Skip to content

April 11 2015

April 14, 2015

11 April 2015


Blog URL


The Pentagon’s $10-billion bet gone bad


By David Willman



Trying to fashion a shield against a sneak missile attack, military planners gambled on costly projects that flopped, leaving a hole in U.S. homeland defense.

Leaders of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency were effusive about the new technology.

It was the most powerful radar of its kind in the world, they told Congress. So powerful it could detect a baseball over San Francisco from the other side of the country.

If North Korea launched a sneak attack, the Sea-Based X-Band Radar — SBX for short — would spot the incoming missiles, track them through space and guide U.S. rocket-interceptors to destroy them.

Crucially, the system would be able to distinguish between actual missiles and decoys.

SBX “represents a capability that is unmatched,” the director of the Missile Defense Agency told a Senate subcommittee in 2007.

In reality, the giant floating radar has been a $2.2-billion flop, a Los Angeles Times investigation found.

Although it can powerfully magnify distant objects, its field of vision is so narrow that it would be of little use against what experts consider the likeliest attack: a stream of missiles interspersed with decoys.

SBX was supposed to be operational by 2005. Instead, it spends most of the year mothballed at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.


Airborne Laser

The concept: A fleet of Boeing 747s, each modified to fire an infrared chemical laser through a 5-foot-long telescope in its nose. The laser would incinerate enemy missiles shortly after launch, before they could release decoys that might fool U.S. radar.

Major contractors: Boeing Co., Northrop Grumman Corp. and Lockheed Martin Corp.

Early optimism: “We are building forces of good to defeat the force of evil. And in that vein today we are taking a major step to give the American people their first ‘Light Saber.'” — Henry A. Obering III, then-director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, Oct. 27, 2006.


Problems: Because of the laser’s limited range, each 747 would have had to fly near or within an adversary’s borders, leaving it vulnerable to antiaircraft missiles. To operate at a safer distance, the laser would have had to be 20 to 30 times more powerful. And the laser’s potassium hydroxide and hydrogen peroxide fuel posed severe safety risks to the crew.

Disappointment: “I don’t know anybody at the Department of Defense … who thinks that this program should, or would, ever be operationally deployed.”

— Robert M. Gates, then-secretary of Defense, May 20, 2009.

Status: Killed in 2012.

Cost: $5.3 billion.


Kinetic Energy Interceptor

The concept: The fastest U.S. rocket-interceptor, to be fired from land or Navy ships at enemy missiles during their early “boost” phase.

Major contractors: Northrop Grumman Corp. and Raytheon Co.

Early optimism: “That high acceleration with the mobile capability of Kinetic Energy Interceptor is very, very attractive.” — Henry A. Obering III, then-director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, April 7, 2005.

Problems: Extending 40 feet, the KEI would have been longer than anything ever launched from a modern Navy ship. To carry it, Navy vessels would have had to be retrofitted at a cost of billions of dollars. And the interceptor’s range was too limited to allow it to be land-based. It would have had to be positioned so close to its target that it would be vulnerable to attack.

Disappointment: “No matter how successful tests might one day have been, the system would have had negligible utility.” — National Academy of Sciences review panel, Dec. 31, 2012.

Status: Killed in 2009.

Cost: $1.7 billion.


Multiple Kill Vehicle

The concept: A “bandolier” of eight to 20 miniature interceptors that would destroy missiles and decoys.

Major contractors: Raytheon Co. and Lockheed Martin.

Early optimism: “The Multiple Kill Vehicle is a transformational program adding volume kill capability to the ballistic missile defense system as early as 2013.” — U.S. Missile Defense Agency news release, July 19, 2006.

Problems: The technical challenge of creating and launching tiny “kill vehicles” that could find and destroy far heavier warheads in space proved insurmountable. Among many other obstacles, existing ground-based rockets would have had to be retrofitted or replaced. The concept never reached the stage where a test flight could be conducted.

Disappointment: “To more effectively hedge against future threats, we propose to … terminate the Multiple Kill Vehicle … in lieu of more operationally efficient alternative technology architectures.” — Patrick J. O’Reilly, then-director of the Missile Defense Agency, May 21, 2009.

Status: Shelved in 2009.

Cost: $700 million.



Sea-Based X-Band Radar

The concept: A floating radar powerful enough to detect and track long-range missiles and distinguish enemy warheads from decoys.

Major contractors: Boeing Co. and Raytheon Co.

Early optimism: “It is the most powerful radar of its kind in the world and will provide … a highly advanced detection and discrimination capability.” — Henry A. Obering III, then-director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, May 10, 2006.

Problems: The radar’s field of vision is so narrow that it could not reliably track a sequence of incoming missiles. Its sensitive instrumentation is prone to corrosion at sea, and it needs millions of dollars in fuel to operate for even short periods.

Disappointment: “Just how this was going to fit into the [missile defense] system — I don’t think anybody paid much attention to that.… SBX was designed for a mission other than that required.” — Radar specialist David K. Barton.

Status: Downgraded to “limited test support status.” It sat idle in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, for more than eight months in 2013.

Cost: $2.2 billion.

Sources: Statements posted by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, Boeing Co., Raytheon Co., Northrop Grumman Corp. and Lockheed Martin Corp.; transcripts of congressional testimony; a National Academy of Sciences-sponsored report, “Making Sense of Ballistic Missile Defense,” Dec. 31, 2012; interviews with missile defense specialists.

The project not only wasted taxpayer money but left a hole in the nation’s defenses. The money spent on it could have gone toward land-based radars with a greater capability to track long-range missiles, according to experts who have studied the issue.

Expensive missteps have become a trademark of the Missile Defense Agency, an arm of the Pentagon charged with protecting U.S. troops and ships and the American homeland.

Over the last decade, the agency has sunk nearly $10 billion into SBX and three other programs that had to be killed or sidelined after they proved unworkable, The Times found.

“You can spend an awful lot of money and end up with nothing,” said Mike Corbett, a retired Air Force colonel who oversaw the agency’s contracting for weapons systems from 2006 to 2009. “MDA spent billions and billions on these programs that didn’t lead anywhere.”

The four ill-fated programs were all intended to address a key vulnerability in U.S. defenses: If an enemy launched decoys along with real missiles, U.S. radars could be fooled, causing rocket-interceptors to be fired at the wrong objects — and increasing the risk that actual warheads would slip through.

These expensive flops stem in part from a climate of anxiety after Sept. 11, 2001, heightened by warnings from defense hawks that North Korea and Iran were close to developing long-range missiles capable of reaching the United States.

President George W. Bush, in 2002, ordered an urgent effort to field a homeland missile defense system within two years. In their rush to make that deadline, Missile Defense Agency officials latched onto exotic, unproven concepts without doing a rigorous analysis of their cost and feasibility.

Members of Congress whose states and districts benefited from the spending tenaciously defended the programs, even after their deficiencies became evident.

These conclusions emerge from a review of thousands of pages of expert reports, congressional testimony and other government records, along with interviews with dozens of aerospace and military affairs specialists.

“The management of the organization is one of technologists in their hobby shop,” said L. David Montague, a former president of missile systems for Lockheed Corp. and co-chairman of a National Academy of Sciences-sponsored review of the agency. “They don’t know the nitty-gritty of what it takes to make something work.”

This leads, he said, to programs that “defy the limits of physics and economic logic.”

Of the SBX radar, Montague said: “It should never have been built.”


Retired Air Force Gen. Eugene E. Habiger, former head of the U.S. Strategic Command and a member of the National Academy panel, said the agency’s blunders reflected a failure to analyze alternatives or seek independent cost estimates.

“They are totally off in la-la land,” Habiger said.

Senior officials who promoted the four programs defend their actions as having helped to create a new missile defense “architecture.” Regarding SBX, they said it was much less expensive than a network of land-based radars and could be put in place more rapidly.


Henry A. Obering III, shown in 2007, championed troubled projects as director of the Missile Defense Agency. (Virginia Mayo / Associated Press)

Henry A. Obering III, a retired director of the Missile Defense Agency, said any unfulfilled expectations for SBX and the other projects were the fault of the Obama administration and Congress — for not doubling down with more spending.

“If we can stop one missile from destroying one American city,” said Obering, a former Air Force lieutenant general, “we have justified the entire program many times over from its initiation in terms of cost.”


The agency’s current director, Vice Adm. James D. Syring, declined to be interviewed. In a written response to questions, the agency defended its investment in the four troubled programs and asserted that the nation’s missile defense system was reliable.

“We are very confident of our ability … and we will continue to conduct extensive research, development and testing of new technologies to ensure we keep pace with the threat,” the statement said. It called SBX an “excellent investment.”

Boeing Co., the agency’s prime contractor for homeland defense, designed SBX. Raytheon Co. built the system’s radar components. Both companies are among the world’s biggest defense contractors and are major political donors.

A Boeing spokesman said that SBX has “sufficient capability to execute its role with speed, precision and accuracy.”

Representatives of Raytheon declined to be interviewed.

The Missile Defense Agency came into being during the Reagan administration and has 8,800 employees and a budget of about $8 billion a year.





The agency oversees several missile defense systems. Aegis defends Navy ships. The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system safeguards troops in the field.

A third component is the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system, or GMD, designed to protect the U.S. homeland from long-range missiles. All four of the troubled programs examined by The Times were intended to bolster GMD.

The country’s defense against a massive missile strike by Russia or China still depends on deterrence: the Cold War notion that neither nuclear power would attack the U.S. for fear of a devastating response.

GMD is intended to protect against a limited attack by a less-imposing adversary, such as North Korea or Iran, by destroying enemy warheads in flight, a supreme technical challenge.

Rocket-interceptors would climb into space from silos at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County and Ft. Greely, Alaska. At the tip of each interceptor is a heat-seeking “kill vehicle” designed to separate from its boost rocket in space, fly on its own and crash into an incoming warhead.

GMD’s roots go back to the Clinton administration. Its development was accelerated after Bush, in December 2002, ordered the Pentagon to field “an initial set of missile defense capabilities” to protect the U.S. homeland by 2004.

Then-Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld exempted the Missile Defense Agency from standard procurement rules, freeing it to buy new technology without the customary vetting. Rocket-interceptors were deployed before the kill vehicle and other crucial components had been proved reliable through testing.

Despite its shortcomings, GMD became operational in 2004. In the nine flight tests conducted since then, the system has successfully intercepted a mock enemy missile only four times.

GMD’s ability to distinguish missiles from decoys, debris and other harmless objects — “discrimination,” in missile defense jargon — has been a persistent concern.

Powerful, precise radar guidance is key to effective missile defense. Without it, the system cannot be depended on to distinguish real from illusory threats and track enemy missiles so the kill vehicles can find and destroy them.

In the event of an attack, radar would also have to provide immediate, accurate “hit assessments” — confirmation that an enemy missile had been destroyed. Defense experts say that without this information, GMD could rapidly deplete its limited inventory of interceptors: four at Vandenberg and 26 at Ft. Greely.

Existing early-warning radars, based on land in Alaska, California, Britain and Greenland and on Navy ships, provide some of the needed capability. But their range is limited by Earth’s curvature, and neither they nor orbiting satellites are powerful enough to determine whether approaching objects are benign or threatening.

X-band radar is powerful enough. Its short wavelength — located in the X band of the radio wave spectrum — allows for more detailed imagery, and thus better discrimination.

Missile defense plans drawn during the Clinton administration envisioned as many as nine land-based X-band radars to complement the early-warning radars and provide complete coverage across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

In 2002, faced with Bush’s deadline for deploying GMD by 2004, Missile Defense Agency officials chose not to add multiple X-band radars on land and opted instead for a single, seaborne version.


It would be based at a specially prepared berth in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, an ideal location for detecting a North Korean missile attack, and would be moved around as needed.

Thus was born SBX.


Boeing’s designs called for the huge radar to be seated atop a specially modified off-shore drilling platform.

The Missile Defense Agency acquired the platform from a Norwegian company in 2003 and had it towed across the Atlantic to a shipyard in Brownsville, Texas. There, it was fitted with a propulsion system, a helicopter landing pad and living quarters for a crew of about 100. Cranes lifted the radar and its pearl-white protective dome into place.

The semi-submersible structure was nearly 400 feet long and 26 stories high. It weighed 50,000 tons.

Obering and his predecessor as director of the missile agency told Congress that SBX would be operational by the end of 2005. That proved incorrect.

SBX met standards for commercial ships — but agency officials had failed to take into account the Coast Guard’s stricter standards for vessels destined for the kind of hazardous conditions found in the Aleutians.

To meet the requirements, the missile agency had to spend tens of millions of dollars to fortify SBX against the sustained 30-foot swells and fierce gales common at its intended home port in Adak, Alaska, known as the “birthplace of the winds.”

That work, completed by Boeing in September 2007, included installing eight 75-ton anchors embedded in the ocean floor at Adak.

Missile Defense Agency officials spoke glowingly of SBX’s technical capabilities.

“It is the most powerful radar of its kind in the world and will provide the [GMD] system a highly advanced detection and discrimination capability,” Obering told the Senate’s defense appropriations subcommittee on May 10, 2006.

Agency news releases touted SBX’s ability to perform critical “hit assessment functions,” informing U.S. commanders instantly whether rocket-interceptors had taken out incoming missiles.

At a Senate hearing on April 11, 2007, Obering was asked about the GMD system’s ability to distinguish enemy missiles from decoys. He replied that SBX would help give the U.S. “a tremendous leg up” in this regard.

To emphasize his point, Obering testified repeatedly that SBX could see a 3-inch-wide object from across the continent.

“If we place it in Chesapeake Bay, we could actually discriminate and track a baseball-sized object over San Francisco,” he told a Senate subcommittee on April 25, 2007.

Yet because of Earth’s curvature, SBX would not be able to see a baseball at such a distance — about 2,500 miles — unless the ball was 870 or more miles above San Francisco.

That is about 200 miles higher than the expected maximum altitude of a long-range missile headed for the U.S., technical experts told The Times.

“In the practical world of ICBM [inter-continental ballistic missile] threats, this baseball analogy is meaningless,” said C. Wendell Mead, an aerospace engineer who served on the National Academy of Sciences panel.


Obering, in an interview, said his remarks to Congress were intended not to mislead but rather to provide “a good layman’s view of the range of the radar.” He added, “The range of that radar is farther than anything else we had.”

SBX’s powers of magnification belied a fundamental shortcoming. The radar’s field of vision is extremely narrow: 25 degrees, compared with 90 to 120 degrees for conventional radars.

Experts liken SBX to a soda straw and say that finding a sequence of approaching missiles with it would be impractical.

“It’s an extremely powerful soda straw, but that’s not what we needed,” said Harvey L. Lynch, a physicist who served on the National Academy of Sciences panel.

In the event of an attack, land-based early warning radars could, in theory, identify a specific point in the sky for SBX to focus on. But aiming and re-aiming the giant radar’s beam is a cumbersome manual exercise. In combat conditions, SBX could not be relied on to adjust quickly enough to track a stream of separate missiles, radar specialists said.

SBX’s limitations make it “irrelevant to ballistic missile defense,” said David K. Barton, a physicist and radar engineer who took part in the National Academy review and who has advised U.S. intelligence agencies.


“Wherever that beam can be pointed, it can cover whatever is within it,” Barton said. “But obviously that isn’t going to cover the whole Pacific for a stream of attacking missiles that are separated by many minutes…. Even if there are only four missiles, [an adversary] could separate them.”

Ronald T. Kadish, the Missile Defense Agency’s director from 1999 to mid-2004, defended the decision to develop SBX, saying it was “four or five times” less expensive than installing land-based X-band radars.

Another “important consideration,” Kadish said in an interview, was that the seaborne radar could be made operational quickly, compared with the time it would take to build an X-band installation in Alaska or negotiate with foreign governments for other sites on land.

Kadish, a retired Air Force lieutenant general, said SBX “seemed to provide the basis for detection and discrimination that we were lacking.”

The National Academy review, however, found that the missile agency “unnecessarily compromised the performance” of GMD by failing to make greater use of X-band radars on land. The panel’s 2012 report said the homeland defense system’s “discrimination problem must be addressed far more seriously.”

A panel of the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board, after a two-year review, reached a similar conclusion in 2011: “The importance of achieving reliable midcourse discrimination cannot be overemphasized.”

To address this vulnerability, the U.S. had installed one land-based X-band radar in Japan in 2006, and a second was added in 2014. The two radars are well positioned to detect launches from North Korea. Yet both would lose track of U.S.-bound missiles after about 930 miles because of Earth’s curvature.

Barton said that to give rocket-interceptors enough time to knock out enemy missiles, U.S. radar would have to track the incoming weapons continuously after launch, “from cradle to grave.”

One of SBX’s intended functions was to participate in tests of the GMD system. A mock enemy missile would be launched over the Pacific, and SBX would track the target and guide rocket-interceptors.

The radar’s performance in those exercises has fallen short.

During a 2007 test, “SBX exhibited some anomalous behavior,” requiring “adjusted software,” the Pentagon’s Operational Test and Evaluation Office said in a report.

The report said SBX had not served as the primary radar for any test in which an interceptor had managed to destroy a target.

In January 2010, SBX was the sole radar for a test in which an interceptor tried to knock out a target launched from the Marshall Islands. SBX “exhibited undesirable performances that contributed to the failure to intercept,” the Pentagon evaluation office reported.

Outside experts who had access to flight-test data from the 2010 test told The Times that SBX failed to “discriminate,” mistaking falling chunks of unspent rocket fuel or other material for the target missile.

In a June 2014 test, an interceptor destroyed its target, but SBX’s “hit assessment” did not reach commanders in control of the system, according to a report by the Pentagon’s evaluation office.

In an attack, an immediate and accurate hit assessment would be crucial.

Patrick J. O’Reilly, director of the Missile Defense Agency from 2008 to 2012, explained why: Without the assessment, “the commanders could order the soldiers to shoot additional interceptors at targets that have actually already been destroyed — or to stop shooting at targets that haven’t been destroyed,” he said in an interview.

O’Reilly said it was “worrisome” that commanders did not receive the hit assessment in the 2014 test.

An agency spokesman, Richard Lehner, said an investigation into the matter is “nearing closure.”

Senior military leaders had grown disillusioned with SBX years earlier. The vessel burned millions of gallons of fuel to power the radar or move about. It had to be resupplied at sea, and wind and salt water posed unrelenting challenges for sensitive instruments.

In 2009, then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates canceled plans to send SBX near the Korean Peninsula to monitor the launch of a North Korean test rocket. Gates said he could not justify the mission’s cost, estimated at tens of millions of dollars.

Beginning two years later, operational control of the radar was shifted from the Missile Defense Agency to the Navy. “It was obviously part of a major weapon system at sea,” recalled O’Reilly, who supported the move.

The Navy’s Pacific Command insisted on extensive modifications to bring SBX up to survival standards for combatant vessels. The cost ran to tens of millions of dollars — emblematic of the floating radar’s tortuous history.

SBX was never based at its specially prepared Alaskan berth. In 2012, it was downgraded to “limited test support status.”

In 2013, the radar sat idle in Pearl Harbor for more than eight months, records show.

To date, SBX has cost taxpayers about $2.2 billion, according to the Missile Defense Agency.

The government recently began seeking proposals for a new radar to help fulfill SBX’s original purpose.

It will be installed in Alaska, on land. The target date is 2020, and the estimated cost is $1 billion.





The ‘Hyundaization’ of the Global Arms Industry

The rapid spread of cheaper but good-enough weaponry poses a serious threat to U.S. military dominance.

By Joe Katzman

April 5, 2015 6:00 p.m. ET


Precision weapons and networked targeting have helped maintain America’s military superiority for decades. But technology marches on. New defense exporters are joining the global game with advanced and well-priced offerings, creating potential threats to the U.S. and its allies, and weakening Western influence. The Pentagon has a plan to cope with these evolving threats, but is it enough?

To understand what’s happening, consider the global automotive industry. South Korea’s Hyundai Motors became a serious global competitor by leveraging the rapid diffusion of technology, an initial edge in cheap labor, and a “good enough” product for value buyers. Their success wasn’t obvious in 2001, but by 2015 the proof was in our parking lots. A similar “Hyundaization” process is under way in the global defense industry.

A few examples: NATO allies Turkey and Poland didn’t buy their latest self-propelled howitzers from the U.S. or even Germany. Instead they turned to Samsung. South Korea’s Daewoo is building Britain’s next naval supply ships, and Korea Aerospace Industries is exporting TA-50 and FA-50 fighter jets to Iraq, Indonesia and the Philippines. The F-16 is America’s cheapest fighter; the new Korean, Pakistani and Indian fighters cost about 33%-50% less. If you’d rather pocket a 67% savings, Brazil’s A-29 Super Tucano has become the global standard for counterinsurgency. An urgent order from the United Arab Emirates is likely to see combat in Yemen soon.

The long-term threat involves the spread of precision-strike weapons that can hit what modern surveillance “sees.” In addition to Russian and Chinese exports, Turkey has begun to export new guided weapons, including a stealthy cruise missile. India’s Mach 3 Brahmos antiship missile is available, as are GPS-guided equivalents to Boeing’s JDAM, including the UAE-South-African Al-Tariq or Brazil’s Acauan. Pakistan has already bought Brazil’s MAR-1 radar-killer missiles for its JF-17 fighters. There are other examples.

America’s surveillance-strike capabilities helped defeat Iraq’s military in two wars. Now Western militaries must plan to face evolving versions of the same thing. Western navies and their marine forces, which routinely place themselves within harm’s reach during deployments, expect that these surveillance-strike capabilities will be more common a decade from now.

In addition to challenging the U.S. defense industry, this proliferation of value-priced and “good enough” weapons will challenge Western diplomatic and military relationships in two ways.

First, it’s hard to overstate the value of personal relationships with foreign militaries, which often begin through equipment training and support programs. As we’ve seen in Pakistan, Egypt and elsewhere, today’s colonel may be tomorrow’s president.

Second, the flood of choices in the global marketplace will make it harder to withhold advanced weapons from specific regimes, reducing Western leverage throughout the world. In the 1990s it was widely understood that Western opprobrium would have a meaningful impact on one’s military. By the 2020s, that idea will seem quaint.

How is the U.S. responding? With technology. Last November then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel unveiled the Pentagon’s “third offset” strategy, designed to develop new technologies as a follow-on to the first two “offsets”—nuclear weapons and precision-guided munitions. The Pentagon plans to shore up its eroding edge by investing in fields like cyberwarfare; advanced computing and big data; robotics and autonomous weapons; advanced manufacturing techniques like 3-D printing; and electromagnetic weapons like railguns and lasers, to boost naval firepower and replace some land-based defensive weapons.


At present, the third offset is merely a statement of intent. The question is whether it would be adequate even if fully executed. Countries whose civilian companies must master big data, for example, can transfer that expertise to their military. Ditto for cyberwarfare, as Iran and North Korea have demonstrated. Passive radars using superfast computing and big data might even compromise today’s stealth technology. Meanwhile, Islamic State is already using lightweight commercial drones, and Peter W. Singer’s recent book “Wired for War” cites 87 countries with military robotics programs.

The West can’t stop Hyundaization, but market barriers like limited investment capital, technological chokepoints, the role of politics in purchasing, and the difficulty of setting up global service networks will slow it down. Nevertheless, Hyundaization is happening, powered by a global tsunami of techno-industrial momentum.

Western governments have a number of policy options to address the numerous military and diplomatic threats Hyundaization presents. But this much is certain: A serious response will have to think beyond technology.

Mr. Katzman is editor emeritus of Defense Industry Daily and the principal at KAT Consulting.



The Death of Cyber Doom? Not So Fast

Tech 4/05/2015


For decades, we have heard a lot of talk from American officials, industry experts, and others about the supposed threat of a “cyber 9/11,” “cyber Pearl Harbor,” “cyber Katrina,” or even “cyber Sandy.” In short, we have been warned repeatedly that “cyber doom” is coming. Indeed, as recently as this fall, cyber doom was in the news as a result of the cyber attack on Sony.

But the latest World Wide Threat Assessment (WWTA) presented to Congress by the Director of National Intelligence, Gen. James Clapper, says that “Cyber Armageddon” is unlikely. Rather, the assessment “foresee[s] an ongoing series of low-to-moderate level cyber attacks form a variety of sources over time, which will impose costs on US economic competitiveness and national security.” This threat, it says, “cannot be eliminated; rather, cyber risk must be managed.”

Some have argued that such scenarios were always about threat inflation and fear mongering and have applauded the admission by intelligence officials who once trafficked in such rhetoric that these scenarios are unlikely after all. Has the era of cyber doom fear mongering come to an end? Not likely.

Key intelligence officials, like NSA Director Admiral Michael Rogers are still using this rhetoric. Just three days before the release of WWTA, Rogers defined “cyber Pearl Harbor” and said that one had already occurred.

“Asked to define a ‘cyber Pearl Harbor’, a phrase used in 2012 by then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Rogers replied: ‘An action directed against infrastructure within the United States that leads to significant impact—whether that’s economic, whether that’s in our ability to execute our day-to-day functions as a society, as a nation.’ He added that the hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment last November met that dire criteria. Movie studios fit into the U.S. government’s broad definition of critical infrastructure.





With this comment, Admiral Rogers follows in the footsteps of Amit Yoran, former head of the Department of Homeland Security’s National Cyber Security Division, who claimed in 2009, “Cyber 9–11 has happened over the last 10 years, but it’s happened slowly so we don’t see it.” Of course, there was no evidence then that anything like 9/11 had occurred in or through cyberspace, just as the hack of Sony is nothing like Pearl Harbor now.

Why do such outrageous claims persist even in the face of contradictory evidence and assessments?

One reason is that, despite claims to the contrary, the use of “cyber doom” is primarily about emotions not facts. Its function is to motivate a response through the use of fear, not to describe accurately the true nature of the threat and its likely impacts.

Among those who use cyber doom rhetoric when speaking in public or to the media, there is often a disconnect between the threat as implied in that rhetoric and the diagnosis of threats that these same individuals provide in more formal settings like threat assessments for Congress. For example, though Admiral Rogers warned publicly of “cyber Pearl Harbor” in February 2015, less than a month later, in his testimony to Congress, his description of the cyber threats facing the United States focused primarily on censorship as a threat to “Internet freedom,” theft of intellectual property, and disruption of networks and access to information. Cyber attacks against critical infrastructure were mentioned, but as in the past, were framed as a “potential” future threat that could “perhaps” result in sabotage during a wider conflict (page 10).

Diagnosing the cyber threat as primarily about espionage, theft, and disruption while simultaneously relying on doom scenarios out of step with that diagnosis has been a feature of U.S. public policy discourse on this issue since at least 2008. And as long as officials believe there is still a need to motivate a response, cyber doom will continue to be a feature of U.S. public policy discourse on cyber security, even if their own assessments find such scenarios unlikely.

Finally, even if cyber doom is down right now, it is likely not out. The winds of cyber war discourse are ever changing. Identification of what is threatened, by whom, and with what potential impact has changed over time, often in ways that seem to mirror larger security concerns that are not primarily about cyber security. Through it all, cyber doom rhetoric has survived, again, primarily for its affective characteristics. But even if it is experiencing a decline at the moment, wait a few months and the cyber discourse weather is likely to change and cyber doom could well make a comeback.

Sean Lawson is Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Utah. He is author of Nonlinear Science and Warfare.


Advanced Aerial Inspection Resources (AAIR) Receives Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Section 333 Exemption

by Press • 5 April 2015

Advanced Aerial Inspection Resources (AAIR), a Houston based provider of sUAS inspection services to the electric power and wind energy industries is pleased to announce that it has been awarded a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Section 333 Exemption allowing the use of its drone technology in the United States National Air Space (NAS).

“The Section 333 Exemption is an extremely exciting development for AAIR and our North American customer base” said Wes Oliphant, AAIR’s President “Our clients can utilize AAIR’s UAV systems for asset inspection and know with certainty that they’re in full compliance with US Government and FAA regulations. This is truly a redefining moment for the future of this cutting edge infrastructure inspection technology.”

“When coupled with the highly specialized expertise that our infrastructure engineering arm (RISC – provides, we have the unique ability to inspect, assess and provide meaningful recommendations in one seamless package” commented Oliphant.

The use of sUAS’s for transmission line and wind asset inspections provides several key advantages over methods currently being employed, including:

 The ability to inspect high voltage transmission lines in service (no outages required) with no risk to inspection personnel.

 Inspecting lines, components and right of ways in challenging and hazardous terrain.

 Real time, streaming video/images allows immediate viewing of inspection results.

 Significant cost savings in manpower and equipment need to safely perform aerial inspections versus traditional methods (crane, manbasket, etc).

“AAIR has been working diligently behind the scenes to secure this exemption for several months” noted Grant Leaverton, Vice President”Now that AAIR can commence full commercial operations, this technology is available for immediate deployment and will improve safety, promote innovation and reduce maintenance and operating costs for our valued customers.”


South Africa :- Drone cuts short Silver Falcons display at Rand Show

by Press • 7 April 2015


Johannesburg – An unauthorised drone cut short a Silver Falcon aerobatic display at the Rand Show in Johannesburg on Friday, Netwerk24reported.

A man launched his drone to take aerial photos while the South African Air Force’s Silver Falcon team was busy with its routine above the Nasrec showgrounds.

Air show commentator Brian Emmenis said he immediately requested the person flying the drone to land it.

Emmenis said the Silver Falcons ended the display shortly afterwards, while the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) had been informed about the incident.

It is illegal to fly such a device without authorisation. The drone was reportedly flying higher than 200 feet (60 metres).



A member of the Silver Falcon team told Netwerk24 such a device could endanger lives if it collided with a plane.

“The Silver Falcons fly at approximately 500km/h. Besides causing damage to the plane it, the debris could hit people. The plane could even crash,” the source said.

Show director Pula Dippenaar said organisers were aware of the incident.

“The Silver Falcons were already busy with their display when the drone was spotted above the trees,” Dippenaar said.

“The air show programme was delayed until the drone operator was found. The incident was in the hands of the relevant authorities for investigation,” she said.

“We are aware that drones are used for photography and we will keep this in mind for future accreditation,” Dippenaar said.


USAA will test drones in San Antonio

by Press • 7 April 2015


By Patrick Danner

USAA soon will begin testing small drones on its San Antonio campus and elsewhere in hopes of eventually using the unmanned air systems to expedite insurance claims from customers following natural disasters.

The Federal Aviation Commission granted USAA permission to use the drones at its 286-acre headquarters campus and in some unpopulated areas south of San Antonio. The financial services and insurance company said Monday it expects to begin the testing within couple of weeks.

USAA joins nearly 100 other companies that thus far have received an exemption from certain FAA regulations pertaining to unmanned aircraft systems.

State Farm was the first insurer to receive approval; the FAA granted it permission in February. AIG PC Global Services LLC, part of insurer American International Group Inc., also received approval Friday, the same day as USAA, the FAA’s website shows.

“This is a wonderful day, not only for technology and drones, but also for innovation and for USAA members,” said Kathleen Swain, a USAA underwriter and FAA-rated commercial pilot and flight instructor. “I really see this as a technology that can benefit (members) and … get their lives back to normal after a catastrophe.”

Prior to the federal agency’s decision last week, USAA was limited to testing drones with Texas A&M at an FAA-approved test site in College Station.

USAA still is awaiting a decision from the FAA on whether the insurer will be able to operate drones in areas affected by natural disasters. It expects a decision within two weeks, Swain said.

“I used to be a catastrophe manager, so I know first-hand what it’s like going into those areas afterward,” Swain said. Safety is an issue for USAA employees who go into an area affected by a catastrophe, such as a tornado, hurricane or earthquake, to handle insurance claims.

Aerial imagery can help speed up the claims-handling process in hard-to-reach areas, Swain explained.

For its research and development, USAA said it will be using the 5-pound PrecisionHawk Lancaster HawkEye. The drones cannot travel more than 100 mph and can operate no higher than 400 feet above ground level, the FAA said in its decision. The drones must be flown during the day and within view of a trained pilot and air crew.

All flights will be reported to the FAA before takeoff.

After it received FAA approval, State Farm last month announced it would be conducting test and development flights at private test sites in the Bloomington, Illinois, area, where the insurer is based. State Farm added that it eventually expects the test flights will evolve to testing in “real-world scenarios.”

“We look forward to testing out this new technology and discovering the potential benefits it can bring to our customers,” Jack Weekes, a State Farm operations vice president, said in a statement.

FAA spokesman Les Dorr said the agency so far has granted 99 applicant exemptions from FAA regulations relating to drones.

Other companies have received permission to use the drones for such things as: aerial surveying; photography and filming; and for utility, flare-stack and bridge inspections.

USAA has 10.7 million members, comprised of active military personnel, veterans and their families.



Here’s why two Air Force satellites yet to launch are already out of date

Apr 3, 2015, 2:27pm EDT

Jill R. Aitoro

Senior Staff Reporter- Washington Business Journal


They cost more than $2 billion under a program that provides early warnings of a ballistic missile attack on the United States. But with designs that are about two decades old, the two new satellites to launch under the Space Based Infrared System might be out of date before they ever get off the ground.

SBIRS serves as a missile-warning system using a combination of orbiting infrared sensors and satellites. To replace the first two satellites on orbit by 2020 and 2021, the Air Force awarded a contract to Lockheed Martin Corp. (NYSE: LMT) last year, opting for two more of the same design, “aside from limited changes to accommodate obsolete parts,” according to a report from the Government Accountability Office.

Here’s the problem, according to the GAO: The basic SBIRS design is years old. The system has been in development for more than 18 years, and some of its technology has already become obsolete. Ideally, the program would replace old technologies with newer ones, but the Air Force has not come up with a way to do that, which is both effective and affordable.

The GAO chalked it up to poor planning. For example, the Air Force did look into inserting a new digital infrared focal plane technology — used to provide surveillance, tracking and targeting information for national missile defense and other missions — in place of the current analog focal plane, either with or without changing the related electronics. But neither option was deemed affordable or deliverable when needed. It would cost $424 million more and tack on another 23 months at least.

But part of the problem was that the assessment happened after the Air Force had approved the acquisition strategy and while negotiations were ongoing to procure production of the two satellites. Implementing changes at that stage would require contract modifications, renegotiations and incur additional cost and schedule growth.

So why didn’t they start earlier? Program officials told the GAO that the SBIRS program was unable to allow for technology upgrades because of other issues with the satellites being built.

Indeed, the SBIRS program experienced significant cost growth and schedule delays since its inception, according to the GAO, in part because of development challenges, test failures and technical issues. In 2014, GAO reported a total cost growth of $14.1 billion over the original program cost estimate, and a delay of roughly nine years for the first satellite launch.

That means funding that could have been used for technology development and planning for parts replacement or technology modernization to reduce risk “was, instead, used to address significant cost and schedule breaches as they arose,” wrote Cristina Chaplain, the GAO’s director of acquisition and sourcing management and author of the report.

Program issues notwithstanding, decisions about technology “insertion” that ensure the satellites can be upgraded with the most current offerings “do not systematically follow an established plan,” the GAO reported. Instead, efforts are ad hoc, focusing on known problems or to taking advantage of isolated technologies.

“The Air Force has been focused on building the satellites versus developing new capabilities and, in doing so, has missed opportunities to pursue viable technology options,” Chaplain noted. Unless an actual plan for technology insertion is established as part of the acquisition strategy, “going forward, the Air Force is at risk of being in the same position for the next system that follows the current SBIRS program.”


In cable, it’s survival of the fittest as channels drop from the bundle

By Cecilia Kang April 7 at 8:07 PM 



At the Weather Channel, the heavy snow and bitter cold that swept the Northeast this winter was cause for celebration as its wall-to-wall coverage helped lift ratings to their highest level in years.


But none of that mattered in the spring, when Verizon Fios dropped the channel from its offerings to more than 5 million subscribers. In a letter to customers, Verizon said that people want to get their reports from the Internet and apps on their phones these days, not TV.


Such is life for the small network and hundreds of other channels trying to survive as part of the much-derided cable bundle.


It has been the worst year in recent memory for cable networks, with MSNBC, the History channel, Bravo, BET, USA Network and Comedy Central all seeing double-digit declines in audience this year. In March, cable ratings were down about 10 percent from the previous year. With new streaming services stealing away viewers, cable TV has been hit with a Darwinian shake-out where only the most popular networks, such as HBO and ESPN, are able to find paying customers.


Web streaming is upending the neat arrangement long enjoyed between TV channels and cable providers such as Verizon and Comcast. Verizon pays ESPN and other channels a certain amount to carry their programming, a cost that gets factored into customers’ monthly bills. But with consumers complaining about paying for too many channels and switching to online streaming alternatives such as Netflix, cable firms are feeling the pressure to cut costs — and even drop channels, especially those with plummeting ratings.



The swift decline in cable has been particularly harmful for Viacom, which typically presses cable distributors to run all of its channels — including MTV, VH1, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon — or none of them. The company announced this week that it will cancel some shows and lay off staff as part of a broad restructuring plan.


The retrenchment marks a change in fortune for the cable TV business, which in the 1990s created new opportunities for minority programs, local news and niche educational networks with small but dedicated numbers of fans. The rise of cable created new genres in TV around food, health and reality shows, launching networks such as HGTV, the Weather Channel and TruTV.


But with content similar to what those channels offer now available online, cable programs that cannot draw the biggest audiences are seeing advertising fall. And some cable operators are choosing to drop some of their offerings altogether.


[Could Apple become the next Comcast of the Web?]


Suddenlink, based in St. Louis, and Cable One, based in Phoenix, have stopped airing Viacom’s suite of channels, amid pricing disputes. The regional sports network for Houston went dark last year.


“For niche networks, it will be really difficult to survive with such a small audience,” said Deana Myers, an analyst at SNL Kagan. “If ratings go down and there continues to be movement away from [cable TV], cable operators will have to cut back on programming costs.”


Consumers may pay separately for ESPN’s sports coverage or HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” but that prospect might prove more challenging for a channel such as USA Network, which plays mostly reruns, when Netflix and Hulu provide many of those programs for less.



Among the hardest hit are children’s networks such as Nickelodeon. Netflix and Amazon Instant Video offer vast libraries of children’s series, and YouTube launched an app just for kids content. (Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)


That’s spelled huge problems for Viacom’s Nickelodeon — ratings for its marquee show, “SpongeBob SquarePants,” dropped 31 percent. And even pop star Nick Jonas and copious amounts of green slime couldn’t save the Kids’ Choice Awards late last month; the show’s audience dropped by 14 percent, according to Nielsen.


In the current TV season, Disney’s ratings also dropped 15 percent, ABC Family was down 7 percent, and Discovery Family was down 4 percent.


“It used to be that if you made it on TV, that meant you had great content. But that’s now being tested,” said Jesse Redniss, co-founder of the BraveVentures media consulting firm. “From my kids’ perspective, they don’t know the difference between watching cable on a 65-inch TV and an iPad, so naturally there will be things that drop from the channel package.”


Viacom has responded with its own streaming service for Nickelodeon that viewers can pay for without having a cable subscription. And the company has put Nickelodeon and its other channels, including VH1, MTV and Comedy Central, on Sony’s streaming PlayStation service.


[Bidding war between networks, sports leagues will increase price of cable TV]


Many networks, including Viacom, blame outdated measuring systems that do not track how consumers are viewing shows on demand several days later and across devices. But lower ratings have made it harder for Viacom to continue its demands that cable operators take all its channels or none. Comedy Central’s audience shrank by 16 percent last year. Overall, Nickelodeon’s audience was down 15 percent.


Viacom argues that cable operators hurt themselves when they drop channels.


“Distributors like Cable One and Suddenlink are rapidly losing television subscribers as a result of discontinuing popular cable programming,” said Denise Denson, executive vice president for content distribution at Viacom Media Networks and BET Networks. “It’s all about the consumers — the negative consequence of reducing choice for consumers will become even more evident as competition increases in these markets.”


And while she agrees that enormous packages of channels won’t survive, Viacom believes there will be a model for “skinny bundles.”


Even with the Weather Channel’s bump in viewers in February, its audience is too small for some cable operators to justify the cost of carrying the network — especially when weather apps provide the same data.


Last year, DirecTV also dropped the Weather Channel over a contract dispute but agreed to offer the channel again after scores of customer letters asking for the network to return. Verizon has replaced the Weather Channel with an offering from AccuWeather.


The Weather Channel said it is a value compared with most channels of its size. And it is betting its future on more live coverage of big weather disasters.


“What was lost on Verizon was that people come to television for big live events such as storm coverage, and we are the only national source of storm coverage on any platform,” said David Clark, president of the Weather Channel.


But he acknowledged the bigger forces that threaten channels such as his on cable. And he is working to strike up partnerships with streaming providers. And he said vocal complaints by some Verizon customers about losing the Weather Channel will help.


“The conversation now with distributors is all about cost reduction,” Clark said. “As an independent network, we’ve become vulnerable to that. That is what’s really happening, so we rely on our fans to help, and thankfully they do.”



Should Future Fighter Be Like A Bomber? Groundbreaking CSBA Study

By Colin Clark


on April 08, 2015 at 3:46 PM



Northrop Grumman Long Range Strike Bomber concept LRSB

Northrop Grumman Long Range Strike Bomber (LRSB) concept


WASHINGTON: America’s next war plane may look much more like a stealthy long-range bomber than a sleek, fast and maneuverable fighter.


That’s the conclusion of a wide-ranging study by the respected Center for Budgetary and Strategic Assessments. Breaking Defense obtained a copy of the report from a source not affiliated with CSBA.


Here’s the study’s main finding: “The overall conclusion of this study was that over the past few decades, advances in electronic sensors, communications technology, and guided weapons may have fundamentally transformed the nature of air combat.”


The conclusions are based on author John Stillion’s analysis of a database of “over 1,450 air-to-air victories” around the world from 1965 to the present.


According to Stillion’s study, the ability to build an aircraft that can find, surprise and then kill enemy aircraft and anti-aircraft systems using speed and maneuverability is rapidly meeting the physical limits of range, speed and useful capability.


“The increased importance of electronic sensors, signature reduction, RF [radio frequency] and IR [infra-red] countermeasures and robust LOS networks in building dominant SA [situational awareness], and the potential reduced tactical utility of high speed and maneuverability could mean that, for the first time, the aerial combat lethality of large combat aircraft may be competitive or even superior to more traditional fighter aircraft designs emphasizing speed and maneuverability,” the study says.


Put another way, missiles can now often outperform most fighter aircraft, although stealth and electronic warfare help even the score.


Trends from the database of air combat since 1965 show the rise of long range missiles and a steep decline in dog-fighting. Of the 33 U.S. kills in the 1991 Persian Gulf war, only four involved any maneuvering at all. 25 years on, the power of long range sensors and missiles is only greater, meaning that traditional fighter attributes such as speed, thrust-to-weight ratios, and turn radius are even less important to success today and in the future.


Stolen concludes that speed will not help future aircraft because higher speeds mean higher heats from engines and along leading edges and other aircraft surfaces. More combatants will rely on Infrared Search and Track Systems (IRST) because Digital Radio Frequency Memory (DRFM) jammers will disrupt search radars. (See page 36 of the study). So enemies will be looking for heat with those IRST sensors and fast planes will be easier to spot.


What does this mean for the Pentagon as it explores building the next generation fighter, the so-called sixth generation fighter?


Stillion says the Pentagon should consider “‘radical’ departures from traditional fighter concepts that rely on enhanced sensor performance, signature control, networks to achieve superior SA [situational awareness], and very-long-range weapons to complete engagements before being detected or tracked by enemy aircraft.”


That requires, he said in an email to me, that, “we should take a broad, objective and imaginative look at how to achieve air superiority in the decades beyond 2035. This may, or may not, result in a preference for non-traditional platforms rather than improved fighter aircraft, but more likely it will show we want a mix of both types of capabilities. The important thing is to do the objective assessment.”


The Pentagon has launched its Defense Dominance Initiative and the related Air Innovation Initiative, a DARPA-led effort to come up with approaches to the F-X and its engines. Stallion’s study will clearly be read by DARPA and Frank Kendall, head of Pentagon acquisition as it mulls what to experiment with.


The Ultimate Multirole Plane?


One industry source who has read the study said that, “Stillion makes a very good case that we should rethink our strategy. Why invest in the sixth generation fighter to create a ‘super F-22′? Such an aircraft will only offer marginal improvements over the F-22 at great cost. But it will still be fairly short-ranged (at least considering the operational distances in the Pacific and other theaters). Wouldn’t it be better instead to focus on a bigger aircraft?”


Boeing Lockheed Long Range Strike Bomber concept LRSB

Boeing Lockheed Long Range Strike Bomber concept LRSB


Those larger planes can have bigger apertures (radar and infra-red) to detect threats at longer ranges and can carry bigger missiles to strike the enemy before he can hit us.


“What I find most compelling,” the industry source says, “is the idea that we could develop a single, large, long-range, big payload, stealthy aircraft that would comprise the future United States Air Force’s combat arm. You would have a common airframe that could be outfitted with different payloads to do different missions.”


One airframe, the industry source speculates, could provide a strike version, an air-to-air missile version for self defense, a nuclear aircraft, an air superiority version fitted with directed energy weapons, and planes for airborne early warning and ground surveillance missions.


The ultimate expression of this approach: a future US Air Force with a fleet of roughly 400 aircraft “as the core of the United States’ power projection force,” the industry source believes.


“Some elements of the new battle force could be unmanned as well to take better advantage of the big aircraft’s endurance. Maybe we would want to call this aircraft the “Battleplane”—something envisioned by Guilio Douhet in the 1920s. Intercontinental range means this force can strike anywhere on the planet—and concurrently win air superiority. We would not need to deploy hundreds of short range fighters to close-in bases—we could operate from distant bases. Just think of the savings in terms of logistics, development, procurement, and manpower if we went to a single airframe,” the industry source opines.


An astute observer might read this study and conclude that the builder of the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRSB), with its long range and enormous weapons capacity, could find itself in an enviable position to build that new power projection aircraft. Maybe.


How much chance is there that the Pentagon will embrace such a radical departure from the norms of the last 75 years?


“History says no,” the industry source believes. “How will the Air Force leadership—primarily composed of fighter pilots—react to the idea of using ‘bombers’ to do the air superiority mission?”


Imagine the cultural shifts needed by the Air Force and senior Pentagon leaders to embrace such an approach. Perhaps the impending budget drawdowns, the increased aggression of Russia, and the looming rise of China can help illuminate the future for them.


This is one of those rare studies that we may all remember in another decade and cite in footnotes and wonder that the Pentagon had the courage to act. If we’re lucky. If you want to understand air combat alone, this is a must-read.




Can the Military Make a Prediction Machine?

April 8, 2015 By Patrick Tucker


The planet is awash in open, free data. Can military-funded research turn it into a crystal ball?

If Pentagon funds can help create—even partially—a machine capable of understanding cause and effect, or causality, and do so on the scale of thousands of signals, data points, and possible conclusions, then, perhaps, big data will reach its real potential: a predictive tool that allows leaders to properly position soldiers, police forces, and humanitarian relief long before the action starts.

Among the military programs probing this new realm is Big Mechanism, run by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. It seeks to turn machine-collected (or machine-generated) data into real insights into complex systems, and do so automatically.

Some, such as Wired’s Bruce Sterling, have suggested that access to huge amounts of data, which makes correlational analysis easier, has made old-fashioned, theory-based science obsolete. But in a recent conversation with Defense One, DARPA program manager Paul Cohen said he was looking more to mechanize the human capacity for causation, rather than innovate around it. “We’re a very much aiming toward a new science, but we’re very much interested in causal relationships,” he said. “What we’re finding is that mathematical modeling of systems is very hard to maintain.”


The supply of data, it turns out, is growing too quickly for the human race to use it effectively to solve big problems. The expanding reach and power of computational intelligence is both cause and, at least potentially, cure.


“Having big data about complicated economic, biological, neural and climate systems isn’t the same as understanding the dense webs of causes and effects—what we call the big mechanisms—in these systems,” Cohen said last year. “Unfortunately, what we know about big mechanisms is contained in enormous, fragmentary and sometimes contradictory literatures and databases, so no single human can understand a really complicated system in its entirety. Computers must help us.”


These big systems can be as large as the entire world or as small as cancer cells, an initial area of focus for the program.


Machine intelligence can collect and process data on a scale unimaginable to regular humans. But processing data is very different from making sense of it, and from making predictions. If we could get computer systems to predict in the way that humans do, but with the data and processing power only available to massively interconnected systems, could we open up areas of the future to new inference? Cohen has suggested that the answer is yes.


“The beautiful thing about causal models is that they make predictions, so we can return to our big data and see whether we’re [retrospectively] right,” Cohen said. “And we can propose new experiments, suggest interventions and advance our knowledge more rapidly.”


The ways in which humans interact with government, with one another, with medical facilities, transit systems and brands, etc. can predict events of national security significance. They can indicate, for instance, if a deadly disease outbreak is taking hold in a small rural community or if civil unrest is on the rise.


One example of that is the Open Source Indicators Program, launched in 2011 by from the Intelligence Advanced Research Programs agency. Led by program manager Jason Matheny, Open Source Indicators funds projects to predict events of national security relevance by monitoring tens of thousands of blogs, RSS feeds, news reports, social network chatter from sites like Twitter and Facebook, and other open sources.


Very early on, program participants began to generate some surprising results. In 2012, Virginia Tech computer scientist Naren Ramakrishnan, working solely with signals culled from the open Internet, effectively predicted both Mexico’s Yo Soy 132 protest movement, sometimes called the Mexican Arab Spring, and the “Friendship Bridge” protests that riled parts of Brazil and Paraguay.


Around the same time, Georgetown University data scientist Kalev Leetaru used a database of millions of open-source indicators to correctly (but retroactively) predict the spot in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where Osama Bin Laden was found.


But for every instance where big data correctly predicted a big national-security event, critics can point to a big miss. Last year, for example, such indicators failed to predict the Ebola outbreak.


The military and national security communities have only begun to explore the potential of big data to solve these kinds of enormously complex problems. But before open-source signal hunting can reach its full potential, people like Cohen and Matheny need to answer some serious questions.


Among them, how to balance privacy concerns with national security objectives? Open-source intel is, by definition, freely available on the Internet. But when most people give their data away, they don’t imagine military technologists trying to extrapolate predictions from that data. As more people become concerned about how their data is used, especially by government actors, they’re changing the data that they make and release.


Last summer, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, then the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, discussed how the military had “completely revamped” the way it collects intelligence around open-source data. He said that, as the military’s reliance on such data grows, online behavior is changing and adapting. When asked if he was concerned by that, he answered, “Yes.”


Another question: how do we get machine intelligence to discover causation and not just correlation? How do you teach a big-data machine to provide a fully true answer, not just an output? Answer: we may need to re-design, on a fundamental level, the way we communicate with machines.


Perhaps one of the greatest paradoxes of the modern age is that our method for interacting with machine intelligence remains relatively crude: typing, and more and more with our thumbs. That limits our collaboration with machines to specific tasks with strict parameters.


When given a chance to collaborate with a machine or with a human on a project of any complexity, we’ll press zero to talk to the human almost every time. That’s a problem in a national-security context: service members are being asked to interact with an ever-larger number of systems in life-and-death situations.


Another one of Cohen’s DARPA programs, announced in February, seeks to change that. The Communicating with Computers effort seeks to “bridge the language barrier” between humans and machines, Cohen remarked in a press release.


“Human-machine communication falls short of the human-human standard, where speakers and listeners consider such contextual aspects as what has been said already, the purposes of the communication, the best ways to express ideas, who they are speaking with, prevailing social conventions and the availability of other modes of expression such as gestures. And so computers that might otherwise contribute more significantly to solving problems in a range of areas, including national security, remain in relatively simplistic roles such as crunching large datasets and providing driving directions.”


Thornberry’s Acquisition Bill: Solid Contact, But No Home Run

April 8, 2015 By Alex Haber Justin McFarlin



Titled “Agile Acquisition to Retain Technological Edge Act,” the bill by the House Armed Services Committee chairman synthesizes more than 1,000 proposals from an eclectic mix of Hill staffers, think tankers, industry experts and Pentagon brass.

The bill begins by attempting to improve the skills of acquisition personnel. In the same spirit as Rep. Thornberry’s March 23 remarks at CSIS, it strikes widely, by permanently extending the Department’s Workforce Development Fund; and narrowly, by directing greater training resources towards building expertise in market research. It also strengthens the foundation of the “dual-track career path,” a valuable staffing strategy that allows military personnel to pursue a primary career in combat arms and a secondary career in acquisition. Guided by this language, the system should see a much-needed injection of human capital.  

Rep. Thornberry commits an entire section of the bill to identifying and eradicating bureaucratic muck. Demonstrating his conviction that “paperwork” is a major enemy of efficient acquisition, the bill would repeal 45 reports in part or in full, ranging from healthcare-related documents to shipbuilding and airlift protocols.

Operating and support costs typically comprise 70 percent of the total lifecycle cost of a weapon, and sustainment costs are rising.

In another bold and appropriate move, the bill wages a pointed assault against the inefficiencies around “program initiation.” At the start of development, DoD program managers are frequently buried under ill-defined requirements, and given insufficient resources to figure out how to best get off the starting block. Though the onus inevitably will fall on acquisition professionals, not legislators, to operationalize this guidance, removing paper and directing greater attention to the first leg of the race are valuable steps.    

The bill gracefully walks the line between risk aversion and risk tolerance. We have advocated the broader endorsement of productive failures“—or calculated risks—which can drive innovative practices while keeping an organization out of grave danger. Along these lines, the bill offers a thoughtful risk-mitigation approach built on competitive prototyping and a multi-faceted risk management strategy. But it also suggests holding less tightly to the status quo; for example, it criticizes the fact that “customary approaches and suppliers are preferred over perceived risk of new or unique concepts and vendors.” Giving teeth to this sentiment, the bill prudently raises the Simplified Acquisition Threshold from $100,000 to $500,000, opening up an expedited development path to a far larger community of acquisition programs.

For all of its progressive energy in certain areas, Rep. Thornberry’s bill misses the mark elsewhere.

Historically, services contracts have comprised over half of DoD contract spending and nearly a third of the overall budget. 

Nobody can dispute the necessity of strategy, yet the bill’s approach to promote a more strategy-driven acquisition function is rather stale. The bill requires major defense acquisition programs to have an “acquisition strategy,” but most already do. Programs of Record (PORs) must track to an Acquisition Program Baseline (APB), and even some non-POR programs employ strategic frameworks, such as the Execution Program Baseline, a tool similar to the APB used by the Army’s PEO for Enterprise Information Systems. Rather than driving marginal gains at the surface, the bill could have attacked the root of the problem: budget uncertainty. A common theme voiced to us both by acquisition professionals and issue experts outside the Pentagon is that strategic planning is nearly impossible when you do not know where your dollars will be coming from, or if they will be coming at all.    

At CSIS, Rep. Thornberry stressed his desire to make the DoD “the fastest integrator of commercial technology” in the federal government, but the scraps of new thinking in the bill on the subject are disappointing. It suggests that using more commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology would make development faster and more flexible, which is spot-on, but offers little detail on what incentives decision-makers might use to drive the use of COTS. Even more discouraging, COTS is only mentioned in the context of business systems despite its broader value in weapons development and other types of tactical technologies. Additionally, the bill practically ignores the challenges associated with 21st-century system integration. As one former Deputy Secretary of Defense told us, more and more materiel is software-intensive; the age of traditional, discrete systems has surely given way to the rise of systems of systems. Breaking Defense
notes that Rep. Thornberry was going for the “lower-hanging fruit,” so these complex questions around system integration may find answers in the next round of reform, but the decision to gloss over this increasingly important issue is disconcerting.

The choice to avoid service acquisition to focus just on weapons and business systems was deliberate, but odd. Historically, services contracts have comprised over half of DoD contract spending and nearly a third of the overall budget. Additionally, though the primary focus on “program initiation” is appropriate, completely ignoring the protocols and policies around sustainment was not. Operating and support costs typically comprise 70 percent of the total lifecycle cost of a weapon, and sustainment costs are rising. It is becoming increasingly important that program managers incorporate sustainment into their acquisition strategy from the start. And finally, the near-exclusive focus on small business in the bill’s “industrial base” section sidesteps the variety of other systemic issues that plague the defense-industrial complex. Though more reform bills are surely in store, excluding policy recommendations around improving communication with industry partners—big and small—is unfortunate.

Though this bill is a commendable first pass at defense acquisition reform, Rep. Thornberry may be playing on borrowed time. The “triumvirate” of Defense Secretary Carter, Deputy Secretary Bob Work, and Under Secretary for Acquisition Frank Kendall are likely to exit in the next two years, well short of this story’s final installment. Though this bill would nudge the system in a positive direction, it may ultimately make it only slightly less “reactive, plodding, and opaque.”


Big ideas from Obama’s new climate change initiative: drones to predict pandemics, geomodeling of global fires

By Ariana Eunjung Cha April 8 at 4:42 PM 



In announcing the White House’s new climate change and health initiative on Tuesday, President Obama unveiled a series of ground-breaking hackathons, crowdsourcing efforts, and partnerships with private industry that highlight just how much the administration is betting on big data to help us mitigate the impact of the changes in our environment.


Among the most significant is a commitment to release more than 150 health datasets on That will include critical information from the CDC, NOAA and other agencies that wasn’t previously available to the public. The goal, the White House said, is to “empower America’s people, communities, and health sector to more effectively plan, prepare, and strengthen their resilience to the health-impacts of climate change.”


And they’re asking you for your help. Coders, analysts, and researchers will be invited to use the datasets to generate new insights into the health impacts of climate change.


[The White House wants to explore how climate change makes you sick]


The administration also hopes to engage techies to participate in a national, multi-site hackathon on June 6 that will bring together federal workers and civic-minded hackers to brainstorm new models and solutions for issues related to climate, health, and other civic issues.


One key and particularly crucial application of big data given the recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa is an effort to create early warning systems for major issues.



Mothers wait for their children to receive vaccinations last month at Redemption Hospital, formerly an Ebola holding center in Monrovia, Liberia. Life is slowly returning to normal, as hospitals and clinics have reopened. ( John Moore/Getty Images)


One effort in infectious diseases is a pilot project, which involves the CDC and Defense department, to forecast dengue-fever breakouts using data from government and academia on disease patterns as well as weather. Another project, which involves technology from Microsoft Research, envisions “drone-deployed devices” that collect mosquitoes and conduct gene-sequencing and pathogen detection. The White House said “this technique has the potential to serve as an early warning system for vector borne disease outbreaks and may assist health officials in planning for the impacts of climate change on public health.”


Google will also be involved in an early warning system of a different sort. The White House said Google will dedicate staff time to translate public data onto its Google Earth Engine geospatial analysis platform which may help scientists do things like visualize global fires and oil and gas flares.



FAA Awards Draganfly Innovations Inc. Section 333 Exemption for Commercial Operations in the United States

by Press • 10 April 2015


Draganfly Innovations Inc., a leader in developing small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) for over 15 years is awarded an FAA Section 333 Exemption and Certificate of Authorization (COA) to operate commercially and conduct research in the United States.


The exemption covers the Draganflyer X4-P, Draganflyer X4-ES, Draganflyer X6, and Draganflyer Guardian aircraft for use in aerial data collection such as mapping, agriculture, surveying, aerial photography, and inspections.


“Premier aerial services are a key part of our business moving forward.” says Zenon Dragan, President of Draganfly Innovations Inc. “With the FAA Section 333 Exemption, we now have coverage throughout North America”.


Draganfly systems originally introduced in 1999 have evolved and shaped the UAV industry. The aircraft are widely used by Public Safety Agencies worldwide and one of the first sUAS systems to receive an FAA COA in the fall of 2009 with the Mesa County Colorado Sheriff’s Office. In 2012 the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) flew the X4-ES system to locate and save the life of an accident victim. The RCMP system is being placed on permanent display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.


As the industry evolves, the 333 exemption process is critical as Draganfly takes steps to further expand their reach, conducting U.S. research and offering a broad range of aerial services throughout North America.



Kendall: New AF Bomber Will Compete Upgrades

By Aaron Mehta 5:25 p.m. EDT April 9, 2015

WASHINGTON — The US Air Force’s next-generation bomber program will compete for the right to do future technology upgrades, the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer told reporters Thursday.


Speaking at a rollout of his Better Buying Power 3.0 acquisition strategy, Frank Kendall, Pentagon undersecretary for acquisition, said the Long Range Strike-Bomber (LRS-B) is being designed to incorporate new technologies, and that those technologies will be individually competed.


“The design is structured so that we have the opportunity to insert technology refresh in a way we have not had the flexibility to do in the past,” Kendall said. “That is one of the things we asked for … modular designs and the idea of competition for future upgrades is very much a part of that approach.


“I think we will have opportunities to compete technologies that can go into the bomber to a degree we would not have had really on other programs we have had before,” Kendall said. “I think the program office has done a good job of that.”










Shrouded in Mystery, New Bomber Makes Waves



That means whichever team wins the right to build the bomber will have to accept that competitors can still fight over a piece of the sustainment-and-upgrade pie. Northrop Grumman is competing with a team of Lockheed Martin and Boeing for the right to produce the bomber, which will eventually replace the B-1 and B-52 fleets.


Kendall did not go into detail about how much of the bomber’s technology refresh would be competed, but the Air Force has made competition over the life cycle of its programs a priority. Officials for the F-35 joint strike fighter, for example, are looking at training contracts as a way to inject competition into that program.


Forcing competition into programs is seen as a way to drive down overall lifecycle costs, something that will be particularly important with the bomber program, which has a self-imposed cap of $550 million per copy in 2010 dollars. The program is expected to downselect this summer.



Does cyber corps merit its own service branch?

By Andrew Tilghman, Staff writer 4:29 p.m. EDT April 9, 2015

Defense Secretary Ash Carter raised eyebrows during his recent visit to the U.S. Cyber Command headquarters in Maryland when he suggested that the cyber corps may ultimately become its own service branch.


“There may come a time when that makes sense,” Carter said in response to a question March 13. “And I think you have to look at this as the first step in a journey that may, over time, lead to the decision to break out Cyber the way that you said the Army Air Corps became the U.S. Air Force, the way Special Operations Command was created … with a somewhat separate thing, although that still has service parts to it.”


Founded in 2009, U.S. Cyber Command remains in a developmental phase as the four military services work to meet the force’s first major milestone: Standing up an operational fleet of 133 teams of active-duty cyber experts by the end of 2016.


Carter’s comments underscore the uncertainty surrounding Cyber Command’s future. It may soon become its own combatant command, putting it at the highest rung on the chain of command, on par with U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Strategic Command, which manages nuclear capabilities.


That possibility raises a slew of follow-on questions, expert say.


“The second question is ‘What would the service look like?’ ” said Richard Bejtlich, a former Air Force intelligence officer who is now a cybersecurity expert and senior fellow at the Brookings Institute.


“Would it look like the Air Force? Or would it be more like the Coast Guard? Would it be a [Defense Department] service or a [Department of Homeland Security] service? Would the cyber corps have some sort of volunteer or civilian element?”


The cyber corps relationship with civilians may be unique. In the event of a large-scale crisis, military-trained cyber warriors may need to have a uniquely direct working relationship with state and local law enforcement and government officials. Defense officials also disagree over the proper role for the reserve components in the cyber force.


Carter has suggested that major reform of the military personnel system may be needed to recruit and retain a qualified cyber force, such as allowing some highly skilled recruits to enter service at higher ranks or changing some recruiting standards that might be screening out young people with high-tech skills.


A cyber corps might differ from the traditional military services in many ways.


“The whole officer-enlisted stuff doesn’t really work well in cyber,” Bejtlich said. “Some of the best people I’ve known in cyber were enlisted people, and the fact that they don’t have a college degree made no difference whatsoever.”


The idea of creating a separate cyber corps is attractive in some ways, but the real-world process would create an epic struggle among bureaucracies. For the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, a new service branch would mean surrendering billions of annual budget dollars and thousands of jobs.


“The cyber mission has pretty much infiltrated everyone’s budget process by now,” said Trey Herr, a cyber warfare expert at George Washington University. “The existing services are going to fight tooth and nail to retain some or all of those mission sets.”


Yet budget concerns cut both ways. A fifth service is a real possibility, said Eric Bassel, a former special operations soldier who is now director of the SANS Institute, a private company that specializes in cybersecurity training.


“Right now, cyber is getting funded by every service, there is probably all kinds of duplication,” Bassel said. “I could see a scenario in the future when we are looking at budget cuts and we say let’s scratch this [current organization] and eliminate the duplication.”



Pentagon spotlights cyber in Better Buying Power 3.0




Amber Corrin, Senior Staff Writer 5:32 p.m. EDT April 9, 2015







DSD press brief


(Photo: Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz, Office of the Secretary of Defense)























The Pentagon on April 9 rolled out the latest iteration of its Better Buying Power acquisition reform effort, emphasizing areas covered in the past while also introducing new areas of focus, including cybersecurity.


The 3.0 version of the initiative, first launched by now-Defense Secretary Ash Carter, is headlined with a theme of technological superiority. In a Pentagon press conference, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall outlined goals and reasoning that are driving the implementation of BBP 3.0


It includes some of the so-called core areas of the earlier versions of BBP, including affordability caps, should-cost targets, improved competition, contracting incentivization and professionalism in the acquisition workforce. New to 3.0 are goals aimed at cybersecurity and reducing acquisition bureaucracy.


The cyber emphasis has evolved out of a growing need to protect the Defense Department’s data, even the non-classified type, which Kendall said has been stolen in recent years. He characterized cybersecurity as “a pervasive source of risk” for DoD.


“Part of the reason for that being in Better Buying Power 3.0 is to increase awareness of how this works, and part is to take specific steps,” Kendall said. “I want program managers thinking about cybersecurity and conscious of cybersecurity all the time [and] I want stakeholders thinking about it and conscious all the time.”


Kendall added that he also is working on a cybersecurity enclosure to be added to the DoD 5000.02 acquisition guidance. He said that memo is in the draft stage.


Another goal of incorporating cybersecurity into BBP 3.0 is to build it into weapons systems, Kendall noted.


“We need to think about every interface of weapons system, what every system touches or depends on from cyber perspective…we need to think of it as a higher priority than in the past,” he said, noting that a failure to do so has resulted in DoD “reacting” as a result. “We’re doing other things in the cybersecurity area, so I thought it was useful to put it in here, draw attention and reflect what’s happening in the area – because it’s important to technological superiority.”


Innovation is another point of emphasis in the guidance, particularly considering that there are innovation tools at DoD that go under-utilized by the private sector, Kendall said.


“The Innovation Marketplace [established] under Better Buying Power 1.0 has been used by a fraction of industry so far,” he said. “It’s a good resource, it’s been populated to an extent and we can get more there.”


Overall, the guidance includes 34 areas of focus that each include general guidance and specific points of action


Commercials urge drone pilots to refuse to fly missions

By Jeff Schogol, Staff writer 4:39 p.m. EDT April 9, 2015

Anti-drone groups are airing cable television commercials near Beale Air Force Base, California, urging remotely piloted aircraft pilots to refuse to carry out missions.

“The reason that we felt we had to start running these ads is the president and the Congress have been irresponsible and – we believe – operating illegally and immorally to let these drone attacks continue,” said Nick Mottern, of the group KnowDrones, the lead group behind the effort. “We felt that we had to speak directly to the people who were being ordered to do the killing because, at this point, it seems they’re the only ones who can put a stop to this.”

The commercials aired near Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, in March and they have aired near Beale for the past week, Mottern told Air Force Times.

Beale is home to the 9th Reconnaissance Wing, which includes RQ-4 Global Hawks – surveillance drones that fly at high altitudes but are not armed.

Two versions of the commercials are currently airing, both 15 seconds long, the Sacramento Bee first reported on Thursday. In one version, a narrator says, “U.S. drones have murdered thousands, including women and children.”

Both commercials end with the narrator saying, “Drone pilots: Please refuse to fly,” along with the words “No one has to obey an immoral law” printed on the screen.

KnowDrones plans to raise money to air the commercials around other active-duty and Air National Guard bases, including Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, New York; and Horsham Air Guard Station, Pennsylvania.

Mottern is a Navy veteran who was stationed in in Saigon in 1962 and 1963, but he never saw combat, he said. He left the Navy as a lieutenant, junior grade.

One reason why his group opposes drone strikes is that unlike manned aircraft, drones have unmatched power to put targets under constant surveillance, he said.


“When you’re using that kind of a weapon that relies on surveillance, it means that, first of all, you’re violating the privacy of many people – a village, a whole region,” Mottern said. “That kind of violation is totally against international law. It’s against the universal declaration of human rights that was approved by the United Nations. Even before the killing occurs, you have a situation people’s rights have been profoundly violated.”


Another issue is that the people drones put under surveillance are often “targeted for assassination” without due process, he said.


“These, I would say, executions, without the benefit of any inquiry in a legal way or a court proceeding,” Mottern said.


When asked about the commercials on Thursday, Air Combat Command issued a terse statement: “This organization is entitled to express their opinion.”


One drone pilot, who asked not to be identified, told Air Force Times that drone strikes represent a tremendous advance in air warfare since World War II and Vietnam, when U.S. bombers would have to drop tons of ordnance to take out one target.


“We literally can surgically and precisely take out individual people, or small groups of people, among the civilian population,” the pilot said on Thursday.


The pilot says he is very comfortable with the work that he does.


“I guarantee that my family and your family are much safer for the work we’ve done [rather] than allowing the terrorists to operate freely in their little safe havens,” the pilot said. “The work that we have provided has been very, very detrimental to their ability to operate and attack us on our homeland.”


When the U.S. has not taken the fight to the enemy in the past, it has only invited aggression, he said.


There are two alternatives to using drones, the pilot said: The U.S. can either start using less precise weapons that will inadvertently kill a lot of people, or the U.S. can fight the terrorists in the homeland.

“Pick your poison, people,” he said.



From → Uncategorized

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: