Skip to content

March 28 2015

March 31, 2015

28 March 2015


Blog URL


House Aides Preview Major Pentagon Reforms

By Paul McLeary 3:13 p.m. EDT March 22, 2015



WASHINGTON — Reform of the Pentagon’s weapons buying habits will lead Rep. Mac Thornberry’s agenda as head of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) say committee aides, a long-term plan the Texas Republican will formally outline on Monday at a Washington think tank.

Unlike a seemingly endless history of similar initiatives that have fizzled out or gone down in flames however, Thornberry appears to be taking a slower, long-term approach to the problem. And he’s starting at the beginning, with a series of proposed changes to how program managers actually operate on a day-to-day basis.

“Acquisition reform will be one of his top priorities every year as chairman” said one House Armed Services aide who requested anonymity.

His kickoff effort which he hopes will be included in the fiscal year 2016 defense bill focuses on things like giving Pentagon program managers more control over what kinds of contracts are awarded, instituting mandatory training on how to include commercial items in their programs, and changing the promotion and rotation schedule for procurement officers to make their positions more permanent.

The system doesn’t need a total reinvention, one House aide said, but reform is necessary.

“It’s not about doing away with things. Its more about a more clear line of authority … everyone needs to be held accountable.”

While Thornberry is starting here, the plan is for the HASC to build on its reform agenda each year, adding to the previous year’s changes in an incremental fashion Aides said the process may be slow, and may not be sexy, but is critically important given the Pentagon’s own push to reform its acquisition process, which is being led by chief weapons buyer Frank Kendall and deputy secretary of defense Bob Work.


Newly installed secretary of defense Ash Carter has also made acquisition reform a key component of his efforts in previous tours at the Pentagon,


“There’s no silver bullets, it’s a constant process of fixing things” one aide told reporters on March 20. But before anything else happens, the amount of red tape that program managers have to contend with has to be reduced.


One way to do that is to cut down the number of reports that a PM has to submit to the services and to Congress each year. While doing that however, the question of “how do you maintain accountability but empower the PMs” the aide said. House aides insisted that they have worked closely with the Pentagon over the past year to put together this first round of proposed reforms, and out of seven recommendations that Kendall sent to the staff, they have incorporated six.


The House committee has also asked the Pentagon’s Defense Business Board to look at how to get non-traditional companies to play in the defense sector, one aide said, which is in line with the Pentagon’s own Better Buying Power 3.0 initiative, which seeks to revamp the development and prototyping of new technologies, while also reaching out to small tech firms and Silicon Valley to drum up interest in working with the Pentagon on leap-ahead technologies.


U.S., Lockheed fixing software glitch with GPS satellites

Sun Mar 22, 2015 9:45pm EDT

By Andrea Shalal


(Reuters) – Lockheed Martin Corp said it is working to resolve a technical error disclosed by the U.S. Air Force on Sunday that affected some global positioning system (GPS) satellites but did not degrade the accuracy of GPS signals received by users around the world.


Lockheed said the error involved the ground control system for GPS satellites it runs for the Air Force.


Lockheed spokeswoman Christine Courard said the company had put a “workaround” in place to avoid further errors and was working on a full software correction with the Air Force.


Air Force Space Command said the glitch appeared to involve the ground-based software used to index, or sort, some messages transmitted by GPS IIF satellites built by Boeing Co, but officials were still investigating other possible causes.


Air Force spokesman Andy Roake said the issue came to light in recent days, but archived data showed the problem had gone unnoticed since 2013. He gave no details of the extent of the problem, its impact on the system or how it was discovered.


The Air Force said the problem appeared related to the ground software that builds and uploads messages transmitted by GPS satellites, resulting in an occasional message failing to meet U.S. technical specifications.


Boeing, prime contractor for the GPS IIF satellites, had no immediate comment on the news, which comes days before the Air Force is due to launch the ninth GPS IIF satellite into space.


GPS is a space-based worldwide navigation system that provides users with highly accurate data on position, timing and velocity 24 hours a day, in all weather conditions.


The U.S military uses the GPS for targeting precision munitions and steering drones. It also has a wide range of commercial applications for the financial sector, farming and tracking shipments of packages. Car navigation systems and mobile phones use GPS to determine their location.


Boeing is under contract to build 12 GPS IIF satellites. The first of the GPS IIF satellites was launched in May 2010. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal; editing by Susan Thomas and Leslie Adler)



Air Force facing increasing shortage of fighter pilots

By Brian Everstine, Staff writer 10:03 a.m. EDT March 20, 2015


The Air Force doesn’t have enough fighter pilots in its active duty cockpits due to force structure cuts and increased airline hiring, leading to a long-term drop in those available to train new pilots and test new aircraft, service leaders told lawmakers Thursday.


The active duty Air Force is 520 pilots short of its total manning requirement, with that projection expected to get worse in the near future due to an increase in private airline hiring luring the pilots away and continued cuts to the service’s fleet, according to joint testimony to the Senate Armed Services committee by William LaPlante, the assistant secretary for acquisition; Lt. Gen. James Holmes, the deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements; and Lt. Gen. Tod Wolters, the deputy chief of staff for operations.


“The shortfall evolved from force structure reductions that cut active duty fighter squadrons and fighter training squadrons to a number that cannot sustain billet requirements,” the testimony states. “As a result, the Air Force is currently unable to produce and experience the required number of fighter pilots across the total force.”


The service is prioritizing its overall manpower to keep operational cockpits full, causing a drop in air operations expertise during higher-level planning and a drop in fighter pilot experience for trainers and test programs.


“Without these fighter pilots, the Air Force will be very challenged to continue to provide the air supremacy upon which all our forces depend,” the testimony states.


The Air Force projects that the airline industry will hire about 20,000 pilots over the next 10 years, and with changing requirements, the companies will target military aviators at an increased rate, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.


