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March 14 2015

March 16, 2015


14 March 2015


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Game of drones: As U.S. dithers, rivals get a head start

By Jeremy Wagstaff

Sun Mar 8, 2015 5:08pm EDT


(Reuters) – Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are a hot ticket in Silicon Valley, but U.S. government dithering over regulations has given overseas companies a head-start in figuring out how best to exploit them.

Global spending on drones could add up to close to $100 billion over the next decade, with commercial uses – from farming and filming to pipelines and parcels – accounting for around an eighth of that market, according to BI Intelligence.

But for years, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the authority largely responsible for regulation in the United States, has dragged its feet, only last month issuing draft rules on who can fly drones, how and where. It’s likely to be a year or more before the regulations are in place – good news for companies operating outside the U.S. and looking to build a business around drones.

Sky-Futures, a British company that dominates the use of drones to collect and analyze inspection data for oil and gas companies, says its business soared 700 percent last year as the normally conservative energy industry embraced the new technology. Co-founder and operations director Chris Blackford said the company is coupling drones with software and a better understanding of what works in the field, giving Sky-Futures “a head-start over the U.S because we understand pretty intimately the problems facing the oil and gas market, and how we can solve them with technology.”

Looser regulations outside the U.S. have created pockets of innovation attracting ideas, money and momentum, says Patrick Thevoz, co-founder and CEO of Swiss-based Flyability, which builds drones inside a spherical cage that allows them to bump through doors, tunnels and forests without losing balance.

Another British company, BioCarbon Engineering, hopes to speed up reforestation by using drones to plant germinated seeds, and shares in New Zealand-based Martin Aircraft trebled in the first few days after listing in Australia last month, on investor hopes for the personalized aircraft maker which is developing a UAV that could be used by the military, oil and gas, mining and farming industries.

In Japan, the government is looking to fast track industry-friendly regulation to give its drone business an edge.




But the real work, say those in the industry, is in building out the drone ecosystem: the payload, software, operator and end user, and making sense of the data. That can only come by connecting to potential customers.

“As long as you don’t have the end user because they can’t use it, you’re basically missing a lot of the ecosystem,” says Thevoz.

In Singapore, Garuda Robotics is already moving beyond just being a drone operator. “The drones are a means to get the data out of the sky,” says co-founder and CEO Mark Yong, “but if you can’t process it you’ve not created any value for the customer.”

While the company has been helping map the boundaries of palm oil plantations in Malaysia, it has added the ability to calibrate the drones’ cameras to measure moisture levels in individual trees. It’s now working with agronomists to figure out how to make sense of that thermal data to judge the health of trees and their likely yield.

Other projects include assembling real-time 3D maps of building sites to help construction schedules, monitoring and reducing algae blooms and keeping tabs on packs of stray dogs using infrared cameras.

All of this would be hard, if not impossible, under FAA regulations that limit drones flying out of sight of the operator, or at night.

While regulation typically lags technology, no one’s betting against Silicon Valley dominating the industry in the long run. Last year, more than $100 million flowed into U.S. drone start-ups, according to CB Insights, double 2013 levels.

“Let’s not kid ourselves,” said Philip Von Meyenburg, who runs a drone operating company out of Singapore. “They know what they’re doing in the U.S.”

And China, too, is in the game as hardware prices fall rapidly. China’s DJI sells consumer grade drones for $500, making it hard for companies producing lower volumes to justify their higher prices.

“The challenge for all drone manufacturers now is that we’re in a market that is constantly updating,” said Flyability’s Thevoz



CIA plans major reorganization and a focus on digital espionage

By Greg Miller March 6 


The CIA embarked on a sweeping restructuring Friday that will bring an end to divisions that have been in place for decades, create 10 new centers that team analysts with operators, and significantly expand the agency’s focus on digital espionage.

The plans were unveiled by CIA Director John Brennan to a workforce in which thousands of employees are likely to see changes in which departments they work for, the lines of authority they report to and even where they sit.

The overhaul is designed to foster deeper collaboration and an intensified focus on a range of security issues and threats, replacing long-standing divisions that cover the Middle East, Africa and other regions with hybrid “mission centers” modeled on the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center.

The CIA will also create a directorate focused exclusively on exploiting advances in computer technology and communications. The Directorate of Digital Innovation will rank alongside the agency’s operations and analysis branches, and it will be responsible for missions ranging from ­cyber-espionage to the security of the CIA’s internal e-mail.

In a briefing with reporters, Brennan described the far-reaching changes as “part of the natural evolution of an intelligence agency” that has not seen a significant reorganization in decades.

A central aim, he said, is to eliminate “seams” in coverage that lead to confusion over which part of the agency is responsible for tracking a specific issue or threat. After the reorganization, Brennan said, the CIA should be in position to “cover the entire universe, regionally and functionally, and so something that’s going on in the world falls into one of those buckets.”

The changes, however, are also likely to create turmoil at a time that Brennan and others frequently characterize as the most complicated and challenging period for intelligence agencies in a generation. Brennan said the plan has been received enthusiastically by most at the agency, but there have also been signs of friction and disagreement.

The head of the CIA’s clandestine service recently decided to retire abruptly in part because of opposition to a plan that would strip his position of much of its authority over the agency’s covert operations overseas and the teams of spies that it deploys.

CIA veterans and experts described the restructuring as among the most ambitious since the agency was founded in 1947.

“This is a major reorganization, one of the largest and most fundamental they’ve had,” said Mark M. Lowenthal, a former senior CIA officer and an expert on the history of the U.S. intelligence community. Lowenthal also expressed concern that replicating the Counterterrorism Center may also mean replicating an approach criticized at times for being too driven by short-term objectives such as finding the next target for a drone strike.

“Where in this does John have what I would think of as his intellectual strategic reserve, people not worried about day-to-day stuff but who think about what is going to happen two years out?” Lowenthal said. “The centers tend not to do that. They tend to answer today’s mail.”

But Brennan defended the reforms as critical to the agency’s viability in an era of technological and social upheaval. At one point he compared the initiatives to an effort to avoid the fate of Kodak, the company that failed to foresee the impact of digital technology on its film franchise. “Things just passed them by,” Brennan said.

Brennan’s plan was endorsed by others in the Obama administration who noted the advantages of allowing operators and analysts to collaborate.

“I strongly endorse Director Brennan’s vision,” Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. said in a statement. “I see many advantages to this, but the one I want to highlight specifically is the impact this change will have in promoting integration.”

As part of Brennan’s plan, long-standing divisions focused on Africa, the Middle East and other regions will give way to centers of corresponding geographic boundaries. The Directorates of Intelligence and Operations — as the analysis and spying branches are known — will continue to exist but will function mainly as talent pools, recruiting and training personnel who can be deployed to the new centers.

“Some who grew up in the old structure will have heartburn with this, but those costs will be short term,” said Michael Morell, former deputy director of the CIA. Morell said that existing centers have “proven to be a very powerful combination” and that the Counterterrorism Center is “the most successful agency component over the last decade.”

The Directorate of Digital Innovation will perform a similar role, and absorb existing entities including the Open Source Center, which monitors Twitter and other social media sites for intelligence on such adversaries as the Islamic State, as well as the Information Operations Center, a secret organization that handles missions including cyber-penetrations and sabotage and is now the second-largest center at the CIA.

But Brennan made clear that the digital directorate will have a much broader mandate, responsible not only for devising new ways to steal secrets from cellphones and other devices, but also for helping CIA officers evade detection overseas in an age when their phones, computers and ATM cards leave digital trails. The head of the new directorate will be responsible for “overseeing the career development of our digital experts as well as the standards of our digital tradecraft,” Brennan said.

Brennan did not present a timetable for the reorganization, or provide names of those who will be picked to lead the new centers. Other aspects of the plan are also unclear, including how much power the new assistant directors will exert over CIA stations overseas.

Brennan began exploring plans for the restructuring last year, when he established a panel to evaluate his proposed changes. The leader of that group, a veteran paramilitary officer whose first name is Greg, was recently put in charge of the Directorate of Operations, one of several departments that will revert to more traditional titles after being rebranded in recent years.



DoD: Operations against Islamic State may last years

By Andrew Tilghman, Staff writer 11:18 a.m. EST March 6, 2015


Top U.S. officials warned that military operations against Islamic State extremists in Iraq and Syria may last more than three more years and the mission on the Syrian side of the border could eventually expand to involve a no-fly zone or even some American boots on the ground.

Meanwhile, Iran has unexpectedly stepped up its military involvement in Iraq, making U.S. military officials uncomfortable that Iran’s Shiite leaders will inflame sectarian tensions and jeopardize the long-term strategy to drain Sunni political support for the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS.

After seven months of U.S. airstrikes, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said there is no clear end in sight for the operation that now involves about 2,700 U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq.

“I wouldn’t assure anyone that this will be over in three years or that the campaign will be completed in three years,” Carter told lawmakers March 4. He was testifying on Capitol Hill about a proposed law authorizing the use of military force in Iraq that would remain in place only for that limited time.

Carter’s comments suggest U.S. officials expect the military mission to extend well beyond the end of President Obama’s administration in January 2017.

Top officials signaled that operations in Syria — now limited to airstrikes on Islamic State targets — also could expand as the mission unfolds.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said commanders will continue to consider putting small teams of U.S. forces on the ground in Iraq as well as Syria, if needed.

“If the commander on the ground approaches either me or the secretary of defense and believes that the introduction of special operations forces to accompany Iraqis or the new Syrian forces, or JTACS, these skilled folks who can call in close air support, if we believe that’s necessary to achieve our objectives, we will make that recommendation,” Dempsey told the House Appropriations Committee’s defense panel.

For months, the U.S. strategy has focused on Iraq, where American troops are training Iraqi security forces to fight ISIL, in part because the U.S. does not have a clear ally on the ground in Syria.

