including penetration testing that still continues. In addition, he says, CMS conducts continuous monitoring using a 24-by-7, multi-layer IT security team and a change management process that includes continuous testing and mitigation strategies in real time. “These layered controls help protect the privacy and security of PII related to the FFM,” Esquea says.

GAO offered six recommendations, including conducting a comprehensive security assessment of the federally operated part of GAO also called on HHS to establish detailed security roles and responsibilities for contractors, including participation in security controls reviews, to better ensure that communications between individuals and entities with responsibility for the security of the federally operated part of and its supporting infrastructure are effective.

Obamacare Opponents React

The GAO report provided political fodder for opponents of Obamacare. “The president and his administration launched knowing that the personal information of Americans who bought insurance through the website was not safe,” says Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who’s the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “Their personal information was not safe then, and it is not safe now. Someone should be held accountable for this kind of gross mismanagement, and security must be fixed immediately before a major hacking attack does massive damage.”

HHS disclosed on Sept. 4 that malware had been uploaded on a test server back in July. HHS officials say the malware was designed to launch a distributed-denial-of-service attack against other websites when activated and not designed to exfiltrate personally identifiable information.

No consumer data was exposed in the incident, HHS officials say.

The GAO report comes in response to multiple requests the watch-dog agency had received in recent months from several members of Congress asking for a review of information security. Those includes a request, made in a May 1 letter to the GAO, from Rep. Lamar Smith, R -Texas, chairman of the House Committee on Space, Science and Technology.

The requests for GAO to study the security and privacy and security safeguards of the Obamacare insurance exchange site and systems also follow a number of Congressional committee hearings last fall that considered the security risks of HealthCare.


USAF Lab Chief Expects To Test EW Missile in 2016

Sep. 16, 2014 – 04:14PM | By BRADLEY PENISTON | Comments

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD. — On the convention center screen, an animated cruise missile flew over a shadowy cartoon city. A beam of high-power microwaves emitted from its nose — and the target building went dark. More significantly, the ones around it stayed lit up.

Developed over the past half decade under a program called Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP), the technology for a steerable counter-electronics weapon will be “available” in 2016, said Maj. Gen. Tom Masiello, who commands the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).

“It can target electronics well enough to fly over a city and shut down electronics in a single building,” Masiello said Tuesday at the Air Force Association’s annual conference here.

Tests over the past few years have proved the concept; now the AFRL is working to get the technology into a test missile. By 2016, Masiello said, the lab plans to design, develop and test a multishot, multitarget, high-power microwave package aboard an AGM-86 conventional air-launched cruise missile.

Beyond that, Masiello said, AFRL’s roadmap for high-power microwave (HPM) weapons calls for integrating the technology onto “maybe, a JASSM-ER-type weapon” in the mid-2020s and aboard “small reusable platforms” such as the F-35 or advanced UAVs by the end of the decade.

It’s unclear whether such weapons will actually enter production; there’s no program of record yet, he said.

But his own opinion is clear; he talked about the HPM concept in “Game Changers,” a presentation that also included discussions of hypersonics and autonomous systems.

Last year’s test flight of the X-51 hypersonic test vehicle achieved Mach 4.8 and 200 seconds of ramjet power — far beyond the previous record of seven seconds.

“That really put hypersonics on the map,” Masiello said. “It really added a lot of momentum to the program.”

As for increasingly sophisticated autonomy, Masiello said, “This has the potential to dwarf everything.”

But he took pains to make clear: “It’s not about taking the airman out of the weapon system, it’s about making an effective team.”


AFRL Commander: ‘Digital Teammates’ Will Support a Shrinking Force

Sep. 16, 2014 – 04:14PM | By MARKIE HARWOOD|nextstory


As the force gets smaller, the US Air Force may look increasingly to machines to make decisions in team with airmen.

“A digital teammate,” in the words of Maj. Gen. Thomas Masiello, commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory. “An unmanned wingman,” he said.

While airmen will always be essential to the fight, “let machines do what they do best,” he said Tuesday at the Air Force Association Air and Space Conference outside Washington, D.C.

Among key technologies AFRL is researching are sensors. Imagine if a machine — sensors built into a shirt, for example — could monitor markers in sweat for signs of stress or distraction. The digital teammate provides better awareness, Masiello said.

Autonomy means “speed in decision-making,” he said.

AFRL is focused on both safety and efficiency in its autonomy research, Masiello said.

Ground collision avoidance systems and air collision avoidance systems for both manned and unmanned aircraft can improve safety. Technology to manage the huge amounts of intelligence data can improve efficiency, he said.



Air Force to Invest Heavily in Hypersonic Aircraft

By Yasmin Tadjdeh



The head of the Air Force Research Laboratory on Sept. 16 said the first test of a hypersonic aircraft could come within five years, and the technology could be applied to cruise missiles by the 2020s.

Maj. Gen. Tom Masiello, commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory, said hypersonics is one of the most promising technologies the lab is working on. It is currently testing the Boeing X-51 WaveRider unmanned hypersonic vehicle.

Hypersonic planes, lasers and unmanned aircraft are all considered major aviation game changers, he said.

“Hypersonic is the technology of the future,” Masiello said during the Air Force Association’s Air and Space Conference at National Harbor, Maryland. “I can’t overemphasize the significance of the X-51.”

Following a successful and historic test of the X-51 last year, momentum has been growing, Masiello said. During the test, the vehicle reached speeds of Mach 5.1 and traveled 230 nautical miles in about six minutes.

When operational, a hypersonic aircraft will give the military the ability to strike time-sensitive targets and could be used in an anti-access/area-denial environment, Masiello said. Survivability in A2/AD situations is critical as the nation focuses on the Asia-Pacific region, which has a higher threat of such attacks, he said.

“[From] a survivability stand point, it’s about altitude, it’s about speed. It’s just plain physics in terms of a missile being able to intercept a cruise missile going at Mach 5 plus, up at 50,000 [or] 60,000 feet,” Masiello said. “In any A2/AD environment, regardless of the Asia Pacific or anywhere else … that ability to survive in a highly contested environment is a huge attribute.”

The test was the fourth of its kind, and followed two previous failures. Previously, the aircraft’s supersonic combustion ramjet engine — also known as a scramjet — failed to light during the second test. A fin fell off of the aircraft during the third test.

Masiello said past failures were opportunities to better understand the technology, and a necessary part of the test-and-evaluation process.

“Within an S&T environment, we have to protect the opportunity to fail or else you’re not going to make any real progress,” Masiello said. “In early R&D and S&T, there are going to be failures.”

The success of the fourth test proved that this type of futuristic technology is real, Masiello said.

Demonstrations of an aircraft should happen within the next five years, he said. The X-51 resembles a missile and is launched from a B-52. By the 2020s, the Air Force wants to weaponize the technology to use it as a cruise missile, he added.

In the 2030s, the technology could be mature enough to be used for tactical strikes as well as for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. At this stage, the aircraft will likely be reusable and may have a short lifecycle, he said. By the 2040s, it could be combat-ready for persistent reusable strike and ISR missions, he said.

Masiello said lasers were also part of the Air Force of the future. Directed energy weapons could one day be attached to fighter jets.

“Lasers are probably one area that have been overpromised and under-delivered forever,” Masiello said.

The Air Force wants to get a high-energy laser on a fighter-sized craft by the 2030s, he said. There are a number of challenges that the service is trying to work out, he said.

“You have air flow issues, vibration issues,” he said. “It’s really all about size, weight and power and thermal managing.”

Aircraft must be able to generate enough power to deploy the laser as well as dissipate the associated heat, he said.

Masiello also mentioned strides in autonomy and unmanned technology. He stressed that the future of unmanned aviation did not mean the end of manned aviation, but rather that the two would work hand in hand.

“This [technology] has the potential to dwarf everything,” Masiello said. “When you talk about autonomy, it’s not taking the airmen out of the weapon systems, it’s building an effective manned/human machine.”


Welsh on Aging Fleets: ‘Airplanes Are Falling Apart’

By Brendan McGarry Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 5:54 pm


NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Top U.S. Air Force officials said the service must protect funding to upgrade aging fleets of aircraft while investing in new technologies despite automatic budget cuts.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh was blunt in his warning about the condition of such aircraft as the F-16 fighter jet and the B-1 bomber, both of which have been flying for decades. The service recently grounded dozens of F-16D two-seater models made by Lockheed Martin Corp. after finding cracks between the front and rear pilot seats in a section called the canopy longeron sill, a strip of metal that affixes to the fuselage.

“Airplanes are falling apart,” he said during a presentation Tuesday at the Air Force Association’s annual conference. “I don’t care if it’s B-1 oil flanges that are breaking and starting fires or if it’s F-16 canopy longerons that are cracking. There’s just too many things happening because our fleets are too old. They’re just flat too old. We have to re-capitalize.”

Like other military services, the Air Force is grappling with how to properly fund such accounts as equipment, personnel and training amid an era of automatic budget cuts known as sequestration.

“Right now, the things we have in our plan we cannot afford,” Welsh warned. “Something has to change, whether it’s more money, support from outside the Air Force or re-prioritization from inside the Air Force.”

The service’s six acquisition priorities remain the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter; long-range strike bomber; the KC-46A refueling tanker; the combat rescue helicopter; joint surveillance target attack radar system replacement; and the T-X trainer, Welsh said.

After his speech, Welsh and Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James sat down for a briefing with reporters. James said she envisions a smaller force with more modern equipment.

“As we look into the future, we see probably a smaller Air Force than we have today,” she said. “We see an Air Force that will continue to rely probably more on our National Guard and Reserve forces … We see a more modern Air Force … We see an Air Force that remains to be ready.”

Both officials highlighted the Air Force’s role in recent air strikes against Islamic militants in Iraq. The service has conducted about 80 percent of the air strikes, including about 500 intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sorties and almost 1,000 refueling missions, they said.

James also said, “You’re all aware of the tough choices we’ve had to make as part of our FY15 budget submission. We basically traded off force structure and some of our aircraft of today and instead we are investing more heavily in readiness and in our modernization for tomorrow.” She urged Congress to support the service’s proposals to save money in part by curbing military compensation and consolidating military bases.

In the absence of approving a full budget, James urged lawmakers to adopt a stop-gap funding measure known as a continuing resolution, or CR, for fiscal 2015, which begins Oct. 1.”We need a CR. We need it promptly,” she said. “We don’t need a government shutdown. That’s a bad deal for everybody.”



New data center protects against solar storms and nuclear EMPs

Computerworld | Sep 15, 2014 4:11 AM PT


The company that built the facility isn’t disclosing exactly how the data center was constructed or what materials were used. But broadly, it did say that the structure has an inner skin and an outer skin that use a combination of thicknesses and metals to provide EMP protection.

There are other data centers that protect against electromagnetic pulses, which can be generated by solar storms or high-altitude nuclear blasts. Underground data centers, in particular, advertise this capability. And some vendors offer containers and cabinets that shield IT equipment from EMPs, which can fry circuits.

But there’s been little discussion, overall, about whether EMP protection should be a standard risk mitigation feature in data centers.

The two solar storms that began arriving Thursday night aren’t strong enough to hurt electronics on the ground, though they could disrupt GPS and radio communications. More than anything, they’re a reminder of a risk that is the subject of steady warnings but isn’t immediate enough to spur people to do much about it — though it is real enough to inspire visions of apocalyptic scenarios among Washington policy makers.

Betting against an EMP event is a gamble. On July 23, 2012, a solar super storm released a coronal mass ejection (CME) that passed through the Earth’s orbit but missed the Earth itself. It is believed to have been as powerful as the 1859 Carrington Event, a solar storm that disrupted and knocked out the most advanced electronic communications medium of the day, the telegraph.

The perfect solar storm would require a big sun spot cluster and a very rapid CME, and the magnetic field inside the solar storm would have to couple perfectly with the Earth’s magnetic field. If that happened, the consequences could be significant, William Murtagh, program coordinator at U.S. Space Weather Prediction Center, said Thursday.

“We’re concerned that can happen,” he said about the prospect of a major solar storm hitting the Earth. The 2012 solar storm “was very powerful, and some have suggested it would have been on par with a Carrington-level event.” But that particular storm was not directed at the Earth, he said.


EMP protection can be built into a data center at very little additional cost, said Kris Domich, president of Cyber Innovation Labs – Professional Services (CIL). The company is the founding member of EMP Grid Services, a recently formed company responsible for the EMP-ready data center in Boyers, Pa. CIL provides infrastructure services.

Domich said the idea for the EMP-resistant data center came from a customer, an insurer, that wanted to protect its data from electromagnetic pulses.

An EMP can “irrevocably destroy” data, said Domich. The magnetic field on a disk that is used to set the data, if not maintained, or if it is abruptly or intensely changed, will wipe out the data, he said.

Lee Kirby, CTO of the Uptime Institute, a data center advisory and research group, said that EMP risks are not high on the list of things that data center managers worry about. But he said that may be more because of the newness of this industry.

“When you look at it from a business justification viewpoint, [EMP protection] gets pushed way down the line, just from a probability point of view,” Kirby said.

Nonetheless, he said, the threat of electromagnetic pulses could become a topic of much discussion for data center professionals.

There have been a number of government reports, as well as congressional hearings, detailing the threats posed by EMPs. The idea that an EMP could be generated by a terrorist-sponsored nuclear blast is getting more attention, particularly because of concerns about North Korea and Iran.

A nuclear blast 60 miles up in the atmosphere could expose about 1.5 million square miles of territory to EMP impacts that could, among other things, knock out SCADA systems that help run the infrastructure of electric and water utilities and oil and gas pipeline systems.

The loss of electric power over a substantial period of time is “likely to be catastrophic, and many people may ultimately die for lack of the basic elements necessary to sustain life in dense urban and suburban communities,” according to a 2008 U.S. government report that examined the effects of an EMP event.

Repairing the power grid could take four to 10 years, and the economic cost could exceed $2 trillion.

EMPs send out a pulse of energy that can short-circuit electronics in everything from cellphones and computers in cars to enterprise networks. EMP-generating devices are not necessarily nuclear, and they can be built with over-the-counter parts.

Congress has held repeated hearings over the years, particularly since the 9/11 attacks in 2001, and there have been a number of government reports that describe the consequences. But there is no action plan, and the need for EMP protection sits lower on the list of public-sector priorities than increasingly costly infrastructure projects, such as efforts to repair or replace aging bridges, roads and water lines.

The problem may that EMPs are not seen as an immediate threat. According to one government estimate, made by intelligence agencies, a crippling solar geomagnetic storm is unlikely to occur more than once in 100 years.

A U.S. House bill, the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act (HR 3410), requires the government to give more attention to EMP disaster planning and to “proactively educate” the owners of critical infrastructure about the threat of electromagnetic pulses. But it has not advanced beyond a committee in this Congress.




SASC: China-Backed Hackers Penetrated TransCom Contractor Networks 20 Times

Sep. 17, 2014 – 05:59PM |

By JOHN T. BENNETT | Comments


WASHINGTON — Chinese government-backed hackers accessed networks of private-sector firms with sensitive data about US military logistics nearly two dozen times in one year, says a US Senate committee.

In a report summarizing a lengthy investigation, the Senate Armed Services Committee determined senior brass at US Transportation Command, the military’s logistical hub, typically were unaware of the network violations.

Collectively, the 20 contractor network penetrations “show vulnerabilities in the military’s system to deploy troops and equipment in a crisis,” states a SASC summary of the investigation.

“These were not just commercial intrusions,” committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., told reporters Wednesday. “The point here is these [intrusions] have got security implications.”

Levin and SASC Ranking Member Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., warned their 12-month investigation reveals even more than previously known about Beijing’s involvement in hacking from its own soil.

“These peacetime intrusions into the networks of key defense contractors are more evidence of China’s aggressive actions in cyberspace,” Levin said. “Our findings are a warning that we must do more to protect strategically significant systems from attack and to share information about intrusions when they do occur.”

Inhofe said it is “essential that we put in place a central clearing house that makes it easy for critical contractors, particularly those that are small businesses, to report suspicious cyber activity without adding a burden to their mission-support operations.”

The committee’s 2015 Pentagon policy bill contains a provision that would establish an office within DoD to collect network-penetration information and ensure it gets to every level it needs to, Levin said.

The chairman said he “has confidence” the Chinese government “is continuing to do what it has been doing.”

“We must take steps to defend against that, and where we get info, we have to ensure it gets to the right people,” Levin said, warning that top TransCom officials in almost all of the contractor breach incidents were “in the dark.”

Among the panel’s findings:

■ “A Chinese military intrusion into a TransCom contractor between 2008 and 2010 that compromised emails, documents, user passwords and computer code.”

■ “A 2010 intrusion by the Chinese military into the network of a [civilian] contractor in which documents, flight details, credentials and passwords for encrypted email were stolen.”

■ “A 2012 Chinese military intrusion into multiple systems onboard a commercial ship contracted by TransCom.” ■


Boeing-Lockheed venture picks Bezos engine for future rockets

Wed Sep 17, 2014 6:50pm EDT

By Andrea Shalal


(Reuters) – United Launch Alliance (ULA), a Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp joint venture, said on Wednesday it would invest heavily in a new rocket engine being developed by Inc founder Jeff Bezos and his company Blue Origin.

The new engine, called the BE-4, could be ready for use in four years, and would cost substantially less than the Russian-built RD-180 engine now used to power ULA’s heavy-lift Atlas 5 rockets, officials from both companies told reporters.

The U.S. government is grappling with how to reduce its reliance on the Russian-built engines, a matter of growing concern this year after Russia’ actions in Ukraine.

The announcement showed mounting pressure on ULA, the sole rocket launch provider for most U.S. military and spy satellites, to lower costs as it faces growing competition from another entrepreneur, Elon Musk, and his firm Space Exploration Technologies.

SpaceX is seeking Air Force certification of its Falcon 9 rocket, and plans to release its own heavy-lift rocket to compete with ULA’s Atlas 5 next year.

“It’s really time for our country to move toward an all-American launch vehicle, and I can’t think of a better way to get on that path,” said Tory Bruno, chief executive of ULA.

Bruno told reporters ULA had a two-year supply of Russian engines, with 11 more to be delivered later this year and next. He said he did not expect problems with those deliveries, despite the company’s decision to develop a U.S. alternative.

Bezos, a well-known technology entrepreneur, said he was excited to work on the project with ULA, which just carried out its 88th consecutive, successful launch.

He said the engine could pave the way toward a future in which “millions of people” lived and worked in space.

Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall said he had not been fully briefed on the initiative, but called it an example of the innovative and creative ideas the military was seeking on how to end dependence on Russian-built engines.

General John Hyten, head of Air Force Space Command, welcomed news that the effort was privately funded, but stressed that any new engine would have to pass a rigorous certification process, like the one SpaceX is undergoing, before it could be used to launch expensive and critical satellites into space.

“I’m not sure which way we’re (ultimately) going to go,” he said. “But…the more competition and the more ideas we have, the better off we are.”

Musk told Fox Business Network he viewed the ULA-Bezos agreement as a compliment. “If all your competitors are banding together to attack you, that’s like a good compliment.”

Bezos said ULA was making a significant investment in the development of the BE-4 engine, which would help accelerate the program, but gave no details. Bezos said only that it was possible to develop an engine for less than the standard estimate of seven years and $1 billion.

He said his company had been working for three years on the new liquid oxygen engine, which will deliver 550,000 pounds of thrust at sea level, and testing of various components was already under way at the company’s new facility in West Texas.


Bezos said the engine could eventually be reusable, although ULA did not plan to recover them initially. Blue Origin was continuing to work on plans for its own orbital vehicle, which would re-use the engines and should be ready later this decade.

ULA said it would use two BE-4 engines on each of its boosters, providing combined thrust of over 1 million pounds, more than the RD-180 engine now used on the Atlas 5 rocket.

The engine will use liquefied natural gas.

Bezos said Blue Origin was also part of the Boeing team that won a $4.2 billion contract from NASA on Tuesday to develop a space taxi. Boeing said its bid uses the Atlas 5 rocket and RD-180 engines, but leaves open the possibility of switching to a different engine or booster. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Andre Grenon and Grant McCool)


LaPlante: Air Force Must Improve Relationship with Industry
By Yasmin Tadjdeh

Sep 17, 2014


The Air Force needs to improve its acquisition processes, which can be done by working more collaboratively with industry, said the service’s assistant secretary for acquisition Sept. 16.

“It’s always better when … you’re used to working together on common problems, so when a difficult challenge comes up you know each other and know how to work together,” said William LaPlante during a speech at the Air Force Association’s annual Air & Space Conference at National Harbor, Maryland.

The Air Force is currently working on its 20-year acquisition strategy plan, LaPlante said. One of the key priorities of the strategy is to foster better relationships with industry and become more transparent, he said.

Already the Air Force is working on a series of best practices, LaPlante said. Consulting with industry trade groups such as the National Defense Industrial Association — the publisher of National Defense — and the Aerospace Industries Association, the Air Force has come up with as many as 30 initiatives, he said.

One example is an effort to shorten the time needed to award a company a contract. It currently takes 17 months on average from the time a request for proposals is issued to when a company is awarded a contract, LaPlante said.

“There are a whole lot of things we can do together with industry to make this happen faster. It’s just unsatisfactory,” he said. “We’re going to try and bring that number down, maybe even in the single digits.”

The key is not to change the negotiation process, which should remain the same, but to arrive at that point more quickly, he said.

“We are about ready to issue a memo to all our PEOs and program managers with a lot of these best practices. We’re hoping to do the same thing with a lot of our industry counterparts with their companies so we can start to measure our progress against this,” LaPlante said.

Another priority in the 20-strategy will be to keep acquisition programs on track, he said. The service’s priorities include the F-35 joint strike fighter, the KC-46A tanker and the long-range strike bomber, he said.

The joint surveillance target attack radar system recapitalization program and the T-X trainer replacement effort are also important Air Force initiatives, he added.

Other goals mentioned included creating a long-term acquisition strategy and building upon Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall’s “Better Buying Power” procurement guidelines.

LaPlante did not say when the strategy would be released, but noted it is currently in the draft stage.

Air Force acquisition is currently the best it has been in the last five years, he said.

“We’re at full strength. We’re having time to put strategy together and align it with the Air Force strategy. We’re aligning it with the field of lifecycle sustainment and acquisition and it’s coming together,” LaPlante said. “[There are] a lot of good things going on, a lot of momentum. This is actually a great time in Air Force acquisition.”


Who really owns that government data?

Sep 16, 2014

By the end of the month, data collected on federal stimulus spending over the past five years will disappear from public view — not because the website, which always had an expiration date, will be gone, but because the government doesn’t own the data.

Dun & Bradstreet does.

The website tracks federal spending under the 2009 economic stimulus law through the unique identifier system called DUNS. But that license expires at the end of the month, and the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, which monitors the spending, is not renewing it.

So come Sept. 30, Dun & Bradstreet is taking its data and going home.

And while this is a prominent example of what can happen when private companies own government data — the Washington Post highlighted the story last week — it’s hardly the only one. Critics say it points to a larger problem that is almost certain to happen again unless steps are taken to change the system.

We are a real-life example of what can happen when government uses proprietary data sets…. Since it’s come to light now, people may find different ways to do this in the future.

By May 9, 2015, the Office of Management and Budget and the Treasury must come up with government-wide standards for tracking federal spending data, under the Data Accountability and Transparency Act.

Establishing those standards will provide an opportunity to decide whether to continue using DUNS, some other outside system, or to bring control of the data in-house.

“It’s a much bigger question of where will data get housed and how will that work,” said Nancy DiPaolo, chief of congressional and intergovernmental affairs at the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board. “A website is a living thing and some of it involves licenses…. We have to ask ourselves as a contemporary society, how will modern government adapt?”

She also noted that with the way technology is evolving, government “needs to weigh the possible consequences of long term agreements or non-open sources as they make laws and decisions.”

“We are a real-life example of what can happen when government uses proprietary data sets,” DiPaolo said. “Since it’s come to light now, people may find different ways to do this in the future.”

Hudson Hollister, executive director of the Data Transparency Coalition and an early proponent of the DATA Act, said while sticking with the DUNS system may save time and headaches because employees won’t have to learn a new system, less expensive and more transparent alternatives exist.

“As long as there’s a proprietary identifier in place, it’s not truly open data,” Hollister said. “It’s crucial to democracy that we make that information available.”

Hollister suggested switching to a Legal Entity Identifier (LEI) system, which would cost less — Dun & Bradstreet’s eight-year contract is worth as much as $154 million — and provide a non-proprietary system that would keep the data available to the public.

And LEI is a universal and unique computer readable code planned for identifying every financial market participant. The Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Research is one of many government entities working to create a global LEI system that would not be controlled by a commercial vendor.

A 2012 Government Accountability Office report was critical of the DUNS contract, saying it “limits the purposes for which the government can use the data and hampers the ability to switch to a new numbering system.”

It is having specific, identifiable harm on the federal government’s ability to obtain the best value and most favorable terms with the taxpayer’s dollar.

The report also said that the General Services Administration believes that “Dun & Bradstreet effectively has a monopoly for government unique identifiers that has contributed to higher costs.”

The recovery board is not the only government organization that has data owned by a private company. In 2013, for example, the U.S. Forest Service was forced to effectively recreate its database of job descriptions when it switched vendors. And all data housed on the GSA’s Federal Procurement Data System is owned by Global Computer Enterprises. In 2003, GCE was awarded $24 million to build, implement and operate the General Service Administrations FDPS Next Generation system. GCE is still operating the system today, Hollister said.

Last week, Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) wrote letters to GSA and the Office of Federal Procurement Policy urging them to remove specific references to DUNS numbers in acquisitions regulations so other potential vendors could be considered.

“In this case, it is clear that it is having specific, identifiable harm on the federal government’s ability to obtain the best value and most favorable terms with the taxpayer’s dollar,” the two leaders of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee wrote.

The letters pointed out that the U.S. Postal Service, which is not subject to the acquisition regulation, saved $6.4 million annually after not renewing its contract with Dun & Bradstreet in 2008. The Postal Service chose Equifax as its new vendor.

In a statement, GSA said it surveyed the industry in 2012 “in an effort to identify other sources.” Ultimately it “received few responses” and the agency determined that Dun & Bradstreet was the “most suitable option due to the specialized services the company provides,” according to the Post.



Google wants to test drone wireless Internet in New Mexico

by Press • 18 September 2014

Martyn Williams


Google is planning to test Internet delivery by drone high above New Mexico, according to a government filing.

On Friday, the company asked the Federal Communications Commission for permission to use two blocks of frequencies for the tests, which are scheduled to last about six months and begin in October. They will be conducted above an area of more than 1,400 square kilometers in the center of New Mexico to the east of Albuquerque.

“Google recently acquired Titan Aerospace, a firm that specializes in developing solar and electric unmanned aerial systems for high altitude, long endurance flights,” Google said in its application. “These systems may eventually be used to provide Internet connections in remote areas or help monitor environmental damage, such as oil spills or deforestation.”

Google said its application for temporary permission to make the transmissions was needed “for demonstration and testing of [REDACTED] in a carefully controlled environment.”

The FCC allows companies to redact certain portions of their applications when they might provide too much information to competitors.

In the application, Google said it wants to use two blocks of frequencies, one between 910MHz and 927MHz and one between 2.4GHz and 2.414GHz. Both are so-called “industrial, scientific and medical” (ISM) bands typically used for unlicensed operations.

The application has not yet been approved.

It’s the latest in a series of moves by the company to trial Internet delivery from the skies.

The company unveiled its ambitious Project Loon last year, which uses a series of high-altitude balloons that float in winds at about 20 kilometers (65,000 feet) above the Earth. The first experiments with Loon involved using a transmission system based on WiFi, but earlier this year the company began experimenting with LTE cellular transmissions in a test site in Nevada.

Google acquired Titan Aerospace in April this year for an undisclosed price.

Google could not immediately be reached for comment.


First company authorized to fly unmanned aircraft out of Griffiss International Airport

by Press • 18 September 2014

Logos Technologies has received authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to begin flight-testing of the unmanned Tactically Expandable Maritime Platform (TEMP) unmanned aerial system (UAS). Testing will be conducted at the Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance (NUAIR) FAA UAS test site at the Oneida County Griffiss International Airport in Rome, NY.

Like all UAS, TEMP requires special permission to operate in domestic airspace. The FAA certificate of authorization (COA) lays the groundwork for TEMP to become the first UAS to be exclusively tested out of Griffiss, with oversight provided by NUAIR. Testing is expected to begin in October 2014.

The testing facility, located on the site of the former Griffiss Air Force Base, also hosts the Air Force Research Laboratory Information Directorate (Rome Lab). Operating in close proximity to Rome Lab will greatly improve the speed and efficiency with which Logos Technologies can mature this technology for military and commercial applications.

“This news is a great development for the Griffiss community,” said Rep. Richard Hanna, U.S. Representative for New York’s 22nd Congressional District. “I look forward to continuing to work to facilitate the responsible development of innovative new technologies like those that Logos Technologies is known for, and demonstrating the great opportunities that the Mohawk Valley can provide to small businesses.”

Developed in partnership with Atair Aerospace, TEMP is a lightweight, powered and autonomous-flight-capable parafoil aircraft. Like other similar platforms under development by Logos Technologies, TEMP is designed for a range of missions, including precision cargo-delivery to remote and inaccessible areas to assist with emergency response and other situations.

“This is an important step for Logos Technologies in its development of powered parafoil platforms for both military and commercial applications,” said Dr. John Marion, president of Logos Technologies. “We’re grateful to Rep. Hanna and our partners at the NUAIR for their wholehearted support that sets a great precedent for the future of UAS technology in New York State.”


CyPhy Works to test new pocket-sized drones for U.S. Air Force

by Press • 17 September 2014


DANVERS, MA – CyPhy Works has been awarded a contract by the U. S. Air Force to help improve search and rescue operations. Funded under the Rapid Innovation Fund, Extreme Access Pocket Flyer will address an existing capability gap in the remote inspection of small passageways and tunnels that are often – blocked by debris and rubble. Under this new project, CyPhy Works will design and test Extreme Access Pocket Flyer, a compact, highly versatile drone that can be quickly deployed for remote inspection of collapsed structures. The current approach used by search and rescue operations relies on costly ground robots that can be limited by ground obstacles and steep terrain. Target users communities will include Pararescue, Special Forces and FEMA. Extreme Access Pocket Flyer will also be used as an airborne in-tunnel surveillance system.

“Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), frequently placed in tunnels and culverts, are the predominant threat to our military forces” said Matt England, LTC(R) and CyPhy Works Vice President of Government Systems. “Imagine not having to get out of the protection of your armored vehicle and being able to closely inspect suspicious areas in a fraction of the time it currently takes. That’s what Extreme Access Pocket Flyer will enable.”

Extreme Access Pocket Flyer makes use of CyPhy Work’s proprietary microfilament technology to solve the mission life and non-line-of-site telemetry issues. A free flying vehicle this size would last less than twenty minutes and would lose communications when entering a building. By contrast, the Extreme Access Pocket Flyer will stay aloft as long as power is supplied from the ground and its batteries will be hot swappable.




“Just like a camera, the best drone is the one you have with you,” said CyPhy Works CEO Helen Greiner. “The market potential is one for every soldier, marine, police officer, swat team member, and many other jobs that expose people to danger”.

About CyPhy Works

CyPhy Works is a leading robotics company developing aerial robots and UAVs for large industries such as defense, oil and gas, agriculture, entertainment, law enforcement, and mining. CyPhy Works combines UAV experts with product proven roboticists to create rugged and reliable aerial solutions. CyPhy (pronounced: Sci-Fi) is a contraction of Cyber and Physical both essential elements to a robot. Our mission statement describes our philosophy: Our community inspires; Our team creates; Our robots empower. For more information please visit and follow Helen Greiner on Twitter @HelenGreiner.



Manufacturer Plans 1,000 Riot Control UAS a Month

September 19, 2014


Specialist surveillance company Desert Wolf is seeking to establish manufacturing facilities that can build at least a thousand Skunk unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) a month, in response to massive demand for the riot control vehicle, which is being developed into a whole family that can be used for a variety of duties, such as search and rescue, surveillance, LIDAR scanning and lifeguard.

The Skunk octocopter, armed with four paintball markers, cameras and a loudhailer, was unveiled at the IFSEC security exhibition in Johannesburg in May this year, where it generated a considerable amount of interest both locally and abroad. Hennie Kieser, Director of Desert Wolf, initially planned to produce several hundred a year at most but the market demand for the aircraft is over a thousand a month. The company is also re-designing the aircraft with various improvements and will offer it for a variety of duties – Kieser said that the riot control model was “just the beginning” in a planned series. Various mission envisioned for the Skunk include acting as a lifeguard that is able to drop a life raft to someone in trouble.

Another variant for disaster relief would be able to carry and drop 30 kg of supplies – the United Nations has expressed interest in such a variant. Other missions could include delivering medical supplies and one option could be to mount weapons, such as the Neopup low recoil 20 mm cannon. The new range will be marketed at the Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) 2014 exhibition this week. The new Skunk II is bigger and better and constructed with enclosed rotors with extended air time of up to six hours.

Desert Wolf is currently producing the Skunk II in South Africa with a maximum capacity of 50 units per month. Desert Wolf will only start selling the next generation Skunks as soon as it can establish production facilities. The original idea was to build the UAVs in South Africa at the rate of ten to thirty a month but because of the massive demand, a foreign partner had to be found. Desert Wolf is seeking capital investment of $200 million to produce thousands a month and is looking to establish a production facility in Malta, which will be set up for manufacture in March next year. Training UAV operators will also take place in Malta as Malta is encouraging such business development. Desert Wolf is not selling its UAVs in South Africa because of the SACAA ruling that UAVs are illegal and is doing demonstrations outside the country. The company is still exhibiting and marketing its products though. In South Africa, Desert Wolf has had enquiries from metro police for service delivery protests. Mining companies are also very interested – for example Lonmin wants to be the first customer once UAVs are legal again in South Africa. “There’s a huge demand just for the Skunk system in South Africa,” Kieser said. A customer in the United Arab Emirates if very interested and is looking to order an initial hundred, then four hundred then five hundred. Interest has come from places like Turkey (police), Europe, then North East Africa and the United Arab Emirates region. Algeria and Nigeria are serious about buying the drone, particularly due to unrest in Nigeria.


Climate Science Is Not Settled

We are very far from the knowledge needed to make good climate policy, writes leading scientist Steven E. Koonin

By Steven E. Koonin

Sept. 19, 2014 12:19 p.m. ET

The crucial scientific question for policy isn’t whether the climate is changing. That is a settled matter: The climate has always changed and always will. Mitch Dobrowner

The idea that “Climate science is settled” runs through today’s popular and policy discussions. Unfortunately, that claim is misguided. It has not only distorted our public and policy debates on issues related to energy, greenhouse-gas emissions and the environment. But it also has inhibited the scientific and policy discussions that we need to have about our climate future.

My training as a computational physicist—together with a 40-year career of scientific research, advising and management in academia, government and the private sector—has afforded me an extended, up-close perspective on climate science. Detailed technical discussions during the past year with leading climate scientists have given me an even better sense of what we know, and don’t know, about climate. I have come to appreciate the daunting scientific challenge of answering the questions that policy makers and the public are asking.

The crucial scientific question for policy isn’t whether the climate is changing. That is a settled matter: The climate has always changed and always will. Geological and historical records show the occurrence of major climate shifts, sometimes over only a few decades. We know, for instance, that during the 20th century the Earth’s global average surface temperature rose 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Nor is the crucial question whether humans are influencing the climate. That is no hoax: There is little doubt in the scientific community that continually growing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, due largely to carbon-dioxide emissions from the conventional use of fossil fuels, are influencing the climate. There is also little doubt that the carbon dioxide will persist in the atmosphere for several centuries. The impact today of human activity appears to be comparable to the intrinsic, natural variability of the climate system itself.

Rather, the crucial, unsettled scientific question for policy is, “How will the climate change over the next century under both natural and human influences?” Answers to that question at the global and regional levels, as well as to equally complex questions of how ecosystems and human activities will be affected, should inform our choices about energy and infrastructure.

But—here’s the catch—those questions are the hardest ones to answer. They challenge, in a fundamental way, what science can tell us about future climates.

Even though human influences could have serious consequences for the climate, they are physically small in relation to the climate system as a whole. For example, human additions to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by the middle of the 21st century are expected to directly shift the atmosphere’s natural greenhouse effect by only 1% to 2%. Since the climate system is highly variable on its own, that smallness sets a very high bar for confidently projecting the consequences of human influences.

A second challenge to “knowing” future climate is today’s poor understanding of the oceans. The oceans, which change over decades and centuries, hold most of the climate’s heat and strongly influence the atmosphere. Unfortunately, precise, comprehensive observations of the oceans are available only for the past few decades; the reliable record is still far too short to adequately understand how the oceans will change and how that will affect climate.

A third fundamental challenge arises from feedbacks that can dramatically amplify or mute the climate’s response to human and natural influences. One important feedback, which is thought to approximately double the direct heating effect of carbon dioxide, involves water vapor, clouds and temperature.

But feedbacks are uncertain. They depend on the details of processes such as evaporation and the flow of radiation through clouds. They cannot be determined confidently from the basic laws of physics and chemistry, so they must be verified by precise, detailed observations that are, in many cases, not yet available.

Beyond these observational challenges are those posed by the complex computer models used to project future climate. These massive programs attempt to describe the dynamics and interactions of the various components of the Earth system—the atmosphere, the oceans, the land, the ice and the biosphere of living things. While some parts of the models rely on well-tested physical laws, other parts involve technically informed estimation. Computer modeling of complex systems is as much an art as a science.

For instance, global climate models describe the Earth on a grid that is currently limited by computer capabilities to a resolution of no finer than 60 miles. (The distance from New York City to Washington, D.C., is thus covered by only four grid cells.) But processes such as cloud formation, turbulence and rain all happen on much smaller scales. These critical processes then appear in the model only through adjustable assumptions that specify, for example, how the average cloud cover depends on a grid box’s average temperature and humidity. In a given model, dozens of such assumptions must be adjusted (“tuned,” in the jargon of modelers) to reproduce both current observations and imperfectly known historical records.

We often hear that there is a “scientific consensus” about climate change. But as far as the computer models go, there isn’t a useful consensus at the level of detail relevant to assessing human influences. Since 1990, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, has periodically surveyed the state of climate science. Each successive report from that endeavor, with contributions from thousands of scientists around the world, has come to be seen as the definitive assessment of climate science at the time of its issue.

There is little doubt in the scientific community that continually growing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, due largely to carbon-dioxide emissions from the conventional use of fossil fuels, are influencing the climate. Pictured, an estuary in Patgonia. Gallery Stock

For the latest IPCC report (September 2013), its Working Group I, which focuses on physical science, uses an ensemble of some 55 different models. Although most of these models are tuned to reproduce the gross features of the Earth’s climate, the marked differences in their details and projections reflect all of the limitations that I have described. For example:

• The models differ in their descriptions of the past century’s global average surface temperature by more than three times the entire warming recorded during that time. Such mismatches are also present in many other basic climate factors, including rainfall, which is fundamental to the atmosphere’s energy balance. As a result, the models give widely varying descriptions of the climate’s inner workings. Since they disagree so markedly, no more than one of them can be right.

• Although the Earth’s average surface temperature rose sharply by 0.9 degree Fahrenheit during the last quarter of the 20th century, it has increased much more slowly for the past 16 years, even as the human contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide has risen by some 25%. This surprising fact demonstrates directly that natural influences and variability are powerful enough to counteract the present warming influence exerted by human activity.

Yet the models famously fail to capture this slowing in the temperature rise. Several dozen different explanations for this failure have been offered, with ocean variability most likely playing a major role. But the whole episode continues to highlight the limits of our modeling.

• The models roughly describe the shrinking extent of Arctic sea ice observed over the past two decades, but they fail to describe the comparable growth of Antarctic sea ice, which is now at a record high.

• The models predict that the lower atmosphere in the tropics will absorb much of the heat of the warming atmosphere. But that “hot spot” has not been confidently observed, casting doubt on our understanding of the crucial feedback of water vapor on temperature.

• Even though the human influence on climate was much smaller in the past, the models do not account for the fact that the rate of global sea-level rise 70 years ago was as large as what we observe today—about one foot per century.

• A crucial measure of our knowledge of feedbacks is climate sensitivity—that is, the warming induced by a hypothetical doubling of carbon-dioxide concentration. Today’s best estimate of the sensitivity (between 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit and 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit) is no different, and no more certain, than it was 30 years ago. And this is despite an heroic research effort costing billions of dollars.

These and many other open questions are in fact described in the IPCC research reports, although a detailed and knowledgeable reading is sometimes required to discern them. They are not “minor” issues to be “cleaned up” by further research. Rather, they are deficiencies that erode confidence in the computer projections. Work to resolve these shortcomings in climate models should be among the top priorities for climate research.

Yet a public official reading only the IPCC’s “Summary for Policy Makers” would gain little sense of the extent or implications of these deficiencies. These are fundamental challenges to our understanding of human impacts on the climate, and they should not be dismissed with the mantra that “climate science is settled.”

While the past two decades have seen progress in climate science, the field is not yet mature enough to usefully answer the difficult and important questions being asked of it. This decidedly unsettled state highlights what should be obvious: Understanding climate, at the level of detail relevant to human influences, is a very, very difficult problem.

We can and should take steps to make climate projections more useful over time. An international commitment to a sustained global climate observation system would generate an ever-lengthening record of more precise observations. And increasingly powerful computers can allow a better understanding of the uncertainties in our models, finer model grids and more sophisticated descriptions of the processes that occur within them. The science is urgent, since we could be caught flat-footed if our understanding does not improve more rapidly than the climate itself changes.

A transparent rigor would also be a welcome development, especially given the momentous political and policy decisions at stake. That could be supported by regular, independent, “red team” reviews to stress-test and challenge the projections by focusing on their deficiencies and uncertainties; that would certainly be the best practice of the scientific method. But because the natural climate changes over decades, it will take many years to get the data needed to confidently isolate and quantify the effects of human influences.

Policy makers and the public may wish for the comfort of certainty in their climate science. But I fear that rigidly promulgating the idea that climate science is “settled” (or is a “hoax”) demeans and chills the scientific enterprise, retarding its progress in these important matters. Uncertainty is a prime mover and motivator of science and must be faced head-on. It should not be confined to hushed sidebar conversations at academic conferences.

Society’s choices in the years ahead will necessarily be based on uncertain knowledge of future climates. That uncertainty need not be an excuse for inaction. There is well-justified prudence in accelerating the development of low-emissions technologies and in cost-effective energy-efficiency measures.

But climate strategies beyond such “no regrets” efforts carry costs, risks and questions of effectiveness, so nonscientific factors inevitably enter the decision. These include our tolerance for risk and the priorities that we assign to economic development, poverty reduction, environmental quality, and intergenerational and geographical equity.

Individuals and countries can legitimately disagree about these matters, so the discussion should not be about “believing” or “denying” the science. Despite the statements of numerous scientific societies, the scientific community cannot claim any special expertise in addressing issues related to humanity’s deepest goals and values. The political and diplomatic spheres are best suited to debating and resolving such questions, and misrepresenting the current state of climate science does nothing to advance that effort.

Any serious discussion of the changing climate must begin by acknowledging not only the scientific certainties but also the uncertainties, especially in projecting the future. Recognizing those limits, rather than ignoring them, will lead to a more sober and ultimately more productive discussion of climate change and climate policies. To do otherwise is a great disservice to climate science itself.

Dr. Koonin was undersecretary for science in the Energy Department during President Barack Obama’s first term and is currently director of the Center for Urban Science and Progress at New York University. His previous positions include professor of theoretical physics and provost at Caltech, as well as chief scientist of BP, BP.LN +0.42% where his work focused on renewable and low-carbon energy technologies.


Ramussen Reports

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

Bottom of Form

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Do most Americans really know or care about the rest of the world?

Consider Scotland. The news media has been hyperventilating for several weeks now over whether the nation on the north end of the British Isles was going to vote for independence from the mother country. Scottish voters opted against independence from Great Britain in a vote this week, but, believe it or not, only 33% of Americans think most of their fellow countrymen can even find Scotland on a map.  

Then there’s the growing Ebola epidemic in Africa that has killed more than 2,000 people in several countries. But Americans are less concerned now about the deadly disease coming to these shores than they were six weeks ago.

President Obama this week announced plans to send at least 3,000 troops to Africa and has committed several hundred million dollars to fighting the Ebola epidemic.

The president also recently announced his plans for fighting the radical group that calls itself the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Voters are all for expanded airstrikes against ISIS, but they are a lot less enthusiastic about putting boots back on the ground in Iraq.

Most voters believe the U.S. military already has too many missions these days, but they also think it’s likely that fighting in Iraq will soon be added to the list. A lot of voters would prefer to see the military on border patrol instead.  Forty-two percent (42%) say fighting ISIS is a better use of the military than patrolling the southern border to stop illegal immigration or helping to fight the Ebola epidemic in Africa. Thirty-one percent (31%) see patrolling the border as a better use of the military, while just 17% say that of fighting Ebola.

Another war that gets a lot of headlines these days is the so-called “war on women.” That’s the phrase Democrats use to criticize certain Republican policies that they contend limit women’s rights in areas such as birth control, abortion and workplace discrimination. Most voters don’t consider the “war on women” a war at all but see it as just a political tactic. 

Speaking of politics, Republican chances for taking over the Senate look a little longer this week with our latest numbers from Kansas. The Senate race in Iowa remains neck-and-neck.

See our new numbers for the Senate contests in Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Is it possible that Obamacare could take control of the Senate away from Democrats and give it to the GOP? 

It’s been nearly a year since the national health care law officially took effect, and voter attitudes about its impact on the cost and quality of health care remain basically unchanged – and negative.

As for the president himself, his daily job approval rating has been hovering around the -20 mark all week. 

Voters continue to put more trust in Republicans than Democrats to handle important policy issues like the economy, national security and job creation, but health care isn’t one of them.

Democrats have retaken the lead on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot.

As for governor’s races, Georgia and Wisconsin are still close. New Hampshire is not.

See our latest election update video.

A possible election wild card? 
Consumer confidence has been trending down in recent days and hit its lowest level since late January on Friday. 

At the same time, 
63% of homeowners think their home is worth more than when they bought it, the highest level of confidence in three years.

Most voters continue to believe as they have for years that the federal government should cut spending to boost the economy.  But only 21% think it’s even somewhat likely that government spending will be significantly reduced over the next few years.

In other surveys last week:

— Twenty-eight percent (28%) of voters think the United States is headed in the right direction.

Short- and long-term confidence in housing values are stable at levels seen since early last year but remain well ahead of whether they were for the four years prior to that.

Americans continue to say buying a home is a family’s best investment, but they are closely divided over whether now is the opportune time for someone in their area to sell their house.

— The Senate held a hearing this week on whether Washington, D.C. should become our 51st state, but most voters still oppose D.C. statehood.

Americans think highly of the hospitals in this country and say they are better than those in most other countries.

Most Americans enjoy a homemade burger with cheese on top.



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