Budget restrictions have limited the total amount of flying hours available for flying, causing frustration among pilots. This frustration will return if sequestration comes back, Welsh said.


The Air Force uses big bonuses to try to keep its pilots around. The service offers Aviator Retention Pay payouts for eligible pilots who agree to serve for nine more years, at a rate of up to $225,000. Fighter pilots, other valuable pilots and combat systems officers who sign up for five more years can also get a $125,000 bonus.


About 840 airmen were eligible for the bonuses last summer, including 245 fighter pilots. In 2013, 132 fighter pilots signed up for the bonus, with 82 percent taking the nine-year contract. Another 483 total pilots took the five-year bonus.



Roar of bombers replaced by drone buzz in North Dakota

By Dave Kolpack, The Associated Press 3:36 p.m. EDT March 22, 2015


FARGO, N.D. — The roar of mammoth Air Force bombers and tanker planes has long been silenced at the Grand Forks Air Force Base, but backers of the nation’s first unmanned aircraft business park say the drones are creating a buzz.

Construction on the Grand Sky grounds won’t likely begin until May, but national and international companies are jockeying for position in the 1.2 million-square-foot park that sits near the former alert pad where bombers and tankers were poised for takeoff on a moment’s notice.

North Dakota is one six sites around the country testing unmanned aircraft, for which some Americans have lingering concerns about privacy and safety. The new park’s tenants are likely to be researching and developing drones for a host of applications — farming, law enforcement, energy, infrastructure management, public safety, coastal security, military training, search and rescue and disaster response.

Defense technology giant Northrop Grumman, based in Falls Church, Virginia, has already signed a letter of intent to anchor the park and more big names are likely to follow suit, Grand Sky Development President Tom Swoyer said. He added he met with representatives from two prospective companies last week, including a “household name in the unmanned system industry” that he would not identify.

“Companies in the industry are starting to take notice,” Swoyer said. “We’re getting a lot of input.”

One company looking to get into the ground floor of Grand Sky is Smart C2, a fledgling software business that picked North Dakota for its home base because of the state’s commitment to unmanned aircraft. Stuart Rudolph, company president and CEO, said the park will have all the key players in one space.

“Grand Sky is going to be the melting pot,” Rudolph said. He noted other favorable factors, such as access to talent at the base, University of North Dakota aerospace school and a nearby technical school; government support; private equity financing and lots of airspace.

The possibility of competitors locating under the same roof also is a good thing, Rudolph said.

“This is too young of an industry to worry about your competition,” he said. “We’re investing in North Dakota because we think this is where the right people are going to come together to solve the problems of the United States.”

Not everyone is as optimistic about the future of drones. An Associated Press poll conducted in December showed that 33 percent of Americans oppose using drones to monitor or spray crops, while another third support it. Only 27 percent favor using drones for aerial photography.

Even so, the park is expected to bring thousands of jobs to this part of northeastern North Dakota, a boon given that that the number of airmen at the Grand Forks base has dropped since its mission was changed to unmanned aircraft.

The base had housed heavy bombing operations for more than 30 years and refueling tankers for 50 years. The last B-1B Lancer departed the facility in 1994, and the final tankers left in 2010. Since 2006, the number of airmen at base has decreased from 2,450 to about 1,300, while the number of base employees has declined from more than 3,000 to about 1,000.

Swoyer estimates that up to about 3,000 workers could be hired overall — 500 to 1,000 people on campus, the same amount by companies that support the park and another 500 to 1,000 who visit for training or research and development.

The facility will have space for hangars, offices, shops, laboratories and data centers. It’s also the first commercial park where manned and unmanned aircraft can take off from the same place, Swoyer said.

“Hopefully we will start hearing the roar of unmanned jet engines coming into the Grand Forks Air Force Base,” he said. “Only they will be turning right at the end of the runway (toward Grand Sky) rather than left (toward the base).”



Talking Drone Converses With Air Traffic Controllers

Monday, 23 March 2015

Researchers have developed and demonstrated an autonomous capability that would allow a drone to verbally interact with air traffic controllers. The development is a critical step towards the full integration of unmanned aircraft systems – or drones – into civil airspace. Drones need to be able to fly safely alongside other airspace users without causing disruption to air traffic management.


The majority of air traffic control services are provided to aircraft by voice radio – aircraft controllers speaking directly to pilots. Using the new system, an air traffic controller can talk to, and receive responses from, a drone just like they would with any other aircraft.


The project brings the safe and seamless operation of UAVs within civil airspace one step closer. The new system enables a drone to respond to information requests and act on clearances issued by an air traffic controller.



John McCain Tells the Air Force to Fire More Civilians

By Eric Katz

March 26, 2015


Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is very disappointed in the Air Force.


The cause of his frustration? The service, McCain said, is not firing enough civilian employees at its headquarters.


The Senate Armed Services Committee chairman complained in a letter to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James that the service’s boasts of reaching the staffing cuts required by then-Secretary Chuck Hagel more quickly than it expected were misleading. Rather than actually cutting positions by removing civilian workers from the payroll, the Air Force moved them to “subordinate headquarters,” McCain said.


Hagel’s 2013 memorandum required each service to reduce its headquarters spending by 20 percent. Follow-up guidelines written by Ashton Carter, then the deputy secretary of Defense, told the components to strive for a 20 percent reduction in civilian staff as part of those savings.


“The 20-percent headquarters reductions were meant to make Defense Department operations more efficient while saving money for American taxpayers,” McCain wrote. “But the conduct of the Air Force in response to this guidance seems to have produced no actual staff reductions and yielded no actual savings.”


An Air Force spokeswoman said the shifting around of positions was always part of the reduction plan, and the “subordinate headquarters” to which McCain referred are essential to the consolidation process.


