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February 28 2015

March 2, 2015


28 February 2015

Newswire

Blog URL https://newswirefeed.wordpress.com/

 

 

Defense R&D: Is the Reward Worth the Risk?

By Sandra Erwin

February 21, 2015

http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/blog/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?List=7c996cd7-cbb4-4018-baf8-8825eada7aa2&ID=1753&RootFolder=%2Fblog%2FLists%2FPosts

 

At a time when the Defense Department is eager to attract more private investment in cutting-edge technology, even the Pentagon’s top contractors are taking a step back and hedging their bets.

A growing hesitance to gamble on futuristic military hardware was the clear subtext of speeches and conversations last week at Lockheed Martin’s annual media day in Arlington, Va. The nation’s largest defense contractor derives most of its business from military sales but when it comes to next-generation technology, the company is not ready to make huge wagers.

“Are defense companies going to invest more to get new programs started? That’s more of a commercial model. I don’t see a lot of that happening in the future,” said Rob Weiss, Lockheed Martin executive vice president and general manager of aeronautics advanced development programs, also known as the Skunk Works.

Weiss runs the company’s most secretive and most celebrated operation that was the cradle of revolutionary military machines like the SR-71 spy airplane and the F117 stealth fighter. Most projects at Skunk Works are classified, and new technology development largely is funded by the Defense Department. Lockheed does not intend to make risky bets on technology for its own sake, Weiss said, and he sees similar behavior across the defense industry. “If industry is going to invest on the front end, then we’ve got to expect that you’re going to get returns on the back end,” he said. “At Lockheed Martin in general, we are being prudent with any internal dollars we spend to make sure there’s a reasonable return on the back end.”

The company is working on future concepts for surveillance and strike aircraft, but is not going to pour funds into these projects until clear “requirements” are spelled out by the Defense Department. “Requirements are key,” Weiss said. Although that is easier said than done, however. Sometimes a company works on a design, development and prototyping, and “you’re not necessarily sure what the requirements are,” he said. “The problem with investing early is that you may invest and the requirements move.”

That is why companies are increasingly gun shy. A case in point is the Navy’s carrier-based combat drone known as UCLASS. The Navy initially selected four designs but the requirements changed and some of those designs no longer met the needs, Weiss noted. “Who’s going to invest to catch up with competitors that happen to be in the right space?” he asked. “I think it’s going to require much better clarity overall on what is the requirement, earlier. And then stick to that requirement so investments by industry are focused on that requirement.”

Another reason corporations may hold back investments is the uncertainty that a program will survive leadership changes. Military and civilian officials, and members of Congress “come and go,” Weiss said. “These programs take a long time to come to fruition. So you may have different leaders over time. A challenge for the industry is how to maintain direction even with new people.”

Trailblazers like Skunk Works seek to push the limits of technology, but in the current business environment, it is best to use as much existing “proven” technology as possible, said Weiss. “What’s the key to successful programs? Take as much mature technology as you can. We use it all. Every bit that we can from prior programs.” Weiss is leading Lockheed’s bid in the upcoming competition for a new trainer airplane for the U.S. Air Force. The company announced it would propose an updated version of the existing T-50 trainer. A clean-sheet design would be put forth if the Air Force requested it, but Weiss believes that would add risk and years to the program. “The issue is the time associated with a new development. If you need it soon, an off-the-shelf solution is the way to go.”

Much of the excitement at Skunk Works today is less about dreaming up airplane concepts and more about updating current aircraft with modern information networks. “We made a huge investment in open systems architecture work,” said Weiss. “We have hard data to prove the value.” This is the type of technology that saves the government money because it allows legacy airplanes like the U-2 to be outfitted with plug-and-play electronics and sensors made different vendors, he said. “We are all in on open systems architecture.”

The industry wants to help the Defense Department innovate, he added, but it is difficult in the current environment. During the glory days of military aviation at Skunk Works, “we had stable requirements, small teams, engineering talent empowered to make decisions, higher tolerance for risk.” The system today is “not quite as comfortable” with those things any more.

Risk aversion is reflected in Lockheed Martin’s latest financial reports, observed James McAleese, industry consultant at McAleese & Associates. “The sheer size of Lockheed Martin’s dividends and share repurchases limits overall size of annual R&D funding,” he wrote in a briefing to clients. Internal R&D in 2014 was only 1.6 percent of sales, compared to an average of 2.1 percent for its peers, McAleese noted. “Expect Lockheed Martin to invest in R&D with a two to three year payout,” he added. Most of the R&D funds are going into the company’s lucrative missiles and fire control sector, McAleese said, where Lockheed is investing in programs like the MEADS missile defense system and the joint light tactical vehicle.

In the space business, Lockheed is shifting focus to the commercial market. It is spending $250 million in corporate R&D to update a 20-year-old communications satellite called A2100. “We are refreshing the design and investing in new manufacturing capabilities as the commercial market is growing,” said Mark Valerio, vice president of Lockheed Martin’s military space business.

The modernized satellites would target the growing global market for Internet, TV, and secure communications, said Lockheed Martin President and CEO Marillyn A. Hewson. “We invested in the A2100, reducing the number of its parts and streamlining its production so our customers can get it into orbit more quickly and at a fraction of the cost,” she said. “Worldwide demand for smartphones is estimated to increase by six times over the next six years. Mobile data traffic will grow by more than 11 times in five years.”

Lockheed also is venturing into nondefense applications of big data algorithms that were originally created for the Pentagon. “We’ve taken traditional missile defense tracking technology and applied it to detect sepsis in patients in hospitals,” said Keith Johnson, Lockheed Martin technical director for analytics. “We have a workforce of engineers that have a lot of experience working with data,” he said. “The technology now is allowing us to use that knowledge for new customers. That’s what we are seeing as we go forward.”

 

Hewson said Lockheed is betting on potentially groundbreaking healthcare technology such as genomics. It signed a partnership last year with Illumina, a pioneer in gene sequencing. Both firms are working on “personalized healthcare” solutions that would be marketed to countries around the world.

Investors generally have encouraged large Pentagon contractors like Lockheed to transition some of its business to other markets that might offer better returns.

The Defense Department’s 2016-2020 funding projections show “flattish investment outlays,” said Byron Callan, director of Capital Alpha Partners. Periods of defense innovation, he noted in a note to investors, are not stable and predictable. “Managements that seek this sort of environment are apt to see plans wrecked by new military surprises and competitors.” Commercial technology firms earn much higher margins than defense contractors, he added. “They take far more risk than defense firms, but they also spend far more on research and development, for the most part. Commercial technology is globally available and proliferation of cheap digital electronics is one factor why the Defense Department has become so concerned.”

 

 

Industry lobbyists take aim at proposed FAA drone rules

http://www.suasnews.com/2015/02/34461/industry-lobbyists-take-aim-at-proposed-faa-drone-rules/?utm_source=sUAS+News+Daily&utm_campaign=3604e3cd40-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_b3c0776dde-3604e3cd40-303662705

by Press • 24 February 2015

BY DAVID MORGAN AND DEEPA SEETHARAMAN

 

(Reuters) – Businesses hoping to capitalize on the commercial potential of drones are preparing to push back against proposed regulations that would strictly limit how the aircraft can be used.

During a 60-day public comment period on the rules, lobbyists representing a range of industries, from Internet giants Amazon.com Inc and Google Inc to aerospace firms and the news media, say they will try to convince regulators that cutting-edge technologies make some of the limitations proposed last week by the Federal Aviation Administration unnecessary.

Spending on lobbying by special interests that list drones as an issue surged from $20,000 in 2001 to $35 million in 2011 to more than $186 million in 2014, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks lobbying activity. And the proposed rules provide a new focus of lobbying efforts.

If approved as written, the new FAA rules would lift the current near-ban on flying drones for commercial purposes, but its restrictions would make many business applications, such as package delivery, unfeasible.

Among other constraints, the proposed rules would limit commercial drones to an altitude of 500 feet, allow flights only during daytime hours and require operators to keep the aircraft in their sights at all times. Drones could not be flown near airports or directly over humans. Officials say these precautions are needed for safety.

But drone makers and other firms with a stake in unmanned aircraft technology say they are already working on features that would allow drones to “sense and avoid” obstacles including other aircraft and prevent link disruptions that could cause a drone to lose contact with ground operations.

For example, Amazon.com is developing autonomous drones that would navigate via GPS and use redundant safety mechanisms and sensor arrays to avoid accidents as part of a “Prime Air” drone delivery service it hopes to launch.

Industry representatives say they will use the 60-day comment period to try to convince regulators that breakthrough safety features could make drone flights safe and dependable.

“This is the chance for all the parties who think the FAA got it wrong to come forward and say why,” said Jack Schenendorf, a former House Transportation Committee staff member who now works for law firm Covington & Burling.

The current ban on most commercial drone flights will stay in place until the FAA finalizes its proposed rules — which could take anywhere from nine months to three years. During that period, companies can continue to apply for exemptions to use drones under strict rules. But the FAA has so far granted only 28 of more than 325 exemption requests, according to government documents.

Amazon, which applied for an exemption to allow outdoor testing at its own U.S. facilities last summer, says it has not yet received approval from the agency. It has been testing a number of drone configurations at facilities in Washington state, Britain and Israel. But only in the Britain has the company been able to conduct outdoor tests that it says are vital to its goal of developing a prototype that can be demonstrated to the FAA.

Meanwhile, a coalition of news media companies including NBC, the New York Times and Thomson Reuters hopes to test news-gathering drones in coming months at an FAA site in Virginia.

Separate forecasts by government and industry officials expect businesses to invest nearly $90 billion in drones worldwide over the next 10 years, as the technology takes root in hundreds of markets that now rely on manned flights or ground operations for activities ranging from pipeline inspections to aerial photography.

The number of companies and groups involved in drone lobbying now exceeds 50. Senate documents show a broad range of parties from high-tech and aerospace manufacturers to electric utilities, realtors, filmmakers, universities, labor unions, state governments and broadcasters.

Business interests have a potentially powerful lever in Congress, which must reauthorize the FAA’s funding and regulatory direction by the end of September. That process allows lawmakers to direct regulatory agencies to take specific actions. For example, the last reauthorization in 2012 directed the FAA to pursue rulemaking on drones.

Some influential allies in Congress have already begun questioning the proposed rules. U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer said last week the FAA’s “line of sight” rule appears to be a “concerning limitation on commercial usage, and this proposed rule should be modified.”

Regulators may be difficult to convince, however.

“The FAA is going to be very conservative because they don’t want an airliner hitting one of these things,” said Phil Finnegan, director of corporate analysis at research firm the Teal Group.

 

 

Head off an unmanned aircraft disaster

http://www.suasnews.com/2015/02/34459/head-off-an-unmanned-aircraft-disaster/?utm_source=sUAS+News+Daily&utm_campaign=3604e3cd40-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_b3c0776dde-3604e3cd40-303662705

by Press • 24 February 2015

 

Whether found lying on the White House lawn or slicing into the flight path of an airliner on approach to a major airport, examples abound of the danger we court by misusing aircraft that are unmanned or remotely piloted. In these events, we have seen glimpses — but so far only glimpses — of the potential for disaster if we fail to treat them as what they are: aircraft in our national airspace.

While many use the term “drone,” these vehicles are, in fact, aircraft. Some fly without a pilot on a pre-programmed route; others are flown remotely by pilots working near the launch site or thousands of miles away.

 

The Air Line Pilots Association, International, recognizes the popularity of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for recreation, the value of employing them in certain commercial applications, and the importance of our country’s ability to compete in leading the development of new UAS technologies. The safety of air transportation, however, must be paramount over all of these goals.

My organization is not against UAS aircraft; we are for their safe integration. The North American airspace is the most complex on the planet. It’s also the safest, and we need to protect that extraordinary level of safety for all who depend on air transportation.

Remember the bird strike that caused the “Miracle on the Hudson”? Unmanned aircraft can be smaller or larger than birds, but they harbor added risk to aircraft in flight because they include batteries, motors and other hard, metal components.

For that reason, UAS must meet the same high level of safety and security standards as other airspace users. Regardless of whether they are used by hobbyist or for commercial purposes, rules are being developed for both small aircraft under 55 pounds and large ones that weigh more.

Currently, the Federal Aviation Administration has limited commercial small UAS operations to “line of sight,” meaning that operators must be able to see the aircraft while flying it. Small UAS operators must keep the aircraft below 400 feet above ground level, and they can’t be flown within 5 miles of an airport. Despite these guidelines, serious safety questions persist for airline pilots.

The most serious issue for small UAS operations is flying the device, intended or not, into civil airspace or a “lost link” scenario — a situation when the UAS is no longer receiving the signals that the operator transmits that could result in its entering the same airspace I fly in as commercial pilot. These situations are not acceptable.

Integrating larger UAS aircraft, which can be as large as my airliner, to be operated in our national airspace system is an even bigger concern. For that reason, ALPA maintains that large UAS must be designed, equipped, and certified to the same standards as airliners. The pilots that fly them must also be required to meet the same training and qualification standards that I am required to meet.

When I am flying in the cockpit, I need to be able to see any UAS operating in my airspace, intentionally or unintentionally, on my cockpit display of traffic. Air traffic controllers need to see them on their display as well, so they can manage traffic in the airspace. And the UAS itself must be equipped with safety systems including active collision-avoidance technology.

Traffic Collision Avoidance Systems were developed as a result of a number of midair collisions many years ago. UAS aircraft must be equipped with this technology if they are intended to be operated in our airspace or have the potential to inadvertently find their way into our airspace. Why subject our passengers and cargo to an avoidable risk?

ALPA continues to work with the FAA and other industry stakeholders to develop real-world solutions and standards for safe UAS operations. While the regulations needed to address these challenges will be complex, they need to be developed thoroughly and correctly.

Airline pilots often say that you don’t fly an airplane with your hands, you fly it with your head. We can’t cross our fingers and hope that we will continue to avert the potential threat posed by the misuse of UAS. Our nation needs to make wise decisions based on safety as we integrate UAS into the national airspace.

Capt. Tim Canoll is the president of the Air Line Pilots Association, International, which represents more than 51,000 professional airline pilots.

http://www.thedailyjournal.com/story/opinion/2015/02/23/head-unmanned-aircraft-disaster/23916751/

 

 

Newsweek:- Most French Nuclear Plants ‘Should Be Shut Down’ Over Drone Threat

by Press • 24 February 2015

http://www.suasnews.com/2015/02/34469/newsweek-most-french-nuclear-plants-should-be-shut-down-over-drone-threat/?utm_source=sUAS+News+Daily&utm_campaign=75d1962601-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_b3c0776dde-75d1962601-303662705

BY CATHERINE PHILLIPS AND CONOR GAFFEY

 

“You don’t need massive amounts of force to allow a nuclear plant to go into instability. The plant has enough energy to destroy itself. Drones can be used to tickle the plant into instability.”

With devastating simplicity, John Large explains how drones could be used to coordinate a terror attack on a nuclear power station. First, one drone hits the distribution grid serving the plant, depriving the facility of off-site power, making it dependent on its diesel generators to cool the reactor, which generates up to 1,000 megawatts of power – enough to light up half of Paris. Then the generators are easily taken out by an unmanned drone with a relatively small payload. Without power to cool the radioactive fuel, Large estimates it would take approximately 30 seconds before the fuel begins to melt, leading to potential leakages of nuclear waste.

It’s the same cause behind the meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan after it was hit by a tsunami in March 2011. But potential terrorists wouldn’t need to trigger an earthquake, just be able to accurately pilot a pair of readily-available commercial drones carrying small payloads of explosive. Last year, unmanned drones were spotted flying over at least 13 nuclear power stations in France. The last widely-reported sighting was on 3 January, when two aircraft were seen flying over a nuclear facility in Nogent-sur-Seine, in northern-central France.

Activists maintain that a government blackout has blocked information on any further sightings. Curiously, no pictures of drone sightings near power stations have surfaced, a fact that causes concern amongst experts.

“There’s not one single picture. That’s very troubling,” says Jean-Luc Fornier, whose company designs and operates drones for use in the media industry. “If we had some pictures, we could decide on who may be operating the machines.” Fornier suggests that the flyovers that have been noted have three possible explanations: innocent pranksters, anti-nuclear protestors, or trial runs by terrorists. French National Research Agency said the General Secretary for Defence is “providing €1m of funding for research projects into the detection, identification and neutralisation of small aerial drones”.

According to Large, of consulting engineers Large & Associates, based in London, who was commissioned by Greenpeace France to evaluate and report on the spate of flyovers, the “unacceptable” risk posed by a terrorist drone attack means that many of Europe’s nuclear power stations – including the majority of those in France – should be shut down.

He has advised countries around the world on nuclear safety and believes that governments must reassess the balance of risks and benefits of nuclear power due to the increased danger from terrorists targeting them with modern and readily available hardware such as unmanned drones. “If the risk of a nuclear plant’s design, age and location is unacceptable, governments must consider closing those plants down,” he says. “At the moment, most of the plants in France are not acceptable. The plants in the rest of Europe are old and need reviewing in this respect.” Banning the drones will only spark an underground network of drone builders, adds Large; the best solution for some plants is to close down altogether rather than risk a meltdown.

http://www.newsweek.com/2015/03/06/most-french-nuclear-plants-should-be-shut-down-over-drone-threat-309019.html

 

 

Spy Research Agency Is Building a Machine To Predict Cyber Attacks

February 24, 2015

By Aliya Sternstein

Nextgov

http://www.defenseone.com/technology/2015/02/spy-research-agency-building-machine-predict-cyber-attacks/105951/

 

The intelligence community is holding a contest to design software that combs open source data to predict cyber attacks before they occur.

Imagine if IBM’s Watson — the “Jeopardy!” champion supercomputer — could answer not only trivia questions and forecast the weather, but also predict data breaches days before they occur.

That is the ambitious, long-term goal of a contest being held by the U.S. intelligence community.

Academics and industry scientists are teaming up to build software that can analyze publicly available data and a specific organization’s network activity to find patterns suggesting the likelihood of an imminent hack.

The dream of the future: A White House supercomputer spitting out forecasts on the probability that, say, China will try to intercept situation room video that day, or that Russia will eavesdrop on Secretary of State John Kerry’s phone conversations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

IBM has even expressed interest in the “Cyber-attack Automated Unconventional Sensor Environment,” or CAUSE, project. Big Blue officials presented a basic approach at a Jan. 21 proposers’ day.

 

Aims to Get to Root of Cyberattacks

CAUSE is the brainchild of the Office for Anticipating Surprise under the director of national intelligence. A “Broad Agency Agreement” — competition terms and conditions — is expected to be issued any day now, contest hopefuls say.

Current plans call for a four-year race to develop a totally new way of detecting cyber incidents — hours to weeks earlier than intrusion-detection systems, according to the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity.

IARPA program manager Rob Rahmer points to the hacks at Sony and health insurance provider Anthem as evidence that traditional methods of identifying “indicators” of a hacker afoot have not effectively enabled defenders to get ahead of threats.

This is “an industry that has invested heavily in analyzing the effects or the symptoms of cyberattacks instead of analyzing and mitigating the — cause — of cyberattacks,” Rahmer, who is running CAUSE, told Nextgov in an interview. “Instead of reporting relevant events that happen today or in previous days, decision makers will benefit from knowing what is likely to happen tomorrow.”

The project’s cyber-psychic bots will estimate when an intruder might attempt to break into a system or install malicious code. Forecasts also will report when a hacker might flood a network with bogus traffic that freezes operations – a so-called Denial-of-Service attack.

Such computer-driven predictions have worked for anticipating the spread of Ebola, other disease outbreaks and political uprisings. But few researchers have used such technology for cyberattack forecasts.

 

At Least 150 People Interested — No Word Yet on Size of the Prize Pot

About 150 would-be participants from the private sector and academia showed up for the January informational workshop. Rahmer was tight-lipped about the size of the prize pot, which will be announced later this year. Teams will have to meet various minigoals to pass on to the next round of competition, such as picking data feeds, creating probability formulas and forecasting cyberattacks across multiple organizations.

At the end, “What you are most likely to be able to do is say to a client, ‘Given the state of the world and given the asset you’re trying to protect or that you care about, here are the [events] you might want to worry about the most,'” David Burke, an aspiring participant and research lead for machine learning at computer science research firm Galois, said in an interview. “Instead of having to pay attention to every single bulletin that comes across your desk about possible zero days,” or previously unknown vulnerabilities, it would be wonderful if some machine said, “These are the highest likelihood threats.”

His research focus is “advanced persistent threats,” involving well-resource, well-coordinated hackers who conduct reconnaissance on a system, find a security weakness, wriggle in and invisibly traverse the network.

“Imagine that CAUSE was all about the real-world analogy of figuring out whether some local teenagers are going to knock over a 7-Eleven. That would be really hard to predict. You probably couldn’t even tie that to any larger goal. But in the case of APTs — absolutely” you can, Burke said in an interview. “The fact that APTS are on networks for a long period of time gives you not only the sociopolitical pieces of data or clues but you have all sorts of clues on your network that you can integrate.”

It’s not an exact science. There will be false alarms. And the human brain must provide some support after the machines do their thing.

“The goal is not to replace human analysts but to assist in making sense of the massive amount of information available and while it would be ideal to always find the needle in a haystack, CAUSE seeks to significantly reduce the size of the haystack for an analysts,” Rahmer said.

 

Unclassified Program Will Trawl for Clues on Social Media

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on one’s stance on surveillance, National Security Agency intercepts will not be provided to participants.

“Currently, CAUSE is planned to be an unclassified program,” Rahmer said. “We’re going to ask performers to be creative in identifying these new signals and data sources that can be used.”

Participants will be judged on their speed in identifying the future victim, the method of attack, time of future incident and location of the attacker, according to IARPA.

Clues might be found on Twitter, Facebook and other social media, as well as online discussions, news feeds, Web searches and many other online platforms. Unconventional sources tapped could include black market storefronts that peddle malware and hacker group-behavior models. AI will do all this work, not people. Machines will try to infer motivations and intentions. Then mathematical formulas, or algorithms, will parse these streams of data to generate likely hits.

One research thread Burke is pursuing examines the “nature of deception and counterdeception, particularly as it applies to the cyber domain,” according to an abstract of his proposers’ day presentation.

“Cyber adversaries rely on deceptive attack techniques, and understanding patterns of deception enables accurate predictions and proactive counterdeceptive responses,” the abstract stated.

It’s anticipated that supercomputer-like systems will be needed for this kind of analysis.

For example, “if you were able to look at every single Facebook post and you processed everything and ran it through some filter, through the conversations and the little day-to-day things people do, you could actually start to see larger patterns and you could imagine that is a ton of data,” Burke said. “You would need some sort of big data technology that you’d have to bring to bear to be able to digest all that.”

 

Still Nailing Down Specifics on Supercomputer Use

The final rules will indicate whether companies can or must use a supercomputer, and whether they can borrow federal computing assets, Rahmer said. “We definitely want innovation and creativity from the offerers,” he added.

Researchers at Battelle, a technology development organization, said they might harness fast data processing engines like Hadoop and Apache Spark. They added that the rules and their team partners will ultimately dictate the system used to amp up computing power.

“We have already recognized as both the rate of collection and the connections between data points grow we will need to move to a high-performance computing environment,” Battelle’s CyberInnovations technical director Ernest Hampson said in an email. “For the CAUSE program, the data from several contractors could push us towards the need for a supercomputing infrastructure using technologies such as IBM’s Watson to support deep learning,” or, hardware such as a Cray Urika “could provide the power to fuel advanced analytics at-scale.”

According to IBM’s January briefing, the apparatus currently used to solve similar prediction problems “runs on x-86 infrastructure.” However, IBM’s x-86 supercomputer hardware was spun off to Chinese firm Lenovo last year. It remains to be seen what machine IBM might deploy, a company spokesman said.

“In theory, the government could say they are going to own the servers,” IBM spokesman Michael B. Rowinski said. “We don’t know ultimately that we would participate or what we even would propose.”

Recorded Future, a six-year-old CIA-backed firm, already knows how to generate hacker behavior models by assimilating public information sources, like Internet traffic, social networks and news reports. But the company’s analyses do not factor in network activity inside a targeted organization, because such data typically is confidential.

“Doing this successfully is not simply the sociopolitical analysis applied to current flashpoints,” Burke said. “You also have observables on a network: signs possibly of malware or penetration because many campaigns that take place go on for weeks or months. So you also have a lot of network data that you are going to end up crunching.”

 

 

Hacked Hardware Could Cause The Next Big Security Breach

Microchips govern our homes, cities, infrastructure, and military. What happens when they’re turned against us?

http://www.popsci.com/nowhere-to-hide

By P.W. Singer Posted February 17, 2015

 

In late summer of 2006, the Japanese division of McDonald’s decided to run a new promotion. When customers ordered a Coca-Cola soft drink, they would receive a cup with a code. If they entered that code on a designated website and were among 10,000 lucky winners, they would receive an MP3 player pre-loaded with 10 songs.

Cleverly constructed, the promotion seemed destined for success. Who doesn’t like a Coke and a free MP3 player? But there was one problem the marketers at McDonald’s could not anticipate: In addition to 10 free songs, the music players contained QQPass malware. The moment winners plugged their players into a computer, the Trojan horse slipped undetected into their system and began logging keystrokes, collecting passwords, and gathering personal data for later transmission.

McDonald’s eventually recalled the devices and issued an apology, but not before an unknown number of users had fallen prey to the malware. In the annals of fast food promotions, the incident is still regarded as one of the worst of all time (even beating the ill-conceived McAfrika burger—an African–inspired sandwich released at the height of a famine). For security professionals, it was notable too, but for entirely different reasons: It offered a terrifying glimpse at how hackers could build a cyberattack directly into the very systems we depend on.

In the past year, cybercrime has blossomed into a pandemic, consuming more than $445 billion in lost time, jobs, and intellectual property. Hackers compromised 233 million personal records from eBay; they intimidated Sony into scuttling the theatrical release of The Interview; they even commandeered the Pentagon’s Twitter account. But as varied as those assaults were, they shared a trait: Somone hacked software to penetrate a network or account. What set the McDonald’s incident apart—and what strikes fear into cybersecurity professionals everywhere—is that the perpetrator hacked hardware instead.

In computing terminology, hardware boils down to microchips, the integrated circuits that run our devices. They are in our phones, refrigerators, electric grids, planes, and missiles. And many more are on the way. Cisco estimates that more than 50 billion Internet-connected devices will come online by 2020, all communicating ceaselessly with the world around them.

Microchips are the bedrock upon which our digital world is based, and they are almost entirely unsecured. Whereas software security is on pace to become a $156 billion industry in the next five years, hardware security gets relatively little mention. Yet the challenges hardware presents are in many ways more extensive, more dangerous, and more difficult to combat. When the marketers at McDonald’s ordered their MP3 players, they simply chose a device from a catalog. It just happened that someone at a production line in Hong Kong decided to load it with malware. We’ll likely never know why that person chose those particular MP3 players, and that’s not really the point. This kind of attack could have hit anywhere hardware exists, from coffeemakers to fighter jets, and the consequences could have been much, much worse.

When Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments invented the first integrated circuit in 1958 (for which he later won a Nobel Prize), the age of the microchip was born. These early processors cost $450 and consisted of a few transistors, diodes, resistors, and capacitors placed onto a slice of germanium and linked by gold wires. The unit was about 10 millimeters across.

 

Today’s microchips follow the same principles but are exponentially more complex. They consist of billions of transistors and are divided into multiple sub-units (called “blocks,” as Kilby first labeled them), each of which carries out a specific function. A smartphone’s processor, for example, may have some blocks whose purpose is to store frames of video and others to convert them so they can be sent over an antenna.

As the nature and complexity of chips has changed in five and a half decades, so too has their design and manufacture. In the 1970s and ’80s, there were just a handful of known and trusted chip designers; now there are a huge number of companies creating more than 5,000 new designs each year, spread from the U.S. to Asia. These teams, in turn, involve hundreds or thousands of people at multiple locations—each working on different blocks. Chips have become so intricate that no one person can see, let alone understand, every detail of their architecture.

These developments have, by and large, been positive. The more powerful our microchips, the more capabilities we have. But when such complexity is paired with massive scale—$333 billion–worth of chips were sold in 2014 alone—it also creates significant vulnerabilities, and an ever-more irresistible opportunity for hardware hackers. In a recent report for the Brookings Institution, John Villasenor, a professor of electrical engineering and public policy at University of California at Los Angeles, wrote, “The laws of statistics guarantee that there are people with the skills, access, and motivation to intentionally compromise a chip design.” In other words, more frequent and large-scale hardware attacks are just a matter of time. And when they come, whether from a nation state, a crime syndicate, or a rogue employee, they will arrive in one of two forms: overt or covert.

Overt actions are perhaps the simpler of the two: They make it apparent that the system isn’t working properly. The best example would be a so-called kill switch, in which an enemy or criminal could selectively turn off chips at will. Doing this is easier than one might think. For example, the different blocks in a chip can communicate and coordinate via a “system bus,” which they take turns using so as not to create interference. If one block was corrupted so it would not give up access to the system bus—something well within reach of many mid-level chip designers—it would prevent the other blocks from getting data, effectively disabling, or bricking, the system.

Microchips are the bedrock upon which our digital world is based, and they are almost entirely unsecured.

Just one small corruption can have grave consequences. In 2011, faulty transistors were found in an electromagnetic interference filter destined for a U.S. Navy helicopter (an SH-60 deployed to a destroyer in the Pacific Fleet). Though never installed, that defective part would have compromised the SH-60’s ability to fire its Hellfire missiles, making it practically useless in combat. The manufacturer of the filter, Raytheon, and the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services had to trace the transistors through five companies before finding their origin in China.

An investigation later proved the flaws were an honest production error. But had someone intentionally pursued this sort of hack, the result could have been different. More than three-quarters of the field-programmable gate arrays in the F-35 strike fighter are made in China and Taiwan. So are the majority of chips in automobiles and wireless medical devices, such as pacemakers and dialysis machines. If that hardware was modified ever so slightly, a kill code could selectively disable the chip and the systems that depend on it. And that code could come from any number of sources. A command could originate in a text or email message. It could be delivered by radio signal to a micro-antenna hidden on the chip. It could even be a simple internal time bomb, programmed at the chip’s inception, to trigger a coordinated shutdown on a certain time and date, as in the first episode of Battlestar Galactica.

If an overt action is the equivalent of dropping a bomb, a covert one is like laying a landmine. A compromised chip may appear to function normally while secretly collecting and transmitting information, launching malware from inside the system, or even coordinating with other corrupted chips to carry out a larger attack. In 2007, for example, the Taiwanese Ministry of Justice discovered that a number of Seagate hard drives had two separate Trojans built into them by someone in the design or manufacturing process. The malware would phone home to a pair of websites hosted out of Beijing, which would then cause the hard drive to upload all its data. More recently, the Star N9500, a knockoff of the Galaxy S4 smartphone, shipped from a factory in China preloaded with a Trojan masquerading as the Google Play Store. It allowed the attackers to record phone calls, read emails, intercept financial information, and remotely watch and listen in via the phone’s camera and microphone.

Even hardware generally considered innocuous could be exploited by hackers and used for covert acts. Modified third-party phone chargers have served as vehicles for malware, as have game consoles. In the world of hardware hacking, any smart device—a refrigerator, clock, even a wearable fitness monitor—could be weaponized.

Such covert actions could inflict even greater harm were they to work their way into the backbone of the Internet: the servers and other networking equipment that comprise the infrastructure of the IT world. Instead of gathering embarrassing emails from a handful of executives, hackers with compromised servers could monitor most of the world’s Internet messages. As companies such as Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corporation—both of which supply telecommunication equipment and have ties to the Chinese military—continue to grow, so too will concerns about network security. Add to that, the revelations by Edward Snowden indicate the National Security Agency (NSA) has moved from hacking individual computers to network hardware.

Perhaps the most devastating form of covert attack would be one that turns kinetic. Imagine a single employee at a microchip foundry hellbent on engineering an international crisis. Knowing the foundry’s chips go into drone systems, that employee could embed a malfunction into the hardware that would activate only at a certain GPS point. When the drone reaches the designated position, say in northwest Pakistan, it would fire a missile at a school or dam instead of a militant camp.

The example is a worst-case scenario but hardly inconceivable. At a cybersecurity panel at the Aspen Institute in 2011, General Michael Hayden, a retired Air Force four-star general who headed both the CIA and NSA, was asked about hardware hacking, and his response was simple: “It’s the problem from hell.”

At this point, hardware hacking is still in its infancy, and so too are solutions to it. Chip designers primarily rely on protocols that have not appreciably changed for years. For that reason, Villasenor wrote in 2010, “Defensive strategies have not yet been fully developed, much less put into practice.”

And so protection for consumers at this point comes down to common sense: If you don’t know where something is from, it’s generally not a great idea to plug it into your network. The advice sounds obvious, but it bears stating that the worst hack in U.S. military history occurred when someone found a corrupted memory stick outside a base in the Middle East and plugged it into a classified network.

Beyond simple schoolyard rules, creating defenses becomes much more difficult. To stop hardware hacking at the design and manufacture stage, the Pentagon has launched its “Trusted Foundry” program. To qualify, foundries that build integrated circuits must pass a rigorous accreditation process. It’s a good first step, but it affects only a small fraction of the chips the U.S. military needs, let alone the rest of us. The next step would be to expand the network of trusted chipmakers and punish companies found to be untrustworthy. But given the layers of buyers and sellers involved, that will be difficult. The researchers that detected the hack in the Star N9500 smartphone spent more than a week trying to find the source of the malicious chip, to no avail.

In the world of hardware hacking, any smart device—a refrigerator, clock, even a wearable fitness monitor—could be weaponized.

 

As foundries strive to improve their security, some researchers are investigating the development of digital watermarks, such as holograms or bits of plant DNA, that could be authenticated at key points in the supply chain. Other researchers are looking upstream to secure the microchip design process. More robust encryption programs could track design changes, making it harder for someone to initiate a hack in the first place.

Testing, too, requires an overhaul. Tests today are “usually designed to weed out accidental defects and design flaws, not identify parts that counterfeiters have specifically altered to masquerade as something they are not,” Villasenor wrote in an article with co-author Mohammad Tehranipoor. And only a small percentage of the millions of chips produced each year are tested anyway. To fortify this vulnerability, DARPA created the Integrity and Reliability of Integrated Circuits program. Its projects include an advanced scanning optical microscope that will use an infrared laser to probe “microelectronic circuits at nanometer levels, revealing information about chip construction as well as the function of circuits at the transistor level.”

The agency also launched the Supply Chain Hardware Integrity for Electronics Defense program. It aims to develop a dielet, a 100-micron-by-100-micron component that could be attached to chips at less than a penny per unit. It would carry an encryption engine to help secure data and sensors to detect any tampering.

Each program holds a lot of promise, but to truly safeguard hardware vulnerabilities chip designers need to rethink chips themselves. That means building defenses directly into integrated circuits. One example could be to install input and output monitors that stop chips from communicating with unauthorized connections and memory gatekeepers that prohibit access to off-limits areas. Another would be to incorporate a “no execute” bit, which cordons off certain areas of memory and prevents the processor from executing any code from there. The appetite for such solutions, however, is still very limited.

 

Chronic Condition

A few years ago, Cody Brocious, a 24-year-old researcher at Mozilla, began to investigate the security of the electronic room-lock systems used at many hotels, most of which can be programmed to accept master keys. At the 2012 Black Hat security conference, he showed off how to spoof a master key with little more than $50 worth of homebrewed hardware. The lock manufacturer developed a defense against this attack, but it involves replacing the hardware in more than four million locks.

In the end, that’s truly what makes hardware hacking the “problem from hell”: The potential avenues of attack are so numerous and insidious, they can be hard to contemplate. Addressing them will be neither easy nor fast—but it can be done. The challenge of software security appeared equally insurmountable at one time, but now cybersecurity professionals are doing a better job of understanding and confronting those risks than ever before. As with software, the decision to pursue hardware security will ultimately come down to cost-benefit analysis. Added defenses often come with tradeoffs, namely lower performance, increased cost, or both. Until now, the decision to adopt them has been pretty easy—don’t bother. Going forward, the thought process will change. As James Hayward, the CEO of Applied DNA Sciences, said in an interview, “A $100 microchip might keep a $100 million dollar helicopter on the ground.”

That new calculus will hopefully spur governments and companies to attack hardware vulnerabilties before criminals do. “Frankly, it’s not a problem that can be solved,” General Hayden said of hardware hacking in Aspen. “This is a condition that you have to manage.”

This article was originally published in the March 2015 issue of Popular Science, under the title, “Nowhere To Hide.”

 

Move over Wallace and Gromit – it’s the right trousers

http://www.bristol.ac.uk/news/2015/february/wearable-soft-robotics.html


Press release issued: 24 February 2015

With an ageing UK population, older people could have the opportunity to stay independent for longer thanks to a pioneering project announced today [Tuesday 24 February]. New research, led by the University of Bristol, will develop smart trousers using artificial ‘muscles’ in its soft fabric to help disabled and older people move around easily and unaided.

The research project, funded by a £2 million grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), will enable people with mobility impairments, disabilities and age-related weaknesses to live independently and with dignity.

The soft robotic clothing could help vulnerable people avoid falls by supporting them whilst walking, give people added bionic strength to move between sitting and standing positions and help people climb stairs, which were previously impossible. 

The wearable clothing could replace the stair lift in the home and other bulky and uncomfortable mobility and stability aids.  Ultimately soft robotic clothing has the potential to free many wheelchair users from their wheelchairs.

Dr Jonathan Rossiter, Reader in Robotics in the Department of Engineering Mathematics at the University of Bristol and who is leading the project, said: “This is the first time soft robotics technologies have been used to address the many rehabilitation and health care needs in one single type of wearable device.

“Many existing devices used by people with mobility problems can cause or aggravate conditions such as poor circulation, skin pressure damage or susceptibility to falls, each of which is a drain on health resources.  Wearable soft robotics has the potential to improve many of these problems and reduce healthcare costs at the same time too.”

This intelligent clothing or ‘second skin’ will use artificial ‘muscles’ made from smart materials and reactive polymers which are capable of exerting great forces.  The wearable device will be developed using the latest wearable soft robotic, nanoscience, 3D fabrication, functional electrical stimulation and full-body monitoring technologies, all driven by the need of the end users, who will be directly involved in the project.

The clothing will include control systems that monitor the wearer and adapt to give the most suitable assistance, working with the body’s own muscles.  For patients needing rehabilitation the smart clothing can initially provide strong support and subsequently reduce assistance as the patient recovers mobility and strength.

The research team hope the wearable clothing will be easy to use, comfortable, and adaptable and meet the user’s individual mobility needs.

The £2 million project called Wearable soft robotics for independent living
is led by the University of Bristol in collaboration with the universities of Nottingham, Leeds, Strathclyde, Southampton, Loughborough and UWE Bristol.  The three-year project will start in July 2015 and be completed by June 2018.

The project is part of a £5.3 million funding programme announced by the EPSRC today to transform the design of assistive and rehabilitative devices.

 

 

Cyber-Armageddon Less Likely Than Predicted, Clapper Says

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-02-26/cyber-armageddon-less-likely-than-smaller-attacks-clapper-says

‘By’Anthony Capaccio

8:08 PM EST

February 25, 2015

 

(Bloomberg) — A single cyber-attack that cripples U.S. infrastructure is less likely than a succession of costly computer attacks, according to the nation’s top intelligence official.

“Rather than a ‘cyber-Armageddon’ scenario that debilitates the entire U.S. infrastructure, we envision something different,” James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said in a report on global threats. “We foresee an ongoing series of low-to-moderate level cyber-attacks from a variety of sources over time, which will impose cumulative costs on U.S. economic competitiveness and national security.”

Clapper’s report, submitted to a Senate committee, marks a significant departure from past U.S. warnings about the type of Internet attacks that the country will face. Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned in 2012 of a “cyber Pearl Harbor” that could paralyze the country.

The intelligence chief’s report was obtained by Bloomberg News in advance of his testimony Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Attacks may include not only hacking but “supply-chain operations to insert compromised hardware or software,” Clapper said. At the same time, detection has improved so that attackers can no longer assume that their identities will stay concealed, he said.

Other findings in Clapper’s wide-ranging summary of a “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community” were less optimistic than positions taken by other Obama administration officials.

 

Iraq Stalemate

On Iraq, where officials have said the U.S. has stopped the momentum of Islamic State extremists, Clapper described a stalemate.

Six months of air strikes by the U.S. and allies and limited ground operations have “largely stabilized” Iraq, with no side “able to muster the resources necessary” to meet its objectives, Clapper said.

Growing sectarian conflict in mixed Sunni-Shia areas in and around Baghdad, including a campaign of retribution killings, threatens to undermine the coalition’s efforts, he said.

On terrorism more broadly, Clapper said that “Sunni violent extremists are gaining momentum” and the number of groups “and safe havens is greater than at any other point in history.”

The threat to U.S. allies and partners will probably increase depending on extremists’ success in seizing and holding territory, he said.

 

Radicalized ‘Operatives’

Most groups “place a higher priority on local concerns than on attacking the so-called far enemy — the United States and the West,” Clapper said.

If Islamic State’s priority were to change, “radicalized Westerners who have fought in Syria and Iraq would provide a pool of operatives who potentially have access to the United States and other Western countries.”

As the U.S. seeks to negotiate an accord to halt Iran’s nuclear program, Clapper said Iran remains “an ongoing threat to U.S. national interests because of its support to the Assad regime in Syria, promulgation of anti-Israeli policies, development of advanced military capabilities and pursuit of its nuclear program.”

 

While Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has been described as relatively moderate, Clapper said he is “a longstanding member of the regime establishment” who “will not depart from Iran’s national security objectives.”

 

Russia’s Plans

In recounting cybersecurity threats from countries including China, Iran and North Korea, Clapper said that Russia’s defense ministry “is establishing its own cyber command.”

According to senior Russian military officials, the command “will be responsible for conducting offensive cyber activities, including propaganda operations and inserting malware into enemy command and control systems,” Clapper said.

U.S. companies have called for a more aggressive response to cyber-attacks on companies by China, Iran, North Korea and other nation states. Financial institutions, including JPMorgan Chase & Co., have repeatedly asked U.S. officials to do more to halt the attacks rather than expect banks to fight them off.

 

North Korea, China

On North Korea and China, Clapper said both nations are making strides in nuclear weapons delivery systems

North Korea “launched an unprecedented number of ballistic missiles” in tests last year and remains “committed to developing a long-range, nuclear-armed missile that is capable of posing a direct threat to the United States,” he said.

The regime has twice publicly displayed its road-mobile KN08 intercontinental ballistic missile and “has already taken the initial steps” to field the system, although it hasn’t been flight-tested, Clapper said.

China is expanding its nuclear force “by adding more survivable road-mobile systems and enhancing its silo-based systems” to provide a second-strike capability, Clapper said.

The U.S. intelligence community also assesses that China “will soon conduct its first nuclear deterrence patrols” with its JIN-class submarines armed with JL-2 sea-launched ballistic missiles, Clapper said.

 

 

Less than half of combat squadrons fully ready for combat

http://www.airforcetimes.com/

By Jeff Schogol, Staff writer 1:25 p.m. EST February 25, 2015

 

Less than half of the Air Force’s combat-coded squadrons are fully prepared for combat, top service officials told lawmakers on Wednesday.

“While the specific numbers are classified, I’ll tell you the overall combat capability of our combat coded squadrons in the Air Force is still below 50 percent, so fewer than 50 percent of them are fully combat capable,” Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh told the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee on Wednesday.

And if Congress does not block the spending cuts called for in the Budget Control Act, the decline in squadrons that are fully combat ready will be “stunning,” Welsh said.

The Air Force’s proposed budget for fiscal 2016 does not include the steep Budget Control Act spending cuts, which could return next fiscal year unless Congress repeals the mandated spending caps.

“It will not be a precipitous drop off because we will prioritize funding for readiness, but we will not be able to continue the recovery of individual and unit readiness that we had started over the last two years,” Welsh said.

The Air Force also faces a bigger problem because it has not invested in training ranges and other infrastructure over the last 15 years, Welsh said. It will take between eight and 10 years for the Air Force to rebuild that infrastructure, depending on how much money it gets.

The Air Force was hit hard by the Budget Control Act cuts known as sequestration, which went into effect in 2013 when Congress and the president failed to reach an agreement on how to balance taxes and spending.

Because the cuts came in the middle of the fiscal year, the Air Force had to take drastic measures to reduce spending, including slashing flying hours. Ultimately, the service had to ground 17 combat squadrons that year.

In 2013, the Air Force also had to cancel two Red Flag exercises, which simulate air-to-air combat, and four Green Flag air-to-ground combat training exercises. A weapons school class at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, was also canceled.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said she is concerned that roughly half of combat air forces are not sufficiently trained for “high end” combat.

“I’m talking about a conflict in which the enemy has the ability to interfere with you in the air or in space,” James told reporters after Wednesday’s hearing.

While the Air Force would be prepared if called on to fight a high-end war, the service has to get more squadrons fully combat ready, she said.

“I want to make sure that we are readiest that we can be and ought to be and I think we can do better in this country than what sequestration would allow for us,” James said.

 

McCain vows ‘one hell of a fight’ on sequestration     

By Kristina Wong – 02/26/15 07:27 PM EST

http://thehill.com/policy/defense/policy-strategy/234061-mccain-vows-one-hell-of-a-fight-on-sequestration

 

Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, declared war on sequestration earlier this week.

“Next week, [Defense Secretary] Ash Carter is going to come over with a budget and then we’re going to have one hell of a fight over sequestration,” McCain said at a New America Foundation conference on Wednesday.

“I will not vote for a budget in the United States Senate that has sequestration in it. I can’t do that to the men and women who are serving,” he said.

McCain said he didn’t know how many people were with him.

“I’ve never been very good at counting votes but I do know that there is real unease out there about continuing the sequestration,” he said.

Although the White House has proposed a 2016 defense base budget of $535 billion, budget caps imposed by sequestration would limit the budget to $500 billion and force the military to cut things like weapons systems, training and manpower.

Sequestration, a mechanism passed by Congress in the 2011 Budget Control Act, cut the government’s budget by $1 trillion over 10 years — $500 billion of that from the Pentagon’s budget alone — after lawmakers were unable to reach a deal on spending and tax reform.

Reversing sequestration would require an act of law by Congress, but whether lawmakers could agree on tax and spending reform is unclear. Fiscal hawks and liberals are also wary of uncontrolled defense spending, and some liberals say any lifting of defense cuts should be accompanied by lifting cuts on social programs.

Lawmakers were able to partially lift defense budget caps in 2014 and 2015, but the caps are set to return in October with the new fiscal year — and could force the Navy to retire an aircraft carrier, the Army to reduce troops to World War II levels, and the Air Force to cut critical weapons systems. Military training and readiness would be affected across the board.

If Congress does not raise the budget caps, lawmakers will either have to find ways to meet the $500 billion limit, or allow cuts of $35 billion to go into affect, slicing the same percentage off nearly every Pentagon program except for pay and benefits.

“I worry a little bit…As I mentioned, sequester is about $40 billion lower than the lower ragged edge of what it takes to defend the country,” McCain said.

“We’ll never succeed, but we want as much as possible a policy-driven budget rather than just take the Pentagon’s numbers and see how we can cram it into different areas, so I’m really trying to work as hard as I can on that aspect,” he added.

McCain has vowed to work with Carter and House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) to reform the defense acquisition system to reduce waste in the Pentagon’s purchases of major weapons systems.

At Carter’s confirmation hearing for defense secretary earlier this month, McCain mentioned the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship program and the Gerald Ford Class Nuclear Aircraft Carrier, and the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps’ F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.

Thornberry sounded optimistic in recent remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

“We have a major reform effort on acquisition, both the goods and services, that we’re working with the Pentagon on,” he said Tuesday at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

“We’re not going to fix it, but we’re going to try to make some improvements, and then keep — keep after it,” he said.

 

Between a Roomba and a Terminator: What is Autonomy?

Paul Scharre    

February 18, 2015

http://warontherocks.com/2015/02/between-a-roomba-and-a-terminator-what-is-autonomy/

Editor’s note: This is the first article in a six-part series, The Coming Swarm, on military robotics and automation as a part of the joint War on the Rocks-Center for a New American Security Beyond Offset Initiative.

 

Department of Defense leaders have stated that robotics and autonomous systems will be a key part of a new “offset strategy” to sustain American military dominance, but what is autonomy? Uninhabited, or unmanned, systems have played important roles in Iraq and Afghanistan, from providing loitering overhead surveillance to defusing bombs. They have operated generally in a remote-controlled context, however, with only limited automation for functions like takeoff and landing. Numerous Defense Department roadmap and vision documents depict a future of uninhabited vehicles with greater autonomy, transitioning over time to true robotic systems. What that means for how militaries fight, however, is somewhat murky.

What does it mean for a robot to be “fully autonomous?” How much machine intelligence is required to reach “full autonomy,” and when can we expect it? And what is the role of the human warfighter in this proposed future with robots running loose, untethered from their human controllers?

Confusion about the term “autonomy” is a problem in envisioning the answers to these questions. The word “autonomy” is used by different people in different ways, making communicating about where we are headed with robotic systems particularly challenging. The term “autonomous robot” might mean a Roomba to one person and a Terminator to another! Writers or presenters on this topic often articulate “levels of autonomy,” but their levels rarely agree, leading a recent Defense Science Board report on autonomy to throw out the concept of “levels” of autonomy altogether.

 

 

 

 

In the interest of adding some clarity to this issue, I want to illuminate how we use the word, why it is confusing, and how we can be more precise. I can’t change the fact that “autonomy” means so many things to so many people, and I won’t try to shoehorn all of the possible uses of autonomy into yet another chart of “levels of autonomy.” But I can try to inject some much needed precision into the discussion.

 

What is “Autonomy?”

In its simplest form, autonomy is the ability of a machine to perform a task without human input. Thus an “autonomous system” is a machine, whether hardware or software, that, once activated, performs some task or function on its own. A robot is an uninhabited system that incorporates some degree of autonomy, generally understood to include the ability to sense the environment and react to it, at least in some crude fashion.

Autonomous systems are not limited to uninhabited vehicles, however. In fact, autonomous, or automated, functions are included on many human-inhabited systems today. Most cars today include anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control, power steering, emergency seat belt retractors, and air bags. Higher-end cars may include intelligent cruise control, automatic lane keeping, collision avoidance, and automatic parking. For military aircraft, automatic ground collision avoidance systems (auto-GCAS) can similarly take control of a human-piloted aircraft if a pilot becomes disoriented and is about to fly into terrain. And modern commercial airliners have a high degree of automation available throughout every phase of a flight. Increased automation or autonomy can have many advantages, including increased safety and reliability, improved reaction time and performance, reduced personnel burden with associated cost savings, and the ability to continue operations in communications-degraded or denied environments.

Parsing out how much autonomy a system has is important for understanding the challenges and opportunities associated with increasing autonomy. There is a wide gap, of course, between a Roomba and a Terminator. Rather than search in vain for a unified framework of “levels of autonomy,” a more fruitful direction is to think of autonomy as having three main axes, or dimensions, along which a system can vary. These dimensions are independent, and so autonomy does not exist on merely one spectrum, but three spectrums simultaneously.

 

 

Robots at War and the Quality of Quantity

Paul Scharre    

February 26, 2015 · in Beyond Offset

Editor’s note: This is the second article in a six-part series, The Coming Swarm, on military robotics and automation as a part of the joint War on the Rocks-Center for a New American Security Beyond Offset Initiative. Read the first entry in the series, “Between a Roomba and a Terminator.”

 

The U.S. Department of Defense has launched the search for a “third offset strategy,” an approach to sustain U.S. military technological superiority against potential adversaries. But, for a number of reasons, this strategy is different than the previous two. Even the name “offset” may not be valid. The first two strategies were aimed at “offsetting” the Soviet numerical advantage in conventional weapons in Europe, first with U.S. nuclear weapons and later with information-enabled precision-strike weapons. But this time around, it may be the United States bringing numbers to the fight.

Uninhabited and autonomous systems have the potential to reverse the multi-decade trend in rising platform costs and shrinking quantities, allowing the U.S. military to field large numbers of assets at affordable cost. The result could be that instead of “offsetting” a quantitative advantage that an adversary is presumed to start with, the United States could be showing up with better technology and greater numbers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The value of mass

The United States out-produced its enemies in World War II. By 1944, the United States and its Allies were producing over 51,000 tanks a year to Germany’s 17,800 and over 167,000 planes a year to the combined Axis total of just under 68,000. Even though many of Germany’s tanks and aircraft were of superior quality to those of the Allies, they were unable to compensate for the unstoppable onslaught of Allied iron. Paul Kennedy writes in The Rise and Fall of Great Powers:

…by 1943-1944 the United States alone was producing one ship a day and one aircraft every five minutes! … No matter how cleverly the Wehrmacht mounted its tactical counterattacks on both the western and eastern fronts until almost the last months of the war, it was to be ultimately overwhelmed by the sheer mass of Allied firepower.

The Cold War saw a shift in strategy, with the United States instead initially relying on nuclear weapons to counter the growing Soviet conventional arsenal in Europe, the first “offset strategy.” By the 1970s, the Soviets had achieved a three-to-one overmatch against NATO in conventional forces and a rough parity in strategic nuclear forces. In response to this challenge, the U.S. military adopted the second offset strategy to counter Soviet numerical advantages with qualitatively superior U.S. weapons: stealth, advanced sensors, command and control networks, and precision-guided weapons.

The full effect of these weapons was seen in 1991, when the United States took on Saddam Hussein’s Soviet-equipped army. Casualty ratios in the Gulf War ran an extremely lopsided 30-to-1. Iraqi forces were so helpless against American precision airpower that the White House eventually terminated the war earlier than planned because media images of the so-called “highway of death” made American forces seem as if they were “cruelly and unusually punishing our already whipped foes,” in the words of Gulf War air commander General Chuck Horner. Precision-guided weapons, coupled with sensors to find targets and networks to connect sensors and shooters, allowed the information-enabled U.S. military to crush Iraqi forces fighting with unguided munitions.

What happens when they have precision-guided weapons too?

The proliferation of precision-guided weapons to other adversaries is shifting the scales, however, bringing mass once again back into the equation. The United States military can expect to face threats from adversary precision-guided munitions in future fights. At the same time, ever-rising platform costs are pushing U.S. quantities lower and lower, presenting adversaries with fewer targets on which to concentrate their missiles. U.S. platforms may be qualitatively superior, but they are not invulnerable. Salvos of enemy missiles threaten to overwhelm the defenses of U.S. ships and air bases. Even if missile defenses can, in principle, intercept incoming missiles, the cost-exchange ratio of attacking missiles to defending interceptors favors the attacker, meaning U.S. adversaries need only purchase more missiles to saturate U.S. defenses.

 

Enter the swarm

Uninhabited systems offer an alternative model, with the potential to disaggregate expensive multi-mission systems into a larger number of smaller, lower cost distributed platforms. Because they can take greater risk and therefore be made low-cost and attritable – or willing to accept some attrition – uninhabited systems can be built in large numbers. Combined with mission-level autonomy and multi-vehicle control, large numbers of low-cost attritable robotics can be controlled en masse by a relatively small number of human controllers.

Large numbers of uninhabited vehicles have several potential advantages:

◦Combat power can be dispersed, giving the enemy more targets, forcing the adversary to expend more munitions.

◦Platform survivability is replaced with a concept of swarm resiliency. Individual platforms need not be survivable if there are sufficient numbers of them such that the whole is resilient against attack.

◦Mass allows the graceful degradation of combat power as individual platforms are attrited, as opposed to a sharp loss in combat power if a single, more exquisite platform is lost.

◦Offensive salvos can saturate enemy defenses. Most defenses can only handle so many threats at one time. Missile batteries can be exhausted. Guns can only shoot in one direction at a time. Even low cost-per-shot continuous or near-continuous fire weapons like high energy lasers can only engage one target at a time and generally require several seconds of engagement to defeat a target. Salvos of guided munitions or uninhabited vehicles can overwhelm enemy defenses such that “leakers” get through, taking out the target.

These advantages could translate to new, innovative approaches for using uninhabited systems, just a few of which are explored below.

The miniature air-launched decoy (MALD) and miniature air-launched decoy – jammer (MALD-J) – loitering air vehicles that are not quite munitions and are not aircraft – hint at the potential of small, loitering uninhabited air vehicles and air-mobile robots. The MALD functions as an aerial decoy to deceive enemy radars, while the MALD-J jams enemy radars. Similar future uninhabited air vehicles, launched from aircraft, ships or submarines, could saturate enemy territory with overwhelming numbers of low-cost, expendable systems. Like D-Day’s “little groups of paratroopers” dropped behind enemy lines, they could sow confusion and wreak havoc on an enemy.

Loitering electronic attack weapons could create an electronic storm of jamming, decoys and high-powered microwaves. Small air vehicles could autonomously fly down roads searching for mobile missiles and, once found, relay their coordinates back to human controllers for attack.

Such aircraft would be small and would require a means of getting to the fight. This could include submarines parked off an enemy’s coast, uninhabited missile boats that race to the enemy’s coastline before launching their payloads into the air, large bomber or cargo aircraft, or even uninhabited undersea pods like DARPA’s Hydra program.

A similar approach could help the Army expand combat power on land. The Army has thousands of fully functional ground vehicles such as HMMWVs and M113 armored personnel carriers that will not be used in future conflicts because they lack sufficient armor to protect human occupants. At very low cost, however, on the order of tens of thousands of dollars apiece, these vehicles could be converted into robotic systems. With no human on board, their lack of heavy armor would not be a problem.

This could be done at low cost using robotic appliqué kits – sensors and command systems that are applied to existing vehicles to convert them for remote or autonomous operation. Robotic appliqué kits have already been used to convert construction vehicles into remotely operated Bobcats and bulldozers to counter improvised explosive devices.

Applied to existing vehicles, robotic appliqué kits could give the Army a massive robot ground force at extremely low cost. The sheer mass of such a force, and the ability to apply it in sacrificial or suicidal missions, could change how the Army approaches maneuver warfare.

Uninhabited ground vehicles could be the vanguard of an advance, allowing robots to be the “contact” part of a “movement to contact.” Robotic vehicles could be used to flush out the enemy, flank or surround them, or launch feinting maneuvers. Uninhabited vehicles could be air-dropped behind enemy lines on suicide missions. Scouting for targets, they could be used by human controllers for direct engagements or could send back coordinates for indirect fire or aerial attacks.

These are just some of the possibilities that greater mass could bring in terms of imposing costs on adversaries and unlocking new concepts of operation. Experimentation is needed, both in simulations and in realistic real-world environments, to better understand how warfighters would employ large numbers of low-cost expendable robotic systems.

And there would be other issues to work out. Robotic systems would still require maintenance, although mitigation measures could minimize the burden. Modular design would allow easy replacements when parts broke, allowing maintainers to cannibalize other systems for spare parts. And uninhabited systems could be kept “in a box” during peacetime with only a limited number used for training, much like missiles. For some applications where uninhabited systems would be needed in wartime but not in peacetime, mixed-component units that leverage National Guard and Reserve maintainers may be a cost-effective way to manage personnel.

 

A new paradigm for assessing qualitative advantage

The point of building large numbers of lower cost systems is not to field forces on the battlefield that are qualitatively inferior to the enemy. Rather, it is to change the notion of qualitative superiority from an attribute of the platform to an attribute of the swarm. The swarm, as a whole, should be more capable than an adversary’s military forces. That is, after all, the purpose of combat: to defeat the enemy. What uninhabited systems enable, is a disaggregation of that combat capability into larger numbers of less exquisite systems which, individually, may be less capable but in aggregate are superior to the enemy’s forces.

Disaggregating combat power will not be possible in all cases, and large (and expensive) vehicles will still be needed for many purposes. Expensive, exquisite systems will inevitably be purchased in small numbers, however, and so where possible they should be supplemented by larger numbers of lower-cost systems in a high-low mix. Neither a cheap-and-numerous nor an expensive-and-few approach will work in every instance, and U.S. forces will need to field a mix of high and low-cost assets to bring the right capabilities to bear – and in the right numbers – in future conflicts.

Paul Scharre is a fellow and Director of the 20YY Warfare Initiative at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) and author of CNAS’ recent report, “Robotics on the Battlefield Part II: The Coming Swarm.” He is a former infantryman in the 75th Ranger Regiment and has served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

 

A New American Grand Strategy

by General Jim Mattis

Thursday, February 26, 2015

 

The world is awash in change. The international order, so painstakingly put together by the greatest generation coming home from mankind’s bloodiest conflict, is under increasing stress. It was created with elements we take for granted: the United Nations, NATO, the Marshall Plan, Bretton Woods and more. The constructed order reflected the wisdom of those who recognized no nation lived as an island and we needed new ways to deal with challenges that for better or worse impacted all nations. Like it or not, today we are part of this larger world and must carry out our part. We cannot wait for problems to arrive here or it will be too late; rather we must remain strongly engaged in this complex world.

The international order built on the state system is not self-sustaining. It demands tending by an America that leads wisely, standing unapologetically for the freedoms each of us in this room have enjoyed. The hearing today addresses the need for America to adapt to changing circumstances, to come out now from its reactive crouch and to take a firm strategic stance in defense of our values.

While we recognize that we owe future generations the same freedoms we enjoy, the challenge lies in how to carry out our responsibility. We have lived too long now in a strategy-free mode.

To do so America needs a refreshed national strategy. The Congress can play a key role in crafting a coherent strategy with bipartisan support. Doing so requires us to look beyond events currently consuming the executive branch.

There is an urgent need to stop reacting to each immediate vexing issue in isolation. Such response often creates unanticipated second order effects and more problems for us. I suggest that the best way to cut to the essence of these issues and to help you in crafting America’s response to a rapidly changing security environment is to ask the right questions.

These are some that we should ask:

What are the key threats to our vital interests?

The intelligence community should delineate and provide an initial prioritization of those threats for your consideration. By rigorously defining the problems we face you will enable a more intelligent and focused use of the resources allocated for national defense.

Is our intelligence community fit for its expanding purpose?

Today we have less of a military shock absorber to take surprise in stride, and fewer forward-deployed military forces overseas to act as sentinels. Accordingly we need more early warning. Congress should question if we are adequately funding the intelligence agencies to reduce the chance of our defenses being caught flat-footed.

We know that the “foreseeable future” is not foreseeable; our review must incorporate unpredictability, recognizing risk while avoiding gambling with our nation’s security.Incorporating the broadest issues in its assessments, Congress should consider what we must do if the national debt is assessed to be the biggest national security threat we face.

As President Eisenhower noted, the foundation of military strength is our economic strength. In a few short years paying interest on our debt will be a bigger bill than what we pay for defense. Much of that interest money is destined to leave America for overseas. If we refuse to reduce our debt or pay down our deficit, what is the impact on national security for future generations who will inherit this irresponsible debt and the taxes to service it? No nation in history has maintained its military power while failing to keep its fiscal house in order.

How do we urgently halt the damage caused by sequestration?

No foe in the field can wreck such havoc on our security that mindless sequestration is achieving. Congress passed it because it was viewed as so injurious that it would force wise choices. It has failed and today we use arithmetic vice sound thinking to run our government, despite emerging enemy threats. The Senate Armed Services Committee should lead the effort to repeal the sequestration that is costing military readiness and long term capability while sapping troop morale.

Without predictability in budget matters no strategy can be implemented by your military leaders. Your immediate leadership is needed to avert further damage. In our approach to the world, we must be willing to ask strategic questions. In the Middle East, where our influence is at its lowest point in four decades, we see a region erupting in crises.

We need a new security architecture for the Middle East built on sound policy, one that permits us to take our own side in this fight. Crafting such a policy starts with asking a fundamental question and then others: Is political Islam in our best interest? If not what is our policy to support the countervailing forces? Violent terrorists cannot be permitted to take refuge behind false religious garb and leave us unwilling to define this threat with the clarity it deserves. We have potential allies around the world and in the Middle East who will rally to us but we have not been clear about where we stand in defining or dealing with the growing violent jihadist terrorist threat.

Iran is a special case that must be dealt with as a threat to regional stability, nuclear and otherwise. I believe that you should question the value of Congress adding new sanctions while international negotiations are ongoing, while having them ready should the negotiations for preventing their nuclear weapons capability and stringent monitoring break down.

Further, we should question if we have the right policies in place when Iran creates more mischief in Lebanon, Iraq, Bahrain, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere in the region. We should recognize that regional counterweights like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council can reinforce us if they understand our policies and if we clarify our foreign policy goals beyond Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

In Afghanistan we need to consider if we’re asking for the same outcome there as we saw last summer in Iraq if we pull out all our troops on the Administration’s proposed timeline. Echoing the military advice given on the same issue in Iraq, gains achieved at great cost against our enemy in Afghanistan are reversible. We should recognize that we may not want this fight but the barbarity of an enemy that kills women and children and has refused to break with Al Qaeda needs to be fought.

More broadly, is the U.S. military being developed to fight across the spectrum of combat?

Knowing that enemies always move against perceived weakness, our forces must be capable of missions from nuclear deterrence to counter-insurgency and everything in between, now including the pervasive cyber domain. While surprise is always a factor, Congress can ensure that we have the fewest big regrets when the next surprise occurs. We don’t want or need a military that is at the same time dominant and irrelevant, so we must sort this out and deny funding for bases or capabilities no longer needed.

The nuclear stockpile must be tended to and fundamental questions must be asked and answered: We must clearly establish the role of our nuclear weapons: do they serve solely to deter nuclear war? If so, we should say so, and the resulting clarity will help to determine the number we need. Is it time to reduce the Triad to a Diad, removing the land-based missiles? This would reduce the false alarm danger. Could we reenergize the arms control effort by only counting warheads vice launchers? Was the Russian test violating the INF treaty simply a blunder or a change in policy, and what is our appropriate response?

The reduced size of our military drives the need to ask other questions: Our military is uniquely capable and the envy of the world, but are we resourcing it to ensure we have the highest quality troops, the best equipment and the toughest training?

With a smaller military comes the need for troops kept at the top of their game. When we next put them in harm’s way it must be the enemy’s longest day and worst day. Tiered readiness with a smaller force must be closely scrutinized to ensure we aren’t merely hollowing out the force. While sequestration is the nearest threat to this national treasure that is the U.S. military, sustaining it as the world’s best when smaller will need your critical oversight. Are the Navy and our expeditionary forces receiving the support they need in a world where America’s naval role is more pronounced because we have fewer forces posted overseas?

With the cutbacks to the Army and Air Force and fewer forces around the world, military aspects of our strategy will inevitably become more naval in character. This will provide decision time for political leaders considering employment of additional forms of military power. Congress’ resourcing of our naval and expeditionary forces will need to take this development into account. Because we will need to swiftly move ready forces to act against nascent threats, nipping them in the bud, the agility to reassure friends and temper adversary activities will be critical to America’s effectiveness for keeping a stable and prosperous world. I question if our shipbuilding budget is sufficient, especially in light of the situation in the South China Sea.

While our efforts in the Pacific to keep positive relations with China are well and good, these efforts must be paralleled by a policy to build the counterbalance if China continues to expand its bullying role in the South China Sea and elsewhere. That counterbalance must deny China veto power over territorial, security and economic conditions in the Pacific, building support for our diplomatic efforts to maintain stability and economic prosperity so critical to our economy.

In light of worldwide challenges to the international order we are nonetheless shrinking our military. Are we adjusting our strategy and taking into account a reduced role for that shrunken military?

Strategy connects ends, ways and means. With less military available, we must reduce our appetite for using it. Absent growing our military, there must come a time when moral outrage, serious humanitarian plight, or lesser threats cannot be militarily addressed. Prioritization is needed if we are to remain capable of the most critical mission for which we have a military: to fight on short notice and defend the country. In this regard we must recognize we should not and need not carry this military burden solely on our own.

Does our strategy and associated military planning take into account our nation’s increased need for allies?

The need for stronger alliances comes more sharply into focus as we shrink the military. No nation can do on its own all that is necessary for its security. Further, history reminds us that countries with allies generally defeat those without. A capable U.S. military, reinforcing our political will to lead from the front, is the bedrock on which we draw together those nations that stand with us against threats to the international order.

Our strategy must adapt to and accommodate this reality. As Churchill intimated, the only thing harder than fighting with allies is fighting without them. Congress, through the Armed Services Committee, should track closely an increased military capability to work with allies, the NATO alliance being foremost but not our sole focus. We must also enlist non-traditional partners where we have common foes or common interests.

In reference to NATO and in light of the Russian violations of international borders, we must ask if the Alliance’s efforts have adjusted to the unfortunate and dangerous mode the Russian leadership has slipped into?

With regard to tightening the bond between our smaller military and those we may need at our side in future fights, the convoluted foreign military sales system needs a challenge. Hopefully it can be put in order before we drive more potential partners to equip themselves with foreign equipment, a move that makes it harder to achieve needed inter-operability with our allies and undercuts America’s industrial base. Currently the system fails to reach its potential to support our foreign policy.

As we attempt to restore stability to the state system and international order, a critical question will be: Is America good for its word?

When we make clear our position or give our word about something, our friends (and even our foes) must recognize that we are good for it. Otherwise dangerous miscalculations can occur. This means that the military instrument must be fit for purpose and that once a political position is taken, our position is backed up by a capable military making clear that we will stand on our word.

When the decision is made to employ our forces in combat, Congress should ask if the military is being employed with the proper authority. I believe it should examine answers to fundamental questions like the following:

Are the political objectives clearly defined and achievable? Murky or quixotic political end states can condemn us to entering wars we don’t know how to end. Notifying the enemy in advance of our withdrawal dates or reassuring the enemy that we will not use certain capabilities like our ground forces should be avoided. Such announcements do not take the place of mature, welldefined endstates, nor do they contribute to ending wars as rapidly as possible on favorable terms.

Is the theater of war itself sufficient for effective prosecution? We have witnessed safe havens prolonging war. If the defined theater of war is insufficient, the plan itself needs to be challenged to determine feasibility of its success or the need for its modification.

Is the authority for detaining prisoners of war appropriate for the enemy and type war that we are fighting? We have observed the perplexing lack of detainee policy that has resulted in the return of released prisoners to the battlefield. We should not engage in another fight without resolving this issue up front, treating hostile forces, in fact, as hostile.

Are America’s diplomatic, economic, and other assets aligned to the war aims, with the intent of ending the conflict as rapidly as possible? We have experienced the military alone trying achieve tasks outside its expertise. When we take the serious decision to fight, we must bring to bear all our nation’s resources. You should question how the diplomatic and development efforts will be employed to build momentum for victory and our nation’s strategy demands that integration.

Finally the culture of our military and its rules are designed to bring about battlefield success in the most atavistic environment on earth. No matter how laudable in terms of a progressive country’s instincts, Congress needs to consider carefully any proposed changes to military rules, traditions and standards that bring noncombat emphasis to combat units. There is a great difference between military service in dangerous circumstances and serving in a combat unit whose role is to search out and kill the enemy at close quarters. Congress has a responsibility for imposing reason over impulse when proposed changes could reduce the combat capability of our forces at the point of contact with the enemy.

Ultimately we need the foresight of the Armed Services Committee, acting in its sentinel and oversight role, to draw us out of the reactive stance we’ve fallen into and chart a strategic way ahead. Our national security strategy needs bipartisan direction. In some cases, Congress may need to change our processes for developing an integrated national strategy, because mixing capable people and their good ideas with bad processes results in the bad processes defeating good peoples’ ideas nine times out of ten. This is an urgent matter, because in an interconnected age when opportunistic adversaries can work in tandem to destroy stability and prosperity, our country needs to regain its strategic footing.

We need to bring clarity to our efforts before we lose the confidence of the American people and the support of our potential allies.

This essay was adapted from statements made by the author before the Senate Armed Services Committee on January 27, 2015.

 

Rasmussen Reports

 

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

Bottom of Form

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Americans don’t feel safe at home and are increasingly estranged from their government and their leaders.

Even as a radical Islamic group announces its intention to attack American shopping malls, belief among voters that the United States and its allies are wining the War on Terror has fallen to its lowest level in nearly 11 years of regular tracking.

Voters agree with President Obama that America is not at war with Islam, but they are far less convinced than he is that the economic measures promoted at a recent White House summit on violent extremism will help protect this country.

They also disagree with the president when he says global warming is a bigger long-term threat to the United States than terrorism.

Obama’s refusal to describe Middle Eastern terrorists such as the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria as “radical Islamic” even has some critics wondering if the president loves his own country enough. Voters overwhelmingly say they love America, but one-out-of-three doesn’t believe Obama feels that way.

Congressional Republicans, worried about the direction the president’s negotiations with a hostile Iran have taken, have invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress despite outspoken White House opposition. Do voters think it’s right for political opponents to criticize the president’s foreign policy?

Not that the president doesn’t have many supporters. Voters remain almost evenly divided when it comes to the job he is doing, although those who Strongly Disapprove continue to outnumber those who Strongly Approve.

Democrats have edged ahead of Republicans on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot, but the parties keep exchanging the lead, generally separated by two points or less in weekly surveys for over a year now.

No wonder then that voters strongly expect gridlock between the president and the GOP-led Congress to continue for the next two years.

Then again, maybe that’s what they want. Voters aren’t happy with the president’s veto this week of a bipartisan bill passed by Congress calling for construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. But rather than work to meet the president halfway, they want Congress to keep doing what it wants even if Obama doesn’t like it.

Ratings for Congress overall are up only slightly, but they’re the most positive they’ve been in nearly five years.

Voters are feeling better about the U.S. Supreme Court, too, but one-third still don’t think the high court puts the brakes on the federal government enough.

After all, most voters no longer believe the United States has a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

For example, they remain more conservative about money matters than about social issues but don’t expect their leaders to listen. Most favor across-the-board cuts in federal spending but have very little confidence that Congress and the president will make those cuts anytime soon.

The majority of voters in surveys for years have called for a smaller government with fewer services and lower taxes over a more active one with more services and higher taxes.
But the president called for more government programs and higher taxes in his latest State of the Union address, although Congress is unlikely to agree to either.

Speaking of taxes, you’d be surprised how many Americans have already paid their income taxes and are expecting a refund. Americans hate filling out tax paperwork, but at least they’re not too worried about being audited after the fact.

But Americans also send mixed messages about spending at times. Consider, for example, that they tend to see inadequate funding as the biggest problem in the public schools. But ask them how much extra they personally are willing to pay in higher taxes and fees to generate more money for the schools, and 50% say nothing.
Another 22% are willing to spend just $100 more a year for this purpose. So what’s the government to do?

Government is mandating a lot more standardized testing in the public schools these days. Parents of school-age children object even more strongly to the increasing emphasis on these tests, but they’re not so sure students should be able to opt out of the tests.

In other surveys last week:

— Thirty-one percent (31%) of Likely U.S. Voters think the country is heading in the right direction.

— The Rasmussen Consumer and Investor Indexes continue to hold steady at or near the highs they hit at the beginning of the year.

— It’s no secret this winter’s been a brutal one, pummeling the northeast with record snowfall and bringing snow, ice and extremely low temperatures across much of the country. But do Americans think it’s just a typical February chill, or is climate change to blame?

Support for gay marriage has fallen to its lowest level in over a year.

— Americans continue to say they are paying higher interest rates than they were a year ago and expect to pay even more a year from now.

— Most Americans didn’t plan to tune into last Sunday night’s Academy Awards program. Most also say they don’t follow awards shows closely and aren’t influenced by them when it comes to their viewing, listening and buying habits.

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