But that may change as an American-led training program for Syrians gets underway. The U.S. and its coalition partners have screened at least 1,200 moderate Syrian rebels who could become recruits for the training effort based at facilities in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The fight against ISIL in Syria is uniquely complex because the U.S. opposes both the extremists as well as the government and its forces. The Islamic State controls numerous Syrian cities and is waging its own civil war against the Syrian regime of Bashar al Assad.

Retired Marine Gen. John Allen sought to reassure Syrians who might be concerned that the U.S. mission is focused on Iraq. Allen, who was appointed by the White House as a special envoy to help lead the global diplomatic effort against ISIL, said additional support for the Syrians — including a no-fly zone to protect future U.S. allies — is on the table.

“All of those things are under consideration,” Allen told a Syrian activist on March 2 at the Atlantic Council in Washington.

“It’s important that you not believe that we would not support these fighters,” Allen said. “Not only will we train them and … equip them with the latest weapons systems, but we will also protect them when the time comes.”


Concern over Iran

Carter said he is closely monitoring reports that Iran and Shiite militias are taking over the fight against Islamic State militants inside Iraq and potentially fueling sectarian strife in that nation.

U.S. military officials acknowledged on March 2 that they are sitting on the sidelines as the Iraqis launch a major operation in Tikrit, an important Sunni Arab city north of Baghdad that is controlled by ISIL.

Iran is providing open military support to the Iraqi army, with reports suggesting that Iranian military officers, Iranian-backed Shiite militias and Iranian artillery units are operating on the ground alongside Iraqi regular army forces.

“Are you concerned that Iran has basically taken over the fight?” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., asked during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“I am looking at it with great concern,” Carter said.

“Our approach to combating ISIL in Iraq is to work with the Iraqi security forces and a multisectarian government that takes a multisectarian approach to defeating ISIL,” he said. “Sectarianism is what brought us to the point where we are, and so I do look at it with concern. We are watching it very closely.”

According to numerous reports, the Iranian Quds Force commander, Gen. Qasem Soleimani, was in Iraq directing Shiite militias in their fight against Islamic State militants.

The total fighting force of Iranian-backed militias and Iraqi regular forces has been estimated at up to 30,000, making it the largest operation in Iraq since the U.S. sent more troops to that nation and began airstrikes there last year.

About two-thirds of the force assembled in Tikrit is comprised of Shiite militiamen, Dempsey told senators.

The U.S. military typically considers Iran an adversary, but the two nations share the same goal in Iraq — the defeat of the Sunni Islamic extremists who have seized large parts of western and northern Iraq.

U.S. officials are cautiously hopeful that the Iranians and Shiites can help Iraqi forces expel the ISIL militants from Tikrit. But U.S. officials also worry that involvement of Iranians and Shiite militias in a major battle for a Sunni city could inflame the sectarian tensions that the militants exploit for political support.

Dempsey told lawmakers that the Tikrit operation may signal a new level of direct Iranian involvement in Iraq.

“Iran and its proxies have been inside Iraq since 2004,” he said. “This is the most overt conduct of Iranian support in the form of artillery and other things.”

Yet Dempsey did not show alarm and said the U.S. should take a wait-and-see approach to Iran’s actions.

“Frankly, it will only be a problem if it results in sectarianism,” he said.

Carter cited reports suggesting that some Sunni tribal leaders are backing the military operation by the mostly Shiite force.

“If that’s true, it is good news because it suggests that it is not purely a Shia-on-Sunni thing,” Carter said.


The battle to come

The operation in Tikrit may be a precursor to a larger, decisive battle in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and the most symbolically important terrain for ISIL.

Tikrit is strategically important because the city sits along the Tigris River north of Baghdad and controlling it will be essential for the Iraqi Army supply lines that will be needed for a push on Mosul.

A major operation in Mosul is imminent, but U.S, defense officials have sent conflicting signals about when the Iraqis would launch a U.S.-supported invasion of the city.

A top U.S. Central Command official told reporters on Feb. 19 that the Iraqis were planning to amass a fighting force of 20,000 to 25,000 troops to invade Mosul in April or May.

But Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, the new commander of the Defense Intelligence Agency, testifying Feb. 26 on Capitol Hill, said Iraq would need six to nine months to prepare its army for a fight in Mosul.

Despite the growing complexity of the mission, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East offered an upbeat assessment of the military campaign in Iraq so far, saying American airstrikes have helped kill more than 8,500 militants loyal to the Islamic State and put their forces in a “defensive crouch.”

Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the chief of U.S. Central Command, said U.S. and coalition partners destroyed hundreds of ISIL military vehicles and degraded the oil wells and refineries that provide the group’s primary sources of cash.

“You go back several months ago, ISIL was moving around in large convoy formations, flying a lot of black flags, taking up large swaths of territory. They could no longer do that. And it’s principally because of the effects that we’ve had,” Austin told lawmakers March 3.

“We are making progress,” he said. “In fact, we’re about where we said that we would be in the execution of our military campaign plan, which supports the broader whole-of-government strategy that is designed to counter ISIL.”


Insurers step up for drone pilots unwilling to wait on FAA rules

by Press • 9 March 2015


(Bloomberg) — Thousands of drones flown without government approval by real estate companies, movie studios and other businesses are getting coverage by insurers writing their own safety rules to fill a void left by regulators.

One insurance broker in Colorado has already written policies on 2,600 drones, and a San Francisco-based company said it has assembled an Uber-like list of 1,000 trained operators businesses can hire to do the flying for them.

Commercial drones are photographing sporting events, monitoring construction sites and performing other aerial chores even though the Federal Aviation Administration is as many as two years away from issuing final regulations to govern their use. The FAA, which won a legal ruling in November that said it could apply existing aviation laws to drones in the meantime, says none are supposed to fly without a formal waiver — only 39 have been issued — until then.

In a Feb. 15 proposal to allow unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds (25 kilograms) to fly for hire, the FAA projected there would be 7,550 of them within five years of enactment. In reality, there are already more than that in the air now, according to insurers, aviation lobbyists and academics.

“We’ve been insuring them for going on four years,” said Terry Miller, owner and president of Transport Risk Management Inc., which had to invent safety requirements for its drone clients.

Purchasing insurance for commercial drones, which isn’t prohibited under FAA rules, doesn’t make flying them legitimate, the agency said.

Whether drone operators’ actions are legal doesn’t affect Miller’s willingness to write insurance. He said that, while he welcomes more FAA oversight, there’s no point in waiting for the rules to be completed and that the standards his company sets for insurance policies often exceed what the government has proposed.


Catching Up

Such a disconnect between the FAA and an industry plunging ahead without regulators’ approval raises questions about aviation safety and is testing the agency’s ability to carry out its enforcement and oversight obligations.

“There are thousands of companies already doing experimentation,” said Christian Sanz, the founder and chief executive officer of Skycatch Inc., a San Francisco-based drone mapping company for mining and construction sites. Skycatch has even taken to crafting an automated system similar to Uber Technologies Inc.’s car ride-hailing service.


Education Campaign

For now, an education campaign by the FAA and its attempts to contact businesses to persuade them to halt unauthorized flights haven’t always successful. Turning its proposal into a formal regulation under the mandatory process of sifting through public reaction can take years; the Government Accountability Office has penciled in 2017 as the earliest date for completion.

“The FAA will investigate any reports of unsafe and unauthorized UAS operations, including incidents identified by the media,” the agency said in an e-mailed statement, referring to the more formal name for drones: unmanned aircraft systems.

The FAA said that existing aviation regulations, which apply to unmanned aircraft, give it the authority to ban commercial drone flights that haven’t received waivers to operate. The agency has issued fines against an unspecified number of drone operators, it said in the statement.

In other cases, the FAA has worked with law enforcement agencies to contact people who have operated drones that were unsafe or unauthorized, the agency said.


No Rules

Harry Arnold, owner of Detroit Drone, said he’s hoping the FAA rules go into place as soon as possible. That hasn’t stopped him from running a drone photography business for the last five years, he said, and won’t stop him from continuing.

“It is not illegal,” Arnold said in an interview. “There are no rules yet.”

His website includes aerial video of real estate developments, construction sites and a car race.

Arnold, who said he doesn’t have an FAA waiver, disputes the agency’s authority over commercial drone flights with regulations still incomplete. “The FAA cannot regulate through press releases,” he said. “That’s not the way it works.”

While some drone entrepreneurs may see their wings clipped once the FAA’s new restrictions become finalized, tighter standards are good news for the sometimes chaotic, unregulated industry, Miller said.

“I’m overjoyed to see it,” he said.


American Drone Operators Are Quitting in Record Numbers

An internal Air Force memo reveals that the US military’s drone wars are in major trouble.

Pratap Chatterjee

March 5, 2015


The US drone war across much of the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa is in crisis, and not because civilians are dying or the target list for that war or the right to wage it just about anywhere on the planet are in question in Washington. Something far more basic is at stake: drone pilots are quitting in record numbers.

There are roughly 1,000 such drone pilots, known in the trade as “18Xs,” working for the US Air Force today. Another 180 pilots graduate annually from a training program that takes about a year to complete at Holloman and Randolph Air Force bases in, respectively, New Mexico and Texas. As it happens, in those same twelve months, about 240 trained pilots quit and the Air Force is at a loss to explain the phenomenon. (The better-known US Central Intelligence Agency drone assassination program is also flown by Air Force pilots loaned out for the covert missions.)

On January 4, 2015, the Daily Beast revealed an undated internal memo to Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh from General Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle stating that pilot “outflow increases will damage the readiness and combat capability of the MQ-1/9 [Predator and Reaper] enterprise for years to come” and added that he was “extremely concerned.” Eleven days later, the issue got top billing at a special high-level briefing on the state of the Air Force. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James joined Welsh to address the matter. “This is a force that is under significant stress—significant stress from what is an unrelenting pace of operations,” she told the media.