“The Air Force will respond to Senator McCain’s concerns as quickly as possible and looks forward to explaining its efforts in striving to meet the 20 percent management headquarters reduction,” the spokeswoman said. She added, however, the Air Force has provided congressional notifications of its plans throughout the process.


The service has not had to force anyone out, instead relying on voluntary incentives to get individuals to leave and then filling those positions with employees who otherwise would have been laid off.


In December, James announced the Air Force was walking away from a plan to lay off employees in 2015, saying the cuts were no longer necessary.


“We are in agreement. Enough is enough,” James said. “We have reduced far enough. We will not go lower, and we will fight to hold on to the numbers now that we have.”


The Air Force said it had decided to frontload its reduction efforts, despite having a five-year window to make the cuts per the Hagel order, to create more stability for its workforce. The Air Force is still offering voluntary separation incentives this year, such as early retirements, as it has done since the cuts began. So while the service has not “cut” any individuals per se, it has progressed toward its goal set last summer to eliminate 3,459 positions. This has allowed the Air Force to make the cuts in a less “draconian” way, the spokeswoman said.


McCain accused James of playing a “shell game” by shifting funds around, rather than making real cuts. He promised his committee will be “monitoring closely” the reductions going forward.


Verizon bumps up its 100G metro fiber-optic network

By Matt Hamblen

Computerworld | Mar 24, 2015 10:42 AM PT


Verizon on Tuesday announced new technology to bolster its super-fast 100 Gbps fiber-optic network serving metro areas, but didn’t reveal where the work will be done or other details.

The vague announcement raised the question of whether Verizon is simply trying to show its competitive value against Google and AT&T, which have both announced fiber Internet services in a number of cities.

“I think Verizon is trying to play catch up to the others without saying it that way,” said independent analyst Jeff Kagan. “The only question I still have is will Verizon be a real competitor or is this mostly just talk to cover their butts in the rapidly changing marketplace?”

What Verizon did disclose in a news release was that it will be modernizing undisclosed portions of its so-called 100G (for 100 Gbps) metro optical network using packet-optimized networking gear from Ciena and Cisco. Testing and deployment of the Ciena 6500 optical switch and Cisco’s Network Covergence System will happen this year, with plans to go live in 2016. /

“We are not announcing specific geographies at this time,” Verizon spokeswoman Lynn Staggs said in an email. She said the new equipment is not directly related to fiber connections to the premises of homes or businesses. By comparison, both Google Fiber and AT&T GigaPower are designed with 1 Gbps connections to homes, schools and businesses in mind.

Staggs said Verizon is upgrading connectivity between central Verizon offices and the backbone network. On top of that service, there is generally an “access” network for the last mile to connect the customer and the metro network, she added.

No matter how Verizon describes the ultimate purpose of its metro network, it is clear to analysts and others that Verizon’s metro upgrades could be used to prepare for last-mile fiber connections to businesses, schools and even homes to take on Google and AT&T directly. “Deploying a new coherent, optimized and highly scalable metro network means Verizon stays ahead of the growth trajectory while providing an even more robust network infrastructure for future demand,” said Lee Hicks, vice president of Verizon network planning, in a statement.

Google already has deployed fiber with an undisclosed number of subscribers in the Kansas City area on both sides of the Kansas and Missouri borders, as well as Provo, Utah, and Austin, Texas. In January, Google announced the service was coming to 18 cities in four metro areas: Atlanta, Nashville and Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, N.C. In early March, Google blogged that it had provided small business fiber in Provo and expanded its business services in the Kansas City areas.

AT&T launched its GigaPower service in parts of the Kansas City metro area in February and has said it already has “hundreds of thousands of consumers and small businesses” using GigaPower in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Raleigh-Durham and Winston-Salem. It also previously announced plans to serve Atlanta, Charlotte and Greensboro, N.C., Chicago, Cupertino, Calif., Houston, Jacksonville, Fla., Miami, Nashville, St. Louis and San Antonio. In all, the company is considering expanding the all-fiber network to 100 cities across 25 markets.

AT&T is also in the process of merging with DirecTV, which will expand AT&T’s GigaPower network to 2 million customer locations above those already announced by AT&T. That merger was originally expected to close in May, but there have been delays.

Verizon first began field trials of its 100G optical technology in 2007. As of January, it had 32,000 miles of 100G deployed in the U.S. in its backbone and metro areas, with another 8,500 miles in Europe and 11,600 terrestrial and submarine miles connecting Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Kagan said 100G will eventually be used to provide capacity for video and wireless solutions. “I was wondering when Verizon was going to jump into this new growth space [served by Google, AT&T, CenturyLink and C Spire] and if this is their move, then I hope Verizon and their competitors all do strong business going forward.”






War budget might be permanent ‘slush fund’

By Jeremy Herb and Bryan Bender

| 3/24/15 6:23 PM EDT

The practice of slipping unrelated or pet projects into spending bills for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — from new helicopters to fighter aircraft — has long been derided as deceptive and financially irresponsible.

But now lawmakers have taken the budget gimmickry to a whole new level — no longer even pretending that billions of dollars in additional war spending would go to fight Islamic State militants and the Taliban.

The proposals in the House and Senate to add about $38 billion to the Obama administration’s $58 billion war spending request threatens to create an authorized “slush fund,” according to budget analysts and spending critics.

The beefed-up war budget is an attractive option for both defense and fiscal hawks because it would not count against the spending caps imposed by the Budget Control Act but is seen by some as a dangerous precedent for how Congress finances the Pentagon.

“It just risks becoming permanent business,” said Gordon Adams, a White House budget official in the Clinton administration who teaches at American University. “We just have a slush fund for defense, period.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain has called it a “gimmick,” and Democrats complain that larding up the separate war funding bill with extra spending amounts to an “abusive loophole.” Yet so far, the massive increase is likely to remain in this year’s budget.

The practice of funding military operations through a separate spending account — called the Overseas Contingency Operations, or OCO, fund — was initially conceived as an “emergency” option, since wars cannot be budgeted for ahead of time and require supplemental funding as needs arise.

War budgets have historically received far less scrutiny than the Pentagon’s so-called base budget. Weapons or equipment requested in these supplemental appropriations do not require detailed justifications. And, politically, lawmakers have also been less willing to vote against the budget that funds troops in foreign wars — making the measures easier to pass without serious scrubbing.

The Congressional Budget Office has complained over the years about what former Assistant Director Robert Sunshine called “relatively little backup material” for war budgets.

In one recent case, a $33 billion Pentagon war request for “operations and maintenance” funding was accompanied by just five pages of explanation.

Another major criticism of the process has been its common use to fund favored projects and other items not directly tied to the war — a trend that has steadily grown over the years as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan dragged on and the Pentagon loosened the definition of war-related spending.

From 2001 to 2014, nearly $71 billion of nonwar funding was provided through war appropriations, according to the Pentagon’s own definition, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service reported in December.

For example, several years ago the Army and Marine Corps began financing some pay and benefits through the war budget. And the White House has relied on the OCO budget for several recent proposals, including last year’s European Reassurance Initiative, which sought up to $1 billion in war funding for training and deployments in Europe.

Congress, too, has taken advantage of the war budget to fund programs that did not make it into the regular budget, such as $1 billion in equipment for the National Guard and Reserve.

Congress has sometimes blocked requests to use war funds for military hardware. Last year, for instance, the Pentagon requested $1.5 billion in the war budget toward the purchase of 21 Apache helicopters for the Army and eight F-35 fighter jets for the Air Force.

But the request was rejected by House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), who said at the time “the committee is concerned that OCO appropriations … are being utilized in this reprogramming to backfill budgetary shortfalls in acquisition programs that have only tenuous links to the fight in Afghanistan and other current operations.”

Ashraf Ghani and Barack Obama are shown in the Oval Office on March 24, 2015. | Getty

The latest proposal by the GOP was a compromise between fiscal and defense hawks openly feuding over Pentagon spending. In both the House and Senate budget proposals, supporters are pushing for a total of $96 billion in war spending for fiscal 2016 to make up for the $38 billion in regular military spending that the Obama administration was seeking to add above the spending cap to its $561 billion base defense budget.

With fiscal hawks refusing to raise the spending limits for base defense spending, defense hawks argue that relying on the war budget is the least-bad option to provide the Pentagon with funding levels military leaders say they desperately need in the wake of automatic cuts to federal spending known as sequestration.

But even they acknowledge it’s “not the way” defense spending should be handled.

“It’s the best of a bunch of bad solutions,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a senior member of the Armed Services Committee. “This is not the way we should be treating OCO. We at one time said we did not want to do it that way.”

The task of determining how to allocate the additional $38 billion in war funding will be left to the appropriations committees, if they are able to pass bills with the added spending. The administration’s initial $58 billion request already includes more than $42 billion for the war in Afghanistan and $5 billion for operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.


When the House first floated the idea to boost war funding last week, McCain dismissed it. But he came around to back the idea when he realized it was the only politically viable path to more defense spending.

Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo. gives a victory speech during his election party, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014, at the Bell Nob Golf Course Clubhouse in Gillette, Wyo. (AP Photo/Tim Goessman)

“I think that we need to support, reluctantly, the OCO provision, which is to some degree a gimmick,” the Arizona Republican said last week. “But as opposed to going with the effects of sequestration, I would support OCO as the House acted.”

Yet, in the past, McCain has been one of the fiercest critics of the war budgeting process — particularly when it has been used to pay for unrelated projects.

In 2006, he co-sponsored an amendment requiring that all future war funding be routed through the normal budget process.

“Adding hundreds of billions of dollars that are more conveniently designated as emergency expenditures — so that they don’t have to be budgeted for along with other national priorities — is only making the fiscal problem that much greater,” McCain said in a floor speech then. “It is unfortunate that, at a time of war and with such a huge deficit and burgeoning debt, we continue to fund unnecessary projects and load up emergency supplemental appropriations bills with non-emergency items.”

While McCain’s measure to nix separate war budgets was approved, then-President George W. Bush asserted his executive authority to ignore it.

What is now in the offing is a scale of abuse not yet seen, according to Winslow Wheeler, a former national security staffer for members of both parties and longtime Pentagon spending critic.

“Four or five years ago, Congress embraced it as a gimmick for $5 [billion] to $10 billion extra,” he said. “Now, they want to embrace it for $40 billion extra.”

In his view, both sides in the defense spending debate — those, like McCain, who insisted on the dire need to increase the regular defense budget and fiscal hawks who were loath to bust the spending caps imposed on the Pentagon budget – gave in.

“They both caved from their alleged principles in order to give the defense budget more money,” Wheeler said.

The proposal to add war spending to the budget resolution still has a number of hurdles to overcome.

In the House, Republican leaders plan to hold votes on two budgets — one with $96 billion in OCO spending and one without. And in the Senate, a budget “point of order” was kept in the budget for any war spending above $58 billion, which would require 60 votes to approve the higher level on a defense appropriations bill.


Many Democrats appear wary of going along.


A Democratic amendment that failed in the House Budget Committee last week sought to prevent the war budget from being used as way to increase defense spending while not breaking the Budget Control Act spending limits.

The amendment, which was defeated on a party-line vote of 22 Republicans to 14 Democrats, asserted that using the war budget in this manner would constitute a “backdoor loophole that undermines the integrity of the budget process.”

“Both Pentagon and Congress have abused this loophole,” the amendment read.

During the budget debate, defense hawks made the argument that the higher war budget is tied — at least in part — to the war. They noted that the U.S. military drawdown in Afghanistan and operations against ISIL could still ramp up.