In theory, drone pilots have a cushy life. Unlike soldiers on duty in “war zones,” they can continue to live with their families here in the United States. No muddy foxholes or sandstorm-swept desert barracks under threat of enemy attack for them. Instead, these new techno-warriors commute to worklike any office employees and sit in front of computer screens wielding joysticks, playing what most people would consider a glorified video game.

They typically “fly” missions over Afghanistan and Iraq where they are tasked with collecting photos and video feeds, as well as watching over US soldiers on the ground. A select few are deputized to fly CIA assassination missions over Pakistan, Somalia or Yemen where they are ordered to kill “high value targets” from the sky. In recent months, some of these pilots have also taken part in the new war in the Syrian and Iraqi borderlands, conducting deadly strikes on militants of ISIL.

Each of these combat air patrols involves three to four drones, usually Hellfire-missile-armed Predators and Reapers built by southern California’s General Atomics, and each takes as many as 180 staff members to fly them. In addition to pilots, there are camera operators, intelligence and communications experts and maintenance workers. (The newer Global Hawk surveillance patrols need as many as 400 support staff.)

The Air Force is currently under orders to staff 65 of these regular “combat air patrols” around the clock as well as to support a Global Response Force on call for emergency military and humanitarian missions. For all of this, there should ideally be 1,700 trained pilots. Instead, facing an accelerating dropout rate that recently drove this figure below 1,000, the Air Force has had to press regular cargo and jet pilots as well as reservists into becoming instant drone pilots in order to keep up with the Pentagon’s enormous appetite for real-time video feeds from around the world.

The Air Force explains the departure of these drone pilots in the simplest of terms. They are leaving because they are overworked. The pilots themselves say that it’s humiliating to be scorned by their Air Force colleagues as second-class citizens. Some have also come forward to claim that the horrors of war, seen up close on video screens, day in, day out, are inducing an unprecedented, long-distance version of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).

But is it possible that a brand-new form of war—by remote control—is also spawning a brand-new, as yet unlabeled, form of psychological strain? Some have called drone war a “coward’s war” (an opinion that, according to reports from among the drone-traumatized in places like Yemen and Pakistan, is seconded by its victims). Could it be that the feeling is even shared by drone pilots themselves, that a sense of dishonor in fighting from behind a screen thousands of miles from harm’s way is having an unexpected impact of a kind psychologists have never before witnessed?


Killing Up Close and Personal From Afar

There can be no question that drone pilots resent the way other Air Force pilots see them as second-class citizens. “It’s tough working night shifts watching your buddies do great things in the field while you’re turning circles in the sky,” a drone instructor named Ryan told Mother Jones magazine. His colleagues, he says, call themselves the “lost generation.”

“Everyone else thinks that the whole program or the people behind it are a joke, that we are video-game warriors, that we’re Nintendo warriors,” Brandon Bryant, a former drone camera operator who worked at Nellis Air Force Base, told Democracy Now.

Certainly, there is nothing second-class about the work tempo of drone life. Pilots log 900-1,800 hours a year compared to a maximum of 300 hours annually for regular Air Force pilots. And the pace is unrelenting. “A typical person doing this mission over the last seven or eight years has worked either six or seven days a week, twelve hours a day,” General Welsh told NPR recently. “And that one- or two-day break at the end of it is really not enough time to take care of that family and the rest of your life.”

The pilots wholeheartedly agree. “It’s like when your engine temperature gauge is running just below the red area on your car’s dashboard, but instead of slowing down and relieving the stress on the engine, you put the pedal to the floor,” one drone pilot told Air Force Times. “You are sacrificing the engine to get a short burst of speed with no real consideration to the damage being caused.”

The Air Force has come up with a pallid interim “solution.” It is planning to offer experienced drone pilots a daily raise of about $50. There’s one problem, though: since so many pilots leave the service early, only a handful have enough years of experience to qualify for this bonus. Indeed, the Air Force concedes that just 10 of them will be able to claim the extra bounty this year, striking testimony to the startling levels of job turnover among such pilots.

Most 18Xs say that their jobs are tougher and significantly more upfront and personal than those of the far more glamorous jet pilots. “[A] Predator operator is so much more involved in what is going on than your average fast-moving jetfighter pilot, or your B-52, B-1, B-2 pilots, who will never even see their target,” Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Black, a former Air Force drone pilot says. “A Predator pilot has been watching his target[s], knows them intimately, knows where they are, and knows what’s around them.”

Some say that the drone war has driven them over the edge. “How many women and children have you seen incinerated by a Hellfire missile? How many men have you seen crawl across a field, trying to make it to the nearest compound for help while bleeding out from severed legs?” Heather Linebaugh, a former drone imagery analyst, wrote in the Guardian. “When you are exposed to it over and over again it becomes like a small video, embedded in your head, forever on repeat, causing psychological pain and suffering that many people will hopefully never experience.”

“It was horrifying to know how easy it was. I felt like a coward because I was halfway across the world and the guy never even knew I was there,” Bryanttold KNPR Radio in Nevada. “I felt like I was haunted by a legion of the dead. My physical health was gone, my mental health was crumbled. I was in so much pain I was ready to eat a bullet myself.”

Many drone pilots, however, defend their role in targeted killings. “We’re not killing people for the fun of it. It would be the same if we were the guys on the ground,” mission controller Janet Atkins told Chris Woods of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. “You have to get to [the enemy] somehow or all of you will die.”

Others like Bruce Black are proud of their work. “I was shooting two weeks after I got there and saved hundreds of people, including Iraqis and Afghanis,” he told his hometown newspaper in New Mexico. “We’d go down to Buffalo Wild Wings, drink beer and debrief. It was surreal. It didn’t take long for you to realize how important the work is. The value that the weapon system brings to the fight is not apparent till you’re there. People have a hard time sometimes seeing that.”


Measuring Pilot Stress

So whom does one believe? Janet Atkins and Bruce Black, who claim that drone pilots are overworked heroes? Or Brandon Bryant and Heather Linebaugh, who claim that remotely directed targeted killings caused them mental health crises?

Military psychologists have been asked to investigate the phenomenon. A team of psychologists at the School of Aerospace Medicine at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio has published a series of studies on drone pilot stress. One 2011 study concluded that nearly half of them had “high operational stress.” A number also exhibited “clinical distress”—that is, anxiety, depression, or stress severe enough to affect them in their personal lives.

Wayne Chappelle, a lead author in a number of these studies, nonetheless concludes that the problem is mostly a matter of overwork caused by the chronic shortage of pilots. His studies appear to show that post-traumatic stress levels are actually lower among drone pilots than in the general population. Others, however, question these numbers. Jean Otto and Bryant Webber of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, caution that the lack of stress reports may only “reflect artificial underreporting of the concerns of pilots due to the career-threatening effects of [mental health] diagnoses, [which] include removal from flying status, loss of flight pay and diminished competitiveness for promotion.”


Seeing Everything, Missing the Obvious

One thing is clear: the pilots are not just killing “bad guys” and they know it because, as Black points out, they see everything that happens before, during and after a drone strike.

Indeed, the only detailed transcript of an actual Air Force drone surveillance mission and targeted killing to be publicly released illustrates this all too well. The logs recorded idle chatter on February 21, 2010, between drone operators at Creech Air Force base in Nevada coordinating with video analysts at Air Force special operations headquarters in Okaloosa, Florida, and with Air Force pilots in a rural part of Daikondi province in central Afghanistan. On that day, three vehicles were seen traveling in a pre-dawn convoy carrying about a dozen people each. Laboring under the mistaken belief that the group were “insurgents” out to kill some nearby US soldiers on a mission, the drone team decided to attack.

Controller: “We believe we may have a high-level Taliban commander.”

Camera operator: “Yeah, they called a possible weapon on the military-age male mounted in the back of the truck.”

Intelligence coordinator: “Screener said at least one child near SUV.”

Controller: “Bullshit! Where? I don’t think they have kids out this hour. I know they’re shady, but come on!”

Camera operator “A sweet [expletive]! Geez! Lead vehicle on the run and bring the helos in!”

Moments later, Kiowa helicopter pilots descended and fired Hellfire missiles at the vehicle.

Controller: “Take a look at this one. It was hit pretty good. It’s a little toasty! That truck is so dead!”

Within 20 minutes, after the survivors of the attack had surrendered, the transcript recorded the sinking feelings of the drone pilots as they spotted women and children in the convoy and could not find any visual evidence of weapons.

A subsequent on-the-ground investigation established that not one of the people killed was anything other than an ordinary villager. “Technology can occasionally give you a false sense of security that you can see everything, that you can hear everything, that you know everything,” Air Force Major General James Poss, who oversaw an investigation into the incident, later told the Los Angeles Times.

Of course, Obama administration officials claim that such incidents are rare. In June 2011, when CIA Director John Brennan was still the White House counterterrorism adviser, he addressed the issue of civilian deaths in drone strikes and made this bold claim: “Nearly for the past year, there hasn’t been a single collateral death, because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities that we’ve been able to develop.”

His claim and similar official ones like it are, politely put, hyperbolic. “You Never Die Twice,” a new report by Jennifer Gibson of Reprieve, a British-based human rights organization, settles the question quickly by showing that some men on the White House “kill list” of terror suspects to be taken out have “‘died’ as many as seven times.”

Gibson adds, “We found 41 names of men who seemed to have achieved the impossible. This raises a stark question. With each failed attempt to assassinate a man on the kill list, who filled the body bag in his place?” In fact, Reprieve discovered that, in going after those 41 “targets” numerous times, an estimated 1,147 people were killed in Pakistan by drones. Typical was the present leader of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri. In two strikes against “him” over the years, according to Reprieve, 76 children and 29 adults have died, but not al-Zawahiri.


Deserting the Cubicle

Back in the United States, a combination of lower-class status in the military, overwork and psychological trauma appears to be taking its mental toll on drone pilots. During the Vietnam War, soldiers would desert, flee to Canada, or even “frag”—kill—their officers. But what do you do when you’ve had it with your war, but your battle station is a cubicle in Nevada and your weapon is a keyboard?

Is it possible that, like their victims in Pakistan and Yemen who say that they are going mad from the constant buzz of drones overhead and the fear of sudden death without warning, drone pilots, too, are fleeing into the night as soon as they can? Since the Civil War in the United States, war of every modern sort has produced mental disturbances that have been given a variety of labels, including what we today call PTSD. In a way, it would be surprising if a completely new form of warfare didn’t produce a new form of disturbance.

We don’t yet know just what this might turn out to be, but it bodes ill for the form of battle that the White House and Washington are most proud of—the well-advertised, sleek, new, robotic, no-casualty, precision conflict that now dominates the war on terror. Indeed if the pilots themselves are dropping out of desktop killing, can this new way of war survive?



America’s Dangerous Defense Cuts

Threats are rising around the globe, yet the U.S. is poised to cut $1 trillion from the Pentagon over 10 years.

By John McCain and Mac Thornberry

March 9, 2015 7:21 p.m. ET


Providing for national defense is the highest constitutional responsibility of the federal government, which congressional Republicans now share in equal measure with President Obama. We believe that the country cannot meet this responsibility within the caps on defense spending imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) and sequestration. If Washington does not change course now, Republicans will share the blame for the national-security failures that will inevitably result.

There is no national-security basis for sequestration. In the past year Russia has challenged core principles of the postwar order in Europe by invading and annexing the territory of another sovereign nation. A terrorist army that has proclaimed its desire to attack the United States and its allies now controls a vast swath of territory in the heart of the Middle East.

Iran continues its pursuit of nuclear weapons while expanding its malign influence across the region. And China has stepped up its coercive behavior in Asia, backed by its rapid military modernization. Every year since the Budget Control Act was passed, the world has become more dangerous, and the threats to the nation and to American interests have grown. We do not think this is a coincidence.

And yet, under the BCA with sequestration, the U.S. must cut defense by nearly $1 trillion over 10 years. These cuts are seriously undermining the capabilities, readiness, morale and modernization of the armed forces. The senior military leaders of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps have all testified to our committees that, with defense spending at sequestration levels, they cannot execute the National Military Strategy. These military leaders warned in January that sequestration is putting American lives at risk. This is a crisis of Washington’s own making.

Some advocates of the BCA are willing to overlook its damage to national security because, they claim, at least it cuts the debt. But it doesn’t even do that in a meaningful way.

Military spending is not to blame for out-of-control deficits and debt—it is now 16% of federal spending, the lowest share since before World War II. By 2020, it will be 13%. Interest on the debt soon will consume a larger portion of the federal budget than will military spending. Yet national defense took 50% of the cuts under the Budget Control Act and sequestration. The true drivers of the nation’s long-term debt—entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare—took none.

Heaping nearly $1 trillion in cuts on the U.S. military while ignoring entitlements is not conservative fiscal policy and will not solve the problems of deficits and debt.

There is widespread concern that Defense Department spending is too wasteful. Of course there is waste in the Pentagon—as everywhere in the federal government—and efforts to eliminate it must continue. But sequestration does not target Pentagon waste. It cuts spending recklessly across the board, good programs and bad. Eliminating waste, fraud and abuse is accomplished through vigorous oversight in Congress and at the Pentagon, not through blind, automatic spending cuts.

Some also believe that the impact of sequestration has been exaggerated. But when it comes to national security, “it isn’t that bad” is a dangerously low standard for government policy.

We and our fellow Republicans must also think about the future of the party we love, and from this standpoint as well, sequestration is a disaster. At a time the American people are dissatisfied with the president’s foreign-policy weakness, Republicans cannot offer themselves as the responsible national-security alternative so long as they are complicit in gutting national defense.

President Obama’s recent budget request proposed the largest budget—$534 billion—for the Defense Department in the post-9/11 era. Heeding military commanders’ warning that the military cannot execute national military strategy at sequestration levels, the president’s budget exceeds spending limits set by the Budget Control Act by $36 billion in the coming fiscal year.

America faces what Henry Kissinger has called the most “diverse and complex array of crises since the end of the Second World War.” How can Republicans—the party of Ronald Reagan and “peace through strength”—possibly justify a lower defense budget than that of President Obama?

We must aim higher by adopting a budget worthy of our party’s best traditions of strong national defense. Given the severity of the challenges facing the nation, we recommend eliminating sequestration entirely with a defense budget of $577 billion, the level set by the Budget Control Act before the debilitating effects of sequestration.

There is nothing conservative or Republican about pretending that Washington can balance the budget by cutting defense spending. The new Republican majorities in Congress should not allow such reckless policy.

Continuing to slash defense invites greater danger to national security while shamefully asking the country’s military men and women to do their jobs with shrinking resources. Without a course change, history’s judgment will be harsh, and rightfully so.

Mr. McCain is a Republican senator from Arizona. Mr. Thornberry is a Republican congressman from Texas. They are, respectively, chairmen of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees.


Commentary: Apply Desert Storm Lessons to Islamic State Campaign

By Gen. John Michael Loh (Ret.) 11:30 a.m. EDT March 9, 2015


Feb. 28 marked the 24th anniversary of the end of the first Gulf War, Desert Storm, the only major war since World War II that ended in victory for the US, with all objectives met. Desert Storm is also notable for its remarkably short duration, only 42 days.

These facts stand in sharp contrast to our two major wars waged since then in Iraq and Afghanistan, both lasting more than a decade after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, which initiated them, and both marked by unclear military objectives and endless nation-building.

Now, we are engaged in an adjunct of the Iraq war against the Islamic State group, a war also notable for its lack of clear objectives and seemingly endless duration. To defeat this enemy, the US needs to adopt the same kind of strategy and mindset used so effectively in 1991.

What made Desert Storm so short and so effective were the clear military objectives laid down by President George H.W. Bush, the military strategy put together in the Pentagon leading with massive air power, and the leadership of Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf and Air Force Gen. Chuck Horner in directing the plan with relentless pounding by airpower, day and night for a month, allowing “boots on the ground” to finish the job in just four days.

The result of this intense application of airpower followed by swift ground action was total victory; quickly, decisively, with overwhelming force and few casualties. This is the way modern wars should be fought.

Islamic State forces are deployed differently and are more scattered than were the Iraqi forces in Desert Storm. They control a larger area than the Kuwaiti theater. But the principles of applying intense air attacks and swift ground offensives are the same. Yet, we are fighting Islamic State with a misapplication of airpower, dribbling a few air attacks here and there with no clear objective other than to “degrade” the enemy.

The contrast between Desert Storm and the war against the Islamic State group could not be more stark. President Bush clearly enunciated the military objectives for Desert Storm: Evict Iraqi forces from Kuwait, incapacitate Iraq’s leadership and military capability, and defend Saudi Arabia from Iraqi invasion. In short, get in, win and get out, leaving no occupation forces.

He left the military strategy and campaign plan to the generals and did not interfere. They put together a massive around-the-clock air campaign simultaneously attacking military targets in and around Baghdad and air attacks against Iraqi forces in Kuwait. And the plan deployed overwhelming ground forces to ensure they could quickly destroy the remaining “elite” Iraqi Republican Guard forces, free Kuwait and set the Iraqi military back for at least 10 years.

The plan worked as designed. The one-two punch of intense airpower followed by overwhelming ground forces, then withdrawal from occupied territory, was the right strategy.

What followed the conclusion of hostilities was not an attempt at regime change and nation-building, but rather the imposition of effective “no-fly” zones throughout Iraq; Southern Watch from bases in Saudi Arabia, and Northern Watch from bases in Turkey.

Around-the-clock surveillance detected any military flights, movement of ground military vehicles and tracking of US aircraft by ground radars. Any movement or tracking was met with immediate, lethal attacks. The no-fly zones were effective, low-cost and without casualties for the 10 years they were in effect.

Since Desert Storm, we have lost sight of the importance of clearly defined military objectives and building a campaign strategy to win quickly and decisively with airmen and soldiers working together. It is not too late to put together the same combination to win against the Islamic State group. The scenario is different, but the principles of warfare remain the same. The result may well be not just winning quickly and decisively, but the basis for deterring future IS-like movements. But the current approach against the Islamic State group will lead to neither victory nor deterrence, just endless, piecemeal warfare.

We should change course now, apply the lessons of Desert Storm, go on offense, and take the lead in the air and on the ground in the fight against the Islamic State group — to win.

Gen. John Michael Loh, retired, is a former US Air Force vice chief of staff and former commander of Air Combat Command. He consults for several defense contractors.



Obama tries to boost tech jobs without college degrees

Gregory Korte, USA TODAY 12:22 p.m. EDT March 9, 2015


WASHINGTON — President Obama announced a technology jobs initiative Monday, an effort he hopes will train low-skilled workers for higher-paying technology jobs and boost stagnant wage growth.

The initiative, called TechHire, relies on commitments from more than 300 employers and local governments to train and hire people for jobs in software development, network administration and cybersecurity.

Obama announced the program in a speech Monday to about 2,000 local government leaders at the National League of Cities.

The White House said there are 5 million jobs available in the United States today. About 500,000 are in tech-related fields where the average salary is 50% higher than the average private-sector American job — “which means they’re a ticket into the middle class,” Obama said.

Why aren’t those technology jobs getting filled? Part of the problem in filling those jobs is that employers have traditionally demanded four-year degrees, Obama said.

He said companies like Capital One Bank and Mastercard have agreed to hire more people with non-traditional educations for technology jobs. And he said the online resume site LinkedIn has agreed to provide local communities with data on what tech skills are most in demand.

“It turns out, it doesn’t matter where you learned code. It just matters how well you can code. If you can do the job, you should get the job,” he said.

The White House said different areas of the country are using different approaches. In Delaware, community colleges are providing the training, while in St. Louis a non-profit called Launchcode is training coders and matching them to job openings.

The White House convened employers and local governments beginning last fall. “We found that if we started bringing communities together, they would start to learn from each other,” said Megan Smith, the White House’s chief technology officer.

“Technology needs are moving a lot faster than conventional education,” said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, whose city has has made a short-term online programming course available to anyone with a library card.

“The goal coming out of this is for people to come out with a portfolio,” Fischer said. “In the software world, particularly with cybersecurity, it’s ‘Show me your work.'”

The White House also announced a $100 million grant program to train low-income and disabled workers for technology jobs, but neither the White House nor the Department of Labor would discuss details of that program.


Clinton Controversy Highlights Gaps in Email Rules for Congressional Members

By Kate Ackley    

CQ Staff

March 10, 2015, 12:11 p.m.


Despite gripes on Capitol Hill that Hillary Rodham Clinton’s email practices may deprive the public of important insight into her tenure at the State Department, Congress has subjected itself to a hodgepodge of electronic data protocols, with much left to the whims of lawmakers.

Responding to reports that Clinton used a personal email server, instead of a government account, to conduct business as secretary of State, a spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner last week blasted the actions as part of the administration’s pattern of blocking transparency.

But the legislative branch, which has effectively exempted itself from the Freedom of Information Act, can keep its emails and other correspondence hidden for 20 years or more — and some forever.

“The best thing that may come out of this Hillary situation is that the House and Senate have to take a good hard look at their own procedures,” said a former historian of the House, Ray Smock, who is now director of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies at Shepherd University. “This is a big problem, and Congress has only had an occasional, piecemeal approach.”

All emails and paperwork generated in a lawmaker’s personal office remain that member’s private property, according to Smock and other experts. And it is up to them whether they wish to make their records public and, if so, what restrictions they choose to place on them.

If Byrd had wanted, all of his personal office emails and other records could have vanished. Smock said Byrd choose to preserve his files, which are now available at the school’s library.


Committee Rules

The emails and other records of congressional committees are preserved at the National Archives’ Center for Legislative Archives, although Congress determines which records are deemed official and maintains ownership of the documents.

Congressional committees have the authority to omit or further delay disclosure of certain emails and other records from public view if they contain private, classified or national security information. Records that pertain to congressional investigations can be closed for up to 50 years.

Officials with the Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate did not respond to requests for information about guidelines for committee emails from lawmakers and their aides, including any protocols for using official or personal email accounts. The House Administration Committee also did not respond to requests for comment.

There are some clear prohibitions on lawmakers’ use of their official email: They must never use their government email accounts to solicit campaign money or even most charitable contributions.

“I think lawmakers have the opposite problem [from Hillary Clinton],” said Ken Gross, a political law partner at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom. “They have to be more mindful of what they can’t use their official email for.”


FAA’s drone proposals get cautious welcome from public

By Martyn Williams

IDG News Service | Mar 10, 2015 2:06 PM PT


The Federal Aviation Administration’s proposed regulations on drones are receiving a largely favorable response from members of the public who have been motivated enough to comment on them.

Second Tuesday comes but one a month, but when it comes, drop everything and patch. One of the patches

As of Tuesday, about a quarter of the way through a 60-day public comment period, the FAA had received 380 comments from a cross section of interested parties including hobbyists, pilots, aviation organizations and those who want to exploit drones for commercial purposes, but to-date major organizations and lobby groups have not submitted their comments.

The FAA’s proposed rules cover commercial flights of drones and allow them to fly at up to 500 feet at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour during daylight hours. The drone must be flown by a licensed drone operator — a newly created certification — and kept within visual line-of-sight at all times. Drones would always have to give way to other air traffic and could not fly over people except those involved in its flight.

The 500-feet ceiling is one area of debate, in part because it buttresses up to controlled airspace. Model aircraft are currently allowed to 400 feet, providing a slim buffer that drones shouldn’t enter, said Tim Olson, who identifies himself as a private pilot. Another pilot observed the extra 100 feet isn’t really needed for photography because most drones employ a wide-angle camera.

Another area of interest is the ban on night operations, which some want lifted for either “law enforcement, EMS and other qualified operators using IR equipment,” said David Tillman of Georgia, or for photographers who want to take advantage of the better light at dusk and dawn.

“With front and rear lights on these aircraft, it is possible to keep them safe, in close range,” wrote photographer Brett Lane of Ohio, who submitted an aerial photo of a sunrise or sunset, perhaps taken by a drone.

Some think the requirement for a license is too much.

“I’m concerned with the proposed cost of getting licensed to fly one of these things as part of my business will keep this kind of opportunity out of reach for me,” said Larry Launstein Jr.

Some think it’s too little.

“I want to see regulations that make safety a major concern. I recommend an actual flight test not just a written exam,” said Chen Dubrin of California.

One anonymous comment proposed pilots shouldn’t be required to get one while another hiding behind anonymity told the FAA to just “butt out” of drone flying.

But what good are the proposals without enforcement? That’s something that wasn’t addressed by the FAA but noted in several of the comments.

“There is NO realistic possibility of actual enforcement of any restrictions on the location and especially, altitude, of these drones,” wrote Fred Geiger of Santa Cruz.

One solution for keeping order in the skies and keeping track of where drones fly, proposed in several comments, is the use of ADS-B — a system in use on many commercial aircraft that automatically broadcasts a location and identification on a set frequency. Another person called for prominent identification on the side of drones with an “N-number,” the system used on commercial and private aircraft.

It’s not just compliance with the FAA’s rules that’s up for debate, but the potential for invasion of privacy that may occur from drone photography. That’s not strictly an FAA issue, but ideas came in anyway.

“The proposed rules should have extremely harsh jail and civil penalties for the invasion of privacy issues,” wrote Jeffrey Aryan of California. “Such as a minimum of 15 years in prison for the first offense and a fine of 5 million dollars.”

The public comment period is scheduled to close on April 24. Comments can be submitted through in the FAA-2015-0150 folder.



The Human Element in Robotic Warfare

Paul Scharre    

March 11, 2015

Editor’s note: This is the fourth 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, second, and third entries in this series.


The first rule of unmanned aircraft is, don’t call them unmanned aircraft. And whatever you do, don’t call them drones.

The U.S. Air Force prefers the term “remotely piloted aircraft” to refer to its Predators, Reapers, and Global Hawks. And for Predators and Reapers, that undoubtedly is a reflection of their reality today. They are flown by stick and rudder by pilots who just happen to not be onboard the plane (and sometimes are on the other side of the globe).

For aircraft like the Global Hawk, which is largely automated and does not require a pilot with stick and rudder, but rather has a person direct the aircraft via keyboard and mouse, the question of whether they are “remotely piloted” is a bit murkier.

Is piloting about a physical act – controlling the aircraft directly via inputs to the flight controls – or about commanding the aircraft and being responsible for the mission, for airspace deconfliction, and for making decisions about where the aircraft should go?

Historically, the answer has been both. But automation is changing that. It’s changing what it means to be a pilot. A person no longer has to be physically on board the aircraft to be considered a “pilot.” Nor do they need to be physically controlling the aircraft’s flight controls directly. The day will soon come when, because of automation, a person can “pilot” multiple aircraft at the same time. It is already technically possible today. The cultural presumption that a person can only command one aircraft at a time is stalling implementation of multi-aircraft control.


But that will change.

Automation is and has long been colonizing jobs once performed by humans in a range of industries, from driving forklifts to writing newspaper stories. And the changes on military operations will be no less profound. While pilots may be the first to grapple with this paradigm shift, autonomous systems will raise the same issues across many military positions, from truck drivers to tankers. Autonomous systems will inevitably change how some military duties are performed and may eliminate some job specialties entirely. Physical prowess for some tasks, like piloting an aircraft, driving a vehicle, or firing a rifle will be less important in a world where aircraft fly themselves, vehicles drive on their own, and smart rifles correct for wind, humidity, elevation and the shooter’s movements all on their own.

For some military communities, the shift will be quite significant. Sometimes, this can lead to a reluctance to embrace robotic systems, with the fear that they are replacing humans. This is unfortunate because it could not be further from the truth. Autonomous systems will not replace warfighters any more than previous innovations like firearms, steam-powered ships, or tanks replaced combatants. These innovations did, however, change how militaries fight. Today’s infantryman, sailors, and cavalrymen no longer fight with edged weapons, work the sails and rigging of ships, or ride horses, but the ethos embodied in their job specialties lives on, even as the specific ways in which warfighters carry out those duties have changed. Similarly, the duties of tomorrow’s “pilots,” “tank drivers,” and “snipers” will look far different from today, but the ethos embodied in these job specialties will not change. Human judgment will always be required in combat.


The Human Element


Terminology that refers to robotic systems as “unmanned” can feed false perceptions on the roles that human beings will or will not play. The Air Force is right to push back against the term “unmanned.” (Note: I often use it myself in writing because it has become common currency, but I prefer “uninhabited vehicle,” which is more accurate.) “Unmanned” implies a person is not involved. But robotic systems will not roll off the assembly line and report for combat duty. Humans will still be involved in warfare and still in command, but at the mission level rather than manually performing every task. Uninhabited and autonomous systems can help but also have shortcomings, and will not be appropriate for every task. The future is not unmanned, but one of human-machine teaming.

Militaries will want a blend of autonomous systems and human decision-making. Autonomous systems will be able to perform many military tasks better than humans, and will particularly be useful in situations where speed and precision are required or where repetitive tasks are to be performed in relatively structured environments. At the same time, barring major advances in novel computing methods that aim to develop computers that work like human brains, such as neural networks or neuromorphic computing, autonomous systems will have significant limitations. While machines exceed human cognitive capacities in some areas, particularly speed, they lack robust general intelligence that is flexible across a range of situations. Machine intelligence is “brittle.” That is, autonomous systems can often outperform humans in narrow tasks, such as chess or driving, but if pushed outside their programmed parameters they fail, and often badly. Human intelligence, on the other hand, is very robust to changes in the environment and is capable of adapting and handling ambiguity. As a result, some decisions, particularly those requiring judgment or creativity, will be inappropriate for autonomous systems. The best cognitive systems, therefore, are neither human nor machine alone, but rather human and machine intelligences working together.

Militaries looking to best harness the advantages of autonomous systems should take a cue from the field of “advanced chess,” where human and machine players cooperate together in hybrid, or “centaur,” teams. After world chess champion Gary Kasparov lost to IBM’s chess-playing computer Deep Blue in 1996 (and again in a 1997 rematch), he founded the field of advanced chess, which is now the cutting edge of chess competition. In advanced chess, human players play in cooperation with a computer chess program, with human players able to use the program to evaluate possible moves and try out alternative sequences. The result is a superior game of chess, more sophisticated than would be possible with simply humans or machines playing alone.

Human-machine teaming raises new challenges, and militaries will need to experiment to find the optimum mix of human and machine cognition. Determining which tasks should be done by machines and which by people will be an important consideration, and one made continually challenging as machines continue to advance in cognitive abilities. Human-machine interfaces and training for human operators to understand autonomous systems will be equally important. Human operators will need to know the strengths and limitations of autonomous systems, and in which situations autonomous systems are likely to lead to superior results and when they are likely to fail. As autonomous systems become incorporated into military forces, the tasks required of humans will change, not only with respect to what functions they will no longer perform, but also which new tasks they will be required to learn. Humans operators will need to be able to understand, supervise, and control complex autonomous systems in combat. This places new burdens on the selection, training, and education of military personnel, and potentially raises additional policy concerns. Cognitive human performance enhancement may help and in fact may be essential to managing the data overload and increased operations tempo of future warfare, but has its own set of legal, ethical, policy, and social challenges.


How militaries incorporate autonomous systems into their forces will be shaped in part by strategic need and available technology, but also in large part by military bureaucracy and culture. Humans may be unwilling to pass control for some tasks over to machines. Debates over autonomous cars are an instructive example. Human beings are horrible drivers, killing more than 30,000 people a year in the United States alone, or roughly the equivalent of a 9/11 attack every month. Self-driving cars, on the other hand, have already driven nearly 700,000 miles, including in crowded city streets, without a single accident. Autonomous cars have the potential to save literally tens of thousands of lives every year, yet rather than rushing to put self-driving cars on the streets as quickly as possible, adoption is moving forward cautiously. At the state of the technology today, even if autonomous cars are far better than human drivers overall, there would inevitably be situations where the autonomy fails and humans, who are better at adapting to novel and ambiguous circumstances, would have done better in that instance. Even if, in aggregate, thousands of lives could be saved with more autonomy, humans tend to focus on the few instances where the autonomy could fail and humans would have performed better. Transferring human control to automation requires trust, which is not easily given.


War is a Human Endeavor

Many of the tasks humans perform in warfare will change, but humans will remain central to war, for good or ill. The introduction of increasingly capable uninhabited and autonomous systems on the battlefield will not lead to bloodless wars of robots fighting robots, with humans sitting safely on the sidelines. Death and violence will remain an inescapable component of war, if for no other reason than it will require real human costs for wars to come to an end. Nor will humans be removed from the battlefield entirely, telecommuting to combat from thousands of miles away. Remote operations will have a role, as they already do in uninhabited aircraft operations today, but humans will also be needed forward in the battlespace, particularly for command-and-control when long-range communications are degraded.

Even as autonomous systems play an increasing role on the battlefield, it is still humans who will fight wars, only with different weapons. Combatants are people, not machines. Technology will aid humans in fighting, as it has since the invention of the sling, the spear, and the bow and arrow. Better technology can give combatants an edge in terms of standoff, survivability, or lethality, advantages that combatants have sought since the first time a human picked up a club to extend his reach against an enemy. But technology alone is nothing without insight into the new uses it unlocks. The tank, radio, and airplane were critical components of the blitzkrieg, but the blitzkrieg also required new doctrine, organization, concepts of operation, experimentation, and training to be developed successfully. It was people who developed those concepts, drafted requirements for the technology, restructured organizations, rewrote doctrine, and ultimately fought. In the future, it will be no different.

War will remain a clash of wills. To the extent that autonomous systems allow more effective battlefield operations, they can be a major advantage. Those who master a new technology and its associated concepts of operation first can gain game-changing advantages on the battlefield, allowing decisive victory over those who lag behind. But technological innovation in war can be a double-edged sword. If this advantage erodes a nation’s willingness to squarely face the burden of war, it can be a detriment. The illusion that such advantages can lead to quick, easy wars can be seductive, and those who succumb to it may find their illusions shattered by the unpleasant and bloody realities of war. Uninhabited and autonomous systems can lead to advantages over one’s enemy, but the millennia-long evolution of weapons and countermeasures suggests that such weapons will proliferate: No innovation leaves its user invulnerable for very long. In particular, increasing automation has the potential to accelerate the pace of warfare, but not necessarily in ways that are conducive to the cause of peace. An accelerated tempo of operations may lead to combat that is more chaotic, but not more controllable. Wars that start quickly may not end quickly.


The introduction of robotic systems on the battlefield raises challenging operational, strategic, and policy issues, the full scope of which cannot yet be seen. The nations and militaries that see furthest into a dim and uncertain future to anticipate these challenges and prepare for them now will be best poised to succeed in the warfighting regime to come.


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.


Adults only catch flu around twice a decade, study finds

LONDON Wed Mar 4, 2015 8:40am EST


(Reuters) – Adults only get flu twice a decade on average, scientists have found, suggesting that most of the coughs and colds that keep millions of people off work every year are down to other bugs.

The findings will deepen understanding about how the disease spreads, who is most at risk and how to develop and deploy vaccines to combat it, said researchers who conducted the study.

“For adults, we found that influenza infection is actually much less common than some people think. In childhood and adolescence, it’s much more common, possibly because we mix more with other people,” said Steven Riley of Imperial College London, who worked on the research.

The team analyzed blood samples from volunteers in Southern China, looking at antibody levels against nine different flu strains that circulated from 1968 to 2009.

They found that while children get flu on average every other year, flu infections became less frequent with age.

“Flu-like illnesses” can often be caused by other viruses such as rhinoviruses and coronaviruses, the researchers said, making it tricky for people to know if they have real flu.

As well as estimating flu’s frequency, the team, including researchers from Britain, the United States and China, developed a mathematical model of how immunity to flu changes over a lifetime as people encounter different virus strains.

The findings, published in the journal PLOS Biology, could help researchers and drugmakers predict how the virus will change in future and how immunity to historical strains influences the way vaccines work and how effective they will be.

“What we’ve done in this study is to analyze how a person’s immunity builds up over a lifetime of flu infections,” said Adam Kucharski, who worked on the study at Imperial before moving to the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

“This … helps us understand the susceptibility of the population as a whole and how easy it is for new seasonal strains to spread through the population.”


Give Us Sequester? Bases Will Get Cut: McHugh, Graham

By Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.

on March 11, 2015 at 3:00 PM


CAPITOL HILL: Sequestration will literally hit Congress where it lives. If implemented, Army officials and a key senator said this morning, the Budget Control Act spending caps will require cutbacks or outright closures at bases across the country.

“At the end of the day, as much as we all love our bases, we’ve going to have to address this problem,” Sen. Lindsey Graham said at this morning’s Senate Appropriations hearing on the Army budget. “If we want to insist on sequestration, we’d better to be willing to go back home and tell people [that] every base that’s open today is not going to survive.”

Graham can be combative. A former Air Force lawyer, he tends to tackle witnesses with leading yes-or-no questions as if conducting a trial. But his style makes him well-suited to delivering ugly truths that many more genial legislators avoid. His fellow senators, by contrast, spent much of their time saying sequester was terrible but declaring their local base was wonderful, so the Army should spend more in their state. Army Secretary John McHugh and Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno spent much of the hearing patiently repeating that they loved everybody’s bases but they just don’t have the money.

Why is the Army studying moving some warrant officer training from Fort Rucker, home of Army aviation, asked Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby? Wouldn’t it save money to consolidate Navy and Marine Corps training at Rucker?

Um, that’s not our call but we’ll look at it, McHugh and Odierno replied, in essence.

Given the strategic importance of the “pivot to Asia,” asked Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz, why would the Army reduce forces at Schofield Barracks and Fort Schafter?

“They are an important part of the strategy,” said Odierno. “Unfortunately no matter how important we deem it, these cuts based on sequestration will touch everywhere.”

Fort Leonard Wood needs a new hospital, Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt declared.

“It’s still a priority for us to get an upgraded medical facility,” Odierno replied. “The problem is we simply don’t have the dollars to do that right now.”

Alaska is key both to the Pacific and the Arctic, so we need more Army forces there, said Lisa Murkowski.

“It’s important,” Odierno acknowledged. “That’s the problem now, there are lots of areas I could make the same comment [about].”

And so on.

You know, Sec. McHugh said at one point, this would be a lot easier if you’d authorize another Base Realignment And Closure (BRAC) round. As long as we’re not allowed to close any installation outright, he argued, we have to spread the pain to every state with salami-slice cutbacks. Authorize BRAC, and we can do this more efficiently, concentrating the cuts at fewer places.

“I went through three BRACs when I was a member of the House, I know how hard they are, and I lost a base,” said McHugh, a former congressman himself, after acknowledging his recommendation would be “very unpopular.” But, he said, “one of the reasons…that we’re looking at having to make reductions across the entire structure of the United States Army, every post, camp, and station, should sequestration return is that we don’t have BRAC authority.”

Counter-intuitively, McHugh argued, “it ends up that it actually helps more bases to actually authorize a BRAC than it hurts.”

Only Sen. Graham took up the topic. “Rather than asking you about Fort Jackson,” he said, referring to his home state base, “I think, Mr. Secretary, you expressed very well that if the Army [has to] implement sequestration numbers…and if we don’t have a BRAC, we’re really putting the Army in a bad spot.”



The State Department Has To Rebuild Its Classified Networks After 2014 Hack

March 11, 2015

By Aliya Sternstein


This detail, buried in a 2016 funding request document, combined with State’s failing data protection grades on a recent governmentwide report card, paints a picture of an agency ripe for another attack, security experts say.

“I assume (and hope) that emails sent between the President and Secretary of State are heavily encrypted and never touch the public Internet,” Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union, tweeted Monday.

That might not be the case. Zero percent of State’s email was sent via systems configured to encrypt messages — or code the contents so they are unreadable if intercepted, according the White House’s annual report to Congress on agency information security. The messages were all sent in clear text.

It’s unclear what kind of data protections former State Secretary Hillary Clinton had in place when she emailed President Barack Obama from her homemade email system.

State has asked Congress for $10 million to support “the necessary re-architecting of the classified and unclassified networks” at the department, according to current Secretary of State John Kerry’s budget justification. The budget request also proposes spending $17.3 million on “architecture services.” The overhaul will establish new security controls and help reduce “known security vulnerabilities.”

One weakness in all department systems is the absence of two-step identity verification, according to the cyber score-sheet. One weakness in all department systems is the absence of two-step identity verification, according to the cyber score-sheet. Under a 2004 presidential directive, all agency login screens must require users to enter passwords and a second credential, like a smart card, for access. The 2016 budget states State is aiming to establish the two-step process by 2018.

On Tuesday, State declined to comment on the extent of the reconstruction of its classified and unclassified information technology systems.

Coming enhancements “will add additional protections and provide IT modernization to meet industry best practices,” a department official said in an email. State is remodeling the classified networks now because the agency “continually looks for ways of modernizing our infrastructure to better protect its data,” the official said.

“I think that it’s fair to say that State doesn’t have reliable security practices, if it was at zero percent” for encryption and two-factor identification, said David Brumley, a Carnegie Mellon University computer engineering professor.

“A lot of the times when things are compromised, it’s not because there wasn’t already a technology solution out there — it was because there weren’t enough people to support the technical solution” or teach employees to follow security rules in a way that doesn’t interrupt their jobs, he added. “My guess is that that is where a lot of the money is going.”

State also plans to install more barriers between business-sensitive data and other types of information, so hackers who prop open the door to one system can’t push their way into higher-value systems. The $10 million in part would go toward completing “a private cloud infrastructure” designed to create secure enclaves that would add “perimeters around business critical applications and data,” the justification states.


The Doomsday Scenario

One of the stumbling blocks in trying to recover from a network attack is trust. What hardware and software is safe? Uncertainty about the presence of malware in devices makes organizations consider rebuilding from top to bottom, which is “the doomsday scenario,” said John Dickson, an information security analyst and former U.S. Air Force intelligence officer.

“What we understand happened at Sony is they ended up just starting over, with getting new servers and new devices because they simply could not trust the hardware that they had at a certain point,” said Dickson, comparing State’s 2016 budget explanation to a breach at the entertainment giant that aired Hollywood’s dirty laundry and sensitive personal information on employees.

As previously reported, State replaced some 30,000 keychain login fobs after the penetration of its unclassified email system last fall, which happened at the same time the White House was hacked. It’s uncertain what the original or replacement credentials grant access to.

Some computer science experts say the IT do-over reflects a realization that State’s past security investments might not be enough to prevent another intrusion.

“It may very well be the case that there are some things that they don’t trust anymore because they are compromised and they want to replace them, but my guess is that they have just devoted insufficient funds to protection previously, because it was compromised,” said Brumley, who also heads cyber startup ForAllSecure. “A lot of the security expense is in the people and the training. If they already have bad practices and grades, you know, getting rid of those.”

Purchasing new devices is not that costly, but arranging the proper technical support so people actually use it is, he said.


The Fake “”

Right now, State is incapable of “digitally signing” outgoing email to citizens and colleagues, the cyber score sheet found.

This means anyone might be able to “spoof,” or copy, an official “” email address to fool people into thinking they are being contacted by a legitimate high-ranking official.

In theory, an email purportedly from Kerry at “” that asks a staffer to send him an internal PowerPoint presentation on Iran actually might be from a foreign cyberspy.

“Clinton’s own staff had been targeted with such highly targeted ‘spear phishing’ emails as early as 2009, the year she took office,” Shane Harris writes in the Daily Beast.

Some reformed black hat hackers say it goes without saying that any system — government or personal — is vulnerable without multistep ID checks.

“Without these protections, it only takes one successful malware or phishing attack,” said Jennifer Emick, a former member of the hacktivist group Anonymous who now works as an independent security researcher. “I wouldn’t think it would be easy” to crack a secretary of state’s account, “but a suitably determined intruder isn’t going to find the task insurmountable.”



FCC goes public with Net neutrality rules for governing Internet

After voting on an order to bring broadband until old telephone-style rules last month, the Federal Communications Commission is finally releasing the order for everyone to read.

by Roger Cheng and Marguerite Reardon

March 12, 2015 7:03 AM PDT


The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday finally spelled out how it would preserve the open Internet, publicly releasing its order to bring broadband services under a stricter level of regulation.

By a 3-to-2 decision last month, the agency’s commissioners had already voted to approve the order. But as is the normal practice of the agency, the FCC did not release the order itself, with Chairman Tom Wheeler and the agency offering select details through a limited fact sheet, press conferences and an appearance at a trade show.

Thursday marks the first chance for the public to get a full look at the order, which brings Internet services under Title II, a part of the Communications Act of 1934 that embraces the “Common Carrier” concept that all customers — or in this case, all Web traffic — must be treated fairly and without discrimination. The order is must-read material for anyone interested in the issue, which is known among regulators and the industry as Net neutrality.

“Until everybody reads the fine print and understands it, you won’t really be able comment in detail,” Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T’s business and mobility division, said in an interview last week. “I plan to read [the regulations] cover to cover.”

While consumer advocates and online businesses such as video-streaming service Netflix cheered the move, broadband providers such as Verizon and Comcast are widely expected to sue the FCC to block the order. Their concern is that that Title II gives the FCC authority to set rates that could translate into higher fees to consumers, as well as stifle innovation and discourage companies from investing in building new broadband networks and improving existing ones. Wheeler has dismissed these concerns.

“This is Title II tailored for the 21st Century,” the order states. “Unlike the application of Title II to incumbent wireline companies in the 20th Century, a swath of utility-style provisions (including tariffing) will not be applied.”

The FCC’s Michael O’Rielly, one of two Republicans commissioners, both of whom voted against the order, in a dissenting statement expressed concern about the far-reaching implications of moving to Title II.

“I am far more troubled by the dangerous course the commission is now charting on Title II and the consequences it will have for broadband investment, edge providers and consumers,” he said.

“This is Title II tailored for the 21st Century. Unlike the application of Title II to incumbent wireline companies in the 20th Century, a swath of utility-style provisions (including tariffing) will not be applied.”

FCC report on its Net neutrality order

“The order is a culmination of roughly a year’s worth of debate and increasingly vocal rhetoric from both sides of the issue. Net neutrality went mainstream in June of last year after comedian John Oliver’s 13-minute rant about the issue went viral, resulting in a flood of responses to the FCC that temporarily crippled its public-comment system.

AT&T had previously hinted it would file a lawsuit once the new rules were made public, but on Thursday, the company’s chief lobbyist, Jim Cicconi, didn’t give any indication of when or even if AT&T would file suit. Still, he said the battle is far from over.

“Unfortunately, the order released today begins a period of uncertainty that will damage broadband investment in the United States,” Cicconi said. “Ultimately, though, we are confident the issue will be resolved by bipartisan action by Congress or a future FCC, or by the courts.”

The actual text of the new rules is only 305 words long, but the full document runs to 400 pages. The rules prohibit broadband providers from blocking or slowing traffic on both wired and wireless networks. They also ban Internet service providers from offering paid priority services that could allow them to charge content companies, such as Netflix, fees to access Internet “fast lanes” to reach customers more quickly when networks are congested.

The most controversial piece of the new regulation is the FCC’s reclassification of broadband as a Title II telecommunications service. Applying the Title II moniker to broadband has the potential to radically change how the Internet is governed, giving the FCC unprecedented authority.

The provision originally gave the agency the power to set rates and enforce the “common carrier” principle. Wheeler said the agency had to reclassify broadband in order to ensure that the rules had a strong legal foundation to stand up to future court challenges. Previous rules the FCC has put in place to protect Internet openness have been thrown out of court twice.

It’s this reclassification to Title II that is what companies like AT&T and Comcast have taken issue with.

Wheeler has stated several times that the agency will forbear or ignore some aspects of the Title II regulation so that the government would not be setting rates or adding new taxes to broadband bills. Indeed, an entire section of the order — more than 100 pages of the more than 400-page document — is dedicated to discussing and explaining these forbearances.

The two Republican commissioners on the FCC, Ajit Pai and O’Rielly, say that a close read of the document shows that Wheeler has not been forthcoming about some of the restrictions that will continue to be applied under Title II.

“The Commission attempts to downplay the significance of Title II,” O’Rielly said in a statement. “But make no mistake: this is not some make believe modernized Title II light that is somehow tailored to preserve investment while protecting consumers from blocking or throttling. It is fauxbearance.”



Senator to DoD: Explore alternatives before launching BRAC

By Karen Jowers, Staff writer 5:12 p.m. EDT March 12, 2015


The Pentagon should consider other ways of shedding unnecessary infrastructure without resorting to the formal Base Realignment and Closure process, one senator told defense officials Wednesday.

At a hearing Wednesday on the Defense Department’s request for another BRAC round, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee made clear they are not keen to reprise that potentially rancorous process for a variety of reasons, including the considerable up-front costs required.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said he understands the need to periodically assess base infrastructure, but added: “I’ve had questions about the BRAC process, whether it’s the best way to do that. We’ve all expressed our concerns about BRAC, but we also understand that excess capacity has costs, and if you have to pay for those costs, it has to come from something else.”

Kaine said he is not aware of any law that prevents DoD from doing its own study, apart from BRAC, about what portions of a particular installation’s infrastructure is no longer needed, and then making recommendations to get rid of that infrastructure without necessarily closing down the entire base.

“We have faith that you’d use the right analytical tools separate and apart from BRAC,” he said. “Obviously we have to save on infrastructure. It’s just, what is the best way to save on infrastructure?”


The last BRAC round was in 2005; defense officials are seeking another round for fiscal 2017.

Kaine was not the only senator to express deep reservations.

“I remain opposed to BRAC, and do not want to give [DoD] the open-ended authority to pursue another BRAC round that has the potential to incur significant upfront costs when we do not have room in our budget in the next few years to afford many of the fundamental readiness issues we need to address,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.

Ayotte said the 2005 BRAC round is conservatively estimated to have cost about $35 billion, and has been the subject of much discussion and criticism. She noted that the proposal for 2017 would use the same legislative framework.

John Conger, acting assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations and environment, said defense officials would be open to discussion on changes in the BRAC legislation if that would make it more acceptable to lawmakers.

But in the current tight budget environment, with considerable cuts in force structure since 2005 and sequestration budget caps looming in the fall, Conger said the Pentagon “must look for ways to divest excess bases and to reduce the cost of supporting our smaller force structure.”

Defense officials say a new “efficiency-focused” BRAC round could save about $2 billion a year after implementation, with costs and savings during the six-year implementation period being a wash at about $6 billion.

“As the force structure declines, we must right-size the supporting infrastructure,” said Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment.

The Army estimates that 18 percent of its infrastructure is excess — and that’s based on an end strength of 490,000 soldiers. The Army now has about 498,000 soldiers on active duty, but that service officials said that could be forced down to 420,000 under sequestration.

“As the Army force structure declines even further, excess capacity is going to grow,” Hammack said.

Without the cost savings from another BRAC, “the only alternative is to make up for shortages in base funding by increasing risk in readiness,” she said.

About 30 percent of the Air Force’s infrastructure is excess, said Miranda Ballentine, assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and energy, who also noted that the BRAC process gives local communities an avenue to engage in the process and receive economic support, which would not be the case if DoD fell back upon some form of non-BRAC process to deal with this issue.

Conger said BRAC sets up a rigorous analytical process. “The recommendations that come out have all that analysis baked into them,” he said.

He also noted that in recent years, some non-BRAC proposals have caused strong opposition in local communities, and some have been rejected. One of the more recent examples was a proposal to close U.S. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia.

Kaine said that was a good example of how things could work correctly. After community and congressional leaders pulled together to make a case to the Pentagon, DoD considered their argument, and instead decided to close only part of JFCOM headquarters.

In the end, he said, BRAC simply makes “everybody nervous.”


“As soon as you do a BRAC, every last community in the U.S. has to hire lobbyists and lawyers, even if there is no danger that that installation is going to be closed or downsized,” he said. “There’s this massive collective check written out of public treasuries from states and localities to lobbyists and lawyers to make the case.”


GAO Says Weapons Costs ‘Lowest In Decade’; Portfolio Shrinks

By Colin Clark
on March 12, 2015 at 4:54 PM


WASHINGTON: The overall cost for Pentagon’s weapons buying is at the lowest it’s been a decade, says the Government Accountability Office in its respected annual assessment of the military’s major programs.

But that overall result, which might seem to cheer exponents of acquisition reform and of smaller Pentagon budgets, contains two smaller points well worth noting. The F-35 program, the biggest in the Pentagon’s profile of 78 Major Defense Acquisition Programs (MDAP), increased in cost while the number of aircraft purchased declined. As the GAO report notes, this means the taxpayer “is paying more for the same amount of capability.”

Michael Sullivan, the head of defense acquisition at GAO, describes how big a slice of the Pentagon weapons budget the selected programs comprise in the letter to Congress that accompanies the report. “Despite the decrease in portfolio size, these 78 programs require approximately 30 percent of all development and procurement funding for all DOD acquisition programs over the next 5 years.”

More broadly, the number of MDAPs shrank by two, from 80. As defense consultant Loren Thompson tells me in an email, that “is fewer than the number of programs that Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney claimed to have killed during his four-year tenure at the end of the Cold War. He said he had killed a hundred major programs; now the Pentagon doesn’t have that many programs left to terminate.”

Thompson makes the intriguing point that the military is shrinking and “joint force investment in new technology is at its lowest ebb in a long time — which is why the cost of military modernization seems to have moderated. The Army’s modernization program, for instance, has been cut in half since the beginning of the Obama years. The Air Force‘s fleet of aircraft is the oldest in the service’s history. And the Navy is now down to 275 ships.”

The GAO draws this narrower conclusion straight from the data: “The decrease in current portfolio cost is due primarily to significant quantity decreases on two programs—most other programs actually experienced a cost increase over the past year. The average time to deliver initial capability to the warfighter also increased by over 1 month. Forty-one programs in the portfolio lost buying power during the past year resulting in $5.3 billion in additional costs, a contrast to the buying power gains seen in GAO’s prior assessments.”

The last sentence is sure to elicit some groans from Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer, and his team. They are about to roll out the third version of their vaunted Better Buying Power initiative and certainly would have hoped for an improvement in that buying power.


Buying Power Analysis for the 2014 Portfolio (Fiscal year 2015 dollars in billions)


Number of programs 

Actual procurement cost change 

Change attributable to quantity changes 

Change not attributable to quantity changes 

Programs that lost buying power





Programs that gained buying power 





Programs with no change in buying power 





Portfolio totals 





Source: GAO analysis of DOD data. | GAO-15-342SP


Thompson argues that the numbers reflect what the defense industry has worried might happen; namely that a declining budget would mean procurement cuts to feed personnel and operations and maintenance.

“The Obama Administration is doing exactly what previous Democratic administrations did, generating most of its defense savings by cutting weapons programs,” he said. “No wonder senior policymakers now worry our enemies are closing the gap in military technology.”

Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Kendall have pressed for several years to protect research and development funds, as well as those of crucial new weapons such as the F-35, the Ohio Replacement submarine, the KC-46 tanker, the next-generation aircraft carriers and an array of space programs. Part of that effort to protect our so-called “seed corn” took form in the recent creation of the so-called Third Offset Strategy.


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

Rasmussen Reports

Bottom of Form

Saturday, March 14, 2015


What if Hillary Clinton doesn’t run? That thought crossed more than a few minds this week as Clinton’s e-mail and donations problems escalated, and suddenly former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, among others, started having his media calls returned.

Voters have national security concerns about Clinton’s use of a private e-mail provider while serving as secretary of State but aren’t as sure she was trying to hide anything. More troubling are the large donations made to the private Clinton Foundation by foreign governments while Clinton was the nation’s chief overseas diplomat.

The e-mails in question include the period in which the Benghazi incident occurred. More voters than ever think the circumstances surrounding the murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and other embassy personnel in Benghazi on Clinton’s watch will hurt her if she runs for president.

Clinton held a brief press conference at mid-week to answer questions about both controversies, but media coverage suggested she raised more questions than she answered. We’ll check next week to see if voter concerns have lessened any.

Eighty-eight percent (88%) of Likely Democratic Voters still believe Clinton is likely to be their party’s nominee. But with the media drumbeat over the e-mail and donations stories quickening, reporters are starting to talk to O’Malley, former Virginia Senator James Webb, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and others who have signaled an interest in challenging Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. If Clinton shows signs of fading, other contenders are likely.

For now, Democratic voters say Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden are next in line for their party’s presidential nomination if Clinton chooses not to run next year. The others earn support in the single digits – for now.

Republican voters agree with Mitt Romney that their party should look for a new face to run in 2016. Democrats may soon feel that way, too.

Some commentators have suggested making voting mandatory in the United States to raise turnout and create “a more moderate and more representative electorate.” Wonder what likely voters think about that?

With the election still far in the future, the race right now is mostly about name recognition. Keep in mind that Clinton dominated the race for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination three years before the election,
but when Illinois Senator Barack Obama formally entered the race in January 2007, it suddenly was a tie contest.

Speaking of Obama, the New York Times suggests the distant relationship he has with many world leaders was highlighted most recently when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ignored the president’s objections and spoke to a joint session of Congress to protest the nuclear deal the United States is negotiating with Iran. Most U.S. voters agree with Netanyahu that the president’s deal is unlikely to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

Voters think America’s prestige abroad has suffered since Obama became president. But voters remain closely divided over the president’s overall job performance.

On the domestic front, most voters continue to believe federal government policies encourage illegal immigration.

The fallout continues in Ferguson, Missouri, following a Justice Department report accusing the city’s police department of a widespread pattern of racial discrimination. But in most inner city communities, is police racism the real problem? Not according to 70% voters who think the level of crime in low-income inner city communities is a bigger problem in America today than police discrimination against minorities.

More than half of voters now oppose stricter gun control laws, and belief that the country needs stricter enforcement of existing anti-gun laws is also down.

Just 29% think the country is heading in the right direction. This is the first week that finding has fallen below 30% since mid-December.

Republicans still hold a small lead over Democrats on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot. Starting yesterday, we’ve shifted the weekly Generic Congressional Ballot from its longtime 3 p.m. Eastern slot on Mondays to noon on Fridays.

In other surveys last week:

Spring is on its way, and that’s welcome news for most Americans.

— It’s a close call when you ask Americans whether they’d rather go the dentist or file their taxes.

— A sizable number of voters still say the federal government owns too much of America and that it should sell some of that land to reduce the federal debt.

Americans view the Boy Scouts of America more positively than they have in nearly two years but still like the Girl Scouts better.

What’s likely to be the best-selling Girl Scout cookie this year?


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