But Todd Harrison, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said that line of thinking is dubious.

“Those arguments won’t add up to $38 billion,” he said. “They won’t even come close.”

Read more:


U.S. Joint Chiefs drafting military cyber standards: arms tester

WASHINGTON | By Andrea Shalal

Tue Mar 24, 2015 3:03pm EDT

(Reuters) – The chief U.S. weapons tester said on Tuesday he was working with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to draft military requirements to address widespread cyber vulnerabilities in nearly every arms program and military command.

An announcement is expected soon from the Joint Chiefs, who oversee and set requirements for all military weapons purchases, said Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation.

Gilmore said the office of Navy Admiral James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has made “a lot of progress” on developing a “sensible and measurable” joint military requirement for cybersecurity.

Gilmore painted a bleak picture of cybersecurity protection across the U.S. military at a conference hosted by the Consortium for IT Software Quality.

Pentagon testers managed to break into military networks and steal or manipulate “really sensitive mission data” and prevent critical networks from operating as needed, he said. At least one military mission in each of 14 major assessments in 2014 was found to have a “high risk of cyber attacks,” he noted.

Problems during testing mirrored issues found during normal operations off the networks, he said, citing publication of default passwords on suppliers’ websites, and regular loss of intellectual property data.

“When we do cybersecurity assessments … we get in almost every time,” Gilmore said, noting the testing staff generally used novice and intermediate techniques, not even the more sophisticated malicious software used by foreign countries.

Even physically separating or “air gapping” classified and unclassified systems offered little protection, since hackers could use minor connections between systems to break in, Gilmore said.

The military needs to step up operational testing of cybersecurity of weapons programs and military commands, he said, citing lingering resistance from some military commanders who feared problems would be found.

Gilmore documented the problems in an unclassified annual report released in January, but shared a more detailed version with top Pentagon leaders, including Defense Secretary Ash Carter, his deputy Robert Work, and Navy Admiral Winnefeld. He said the officials shared his concerns and were taking steps to correct them.

Winnefeld’s office had no immediate comment on the new requirements, which Gilmore said would complement the Pentagon’s efforts to include cybersecurity in new acquisition rules to be released later this year.


Commanding the Swarm

Paul Scharre    

March 25, 2015 · in Beyond Offset

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



Today’s uninhabited vehicles are largely tele-operated, with a person piloting or driving the vehicle remotely, but tomorrow’s won’t be. They will incorporate increasing autonomy, with human command at the mission level. This will enable one person to control multiple vehicles simultaneously, bringing greater combat power to the fight with the same number of personnel. Scaling up to large swarms, however, will require even more fundamental shifts in the command and control paradigm.

The Naval Postgraduate School is working on a 50-on-50 swarm vs. swarm aerial dogfight, and researchers at Harvard have built a swarm of over a thousand simple robots working together to create simple formations. As the number of elements in a swarm increases, human control must shift increasingly to the swarm as a whole, rather than micromanaging individual elements.

How to exercise effective command and control over a swarm is an area of nascent and important research. How does one control a swarm? What commands can be issued to a swarm? How does one balance competing aims, such as optimality, predictability, speed, and robustness to disruption?

Possible swarm command and control models, ordered from more centralized to increasingly decentralized control, include:

◦Centralized control, where swarm elements feed information back to a central planner that then tasks each element individually.

◦Hierarchical control, where individual swarm elements are controlled by “squad” level agents, which are in turn controlled by higher-level controllers, and so on.

◦Coordination by consensus, where swarm elements communicate to one another and converge on a solution through voting or auction-based methods.

◦Emergent coordination, where coordination arises naturally by individual swarm elements reacting to others, like in animal swarms.

Swarm C2 models

Each of these models has different advantages, and may be preferred depending on the situation. While completely decentralized swarms are able to find optimal solutions to complex problems, like how ant colonies converge on the shortest route for carrying food back to the base, converging on the optimal solution may take multiple iterations, and therefore time. Centralized or hierarchical planning may allow swarms to converge on optimal, or at least “good enough,” solutions more quickly, but requires higher bandwidth to transmit data to a central source that then sends instructions back out to the swarm. Action by consensus, through voting or auction mechanisms, could be used when low bandwidth communications exist between swarm elements. When no direct communication is possible, swarm elements could still rely on indirect communication to arrive at emergent coordination, however. This could occur by co-observation, like how animals flock or herd, or stigmergic communication by altering the environment, similar to how termites build complex structures. Indeed, this term – stigmergy – was coined in 1950’s by a French zoologist researching termites.

Decentralized swarms are inherently robust and adaptive

Centralized control is not always optimal even if high-bandwidth communications exist, since detailed plans and overly specific direction can prove brittle in a fast-changing battlefield environment. Decentralized control – either through localized “squad commanders,” voting-based consensus mechanisms, or emergent coordination – has the advantage of pushing decision-making closer to the battlefield’s edge. This can both accelerate the speed of immediate reaction and make a swarm more resilient to communications disruptions. Swarms of individual elements reacting to their surroundings in accordance with higher-level commander’s intent represent the ultimate in decentralized execution. With no central controller to rely upon, the swarm cannot be crippled or hijacked in toto, although elements of it could be. What a decentralized swarm might sacrifice in terms of optimality, it could buy back in faster speed of reaction. And swarms that communicate indirectly through stigmergy or co-observation, like flocks or herds, are immune to direct communication jamming.

Hordes of simple, autonomous agents operating cooperatively under a centralized commander’s intent but decentralized execution can be devilishly hard to defeat. The scattered airdrop of paratroopers over Normandy during the D-Day invasion wrecked detailed Allied plans, but had the unintended effect of making it nearly impossible for Germans to counter the “little groups of paratroopers” dispersed around, behind, and inside their formations. Simple guidance like “run to the sounds of gunfire and shoot anyone not dressed like you” can be effective methods of conveying commander’s intent, while leaving the door open to adaptive solutions based on situations on the ground. The downside to an entirely decentralized swarm is that it could be more difficult to control, since specific actions would not necessarily be predictable in advance.

Command and control models must balance competing objectives

Choices about command and control models for swarms may therefore depend upon the balance of competing desired attributes, such as speed of reaction, optimality, predictability, robustness to disruption, and communications vulnerability. The optimal command and control model for any given situation will depend on a variety of factors, including:

◦Level of intelligence of swarm elements relative to complexity of the tasks being performed;

◦Amount of information known about the task and environment before the mission begins;

◦Degree to which the environment changes during the mission, or even the mission itself changes;

◦Speed of reaction required to adapt to changing events or threats;

◦Extent to which cooperation among swarm elements is required in order to accomplish the task;

◦Connectivity, both among swarm elements and between the swarm and human controllers, in terms of bandwidth, latency, and reliability; and

◦Risk, in terms of both probability and consequences, of suboptimal solutions, or outright failure.


The best swarm would be able to adapt its command and control paradigm to changing circumstances on the ground, such as using bandwidth when it is available but adapting to decentralized decision-making when it is not. In addition, the command and control model could change during different phases of an operation, and different models could be used for certain types of decisions.

Human control can take many forms

Human control over a swarm can take many forms. Human commanders might develop a detailed plan and then put a swarm into action, allowing it to adapt to changing circumstances on the ground. Alternatively, human commanders might establish only higher-level tasks, such as “find enemy targets,” and allow the swarm to determine the optimal solution through centralized or decentralized coordination. Or human controllers might simply change swarm goals or agent preferences to induce certain behaviors. If the cognitive load of controlling a swarm exceeds that of one person, human tasks could be split up by breaking a swarm into smaller elements or by dividing tasks based on function. For example, one human controller could monitor the health of vehicles, with another setting high-level goals, and yet another approving specific high-risk actions, like use of force.

Ultimately, a mix of control mechanisms may be desirable, with different models used for different tasks or situations. For example, researchers exploring the use of intelligent agents for real-time strategy games developed a hierarchical model of multiple centralized control agents. Squad-based agents controlled tactics and coordination between individual elements. Operational-level agents controlled the maneuver and tasking of multiple squads. And strategy-level agents controlled overarching game planning, such as when to attack. In principle, cooperation at each of these levels could be performed via different models in terms of centralized vs. decentralized decision-making or human vs. machine control. For example, tactical coordination could be performed through emergent coordination, centralized agents could perform operational-level coordination, and human controllers could make higher-level strategic decisions.

In order to optimize their use of swarms, human controllers will need training to understand the behavior and limits of swarm automation in real-world environments, particularly if the swarm exhibits emergent behaviors. Human controllers will need to know when to intervene to correct autonomous systems, and when such intervention will introduce suboptimal outcomes.

Basic research on robotic swarms is underway in academia, government, and industry. In addition to better understanding swarming behavior itself, more research is needed on human-machine integration with swarms. How does one convey to human operators the state of a swarm simply and without cognitive overload? What information is critical for human operators and what is irrelevant? What are the controls or orders humans might give to a swarm? For example, a human controller might direct a swarm to disperse, coalesce, encircle, attack, evade, etc. Or a human might control a swarm simply by using simulated “pheromones” on the battlefield, for example by making targets attractive and threats repellent. To harness the power of swarms, militaries will not only need to experiment and develop new technology, but also ultimately modify training, doctrine, and organizational structures to adapt to a new technological paradigm.

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.




How crashing drones are exposing secrets about U.S. war operations

By Craig Whitlock March 25 

Crashing drones are spilling secrets about U.S. military operations.

A surveillance mission was exposed last week when a Predator drone crashed in northwest Syria while spying on the home turf of President Bashar al-Assad. U.S. officials believe the drone was shot down, but they haven’t ruled out mechanical failure. Regardless, the wreckage offered the first hard evidence of a U.S. confrontation with Assad’s forces.

The mishap in Syria follows a string of crashes in Yemen, another country where the U.S. military keeps virtually all details of its drone operations classified.

Yemeni tribesmen have reported three cases in the past 15 months in which U.S. drones have fallen from the sky, pulling back the curtain on likely surveillance targets. Air Force spokesmen said they could not confirm any crashes in Yemen, but Air Force records obtained by The Washington Post show the dates match up with official acknowledgments of accidents that occurred in classified locations.

Since January 2014, the Air Force has reported 14 crashes of Predator and Reaper drones that either destroyed the aircraft or inflicted more than $2 million in damage. Three of the accidents took place in Afghanistan, but six happened elsewhere in classified or undisclosed sites, a sharp increase from prior years.

The far-flung nature of the accidents reinforces how U.S. drone operations have spread well beyond the established war zone in Afghanistan.

In November, a Reaper drone crashed in the Sahara while returning to a new U.S. base in Niger. At the start of last year, a Predator plunged into the Mediterranean Sea after conducting a secret mission over Libya, a rare tangible sign of U.S. surveillance operations there.

U.S. military drones are also based in Turkey, Italy, Ethiopia, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Djibouti, a small country on the Horn of Africa. In addition, the CIA has its own drone bases in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.

The demand for U.S. military drones that are capable of conducting airstrikes continues to soar. Last year, Predators and Reapers flew more than ever: 369,913 flight hours, or six times the figure for 2006, according to Air Force statistics.

The Predator alone logged the third-most hours of any plane in the Air Force, ranking narrowly behind the F-16 fighter jet and the workhorse KC-135 refueling tanker.

Military planners had expected the opposite, that demand for drones would drop as U.S. troops withdrew from Afghanistan. Instead, the Pentagon became embroiled in a new conflict against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile, other terrorist threats have flared in Yemen, Somalia and North Africa, further taxing the U.S. drone fleet.

“We simply underestimated the continued demand,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert O. Work told a defense conference last week in Washington. “They quickly got sucked up in the unexpected campaign in Iraq and Syria.”

Commanders’ appetite for drones and other surveillance aircraft, he added, “remains very, very high and continues to outstrip our supply.”

In addition to keeping pilots out of harm’s way, drones such as the Predator and Reaper can instantly transmit full-motion video to intelligence analysts — a critical technology in modern warfare.

Video from drones “has become fundamental to almost all battlefield maneuvers,” said Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the overall commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East and Afghanistan, in a prepared statement this month to the House Armed Services Committee. He said allies were chipping in with their drones and other reconnaissance aircraft but that “shortages do remain that will need to be addressed.”

The Pentagon is asking Congress for $904 million next year to buy 29 Reapers, more than double the number it had sought for this year. The Air Force says it has an acute need to replace drones that have crashed and to phase out the Predator, an older model that has less firepower and range than the Reaper.

The surge in drone flights has also strained the crews that operate them from the ground, forcing many to work six days a week. Faced with a shortage of remote-control pilots, the Air Force has stepped up recruiting and is planning to offer retention bonuses.

Reliability has long been the Achilles’ heel of drones. Although they malfunction less often than they used to, they still crash at a higher rate than other military aircraft. Of the 269 Predators acquired by the Air Force over the past two decades, more than half have wrecked in major accidents, records show.

Predators and Reapers generally fly at altitudes above 18,000 feet — too high for militants to shoot them down with small arms. But the slow-moving aircraft can be easy marks for missile batteries operated by regular armies.

On March 17, the U.S. Air Force lost contact with a Predator that had been flying a nighttime sortie near Latakia, Syria. While Assad’s forces had been happy to allow U.S. drones to target Islamic State fighters in other parts of the country, Latakia is an Assad stronghold.

Syrian state-run media reported that government air defenses shot down “a hostile aircraft” and showed pictures of the wreckage, including a stamped label from General Atomics, the California-based manufacturer of the Predator.

U.S. officials have not disputed that the drone could have been hit by a missile, but they have not ruled out other potential causes. A loss of electrical power and severed communications links are two other common factors in drone accidents.


The crash revealed something else. It would be extremely difficult for U.S. drones to reach northwestern Syria from their primary bases in the Persian Gulf. That meant the Predator had almost certainly entered Syrian airspace from Turkey.

The U.S. Air Force has Predators stationed at Incirlik Air Base, but the Turkish government has long insisted those drones are limited to flying surveillance missions over northern Iraq. The crash in Latakia was a clear sign that Turkish officials had secretly relaxed that rule and were permitting the Pentagon to use their territory for operations in Syria



China Develops Anti-Drone Lasers

By Ankit Panda

November 05, 2014

Chinese engineers have successfully built lasers to counter low-altitude, low-speed drones.

Earlier this week, the Associated Press reported that Chinese engineers successfully tested a laser weapon capable of taking down a relatively slow-flying, low-altitude drone. Although one’s first impulse might be to tie this development in with broader trends in Chinese military technology and to assume that the weapon would eventually be used for defense against state military drones, Chinese state media claim that the laser system would eventually be used for counter-terrorism and domestic security purposes.

Xinhua’s report covering the development earlier this week highlights the potential for terrorists to used drones mounted with light explosives as a potential attack vehicle in crowded public areas or during public events. Given the proliferation of cheap consumer drone technology, China suspects that homegrown terrorists might take to the skies. Where traditionally infantry or police armed with precision weaponry might be given charge of monitoring the skies for unwanted drones, a laser system ensures a significantly higher success rate in actually shooting down drones — at least in theory. Yi Jinsong, a manager with China Jiuyuan Hi-Tech Equipment Corp., told Xinhua that “intercepting such drones is usually the work of snipers and helicopters, but their success rate is not as high and mistakes with accuracy can result in unwanted damage.”

There is little reason to believe that claims that these lasers are intended for domestic security are a misdirection. Most importantly, Chinese state media reports have been forthright about the limitations of this anti-drone laser technology, noting that during testing it was only capable of successfully downing “various small aircraft within a two-kilometer radius.” This technology remains a far cry from threatening any real military-grade drones or other remotely piloted aircrafts (RPAs) which often cruise at higher altitudes (up to 50,000 ft in some cases). Xinhua notes that the system is characterized “by its speed, precision and low noise” — not its power or range. The system can target drones flying at up to 100 miles per hour. The Chinese engineers testing the system successfully shot down 30 drones with a 100 percent success rate, according to a statement from the China Academy of Engineering Physics (CAEP) cited by Xinhua.


The U.S. military successfully tested a truck-mounted laser with similar applications last year. Laser weaponry is effective in downing mobile aerial targets provided it can successfully lock on to a target. By focusing a high-energy beam on the chassis of the drone (or missile, as the case may be) for a prolonged duration, the weapon causes the target to crash or malfunction. In doing so, the laser weapon itself must resist any damage to its own structure. The implementation of laser technology tested by the United States last year had a remarkably successful trial run, and officials hailed it as a “big step in the development of targeted, high-energy laser beams that might also one day be used to defend U.S. airspace against, for example, fighter-jet or cruise-missile attacks.”

This Chinese system, once fully operationalized past the test phase, will likely find its way onto trucks for transportation and use at important public events and ceremonies. China’s investment in defense technologies for the purpose of domestic counter-terrorism highlights Beijing’s increasing concern with internal threats. Terrorism has been on the rise in China in recent years, particularly in the country’s restive western province of Xinjiang.


McCain Launches Goldwater-Nichols Review; How Far Will He Go?

By Colin Clark

on March 26, 2015 at 2:37 PM

WASHINGTON: Sen. John McCain plans a long-term review of the law underpinning the modern American military, the Goldwater-Nichols legislation that created the current chain of command from president to defense secretary to combatant commanders.

“The Committee will be conducting a preliminary examination of the structure, roles, and missions of civilian and military organizations within the (Defense) Department. That will set the stage for a broader review of these issues starting after this year’s NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) and extending into next year, many of which are tied directly to Goldwater-Nichols Act,” a congressional staff member wrote in an email after McCain spoke this morning at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The staffer responded to an email I sent after McCain hinted at the review during his speech.

Here’s what the chairman said at CSIS:


“At the same time, three decades later, there are real questions about how Goldwater-Nichols has been implemented and what unintended consequences may have resulted. For example:

  • Are the roles and missions of the Joint Staff, Combatant Commands, Joint Task Forces, and other headquarters elements properly aligned to conduct strategic planning, equip our warfighters, and maximize combat power?

  • Does the vast enterprise that has become the Office of the Secretary of Defense further our ability to meet present and future military challenges?

  • Does the constant churn of uniformed officers through joint assignments make them more effective military leaders, or has this exercise become more of a self-justification for a large officer corps?

  • Is the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act of 1980 still appropriate for the joint force of 2015 and beyond, or is it time to review this law?

“I could go on. I want the Senate Armed Services Committee to conduct real oversight of questions like these during the next two years. It is long overdue, and I think the 30th anniversary of Goldwater-Nichols is a fitting time to start.”

During the latter half of the 1990s a regular topic of debate was how to reform Goldwater-Nichols, especially to increase the efficiency and efficacy of joint forces. For a while, there was serious discussion about creating truly joint forces that eventually resulted in the doomed Joint Forces Command.

Rep. Mac Thornberry HASC chairRep. Mac Thornberry, now chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, played a key role in that debate and kept his commitment to Joint Forces Command, taking an active role in its Transformation Advisory Group until the command was scrapped by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

UPDATE “Chairman Thornberry agrees that it is a healthy thing to take a look at the Goldwater-Nichols reforms 30 years after their implementation,” Claude Chafin, spokesman for the House Armed Services Committee said in an email. “At the HASC much of that effort will be rolled into the larger DoD reform efforts he spoke of earlier this week.”

Note McCain’s first focus is “roles and missions of the Joint Staff, Combatant Commands, Joint Task Forces” etc.

The Goldwater-Nichols review will be conducted in a manner akin to the one on acquisition launched by Thornberry: slow first steps, followed by bolder moves.

Given the extraordinary range of threats faced by the United States and the increasing need for integration of acquisition, command and training, everyone who cares about defense will be watching this closely. The Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD) and the four services will be watching especially closely, since it is their authorities and organizations that are most likely to be rejiggered, shifted or stripped.



Rasmussen Reports

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

Bottom of Form

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Americans clearly have issues with the federal government, and shelling out a portion of their income for taxes this time of year isn’t likely to make them feel any better.

Only 19% of voters now trust the federal government to do the right thing most or nearly all the time.  Sixty percent (60%) consider the feds a threat to individual liberty rather than a protector of their rights.

With April 15 less than three weeks away, we also find that 50% don’t trust the Internal Revenue Service to fairly enforce tax laws. Part of the IRS’ image problem may stem from the lingering questions over its targeting of Tea Party and other groups. Most voters think the agency’s rogue activity was criminal and politically motivated.

But Americans are slightly ahead of last year’s pace when it comes to filing their income taxes, perhaps because they’re more optimistic that they’ll receive a refund.

Not that the IRS is being much help. The head of the agency acknowledged recently that it has fielded less than half of taxpayer telephone calls this year because of its new responsibilities policing Obamacare. Voters strongly believe the IRS should concentrate on tax collection instead.

President Obama this week celebrated the fifth anniversary of Congress’ passage of his national health care law, but only 17% of voters believe the law should remain as originally passed by Congress

The president also announced that he is delaying the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan at the request of the new Afghani president. Here’s how voters feel about America’s longest-running war these days

The U.S. government last year agreed to release five Taliban leaders from the Guantanamo terrorist prison camp in exchange for the one U.S. military prisoner of war being held by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Now the Army is charging that ex-POW, Bowe Bergdahl, with desertion. Most voters opposed the Bergdahl swap at the time

The Obama administration has accused Israel of spying on its nuclear negotiations with Iran, a charge the Israelis have denied. But U.S. voters see Iran as a bigger spying threat than Israel.

Voters remain lukewarm about the deal the Obama administration is negotiating with Iran, and 60% believe it is unlikely to slow or stop Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.

Confidence that America is safer than it was before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks is at its lowest level in nearly five years.

More voters than ever believe a cyberattack would do more damage to this country than a traditional military attack.

The president’s job approval ratings took a turn for the worse this week.

Ted Cruz, the junior U.S. senator from Texas, is the first official Republican candidate in the race to succeed Obama. GOP voters are almost evenly divided this early out whether Cruz will be their party’s nominee in 2016.

Hillary Clinton is still by far the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. So who do voters think has been the best secretary of State in the last 10 years – Clinton, John Kerry or Condoleezza Rice? 

Republicans lead Democrats by just one point on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot.

In other surveys last week:

— Twenty-seven percent (27%) of Likely U.S. Voters think the country is heading in the right direction. That’s the lowest level of confidence this year.

— Voters are in no bigger hurry than the Republican-led Senate to make Loretta Lynch the next U.S. attorney general.

— Voters still think U.S. public schools fall short when it comes to providing a world-class education and teaching Western values.

Most Americans have cable or satellite TV and don’t like the service they get.

— One-in-three cable or satellite television subscribers opt for premium cable channels, but most TV viewers are looking elsewhere to watch movies.

— With new technology like online streaming services, Americans watch TV differently than before

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

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


From → Uncategorized

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: