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May 16 2015

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Has ISIS Lost Its Head? Power Struggle Erupts with Al-Baghdadi Seriously Wounded


05.10.158:00 PM ET

Jamie Dettmer


As defectors confirm reports that al-Baghdadi is still in bad shape from a March bombing, Syrian and Iraqi factions vie for influence in the so-called Islamic State.

URFA, Turkey—Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State’s leader, has been moved from Iraq to the Syrian city of Raqqa, the terror army’s de facto capital, amid tight security two months after sustaining serious shrapnel wounds leaving his spine damaged and his left leg immobile, say jihadist defectors.

He is said to be mentally alert and able to issue orders, but his physical injuries are now prompting the so-called Islamic State’s governing Shura Council to make a final decision on a temporary stand-in leader who can move back and forth between front-lines in Syria and Iraq and is able to handle day-to-day leadership in the self-declared caliphate.

That leader will be, in effect, under al-Baghdadi, a super deputy to the caliph — in Arabic, na’ib al-malik, or viceroy. According to Islamic State defectors debriefed by opposition activists in neighboring Turkey, the election will pit two Iraqis and a Syrian against each other — all well-known figures within the terror army’s top leadership.

These sources say nine doctors to treat the infirm al-Baghdadi were also taken to Raqqa, including a senior physician from Mosul’s general hospital, but the entire al-Baghdadi caravan of attending medics, aides and body guards was split into separate convoys to avoid attracting attention from U.S. satellite surveillance and inviting a coalition airstrike or drone attack. At least one doctor didn’t know who his patient was when he arrived in Raqqa and was ordered brusquely to stop asking questions about the man’s identity.

The doctors initially were put in a military barracks in Raqqa’s Al-Mishlab neighborhood close by the city’s industrial district but were subsequently divided into the three groups and billeted in different houses. By having al-Baghdadi in Raqqa, the Islamic State (widely known as ISIS) will be able to secure drugs, equipment or additional medical expertise needed from nearby Turkey.

Britain’s Guardian newspaper first reported last month that al-Baghdadi had been injured in a March coalition airstrike, citing a Western diplomat and an adviser to the Iraqi government, and the BBC quoted a spokesman of Iraq’s interior minister as saying the ISIS caliph had been seriously wounded in an airstrike believed to have taken place on March 18. The Iraqi official, though, gave no details about which country carried out the raid, saying only it was coalition warplanes.

U.S. defense officials have said since the Guardian report that they have no knowledge of al-Baghdadi’s fate and some said they were unaware of an airstrike on March 18. Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told The Daily Beast: “We have no reason to believe it was Baghdadi.” But Iraqi government adviser Hisham al-Hashimi told the British newspaper that al-Baghdadi was “wounded in al-Baaj near the village of Umm al-Rous on 18 March with a group that was with him” in a three-car convoy. The strike aircraft was most likely a drone.

Without more confirmation and details, compounded with al-Baghdadi’s general invisibility and U.S. caution, rumors have multiplied, and so has skepticism. Last November there were reports in Arab and Western media that al-Baghdadi had been injured but they turned out to be inaccurate.

And last week Radio Iran reported al-Baghdadi died from the March airstrike, saying ISIS members had already sworn loyalty to a former physics teacher, Abu Ala al-Afri, as his replacement, although there has been no evidence of this on jihadist social media sites and Twitter feeds.

Interestingly, last week the United States posted al-Afri, under the name Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, on a fresh list of al Qaeda and ISIS figures with multi-million-dollar bounties on their heads. His was put at $7 million; al-Baghdadi (Abu Du’a) is at $10 million.

“They are using all the means they can to persuade people to join—from money offers to threats, and prisoners are being press-ganged.”

According to ISIS defectors, including a senior security official in Raqqa and a bodyguard to one of the group’s top leaders, al-Baghdadi is alive, even if he’s not kicking. They say he was seriously injured in March with wounds that could have been life threatening if left untreated. The defectors say he was moved because top commanders decided he would be safer in Raqqa than Mosul, where an Iraqi offensive with Kurdish support is expected to start later this summer to recapture Iraq’s second largest city.

The defectors were debriefed by Ahmad Abdulkader, who recently launched a network of activists called “Eye-On-The-Homeland.” He told The Daily Beast at the weekend that other would-be defectors have confirmed the claims of the security defectors, one of whom goes by the nom de guerre Abu Mohammed and was tasked by ISIS with hunting down activists in Raqqa.

The Daily Beast has not talked directly with the defectors, who are reluctant to meet Western reporters while Eye-on-The-Homeland is negotiating their fate with Turkish authorities. Abdulkader displayed passports of defectors, debriefing notes and Islamic State ID cards. Turkish officials confirm he is an important conduit for defectors from the self-styled caliphate. Abdulkader says in the past month his activists inside Raqqa have helped about one hundred fighters to defect.

“Most are Syrians but a dozen are foreigners,” he says. They include a French man, a French woman and a Moroccan. He waves the Moroccan’s passport at me in his small office in the heart of Urfa, the Turkish border city that many foreign recruits have passed through on their way to join the Islamic State. He says there has been a dramatic decrease in foreign recruits to the Islamic State, basing the claim on reports coming to him from those who have already defected and would-be defectors still in the caliphate.

“There used to be each week 100 to 200 foreign [Western] recruits arriving in Raqqa; now there are five or six every week,” he says. He suspects one of the reasons for that is, “The foreigners inside are communicating to their friends back home not to come and they’re explaining the reality of what life is really like inside.” If so, that would contrast with their public Twitter and Facebook postings extolling the virtues of the caliphate — postings followed by the terror army’s propagandists housed in four buildings in Raqqa’s al-Rawdah neighborhood just outside the old city.

The defectors say media reports that Abu Ala al-Afri has already been appointed viceroy are inaccurate, claiming that the Shura Council, a religious governing body of about nine senior ISIS leaders, is due to vote this week on who will become na’ib al-malik. The Shura Council is thought to be dominated by Iraqis.

In addition to Abu Ala al-Afri, who is one of the nominees, there is a second Iraqi contender for the slot — Abu Ali al-Anbari, a Mosul native and former major general in the Iraqi army who has been in charge of overseeing Islamic State territory in Syria.

Like al-Afri he rose through the ranks of al Qaeda in Iraq but had been previously thrown out of another extremist Sunni group, Ansar al-Islam, for financial corruption. A clever military tactician he has no religious training and little juridical background in Sharia law. The third nominee is a Syrian, the current Islamic State governor of Raqqa – Abu Luqman, whose real name is Ali Moussa al-Hawikh. He was one of dozens of Syrian jihadists released from jail by President Bashar al-Assad in the summer of 2011 as the rebellion against the Syrian regime was starting.

Al-Afri, who is said to be more charismatic than the other two nominees, remains the most likely to win the full backing of the Shura Council, but he is outranked by al-Anbari. Handing the slot to the Syrian contender may not sit well with the Iraqis who dominate the upper reaches of ISIS, but boosting the power of Abu Luqman could be smart politics with signs mounting of disgruntlement among the terror army’s Syrian fighters, who are said to be unhappy with the pressure on them to volunteer to fight in Iraq.

In a statement issued on April 27 by al-Baghdadi, which appeared on jihadist forums, the ISIS leader requested emirs and fighters in the Syrian provinces to volunteer to serve in Iraq. In the announcement al-Baghdadi appears specifically to call for those willing to be suicide bombers-fighters, asking for “religiously dedicated, patient ones, and war experts who don’t look back, fight and don’t lay down their weapons until they get killed or God grants them victory.”

Two analysts at the Combating Terrorism Center at the United States Military Academy at West Point, Daniel Milton and Muhammad al-Ubaydi, noted that that statement was curiously worded, with the so-called Caliph Ibrahim (al-Baghdadi) requesting rather than instructing. Presumably he has the authority to order people who have already joined the military side of ISIS to mobilize and deploy. “It is possible,” they argued, “that he is concerned about undermining his own leadership by giving an order that may not be obeyed by emirs and fighters in Syria.”

Recently there has been a surge of Islamic State recruitment propaganda videos showing fighters pledging themselves to defend territory the group seized in Iraq last summer after a lightning offensive. In Raqqa political activists opposed to ISIS say there is considerable pressure now being placed on the local population to put people forward for enlistment.

“They need soldiers to go to Iraq,” say an activist with the opposition network named Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently. “They are using all the means they can to persuade people to join — from money offers to threats, and prisoners are being press-ganged.”

Abdulkader agrees, saying morale began to plummet after the Islamic State’s failure to capture the mainly Kurdish town of Kobani following a months-long siege and a high death toll among fighters. And morale problems have mounted with the loss of Tikrit. “Disgruntlement has increased with the shifting of the group’s Syrian fighters to front-lines in Iraq,” says Abdulkader.


U.S. Air Force Kills Key Space Control Program

USAF abandons key defensive counterspace project, with no public plans to continue the mission




May 7, 2015 Amy Butler

Aviation Week & Space Technology


The U.S. Air Force is terminating one of its flagship defensive counterspace programs—one designed to identify sources of satellite communications interference—due to “cost and performance” issues.

Ending the Rapid Attack Identification Detection Reporting System (Raidrs) comes as Air Force officials have taken their most public and vocal stand in years in favor of improved space control projects, including a $5 billion addition to the fiscal 2016-20 budget request and an uncharacteristically open interview by Air Force Space Command chief Gen. John Hyten on the U.S. television program 60 Minutes in April.

Raidrs, a collection of ground-based monitoring antennas, was one of three acknowledged defensive counterspace projects created more than a decade ago. It was designed to ensure that military operators—especially those supporting war operations in Iraq and Afghanistan— had nonstop service from military and commercial satellites providing crucial communications. At the time, roughly 80% of the satellite communications for forces there was provided by commercial systems. As demand for using satcom has grown so have instances of interference—friendly and hostile.

And just as soon as it was fielded, the Air Force pulled the plug.

Though military satellite systems have inherent encryption and/or protection, commercial systems are more susceptible to electromagnetic interference (EMI). In some cases, interference is simple: An adversary can easily overwhelm energy in a particular portion of the spectrum to deny access for users. Or an allied user can accidently emit on the wrong frequency or with too much power.

Terminating Raidrs does not necessarily suggest an end to the program’s capabilities, however, as industry sources suggest military and commercial providers have learned how better to detect friendly and hostile interference with satellite communications. Military officials have been coy about just what programs could move forward to meet this requirement, suggesting there could be much work being finished in secret.

“The Raidrs mission will be accomplished through the remaining defensive counterspace family of systems,” says an Air Force Space Command spokesman, Tech. Sgt. Michael Slater. He adds a list of these capabilities, including the Standard Process for Interface Recognition and Interference Targeting, Raidrs Deployable Ground System Block 0, “Bounty Hunter and Blackjack.” Command officials declined to explain these systems despite repeated requests. Slater says the Air Force spent about $214 million on Raidrs; it is unclear whether this includes the cost of establishing protected sites globally for its antennas.

Events, however, overtook Raidrs technology. Slow progress in procuring the system and developing tactics since its prototype fielding in 2005 was outpaced by work in the commercial world, says one space control expert. Commercial satcom providers such as SES and Intelsat are typically required to be able to pinpoint where EMI is located to fulfill their customer contracts. They have made advances in locating EMI, though they are not necessarily equipped to address it if found in a foreign country.

The final vestiges of Raidrs will be shuttered in September; it has been a long time coming. The then-Air Force Space Command chief, Gen. William Shelton, proposed the termination May 13, 2014; the program executive officer signed the order a month later. Slater says the termination was a result, at least in part, of performance issues. The Raidrs Block 10 system fell short in operational testing and relied upon an unsupported operating system, he said. “The cost to upgrade to a newer operating system and to implement technical solutions to meet performance criteria was more than [Space Command] budgets would allow,” Slater explained.

Shelton’s recommendation came only two years after the objective system was fielded. Maj. Gen. Roger Teague, now director of space procurements for the Air Force secretary, said in April 2012 when he was a one-star general overseeing strategy for Space Command, that fielding Raidrs was one of the command’s successes for 2012. Last month, Teague said he was unable to address what capabilities would be lost with the Raidrs termination or those that could endure, indicating security constraints.

Raidrs began in 2005 with a development contract for the system; Integral Systems of Lanham, Maryland, won the work. The company is now owned by Kratos Defense and Security Solutions. What began in July 2005 as a prototype slated for 120 days of operations in the Middle East has been used there ever since. The prototype was capable of monitoring roughly 500 signals at once. Air Force officials have provided few details on the program over the past decade.

However, during an interview with Aviation Week in 2007, the commander of the 16th Space Control Sqdn., which operated Raidrs, provided a peek into its capabilities (AW&ST Nov. 19, 2007, p. 52). Each Raidrs site was envisioned to consist of six, 2.4 meter (7.87-ft.) antennas to monitor signals. Another 3.7-meter dish was used to characterize interference using a powerful system called “Blackbird” that acts like a spectrum analyzer. And two more 4.5-meter antennas are used to identify a footprint of space where the jammer is located.

What began as a 120-day Raidrs pilot project in the Middle East in 2005 has continued to operate, though the Air Force plans to end it in September.

The operational concept called for identifying the location of the interference and then relying on military forces or diplomatic measures to address hostile jamming activity. Raidrs was designed to alert operators to anomalies in signals in the C, Ku, X and UHF frequencies; the program was envisioned before the explosion of interest in Ka communications.

The recommendation to terminate Raidrs came just over a year after officials broke ground at a $14.3 million central operating location at Peterson AFB, Colorado. Five transportable ground segments were planned for Lualualei Naval Station, Hawaii; Cape Canaveral AFS, Florida; Misawa AB, Japan; Kapaun AB, Germany; and a classified location in Central Command. This footprint was designed to provide near-global coverage in key areas such as the Middle East, North America and Pacific.

Other Raidrs blocks were envisioned. One, outlined in 2011 by Michael Hamel, then the three-star commander of the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, was to help counter antisatellite missiles and other threats such as lasers. This concept gained steam after China’s 2007 demonstration of a developmental antisatellite interceptor to down its own aging weather satellite, a gutsy display of a capability tested by the U.S. 22 years earlier. Pentagon officials were prompted to place more priority on some space control efforts. Industry sources suggest this Raidrs block, which was never realized, likely will be satisfied by another program, which is probably classified.

With this block, satellite operators were pursuing a concept of “every satellite a sensor,” says one industry source. The command could more closely monitor each satellite’s telemetry to craft a baseline. Once crafted, software could alert operators to any anomaly. For example, if an imaging satellite experiences an unexpected temperature change routinely in its orbital path, this could indicate attack by a laser employed in that location, a capability long under development in Russia and, possibly, China.

“Ultimately, in the event of attempted jamming against our assets, we will leverage the full range of cross-domain capabilities to fight through that threat,” says Capt. Nicholas Mercurio, spokesman for 14th Air Force. It includes the Joint Space Operations Center (Jspoc), where operators took action based on Raidrs data. His comments echo those of Hyten during recent public appearances, though the rhetoric is backed by few specifics. 14th Air Force officials declined to say what capability was lost with the termination of Raidrs and what other capabilities may be developed or fielded to continue the mission.

Mercurio points to a new Commercial Integration Cell (CIC) in the Jspoc as a measure to ensure the military is “working better to mitigate EMI” with commercial operators. The CIC will begin a six-month trial operation in July (AW&ST May 4, p. 63). Manned by commercial operators, the CIC will allow them to better share data on satellite health and operators in real time, a capability that is currently lacking. “The pilot program will research and develop the technical and legal aspects of public and private partnerships leveraging mutual capabilities and information sets to enhance” the mission, Slater says.

One question to be addressed: To what extent should the Pentagon protect those commercial assets on which it relies for operations.


U.S. report details China’s work on anti-satellite weapons

Fri May 8, 2015 6:25pm EDT


By Andrea Shalal


May 8 China has the most rapidly growing space program in the world, and continues to develop lasers, satellite jammers and other weapons aimed at the space-based assets of adversaries, a new U.S. report said on Friday.

China has also built a “vast ground infrastructure” to build, launch and control satellites, said the U.S. Defense Department’s annual report to Congress on military and security issues related to China.

The report marked the latest push by U.S. military officials to highlight increasing threats to U.S. satellite systems. Those concerns prompted the Obama administration to propose $5 billion in extra spending over the next five years to increase the security and resilience of U.S. military and spy satellites.

By October 2014, China had launched 16 spacecraft that had expanded its satellite communications and surveillance capabilities, including the first satellite that provided very high resolution imagery, the report said.

The report provided new details about China’s so-called “counterspace” technologies. It said a launch in July 2014 had renewed concerns about China’s development of destructive space technologies, despite public statements about the use of space for peaceful purposes.

“The U.S. government is providing more details on Chinese counterspace activities than they have in the past,” said Brian Weeden with the nonprofit Secure World Foundation. “The Pentagon is clearly increasingly alarmed about China’s growing space capabilities and counterspace capabilities.”

The July 2014 launch did not destroy a satellite or create space debris, but the report cited evidence that suggested it was a follow-up to the January 2007 test that destroyed a defunct weather satellite and created hundreds of pieces of space debris.

In May 2013, China also launched an object into space on a ballistic trajectory with a peak altitude of over 30,000 km (18,641 miles), putting it near geosynchronous orbit, where many nations have communications and earth-sensing satellites, the report said.

The space vehicle reentered Earth’s orbit after 9.5 hours, which was not consistent with traditional space-launch vehicles, ballistic missiles or rocket launches used for scientific research, but could indicate a counterspace mission.

China had not responded to queries from the U.S. government and other groups about the purpose and nature of the launch.

Chinese military writings continued to emphasize the necessity of “destroying, damaging, and interfering with the enemy’s reconnaissance … and communications satellites” to “blind and deafen the enemy,” the report said. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal. Editing by Andre Grenon)



Oil falls toward $65 on signs of U.S. shale oil recovery

Mon May 11, 2015 8:30am EDT

LONDON | By Ron Bousso


Oil slipped toward $65 a barrel on Monday as signs that U.S. shale oil production was recovering after a recent price rally renewed concerns of a growing global supply glut.

China’s latest move to bolster its economy offset some of the losses as it raised hopes that the world’s top energy consumer would help absorb supplies.

Brent crude for June was down 30 cents at $65.09 a barrel by 1225 GMT (8.25 a.m. EDT) after dropping 1.6 percent last week. June U.S. light crude was up 15 cents to $59.54 a barrel after rising for eight straight weeks, the longest winning stretch since early 2013.

Analysts talk of a growing disconnect between the futures market, which has gained more than 40 percent since its January low, and a growing physical supply glut.

“The market is pretty much ahead of itself as the overall outlook is still bearish,” said Commerzbank analyst Eugen Weinberg.

In a sign that the market is responding to the recent price gains, U.S. drillers added rigs to the Permian basin for the first time this year after weeks of idling rigs.

Overall, the number of active oil rigs declined for the 22nd week in a row, but the rate of decline has slowed in recent weeks.

Analysts at Morgan Stanley said growing supplies in the physical market, signs of increasing activity in U.S. shale oil production and potential for higher OPEC output are weighing on the outlook.

“We have growing concerns about crude fundamentals in the second half of 2015 and 2016,” the bank said in a note to clients.

Brent’s four-week advance to hit 2015 highs halted late last week as excess European and African crude supply dragged prices down, with a rally technically exhausted.

Investors will be looking at Wednesday’s monthly report from the International Energy Agency to see if falling oil prices have boosted global demand for oil, Weinberg said.

China cut interest rates for the third time in six months on Sunday to stoke its sputtering economy, which is headed for its worst year in a quarter of century.

Data on Friday showed China ahead of the United States as the world’s top oil importer in April, as the Asian economy seized on lower crude prices to stock up.

Hedge funds and money managers increased their bets on rising crude oil prices for a seventh consecutive week, to their highest levels on record, exchange data showed.

In Libya, oil production remained volatile after a protest closed the Nafoura oilfield, cutting output at Libya’s Arabian Gulf Oil Co (AGOCO) by some 35,000 barrels per day.


What the Pentagon Thinks of China’s Military

The U.S. Department of Defense’s 2015 report on China’s military offers a detailed look into the PLA.

By Ankit Panda for The Diplomat

May 11, 2015


On Friday, May 8, the United States Department of Defense released its annual report to Congress on China’s military and security developments. The full report is available in PDF form here. The report offers helpful insight into the U.S. government’s threat perception of China’s military and the issues that are primarily shaping U.S. strategic thinking. After reading the report, the one major takeaway is that the United States is primarily concerned with China’s naval modernization. In fact, such is the emphasis on China’s navy, its maritime activities, and modernization, the People’s Liberation Army’s ground forces receive little mention, relegated to a few scattered paragraphs here and there. In this sense, the Pentagon’s 2015 report appears to be heavily influenced by the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence’s earlier report from this year (released for the first time in six years) which outlined China’s naval modernization in considerable detail.

The report is a sobering reminder that, despite China’s headline-grabbing land reclamation activities in the South China Sea and its ongoing dispute with Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islets in the East China Sea, the primary driver of China’s military modernization continues to be “potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait.” To this end, the Pentagon’s report outlines the situation in the Taiwan Strait, including the military balance across the strait (spoiler: it heavily favors China). China’s defense budget is roughly ten times that of Taiwan’s, and continues to grow.

At the same time, the report does not sideline or underemphasize the seriousness of China’s activities in the East and South China Seas. The report contains a helpful update on China’s “use of low-intensity coercion” (what some have euphemistically called “salami slicing”) in the South China Sea. The Pentagon notes China’s use of white-hulled Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessels to advance its interests without escalating disputes to a military level. The report’s release, incidentally, coincides with the one-year anniversary of China’s decision to move an oil rig into Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) last year, an event that sparked a major row between the two countries and presaged China’s increasing assertiveness in the region.

In hardware terms, the report offers updates on China’s military modernization and updates on the scope of its activities. It notes that China is broadening the geographic reach of its military activities, particularly in the Indian Ocean Region. It confirms that China’s nuclear powered Shang-class and Song-class submarines have deployed in the Indian Ocean (the latter drew attention in late 2014 when it was spotted at a dock in Colombo, Sri Lanka).  It further confirms China’s continued positioning of artillery and short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) opposite Taiwan. Beijing possess 1,200 SRBMs, including the 800-1,000 km range DF-16. Its medium-range ballistic missile (MRBMs) continue to grow as well, including the DF-21D “carrier killer” anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM).

As a final note, the report notes that as a consequence of China’s speedy and broad naval modernization, its indigenous naval and shipbuilding industry is improving both its capacity and capability. This suggests that China could begin exporting more surface ships than ever before in the coming years. As I noted last week, China may be looking to sell Russia its Jiangkai-II-class frigates; by some measures, Chinese shipyards are able to produce frigates up to seven times faster than their Russian counterparts. China exported $14 billion in conventional arms from 2009 to 2013, and this is exposed to grow. Pakistan’s is China’s primary customer for its conventional arms, and Sub-Saharan Africa is where China dominates as the top arms supplier.



Apple to DoD: Here’s What To Do If Terrorists Take Down the Cell Network

May 8, 2015

By Aliya Sternstein Nextgov


The iPhone company says there’s a way to keep communicating during a catastrophe.

Correction: In an earlier version of this article statements made by Apple’s Bud Tribble were incorrectly attributed to Defense Department Chief Information Officer Terry Halvorsen. The plan to use cellphones in a national emergency was a suggestion made to the Pentagon not a plan the department is currently undertaking.

Let’s say it’s 2016 and the government has a message to get out to the public—ISIS is believed to be waging an attack on cellphone towers in the United States. How can the feds communicate that to a population of cord cutters when the towers are down?

That hypothetical scenario is one of the problems the government and telecommunications providers are grappling with, as they strategize how to maintain the integrity of emergency communications in an increasingly wireless world.

There are some solutions being floated around the Defense Department by the President’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee, a panel that compiles recommendations on critical national security and emergency preparedness issues.

“We need to think about in the digital environment how do we recreate the old national emergency broadcast and ask could we use cellphones, for example, differently?” Defense Chief Information Officer Terry Halvorsen said at a committee meeting on Wednesday.

That smartphone may not be as inert as most would expect when towers go kaput.

“At the base level, electronics that people have in their pockets are radio transceivers and they can not only talk to cell towers, they can talk to each other,” Bud Tribble, Apple vice president of software technology, told Halvorsen.

“Should we mesh these together” if towers are unavailable “to propagate a broadcast signal to replace the old civil defense broadcast?” Tribble posited, referring to a Cold War-era arrangement for discreetly repeating messages from one radio station to another across the country.

“It would be unimaginable 50 years ago to talk about a situation where every citizen has a UHF transceiver in their pocket, but that’s what we have today and we should think out of the box in how to leverage that in emergency situations,” he said.

The advisory council has long warned the government about the difficulty of pushing out Wi-Fi and broadband communications to the masses during disasters.

“A router placed at the edge of the network to connect various types of residential, cellular, satellite or enterprise clients to the core network may experience congestion at peak traffic times or during network events,” panel members wrote in a 2008 report on National Security and Emergency Preparedness Internet Protocol-Based Traffic.

A federal government colleague of Halvorsen’s from the Department of Homeland Security pointed out one hiccup with harnessing the distributed-cellular power of crowds to get out a message.

“In a world where everybody can broadcast, the ability to spoof, or fake, a government broadcast is obviously increased,” said Andy Ozment, assistant secretary of the DHS Office of Cybersecurity and Communications.

Whereas now, “the likelihood that somebody will fake a government broadcast that overrides all the TV channels in the nation is relatively low; the likelihood that somebody will fake a government broadcast that appears on one stream of some commercial service is not as low at all,” Ozment cautioned.

There have, in fact, been instances of hackers interrupting regular programming to issue false warnings.

In 2013, a Montana TV station broadcast was disrupted by news of a zombie apocalypse, The Associated Press reported at the time. Unauthorized users broke into the Emergency Alert System of KRTV and its CW channel. According to the New York Daily News, a computerized voice advised: the “bodies of the dead are rising from their graves. Follow the messages on screen that will be updated as information becomes available. Do not attempt to approach or apprehend these bodies as they are considered extremely dangerous.”

The government should make it harder for pranksters or terrorists to log into emergency communications systems, Tribble acknowledged.

“You don’t want some teenager thinking—’Oh, this is Super Twitter,'” he said. “It comes down to who has the keys that authorize such a transmission so that kind of design has to be thought about up front to make sure that this is a secure mechanism. ”



FAA picks Mississippi State to lead unmanned aircraft center     

by Press • 10 May 2015


STARKVILLE — The Federal Aviation Administration announced Friday that Mississippi State University will lead a team of 13 universities in running a new national center to research unmanned aerial vehicles.

The National Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems could signify that Mississippi’s effort to become a bigger player in the rapidly expanding world of drones is nearing liftoff.

The Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE) is supposed to help the FAA find ways to safely combine drones with current manned aircraft. The research areas initially will include technology to allow aircraft to detect and avoid each other, how to fly safely at low altitudes, and how to work with air traffic control.

“We expect this team will help us to educate and train a cadre of unmanned aircraft professionals well into the future,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.

The FAA expects the center to begin research by September and be fully operational by January 2016. Congress has put up $5 million so far to fund the effort, with the universities planning to match the money.

“This has been a six-year effort for Mississippi State and three years for our partner universities. We picked our team because they know unmanned systems and they know the FAA. That will make it easier to turn UAS research into FAA rules quickly,” retired Air Force General James Poss, who leads MSU’s team, said in a statement.

Research areas initially will include detect-and-avoid technology, low-altitude operations safety and compatibility with air traffic control operations. The idea is to maximize the potential of drones while minimizing changes to current manned aircraft rules.

U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., said the alliance is meant to be the nation’s top civilian academic center for research and policy development related to unmanned aircraft.

“Unmanned systems are here to stay and this national center will help ensure that they are used to improve American security and productivity, while protecting privacy,” Cochran said in a statement.

MSU said the center’s research will be concentrated at the Raspet Flight Research Lab on its Starkville campus, as well as a base at the Stennis Space Center to use airspace over the Gulf of Mexico, and in Mississippi’s Delta region for learning about drone uses in precision agriculture.

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International projects the industry will create more than 100,000 jobs and $82 billion in economic impact in the first decade after the FAA allows normal commercial operations.

Today, Mississippi has about 250 jobs in the sector, including Northrop Grumman Corp.’s assembly facility in Moss Point, as well as Stark Aerospace and Aurora Flight Sciences at Golden Triangle Regional Airport near Columbus. State officials hope the research effort multiplies that figure. Gov. Phil Bryant said he was “thrilled with the FAA’s decision.”

Eighteen of the world’s leading research universities and a hundred leading industry, government partners comprise the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence, or ASSURE.

ASSURE possesses the expertise, infrastructure and outstanding track record of success that the FAA Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems demands. Contact

Maj Gen (Ret.) James Poss
Executive Director

Brandy Akers
Financial Manager

Core Universities

Mississippi State University (Lead)
Robert Moorhead
Director, Geosystems Research Institute at Mississippi State University

Ratneshwar (Ratan) Jha
Director, Raspet Flight Research Laboratory at Mississippi State University

Drexel University
Dr. Kurtulus Izzetoglu
Assistant Professor of Research, School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems

Embry Riddle Aeronautical University
Susan Allen
Associate Dean for Research, College of Engineering

Kansas State University
Kurt Barnhart
Associate Dean for Research, College of Engineering

Montana State University
Douglas S. Cairns
Lsysle A. Wood Distinguished Professor

New Mexico State University
Dallas Brooks
Director of Aerospace Research and Development

North Carolina State University
Kyle Snyder
Director NexGen Air Transportation Center at ITRE

Oregon State University
Dr. Michael G. Wing
Director, Aerial Information Systems Lab

Wichita State University
Tom Aldag
Director, Research and Development, The National Institute for Aviation Research

University of Alabama in Huntsville
David Arterburn
Director, Rotor Craft Systems Engineering and Simulation Center

University of Alaska Fairbanks
Marty W. Rogers
Director, The Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Geophysical Institute

University of Kansas
Mark Ewing
Director, KU-FRL

University of North Dakota
Mike Corcoran
Technical Program Director, UAS Center of Excellence

Affiliate Universities

Auburn University
Earle Thompson
Deputy Director, Military Research Programs

Indiana State University
Richard Baker
Director, Center or Unmanned Systems & Human Capital Development

Louisiana Tech University
Rastko R. Selmic
AT&T Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering

Tuskegee University
Dr. M. Javed Kahn
Professor and Head, Aerospace Science and d Engineering Department

University of Concordia
Shelley Sitahal
Director, Research Partnerships and Innovation

University of Southampton
Jim Scanlan
Professor of Aerospace and Design, Dirctor of MSC Unmanned Aircraft Systems Design



New collision avoidance unit for small drones available

by Press • 12 May 2015

A company in Germany is offering a new solution to the problem of drone collision: a collision avoidance unit which works with different sensors, does not need GPS-positioning and can be fitted into almost any rotary wing or multirotor platform.

Drones have already become an important tool for many businesses and we have still to understand the full impact of this new industry. What is already clear is that, apart from its huge economic potential, the small and agile drones also represent a real danger: touch an obstacle with the blades of a rotorcraft, and it will come falling down. To illustrate the severity of the problem just recall that every single month, on average, there are at least 25 cases of near-collision events involving drones and airplanes.

Instead of trying to come up with a “be-all ” solution, the company AEVO GmbH in Germany has developed an electronic unit called AECAS which receives obstacle and user command information and, solely based on this information, determines a set of command corrections which prevent the flight vehicle from colliding. The obstacle information can be passed to the AECAS unit either by directly connecting a sensor or by providing obstacle information in a specific standard format – in this way users are free to choose the sensor they want and where or how to integrate it.

The AECAS units were designed to be completely independent of GPS positioning. In order to know how fast the vehicle is moving without relying on GPS information, the team at AEVO developed a new depth-based SLAM technology which uses the information of where obstacles “are” relative to the vehicle to find out “how” to avoid them.

Depending on the AECAS model, you get 3 levels of collision avoidance capability:

•EDC – Emergency Distance Control, for keeping a minimum distance between vehicle and obstacles (available with the AECAS100 and AECAS2000 models)

•ABS – Automated Braking Supervisor, for gradually braking before coming too close to obstacles (available only with the AECAS2000)

•HIBS – High-Performance Braking Supervisor, for very demanding flight profiles (available only with the AECAS2000)

The AECAS100 model costs 249,- EUR before taxes and can be ordered online. The advanced model AECAS 2000 will be available for order in the summer. For more information please visit


Sating the appetite for bandwidth

John Edwards and Eve Keiser, Contributing Writers 8 a.m. EDT May 12, 2015

Although the military already depends on commercial suppliers for the vast majority of its communications bandwidth, it is expected that industry-supplied bandwidth will play an even greater role as U.S. foreign and military strategy pivots toward Asia and communication needs grow.

“The use of the commercial bandwidth is really going to explode in the next several years,” said Matt Collins, advanced programs manager for Harris Corp.’s government communications systems division in Melbourne, Florida. “The mission needs it; everybody is demanding situational awareness and a lot of data at the edge.”

Two key tactical network programs make “robust use” of commercial satellite bandwidth providers: the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) and the Blue Force Tracker (BFT) efforts, said Paul Mehney, chief of strategic initiatives at Army Program Executive Office Command Control Communications in Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. “All WIN-T programs were designed to use commercial bandwidth [Ku] as well as military bandwidth [Ka], based on availability,” he said. “The BFT1 and BFT2 systems both use commercial L-band satcom.”

To date, WIN-T bandwidth has been primarily available only from commercial satellite providers, Mehney said. But that situation is now changing. “With the deployment of the Wideband Global SATCOM [WGS] System, military Ka and X bands have started to be used for operations and, in some cases, used in training,” Mehney said. “Although, military Ka time is still a limited resource until WGS reaches its full capacity, and access to it is governed by mission priorities, cost constraints have made military time more attractive in order save significant amounts of funding that can be used for other priorities.”

Due to the rapid growth of BFT fielding and related factors, including size, weight and power, the system continues to rely on commercial satellite bandwidth. “Studies have been conducted for use of X band and [ultra high frequency], but neither can fully meet the BFT requirements,” Mehney said.

Asia pivot

With U.S. policy now pivoting toward Asia, the DoD is considering its bandwidth options and costs. Yet, as planners begin searching for commercial bandwidth to serve troops in the region, they might find only limited amounts of commercial satellite bandwidth available.

Skot Butler, vice president of satellite networks and space services for Intelsat General, noted that the Asian satellite market is currently dominated by small national and regional service providers, a situation that discourages global operators from dedicating satellites to the region. “If the demand in the Pacific were to spike anything like what it did in Southwest Asia, it would be much, much harder for the commercial satellite industry to have that sort of capacity available overnight,” he said.

Mehney, however, feels that the situation will be manageable using existing service contracts. “The DISA Future Commercial Satellite Communications Services Acquisition contract offers emergency line item numbers that could provide global satcom coverage within days of the contract modification,” he said. “This was employed recently in support of Operational United Assistance, when Blue Force Tracker 1 and 2 capability was quickly needed in West Africa.”

Transition plans

Meheny said that to control costs the Army would prefer to use military satellite bandwidth whenever possible. “Although [a] commercial approach does allow for greater flexibility … it remains costly to employ, with some programs having to execute a logistics plan to account for use of hardware for both commercial and military bands,” he said.

WIN-T will continue to utilize both commercial and military satellite times as needed, Mehney said. “Although, use of military Ka band is relatively newer to some units, the likely usage will increase over time as familiarity with processes, procedures and network performance increases,” he said. WIN-T is also working with various Army organizations to facilitate the transition, on a larger scale, from commercial to military bands use, Mehney noted.

The BFT program has managed to reduce overall L band outlays and continues to implement efficiencies, Mehney noted.

What The B-3 Bomber Should Be

By Robbin Laird

on May 12, 2015 at 10:08 AM

The bomber has a long and distinguished history in the Air Force and its predecessor, the Army Air Corps. When the B-17 Flying Fortress was born, it was a controversial aircraft, but proved its worth when Nazi Germany controlled a continent and only the B-17 fleet could deliver strikes inside Nazi-controlled territory, thanks to the bomber’s range and payload.

But the road to the B-17 was not smooth. Before the war, fighter pilots and bomber advocates argued who was best and the bombers won, at great cost. B-17s flew unescorted into Nazi territory and their crews died in great numbers until long-range fighters were deployed. Since then, bombers and fighters have fought as interactive capabilities.

With the addition of the B-29, a new tool set was added to Pacific operations and it became the harbinger of things to come in the Cold War when the B-52 entered the fleet. Air Force bombers became “strategic” assets for their role as a central part of the nuclear triad. Then their usefulness in conventional conflicts became clear during the Vietnam War because of the amount of ordinance it could deliver.

Flash forward to 2015 and the B-52 is still around. It’s been joined by the B-1 and the B-2; all of which are playing roles unimagined at the time the B-52 was introduced. Today bombers perform tactical missions such as Close Air Support, thanks to precision-guided munitions and the sensors that can be used to guide them to their targets.

There has been an inversion of the strategic and tactical with the evolution of bombers, whereby small groups of aircraft can deliver strategic effects while conducting what would normally be described as tactical missions. Any new bomber like the Long Range Strike Bomber — generally becoming known as the B-3 — will be born in a period where the tactical and strategic are being redefined.

Although the new bomber is not going to be designed as a leap-ahead capability — since it will depend mostly on existing technologies such as enhancements made over the years to the B-2 — the B-3 is not just a successor to to the B-2, any more than the Osprey was a replacement for the CH-46. As Marine Lt. Col. Berke – the first F-35B squadron commander who also flew F-22s — has put it: “The Osprey is the chronological successor to the CH-46 but that is about it. It compares in no other way.”

The B-3, which will be built either by a Boeing-Lockheed team or Northrop Grumman, will enter a fleet in the midst of a revolution in air combat. Sea and air operations are now inextricably intertwined with air power, so much so that airpower is the ubiquitous enabler for 21st century combat operations. With the introduction of the F-35 global fleet, a re-norming of airpower is underway and an offensive-defensive enterprise is being created for the US and its allies to prevail against wide-ranging global threats.

Modern systems such as the F-35 create a grid so individual aircraft can operate in an area as a seamless whole, able to strike or defend simultaneously. This is enabled by what we’ve dubbed the evolution of C5ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Combat Systems, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance).

The B-3 is not simply going to provide more ordnance over greater distance to do strategic missions; it is about reinforcing and enabling greater capabilities for a radically different combat air force. Range and payload will be important elements of the basic platform, as will leveraging new concepts of stealth to provide low observability. But that is simply a foundation.

First, the bomber needs to be capable of drawing upon the sensor rich environment being delivered by the global F-35 fleet, unmanned systems, and both American and allied ISR assets.

Second, it needs to have a C2 system whereby it can obtain and provide tailored information to the warfighter engaged in a mission.

Third, with the scalable force, it will need to be able to provide battle management capabilities for more forward-deployed or shorter-range assets.

Fourth, the weapons revolution is accelerating, and over time, different weapons could well be placed on different platforms, so that the B-3 will need to able to not simply to manage the weapons it has onboard organically, but to be able to operate in a sensor-enabled strike environment, where it is a key asset but not necessarily the lead or even most important asset.

Fifth, not only will the B-3 become a nuclear delivery vehicle but a deterrent asset able to work with the combat air force to deliver timely and effective strikes against nuclear powers like North Korea before they can use their missiles and weapons against US and allied targets.


In other words, the B-3 is part of the re-norming of airpower, a key enabler of the forward deployed F-35 global enterprise, a key element in both living off and providing targeted information, and key user and provider of sensor enabled weapons, and a key deterrent weapon against second nuclear age powers.

This has little to do with the B-17, somewhat more like the B-52 but not really about building a powerful organic strategic asset like the B-2. It is about being a highly effective enabler of more effective longer-range engagement operations, which can effectively tap into joint or coalition airpower.

For example, fifth generation aircraft and missile defense systems can find targets for the weapons on the B-3. It can then function as the battle manager for integrated air operations. This means that that the sensors, the C2 and information management capabilities of the bomber are a crucial element of its capability.

At the heart of shaping an offensive-defensive enterprise is what one might call the S3Revolution. Sensors, stealth and speed enable the air combat enterprise to find, kill and respond effectively to the numerous threats that global powers and pop up forces can present to the US and its allies.

As the central force in the air combat enterprise, the B-3 can ensure the United States has the upper hand with the Chinese in a 21st-century strategic engagement. The bomber, acting as the battle manager, provides a new kind of presence, linked by highly interoperable, Lego-like blocks that can work with allies that allow for scalable forces with reach-back to U.S. capabilities in the littoral and the homeland. The bottom line: U.S. forces need to be highly connected and interoperable with our allies. The bomber will provide a core reach-back capability enabling the entire allied force.

It is not simply about being a powerful thing in itself — a bomber — but by providing significant enhancement of the capabilities of 21st century American and allied airpower.

Robbin Laird, a defense consultant, is a member of the Breaking Defense Board of Contributors and owner of the Second Line of Defense website.


Epic Congressional Failure on Defense

Dakota L. Wood    

May 13, 2015

With versions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2016 being completed by their respective Armed Services committees (HASC last week and SASC likely at the end of this week), the House and Senate will now work to gain passage by their full chambers and reconcile differences over the next couple of weeks. Although not a spending document itself, the NDAA sets the legal framework within which the defense budget will be debated this summer and, with luck, enacted in the fall. It also tells the Department of Defense what it must or cannot do in various areas. For example, it can deny the Pentagon the ability to retire specific airplanes, require it to spend money in very specific ways on specific programs, or direct it to report to Congress on identified issues. Congress has the responsibility and obligation to exercise oversight of the funding it provides to DOD. But the current debate swirling around the FY16 NDAA is both fascinating and horrifying: like watching Rome burn. It lays bare the inability of Congress to deal with the central issues plaguing the condition of America’s military posture, most notably the Budget Control Act of 2011 (the source of sequestration) and entitlement spending (the primary driver of national debt), both of which form a heavy millstone around our nation’s neck.

Just five years ago the Army was building toward 48 brigade combat teams (BCTs). Today it has 32, a number that will likely drop to 24 or so by 2020 if sequestration spending levels remain in place. The Navy is at 272 ships. It plans to build to 308, but the total fleet will likely fall below 270 given the cost of ships and the limited funding being made available to build them. The Marine Corps had 27 infantry battalions just a few years ago but is now doing everything it can to maintain 24 on the way to 21 should BCA-levels of funding remain. The Air Force is sacrificing nearly everything to acquire the F-35. It cites profound budget shortfalls as the primary reason for trying to eliminate the A-10, KC-10, U-2, and other portions of its air fleet.

But don’t take my word for it. Recent service chief testimonies to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees illustrate the current condition of our military, the deleterious effect the Budget Control Act is having, and the very real-world problems the military services are facing. Borrowing from their testimony, let’s take each service in turn.


In providing their annual report on the posture of the U.S. Army, Secretary of the Army John McHugh and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Raymond Odierno stated that the Army needs at least 450,000 soldiers in the active component to execute the current defense strategy. In reality, the current end-strength of 490,000 allows it to maintain only 32 BCTs. At the 450,000 level, BCTs can be expected to drop into the high 20s. At 420,000 active duty troops — the level expected should sequestration continue — that number will drop to the mid-20s. According to Odierno, under full sequestration, “the Army cannot fully implement its role in the defense strategy.” The Army has testified that the FY16 spending cap is insufficient for operating in the current, and worsening, global security environment.

Why is that? It’s simple — it’s too small and it cannot even pay for what it does have. Per the Army’s posture statement, “it takes approximately 30 months [2 ½ years] to generate a fully manned and trained Regular Army BCT” and “senior headquarters … take even longer.” A capability can be eliminated in short order, but takes years to reconstitute … perhaps a reality lost on Congress. Additionally, the Army’s current aviation structure is simply unaffordable at current levels of funding. Consequently, the Army has concluded it must eliminate over 700 aircraft. At sequestration-restricted funding caps, the Army can maintain only one-third of its force at acceptable levels of readiness.

Air Force

Gen. Mark A. Welsh recently stated, “The Air Force is the smallest and oldest it has ever been,” a condition unlikely to be corrected in the near future. The replacement aircraft it is buying, and which Congress supports, are among the most expensive in its history, increasingly challenging its ability to maintain sufficient numbers within a fixed budget. At current levels of funding, there simply isn’t enough money to keep the Air Force from shrinking and aging further.

Drawing directly from Welsh’s testimony, consider that the average age of aircraft in its inventory is 27 years (planned service life for aircraft is generally 20 years or so); the newest B-52 bomber is 53 years old. Since Desert Storm, the Air Force has reduced its inventory over 3,000 aircraft, from 8,600 to 5,452. Since FY12, it has lost $64 billion in funding. If the Air Force shut off all utilities at all major installations for 12 years, or quit all flying for nearly two years, it would save only $12 billion — enough to buy back just one year of sequestered funds.

Denied the ability to shed more aircraft, close bases, or adjust compensation, the Air Force has only three options for living within its means: shed people, reduce spending on readiness, or delay modernization. The other services face those same options, too.


To meet operational requirements, the Navy keeps about one-third of its fleet underway in a deployed status. At 270 or so ships, that means approximately 95 are available for daily use. But these 95 are spread globally, meaning only 50-60 or so are available in the Western Pacific. Meanwhile, China fields a navy of 270 or more ships and can leverage shore-based weapons to influence operations far out to sea.

The cumulative effect of budget shortfalls due to the Budget Control Act has resulted in the Navy’s accepting significant risk to meet defense strategy requirements, as stated by Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, who further clarified this to mean that, “ships will arrive late to a combat zone, and engage in conflict without the benefit of markedly superior combat systems, sensors and networks, or desired levels of munitions inventories. In real terms, this means longer timelines to achieve victory, more military and civilian lives lost, and potentially less credibility to deter adversaries and assure allies in the future.”

The Navy’s problems will only compound in future years given that it faces a bow-wave of very high modernization costs. It must replace the Ohio-class submarine, continue producing the Ford-class aircraft carrier, create a new class of small surface combatant, and continue to replace various combat logistics vessels (without which the Navy’s fleet cannot fight), all items highlighted by Greenert in his testimony. The Navy can now surge only one-third of the force required by Combatant Commanders to meet contingency requirements. Current maintenance backlogs resulting from sequestration to date will take approximately five years to clear.

Marine Corps

The Marine Corps is on a permanent deployment-to-dwell cycle of 1:2, meaning a Marine deploys for 6-7 months, returns home for 12-14 months, then starts the cycle again, a matter of substantial concern to Gen. Joseph Dunford, Commandant of the Marine Corps, who views this as a pacing issue of sorts in that it reflects the stresses being placed on the Marines that make up the Corps and the overall readiness of the Corps as a combat force. The more often people and equipment are deployed for extended use, the more rapidly the force is worn-down and the more it costs to return it to fighting shape. The problem is that the Marine Corps only has three-quarters to two-thirds of the number of battalions it has historically needed to meet operational requirements. Like the Army and Air Force, it has been forced to adopt “tiered” readiness, defer maintenance, and delay some modernization efforts due to lack of adequate funding.

A Dangerous Path

The Heritage Foundation’s “2015 Index of U.S. Military Strength,” attempts to provide a needs-based assessment of the status of U.S. military power. To establish a reasonable benchmark for how much military force the United States should have, the Index examined a series of blue-ribbon studies — including every Quadrennial Defense Review and National Defense Panel report from the past 30 years as well as the history of U.S. commitments to major conventional wars since World War II. That exhaustive review indicated that the United States needs an active Army of 50 BCTs, a Marine Corps of 36 battalions, a Navy of at least 346 ships (including 15 aircraft carriers and 45-50 amphibious ships), and an Air Force of at least 1,200 fighter/attack aircraft, not counting those needed to protect U.S. airspace.

Clearly, current funding levels are profoundly short of the spending historically necessary, and made available, to ensure the United States is able to protect its most vital national interests. By 2020, the United States will spend more on paying interest on its national debt than it does on the defense budget and will start shouldering the additional fiscal burden of Baby Boomers moving into their retirement years and placing ever increasing demands on nondiscretionary spending like Social Security and Medicare.

The dramatically expanded Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account is a gimmick or “work-around” to compensate for Congress’s inability to solve the Budget Control Act dilemma it created in 2011. No one in Congress likes it but even deficit-hawks like Senator McCain acknowledge that at present it is the only way to stem the decline of defense. Though it may enable the services to stave off further declines in readiness and preserve some modernization, it will not allow the services to maintain necessary capacity, nor will it enable them to fix the more fundamental problems leading to the shrinking, aging, and less-ready posture of the U.S. military in the first place.

Critics of defense spending typically note several areas they think should be cut. They include:

◦Growth of staffs, especially among civilians at the Pentagon,

◦Increased bureaucratic layering,

◦Compensation costs, including health care, retirement, and related benefits associated with service,

◦Excess infrastructure,

◦And lack of competition among defense suppliers that would presumably drive down the cost of platforms, weapons, and supporting systems.


Yet Congress has prevented the Department of Defense from directly addressing these areas. It has prohibited the Pentagon from adjusting pay and benefits and has barred it from even considering or planning for another round of base realignment and closure. Further, Congress supports service efforts to reduce the variety of platforms that constitute a capability under the guise of achieving greater efficiencies and lower cost of ownership yet levies additional demands for reports, plans, and accountability mechanisms all of which require additional people and resources to produce. As but one example, the Department must submit an annual aviation plan that covers the Future Years Defense Program, showing Congress how the services are making best use of funding for aviation … presumably a good thing. But, the latest report cost $1,112,901 to produce, and it has to be submitted every year.

What are the consequences? Unfortunately, the services are left with few options other than to reduce the number of people they pay, reduce what they spend to keep the force ready and competent, or defer replacing current equipment that has been prematurely aged due to over a decade of constant use. The services are forced to continue spending what money they do receive on things they don’t need, don’t want, or can’t afford. Businesses are forced out of the defense industry, a natural result when a single manufacturer wins the contract for the single platform that will constitute the totality of a given capability. And to do the work demanded by Congress, the services must either hire more civilians or contractors (since fewer uniformed personnel are available) or divert more of their shrinking funds to producing reports that, in all likelihood, very few people will ever read anyway.

Simply put: Congress created the problem that has resulted in a steadily shrinking, aging, and less-ready force; it cannot agree on any way to undo it; it continues to levy more demands on the military while restricting the military’s ability to adjust to its environment; and it is now looking for quick fixes to mitigate the damage without getting to the actual problem itself.

In reality, this problem has no easy answers, no simple solutions. As long as funding is fixed by law at BCA levels, the defense posture of the United States will continue to decay. And as long as Congress avoids the more important national spending crisis — the non-discretionary accounts over which DOD has no authority — the United States will have no option other than to sacrifice its security.

A glance at news headlines on any given day is quite disheartening. We see Russia dismantling Europe; a paranoid and delusional nuclear-armed regime in North Korea; an increasingly aggressive China bent on regional hegemony, and a Middle East and Africa bedeviled by problems in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, much of North Africa, Nigeria and more. Given the widespread deterioration of the global security environment, now seems to be a poor time to sap the military strength of America — especially in deference to policies that will only worsen the problem.

Dakota L. Wood is a senior research fellow specializing in defense programs for The Heritage Foundation’s Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy.

Trimble UAV used to revolutionise Potato Growth Yield

by Press • 13 May 2015

The James Hutton Institute, in Invergowrie, Scotland have been utilising the Trimble UX5 UAV in conjunction with Trimble V10 imaging rovers to optimize plant health monitoring.

Plant phenotyping and monitoring allows the comprehensive assessment of complex traits by evaluating and measuring the contributing individual parameters. Ankush Prashar and Glenn Bryan from The James Hutton Institute and Hamlyn Jones from University of Dundee, in collaboration with Survey Solutions Scotland are using the Trimble UX5 Aerial Imaging rover, equipped with NIR, and RGB sensors to explore the feasibility of using 3D imaging in potato field trials for quantitative assessment of potato crop growth and development.

Integration of both the UAV mounted and the V10 ground based 360° panoramic view cameras allow for measurement of morphological plant characteristics at different developmental stages. The photogrammetric processing of both aerial and ground based mosaics is performed, and measurement deliverables created using Trimble Business Center software. The data relating to these characteristics help monitor crop growth, crop development and to model canopy development for understanding the association with biomass, yield and crop phenology. This is invaluable for future breeding programs as plant architecture reflects crop adaptation to the environment and its effect on yield and yield forming parameters.

The James Hutton Institute is an internationally networked organisation and operates from multiple sites, including two main ones in Scotland. It employs more than 600 scientists and support staff, making it one of the biggest research centres in the UK and the first of its type in Europe. The institute is one of the Scottish Government’s main research providers in environmental, crop and food science and will have a major role in the Scottish knowledge economy.

Survey Solutions Scotland are the Authorised Distributor for Trimble Survey and Engineering products for Scotland


Booker and Hoven legislation will allow sUAS industry to soar.

by Press • 13 May 2015

Today the Small UAV Coalition commends Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and John Hoeven (R-ND) for introducing the Commercial UAS Modernization Act, which would create a safe and efficient way for small unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to be operated in the United States for commercial purposes.

Small UAS have been safely used around the world for many years, in industries like agriculture, oil and gas, real estate, emergency response, and movie production. For example, farmers in Japan have used small UAS to increase the yield of their crops since the 1990s. Recently, humanitarian organizations deployed small UAS in Nepal to survey damage and locate missing persons after the earthquake. The Commercial UAS Modernization Act would allow operators in the United States to take advantage of this technology now, instead of waiting one year or longer for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to publish its final rule.

The Coalition also welcomes a provision in the bill that would create a Deputy Associate Administrator within the FAA to oversee UAS research and development, develop a UAV registration system, and authorize operations beyond the parameters of the FAA’s proposed rule. The creation of this position will increase the FAA’s ability to efficiently manage this industry, and will streamline existing bureaucratic hurdles.

The Small UAV Coalition thanks Senators Hoeven and Booker for their leadership on UAS issues and their commitment to innovation in the United States. We look forward to working with the Senators to further improve the bill, in order to fully realize the economic benefits of small UAS.

The Small UAV Coalition is the nation’s leading advocate for the commercial, civil, recreational, and philanthropic use of small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones. For more information on the Small UAV Coalition, please, contact, or follow @smallUAVs on Twitter.


Darke County company gets rare permission to fly drones

May 13, 2015, 9:47am EDT

Tristan Navera

Staff Reporter-

Dayton Business Journal

Another start-up in the Dayton area has been given permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly drones.

The Federal Aviation Administration has granted special permission to U.S. Aerobotix to fly the SelectTech GeoSpatial EH-4 to perform public utility inspections. U.S. Aerobotix is based in the Darke County village of Gettysburg, while SelectTech GeoSpatial is in Springfield.

The permission from the FAA clears the way for U.S. Aerobotix to begin flying drones — making it the first such company to be able to pilot the aircraft in Ohio or Indiana to inspect power lines, substations and other infrastructure. It also paves the way for SelectTech GeoSpatial, the Springfield-based manufacturer of the EH-4, to grow.

U.S. Aerobotix Vice President Jason Adams said the drones will help inspect power lines in a safer and more inexpensive way. The EH-4 is a quadcopter UAS produced in Springfield that can be equipped with electro-optical, near infrared and heat detecting infrared sensors.

“This decision will allow us to be a member of a very high growth industry,” Adams said. “We are also very pleased to be using a custom aircraft that is wholly designed and built in Springfield, Ohio.”

The company joins a number of other Dayton firms, including Woolpert Inc., Drones that Work LLC, and 3D Aerial Solutions LLC, which have permission to operate drones commercially. The emerging industry is expected to mean $82 billion in investment and 100,000 new jobs over the next decade — much of which in the market of small craft like the EH-4.

“I am excited about working with USA in this pioneering endeavor” said Frank Beafore, executive director of SelectTech GeoSpatial. “This is just the beginning of a whole new and rapidly expanding industry utilizing (small unmanned aerial systems).”

SelectTech GeoSpatial has 25 employees, with a total of 125 between it and parent company SelectTech Services Corp.


Saudi Arabia Promises to Match Iran in Nuclear Capability


MAY 13, 2015

By Associated Press on Publish Date May 13, 2015.

WASHINGTON — When President Obama began making the case for a deal with Iran that would delay its ability to assemble an atomic weapon, his first argument was that a nuclear-armed Iran would set off a “free-for-all” of proliferation in the Arab world. “It is almost certain that other players in the region would feel it necessary to get their own nuclear weapons,” he said in 2012.

Now, as he gathered Arab leaders over dinner at the White House on Wednesday and prepared to meet with them at Camp David on Thursday, he faced a perverse consequence: Saudi Arabia and many of the smaller Arab states are now vowing to match whatever nuclear enrichment capability Iran is permitted to retain.

“We can’t sit back and be nowhere as Iran is allowed to retain much of its capability and amass its research,” one of the Arab leaders preparing to meet Mr. Obama said on Monday, declining to be named until he made his case directly to the president. Prince Turki bin Faisal, the 70-year-old former Saudi intelligence chief, has been touring the world with the same message.

“Whatever the Iranians have, we will have, too,” he said at a recent conference in Seoul, South Korea.

For a president who came to office vowing to move toward the elimination of nuclear weapons, the Iran deal has presented a new dilemma. If the agreement is sealed successfully next month — still far from guaranteed — Mr. Obama will be able to claim to have bought another decade, maybe longer, before Iran can credibly threaten to have a nuclear weapon.

But by leaving 5,000 centrifuges and a growing research and development program in place — the features of the proposed deal that Israel and the Arab states oppose virulently — Mr. Obama is essentially recognizing Iran’s right to continue enrichment of uranium, one of the two pathways to a nuclear weapon. Leaders of the Sunni Arab states are arguing that if Iran goes down that road, Washington cannot credibly argue they should not follow down the same one, even if their technological abilities are years behind Iran’s.

“With or without a deal, there will be pressure for nuclear proliferation in the Middle East,” said Gary Samore, Mr. Obama’s top nuclear adviser during the first term and now the executive director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard. “The question is one of capabilities. How would the Saudis do this without help from the outside?”

In fact, the Arab states may find it is not as easy as it sounds. The members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a loose affiliation of nations that make the crucial components for nuclear energy and, by extension, weapons projects, have a long list of components they will not ship to the Middle East. For the Saudis, and other Arab states, that leaves only North Korea and Pakistan, two countries that appear to have mastered nuclear enrichment, as possible sources.

It is doubtful that any of the American allies being hosted by Mr. Obama this week would turn to North Korea, although it supplied Syria with the components of a nuclear reactor that Israel destroyed in 2007.

Pakistan is another story. The Saudis have a natural if unacknowledged claim on the technology: They financed much of the work done by A.Q. Khan, a Pakistani nuclear scientist who ended up peddling his nuclear wares abroad. It is widely presumed that Pakistan would provide Saudi Arabia with the technology, if not a weapon itself.

The Arab leader interviewed on Monday said that countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council, all to be represented at the Camp David meeting, had discussed a collective program of their own — couched, as Iran’s is, as a peaceful effort to develop nuclear energy. The United Arab Emirates signed a deal with the United States several years ago to build nuclear power plants, but it is prohibited under that plan from enriching its own uranium.

Over the last decade, the Saudi government has financed nuclear research projects but there is no evidence that it has ever tried to build or buy facilities of the kind Iran has assembled to master the fuel cycle, the independent production of the makings of a weapon.

Still, the Saudis have given the subject of nuclear armament more than passing thought. In the 1980s they bought a type of Chinese missile, called a DF-3, that could be used effectively only to deliver a nuclear weapon because the missiles were too large and inaccurate for any other purpose. American officials, led by Robert M. Gates, then the director of the C.I.A., protested. There is no evidence the Saudis ever obtained warheads to fit atop the missiles.

Mr. Obama met with Saudi princes in the Oval Office on Wednesday — Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — who will most likely moderate their criticisms of his administration while talking directly to the president. Mr. Obama is expected to offer them and the other Arab states some security assurances, although not as explicit or legally binding as the kind that protect American treaty allies, from NATO to Japan to South Korea.

But Mr. Obama will have a difficult time overcoming the deep suspicions that the Saudis, and other Arab leaders, harbor about the Iran deal. Several of them have said that the critical problem with the tentative agreements, as described by the White House and Secretary of State John Kerry, is that they assure nothing on a permanent basis.

Prince Turki, while in Seoul, went further. “He did go behind the backs of the traditional allies of the U.S. to strike the deal,” he said of Mr. Obama during a presentation to the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, a South Korean research organization.

Although “the small print of the deal is still unknown,” he added, it “opens the door to nuclear proliferation, not closes it, as was the initial intention.”

Prince Turki argued that the United States was making a “pivot to Iran” that was ill advised, and that the United States failed to learn from North Korea’s violations of its nuclear deals. “We were America’s best friend in the Arab world for 50 years,” he said, using the past tense.


Pentagon hunts for ISIS on the secret Internet

By Barbara Starr and Jamie Crawford, CNN

Updated 6:08 PM ET, Tue May 12, 2015

Washington (CNN)—After months of bombing by the U.S. and coalition forces, ISIS remains undefeated on the ground and has now entered a new phase, using the cyber-world as a weapon.

For evidence of the evolution, one need look no further than the recent ISIS inspired attack in Garland, Texas, which was carried out after gunman Elton Simpson publicly posted a tweet on the Internet, using the hashtag #TexasAttack.

It’s a trend that has captured the attention of law enforcement and now the military.

“The thing I always look for is at what point do groups, for example, decide that they need to move from viewing the Internet as a source of recruitment, as a way to spread ideology, as a way to spread their message, their propaganda, do we see it move from that into something for greater concern as viewing it as a potential weapon system, ” said Adm. Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency and the Pentagon’s top cyber-warrior.

It’s forcing the Pentagon to confront a secret Internet most of us never see, in a place most of us have never seen. It’s called the Deep or Dark Web. The U.S. believes ISIS — and other potential terrorists — are now using the most covert part of the online world to recruit fighters, share intelligence and potentially plan real world attacks.

Think of the Internet as an iceberg.

“Everything above the water is what we would call the surface web that can be indexed through Google or you can find through a search engine. But below the water that huge iceberg up to 80% times bigger than what’s above the water, that’s the deep web, that’s the part of the web that’s not indexed,” said Lillian Ablon of the Rand Corporation. “There is so much of the web that we can’t just Google for; it’s dark to us, it’s dark to Google.”

Though a tough space to shed light on, now the Pentagon is developing a way to pry the doors open and chase ISIS and others down.

“We need a technology to discover where that content is and make it available for analysis,” said Chris White of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.


DARPA has a new military technology known as MEMEX that acts as a unique search engine — seeing patterns of activity on the Dark Web and websites not available via traditional routes like Google or Bing.

“MEMEX allows you to characterize how many websites there are and what kind of content is on them, ” White said. “It was actually first developed to track down human trafficking on the web — it’s an idea that works for an illicit activity users try to keep hidden.”

It all starts, White said, by being able to track down locations where activity is happening.

The challenge: Hiding on the web has become easier with tools like TOR, a browser that bounces communications around the world — keeping anyone from knowing what sites you visit and where you are located. That basically makes a user invisible, keeping the U.S. military and intelligence community in a high-stakes chase to find ISIS before it can strike again.


Army envisions nanosatellite swarms

Michael Peck, Contributing Writer

4 p.m. EDT May 13, 2015

The Army is looking for sensors to guide swarms of nanosatellites. The goal is a distributed aperture electro-optical sensor that will be carried in formations of nanosatellites, according to the Army research solicitation.

While each individual satellite should have a specific sensor or control function, the overall formation/swarm should have a greater function, according to the Army.

“Of particular interest are solutions with multiple onboard processing computer clusters, very high bandwidth communications architectures, imagery collection/dissemination, SAR/ISAR, MASINT, and GPS alternatives,” the solicitation reads.

However, small satellites suffer from power limitations. “Of particular interest is new power storage, collection, handling, and distribution concepts that will enable higher power components for communications and active sensors,” said the Army.


Army IT Agency says virtualization will cut IT costs in half

Marc Selinger 2:02 p.m. EDT May 13, 2015

Converting the Army’s Pentagon-based headquarters from a traditional desktop environment to a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is expected to slash total operating costs for those computers by about 50 percent.

And, in five years the savings will be enough to recoup the infrastructure-related expenses of virtualizing those 18,000 desktops. That’s according to Thomas Sasala, chief technology officer for the Army’s Information Technology Agency (ITA), and Joel Cassell, ITA’s engineering director. Both officials spoke during a recent C4ISR & Networks webcast, “DoD Virtualization: Creating visibility for the next-generation network.”

The Army virtualization project is taking place now. ITA has already conducted a similar task for 2,000 Joint Staff desktops. Virtualization creates a shared working environment that enables greater real-time collaboration within and between agencies.

With virtualization, many non-IT agencies will get out of the business of managing their own IT hardware, freeing them up to focus on their core missions, according to the ITA officials. Man-hour savings will also come from IT technicians being able to install updates without visiting individual desktops.

“You’ve got desktops sprawled out over multiple locations, and some of them are not on all the time, [so] it’s hard for them to be patched,” Cassell said. “With VDI, it’s much easier. You’re patching on the back end and keeping the infrastructure current from a vulnerability perspective. We’ve seen that’s been a tremendous benefit for us.”

Virtualization is expected to improve ITA’s ability to monitor network demand and manage network capacity accordingly. It will also provide better “data analytics,” or insight into desktop user patterns, which could help with both counterintelligence and network performance.

“We’ll be able to start gathering that telemetry and hopefully get to the point where we can start predicting failures before they actually happen,” Sasala said. Such monitoring could include “watching outages or variances in the network or performance degradations over a period of time.”

But virtualization will not usher in an online utopia. Instead, it will introduce a new set of challenges. Bob Kimball, chief technology officer for Ciena Government Solutions, cautioned that greater flexibility in a network means that security measures must be versatile enough to adapt to rapid change.

“The physical infrastructure is becoming extraordinarily more dynamic and more responsive and it is basically the engine that’s powering some of these very interesting new concepts of how to virtualize the way we work,” Kimball said. “The security environment needs to keep pace with that pace of innovation as well.”

Virtualization has other limitations. While some suggested that ITA virtualize 95 percent of the Army headquarters desktops, the agency is aiming for the lower and more realistic goal of 80 percent, according to Sasala and Cassell. While virtualization is meant to be “device agnostic,” some computers, such as laptops used by traveling employees, are not suitable for virtualization and need “localized computing capacity,” Sasala said. Burning CDs does not work well in a VDI environment, either.

Like other agencies, ITA is grappling with the growing use of encrypted communications. Sasala said his agency is implementing “additional tools” to more effectively monitor such traffic.

“We’re almost at the stage now where more than 50 percent of our traffic is encrypted, which is a huge blind spot from an intrusion protection perspective and an intrusion detection [perspective], as well as the data loss prevention perspective,” Sasala said. “So we are deploying tools to assist us in that manner.”

ITA is also assessing how virtualization will affect “cross-domain devices,” which share intelligence information among multiple security levels.

“I don’t believe there’s going to be too much of an impact there as long as the access control permissions and privileges that allow the bit to transfer … are still there,” Sasala said.


Drones Boom Raises New Question: Who Owns Your Airspace?

17 states have passed laws to restrict use of craft, but where does private property begin?

By Jack Nicas

May 13, 2015 12:43 p.m. ET

Communities across the country are grappling with a surge in drone use that’s raising safety and privacy concerns—and thorny legal questions—about a slice of sky officials have largely disregarded.

State and local police say complaints are soaring about drones flying above homes, crowds and crime scenes. At least 17 states, meanwhile, have passed laws to restrict how law enforcement and private citizens use the devices—preemptive policies that many drone users say are heavy-handed. And despite federal regulators’ stance that they alone regulate U.S. skies, some cities and towns are banning the devices, from St. Bonifacius, Minn. (pop. 2,283), to Austin, Texas, which effectively barred them at the South by Southwest technology-and-music festival in March.

“It’s a game changer,” said Richard Beary, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, who complains that local law enforcement lacks the means or legal authority to do much about the emerging drone challenge. “We’ve never been responsible for airspace before. We understand the ground game; now all of a sudden you want state and local to regulate airspace?”

Indeed, few have paid much attention to the airspace within a few hundred feet above the ground. Since 1930, planes have been largely restricted from flying below 500 feet, leaving lower altitudes mostly to birds, kites, model planes and, in some cases, helicopters.

In recent years, technology advances have made remote-controlled aircraft cheaper, more powerful and easier to fly, and now tens of thousands of the devices are cluttering that band of sky. Use is expected to soar further next year, when proposed federal rules for commercial drone flights are likely to be completed.

Those commercial rules don’t address private use by individuals, where some of the most vexing issues lie, such as how to prevent people from using drones to spy into neighbors’ windows, or flying them into manned aircraft. Those issues are falling into a regulatory no-man’s land.

The Federal Aviation Administration restricts private drones from flying near airports and manned aircraft, but says a 2012 federal law limits it from regulating most other aspects of their use. The agency also says that state and local authorities can’t regulate drone flights because it is the sole regulator of the airspace.

Local officials are acting anyway. In addition to the 17 states that have passed drone laws, at least 29 others are considering new legislation. The result is a patchwork: Texas, North Carolina and Idaho restrict drone users from filming some bystanders without permission, while Illinois bans drones from interfering with hunters.

Some cities and towns are barring drones outright, particularly ahead of big events. Augusta-Richmond County in Georgia banned the devices during the Masters golf tournament there last month. New York City Council members are considering a ban on virtually any drone flight over the city. And the manager of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge has asked lawmakers to restrict private drones after one crashed on the bridge.

Northampton, Mass., has challenged the FAA with a resolution declaring that local landowners control the 500 feet above their property. The town cites a 1946 Supreme Court ruling, in a case involving North Carolina chicken farmers angry about flights overhead, that landowners have “exclusive control over the immediate reaches” above their land.

Many attorneys have cited that 1946 case as a looming dilemma for regulators and the drone industry. They say it poses tough legal questions, such as where does “navigable airspace” begin and the control of property owners end?

“We weren’t forced to answer these questions and we absolutely will be now,” said John Villasenor, a public-policy professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. “And I’m quite sure that we collectively don’t have the answers yet.”

The FAA says the advent of drones has extended “navigable airspace”—and thus the FAA’s authority—down to the ground. As long as private drones don’t endanger people, the agency says, they can legally hover just above private property in the U.S. The agency added that many states and cities have “noise and nuisance” laws they can use to prosecute drone users who fly over private property.

Paul Voss, an engineering professor at Smith College in Northampton, lobbied for the town council’s resolution on drones. The FAA’s stance effectively means “all public airspace down to the ground is considered a public highway for unmanned aircraft, and any private investigator or paparazzi can fly there,” he said. “It’s the commercialization of everywhere. Everywhere is now open for commercial airspace and there’s no notion of private property anymore except for the grass itself.”

Police are also struggling with drones, said Mr. Beary, head of the 23,000-member police-chief association. Authorities have tested radar, audio sensors and net guns to protect public events like Major League Baseball games and the Boston Marathon from dangerous drone use, but no proven solution exists, Mr. Beary said.

“Unfortunately law enforcement doesn’t have much to go on,” he said. “The regulations don’t exist, and quite frankly the [privacy] laws on the books were designed for someone looking in your window, not someone flying a drone 50 feet above your backyard.”

Federal guidance only complicates the job, he said. The FAA has asked local police to help it enforce its drone rules, while also warning authorities they should tread lightly; the devices are protected under federal law because they are legally considered aircraft, like a passenger jet.

“There are significant, significant penalties about interference and destruction of civil aircraft,” FAA attorney Charles Raley told law-enforcement officials at a symposium this year. “Before you charge back and say, ‘We’re…shotgunning these things out of the sky,’ talk to counsel.”

Still, police are arresting drone users despite the legal uncertainty. In late April, a Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park ranger tased a drone pilot and arrested him for flying his small copter in the park, where drones are banned. Authorities charged him with “interfering with agency functions” and “operating an aircraft on undesignated land.”

In upstate New York, 50-year-old mobile-home salesman David Beesmer is facing unlawful-surveillance charges for a brief flight outside a medical office near his home. The drone couldn’t see through the office’s tinted windows, he says. But, acting on patients’ complaints, New York State Police arrested Mr. Beesmer—after he gave them a flight demo. The police declined to comment.

“They didn’t know what to do,” Mr. Beesmer said. “They had a formal complaint…and they probably did what they thought was best.”

Write to Jack Nicas at


FAA No Drone Zone

by Gary Mortimer • 14 May 2015

I can see where this one will go, the FAA has provided materials for neighbourhood busy bodies to print and post sign boards without any consultation all over the USA. You can’t do it, look there’s a sign…. Drone operators need to be more mindful and considerate when operating but they have rights as well!

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today announced a public outreach campaign for the National Capital Region around Washington, D.C. to reinforce the message that the District of Columbia and cities and towns within a 15-mile radius of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport are a No Drone Zone.

“Federal rules prohibit any aircraft from operating in the Flight Restricted Zone around our nation’s capital without specific approval,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “That includes all unmanned aircraft.”

The FAA is making outreach materials available to other federal, state and local partners around the National Capital Region to ensure that residents and tourists all understand that operating an unmanned aircraft in this area for any purpose is against the law.

The airspace around Washington, D.C. is more restricted than in any other part of the country. Rules put in place after the 9/11 attacks establish “national defense airspace” over the area and limit aircraft operations to those with an FAA and Transportation Security Administration authorization. Violators face stiff fines and criminal penalties.

“Anyone visiting the DC area should leave their drone at home,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “We want to make sure everyone knows and understands the rules about flying in the National Capital Region.”

As part of its public education efforts, the FAA is developing a GPS-driven smartphone app to tell recreational unmanned aircraft operators where they can and cannot legally operate. The FAA expects to release the app for Apple devices later this year after beta testing is complete.


Time for a Private-Sector Pivot on Military Technology

Ben FitzGerald and Katrina Timlin    

May 14, 2015 · in Beyond Offset

The Department of Defense’s pivot to Asia has been well documented and debated, but the department is also pursuing a less discussed pivot toward commercial technology. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s recent visit to Silicon Valley highlights this growing anxiety throughout the defense community — that the commercial sector is the locus of cutting edge technology with military importance, but the department is poorly positioned to capitalize on this development. Carter’s trip demonstrates high-level interest in commercial technology within the Pentagon, as senior leaders like Carter, Deputy Secretary Bob Work and acquisitions chief Frank Kendall continue to push the organization to adapt. Big questions remain for this pivot, most notably whether or not the department will be able to undertake the necessary reforms to access the commercial technology it desires. But these are only the first order questions. Even if the department’s leadership succeeds in its pivot to commercial technology, how will the U.S. military maintain its unique warfighting advantages when using widely available technology?

A future of purely commercial technology for military purposes is unlikely. There are no Google X aircraft carriers or Apple iBombers on our horizon (although one can’t help but be curious how cool a bomber designed by Apple would look). Nonetheless, the Department of Defense must figure out how it can benefit from the rapid pace of commercial technological innovation while maintaining exclusive advantages. There is no single solution to this challenge, but there are a number of ways the department can leverage commercial technology without ceding technological privilege: adapting existing technology, initiating commercial partnerships, leveraging open source collaboration, and developing training and concepts of operation (CONOPS) that incorporate new technological developments.

Efficient resource allocation

Commercial technology is increasingly able to meet demanding military requirements. For information technology (IT), the Department of Defense frequently seeks commercial solutions, ranging from Apple and Galaxy smartphones to enterprise email, rather than developing proprietary systems for basic functions. This trend is increasingly moving from the back office to the battlefield. The government should enhance this approach beyond IT and think creatively about how to quickly adapt a broader range of technologies to various military environments. While the market will not yield a stealthy, armed drone, commercially available drones may be utilized for tactical applications at a fraction of the cost of military models. An effective division of labor that utilizes cheap and readily available commercial products can save the department time, personnel, and money to devote to more challenging, military specific, endeavors.


Effectively incorporating commercial components in unique military systems

The Department of Defense, as a long-time user of commercial components in major platforms, is seeking to better incorporate emergent commercial technologies by designing modular military systems. Designing and fielding exquisite platforms and systems is expensive and time-intensive, as evidenced by the long and costly history of the F-35. To accelerate this process, the Better Buying Power 3.0 procurement initiative will focus on agile development and modular, platform-agnostic technologies. Modular design facilitates modernization and avoids situations like the F-22 processor, where software components are rendered obsolete by the pace of technological advances. Analyzing what components can be developed using existing technology can reduce lifecycle costs and ensure the military is positioned to take advantage of technological developments. These initiatives can be taken further by adopting commercial practices, for example in the areas of user experience design or development practices. Updating DoD procurement practices will be the difference between a U.S. military that benefits from commercial innovation and one that is superseded by it.

Applying military grade engineering to wholly commercial components

Commercial components are rarely deployed prima facie as military hardware, but integrating commercially available technology can produce cost-effective systems and platforms quickly. Integrating commercial technology affords U.S. armed forces with advantages in rapid fielding, adaptation, and more varied force mixes, as well as the ability to easily export weapons systems to allies. The Textron Scorpion fighter jet uses only commercial technology, leading to an inexpensive aircraft, that used no DoD research and development funding but is still appropriate for routine missions. The Air Force has additionally integrated multiple PlayStation 3 consoles to build a supercomputer that is not only cheaper, but more energy efficient. Such approaches allow the department to manage cost, innovate rapidly, and stay connected with allies — especially for contingencies with less technologically advanced adversaries — while preserving exclusivity around unique high-end military systems.

Commercial tech as a force multiplier for military systems

Commercial technology can also be deployed in combination with military systems to expand their scope of use. One program that has adapted commercial technology for military purposes is DARPA’s Persistent Close Air Support System (PCAS). Using Android tablets, PCAS enables closer coordination between ground and air troops and provides enhanced situational awareness by integrating various data streams and lines of communication for close air support. While currently deployed on the MV-22, DARPA is looking to expand to other air platforms, which is possible due to the modular, software-based PCAS system. This approach extends the utility and lifespans of existing military systems but also imbues commercial systems with military advantages. Anyone can purchase an Android tablet, but they can’t use it to call for precision fires in a secure communications environment. The Qinetiq robotic applique kits are another example of imbuing traditionally commercial platforms, in this case a Bobcat truck, with functionality for military applications and missions. Adapting common applications for a military purpose allows the Department of Defense to leverage a tested, functional product in the private domain and adapt it to a military environment.

Lead markets

Leveraging commercial technology for military purposes can also spur private-sector opportunities. History is rife with examples of government-commercial symbioses, including the Internet and GPS technologies, which have created new, mutually beneficial markets, as Carter pointed out in his recent Stanford speech. While initially public-sector projects, the government relies on commercial collaboration and initiatives to cost-effectively scale these technologies. The mutual benefits of these partnerships are illustrated by companies such as Palantir and SpaceX that develop prototype technologies before their competitors, attract venture capital funding, and leverage this capital and experience working with government customers as a prelude to commercial expansion. Commercial partnerships allow the government to take advantage of others’ R&D capital, as it is distributed among the companies and their VC backers, and rapid innovation spurred by market opportunity to mature technology and drive cost down. Similar partnerships from the 1960s and 70s also provided strategic advantages, catapulting U.S. companies into dominant positions in global markets, driving tax revenue and job creation, and allowing U.S. values and interests to heavily influence the deployment and use of technologies like the Internet and GPS.

Compete outside of information technology

While technology is developing at a rapid pace, the vast majority of this innovation is occurring in the realm of information technology, as lamented by Neal Stephenson, Peter Thiel, and others. Information technologies, including enablers like microprocessors and computer networking equipment, also underpin the U.S. military advantage. While continuing to maintain this advantage in information technologies, the Department of Defense should also intentionally exploit technological advantages in areas such as propulsion, electromagnetic or directed energy, and survivability. These technologies require engineering, capital intensity and other inputs, for example power for directed energy systems, which preclude mass market proliferation in the short to medium term. Driving competition in technology areas that align with DoD strengths, where possible, will help the Pentagon attract collaborators and maintain an advantage over certain adversaries.

Open Source and Crowdsource

The Department of Defense has already shown it can use the power of open collaboration methods despite concerns about information or operational security. DARPA maintains an open catalogue of software, allowing it to maximize the impact of DARPA’s software investments and benefit from the expertise of a wider developer base than it would be able to contract in-house. The U.S. Army has also experimented with the crowdsourcing of particular capability issues and solutions, building on the innovative business model of Local Motors — the makers of the world’s first 3D printed car. While not all military systems can be designed or developed in the open, many can, and are particularly valuable when competing with an adaptive adversary. Open collaboration provides DoD with the opportunity to identify capability needs directly from users, and design and build systems faster, with more expert input — often at little or no cost — leading to innovative solutions and more rigorously tested systems.

Operator Advantage

Many of these approaches rely on another U.S. military advantage — human capital. Through training and leadership development programs, U.S. military professionals have the ability to think critically about how to leverage technology in innovative ways, for example when designing CONOPS or considering how to command and adapt various weapons systems to achieve military objectives. The effective deployment of technology does not happen in a vacuum, and necessitates active human leadership and management to merge new technology developments and existing force structures. Investing in commercial technology provides the opportunity to diversify the U.S. force mix, creating a greater variety of combined arms opportunities and firmly placing the locus of advantage with the human commander rather than the features of a weapons system. To the extent that the Department of Defense can invest in technologies and warfighting regimes with human talent as a key differentiator, it will have a distinct advantage over other militaries.

Commercial technology will not cure all of the department’s ills, nor will it always be in the U.S. military’s best interest to implement commercial technology over military-developed solutions. Nevertheless, to remain competitive against adaptive adversaries in a global context, the Department of Defense must adapt to be able to better take advantage of commercial technology. None of the efforts listed here will yield game-changing or leap-ahead technologies that provide decades-long advantage. But they are available today and can help enable persistent competition over short cycles, something the Pentagon has to re-learn in order to maintain its warfighting advantage. Short-term advantage is better than no advantage at all.

Note: This list of methods by which to create unique military advantage is a non-exhaustive starting point. We’d like to hear your suggestions and approaches in the comments section or on Twitter.

Ben FitzGerald is the director of the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. He co-directs the “Beyond Offset” initiative at CNAS.

Katrina Timlin is a Senior Analyst at Avascent, where she researches cybersecurity and technology in government-driven markets


Veterans Affairs improperly spent $6 billion annually, senior official says

By Lisa Rein and Emily Wax-Thibodeaux

May 14 2015


The Department of Veterans Affairs has been spending at least $6 billion a year in violation of federal contracting rules to pay for medical care and supplies, wasting taxpayer money and putting veterans at risk, according to an internal memo written by the agency’s senior official for procurement.

In a 35-page document addressed to VA Secretary Robert McDonald, the official accuses other agency leaders of “gross mismanagement” and making a “mockery” of federal acquisition laws that require competitive bidding and proper contracts.

Jan R. Frye, deputy assistant secretary for acquisition and logistics, describes a culture of “lawlessness and chaos” at the Veterans Health Administration, the massive health-care system for 8.7 million veterans.

“Doors are swung wide open for fraud, waste and abuse,” he writes in the March memo, which was obtained by The Washington Post. He adds, “I can state without reservation that VA has and continues to waste millions of dollars by paying excessive prices for goods and services due to breaches of Federal laws.”

Frye describes in detail a series of practices that he says run afoul of federal rules, including the widespread use of purchase cards, which are usually meant as a convenience for minor purchases of up to $3,000, to buy billions of dollars worth of medical supplies without contracts. In one example, he says that up to $1.2 billion in prosthetics were bought using purchase cards without contracts during an 18-month period that ended last year.

He also explains how VA has failed to engage in competitive bidding or sign contracts with outside hospital and health-care providers that offer medical care for veterans that the agency cannot provide, such as specialized tests and surgeries and other procedures. Frye says VA has paid at least $5 billion in such fees, in violation of federal rules that the agency’s own general counsel has said since 2009 must be followed.

Frye alleges further violations in the agency’s purchase of billions of dollars worth of prosthetics and in the acquisition of a wide range of daily medical and surgical supplies. He says many products are bought without the competitive bidding and contracts essential to ensure quality care, effective use of tight dollars and proper government oversight.

“These unlawful acts may potentially result in serious harm or death to America’s veterans,” Frye wrote. “Collectively, I believe they serve to decay the entire VA health-care system.”

VA spokeswoman Victoria Dillon said in a statement that some of the care the agency pays for is not covered by federal acquisition law. She also said that the agency is trying to manage rapid growth in medical care administered by outside providers, with authorizations for outside medical care jumping 46 percent in the first four months of 2015 over the same period last year.

Dillon said VA officials are urging Congress to pass legislation that would allow an “expedited form of purchasing care” for veterans who need to go outside the VA system. She said the bill “would also resolve legal uncertainties that have arisen” regarding the use of purchasing agreements other than those required by federal acquisition regulations.

VA has been under intense pressure to provide adequate care to the surge of veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but Frye makes clear in his memo that the agency’s violations of purchasing law have been going on for years and that senior leaders have had many opportunities to revamp their practices.

He discloses his repeated efforts to raise his concerns with other senior officials at the agency but says he was consistently ignored. He also accuses top agency officials of deceiving Congress when they were asked about questionable practices.

VA operates one of the largest health-care systems in the country, spanning 150 hospitals and more than 800 outpatient clinics. The agency has been struggling to serve not only the veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, but also a surge in veterans who served in the 1960s and 1970s.

VA has been rocked since last year by revelations about long wait times for veterans seeking treatment for health issues including cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder. McDonald’s predecessor, Eric K. Shinseki, resigned as VA secretary last year after a coverup of months-long hospital wait times became public, and Congress has given the system $10 billion in new funding to ramp up private medical care.

On Thursday, Frye will have a chance to explain his concerns directly to lawmakers. He is scheduled to testify before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee about waste and fraud in the purchase card program.

Frye, 64, is a retired Army colonel who has overseen VA’s acquisitions and logistics programs — one of the federal government’s largest — since 2005. In his role as the agency’s senior procurement executive, he is responsible for developing and supervising VA’s practices for acquiring services and supplies, but he is not in charge of making the purchases. A former Army inspector general, he has held senior acquisition positions over 30 years in government.

Some of his concerns were previously flagged by VA’s inspector general, who has reported for years that weak contracting systems put the agency at risk of waste and abuse. Thousands of pharmaceutical purchases were made without competition or contracts in fiscal years 2012 and 2013, often by unqualified employees, investigators found. And according to documents that have not been made public, the inspector general’s office has warned VA repeatedly that its use of purchase cards needs better oversight.

For the most part, Frye does not explain why the rules are so widely flouted. But he suggests, in this discussion of purchase cards, that the reason may be laziness. He calls these payments an “easy button” way of buying things. Frye told McDonald he became aware in 2012 that government purchase cards were being used improperly by VA. About 2,000 cards had been issued to employees who were ordering products and services without contracts, Frye recounts.

He said his concerns grew after learning that a supervisor in New York had recorded more than $50 million in prosthetics purchases in increments of $24,999 — $1 under the charging limit on each card. In a response to a member of Congress who inquired about the purchases, Shinseki had few answers. “No contract files exist” and “there is no evidence of full and open competition,” Shinseki wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Post.

Purchase cards, Frye says in his memo, can be a sufficient means of acquiring goods and services for “micro-purchases” up to $3,000. Above that limit, the cards can be used for payment only if there is a certified invoice linked to a properly awarded contract.

Frye’s concerns about payments for outside medical services are rooted in the reality that VA hospitals do not have the resources or specialists to provide all the treatment veterans require, such as obstetrics and joint replacements. For these services, VA normally refers veterans to a list of doctors or labs in their area.

The agency, Frye says, is required to identify providers through a competitive process and contract with them to ensure that the government pays reasonable prices and gets the best value and quality. And contracts help ensure veterans are legally protected if they get poor care or if a medical procedure goes wrong.

But according to Frye’s account, VA spent about $5 billion on outside medical care in both 2013 and 2014 in the absence of contracts, and such practices “extend back many years.” “Based on my inquiry in January 2013, [the Office of the General Counsel] confirmed in writing the fact VHA was violating the law,” Frye says.

Large medical systems similar to VA order many supplies in bulk through a list of approved vendors, identified through a competitive process, to ensure quick delivery for the best price. But VA’s system for these “just-in-time” purchases is deeply flawed, and this is yet another way that the agency wastes money, Frye says.

He writes that there are many types of supplies that are not covered by these arrangements. Instead, they are ordered off the shelf, without competition and for higher prices, from a “shopping list” containing 400,000 items, “indiscriminately and not in accordance” with acquisition laws.


Senate panel pairs military retirement reform with benefits trim

By Leo Shane III, Staff writer 9:01 a.m. EDT May 15, 2015


Senate lawmakers will force the Defense Department to move ahead on a military retirement overhaul but will go along with DoD’s plans to trim troops’ pay and benefits.

The moves were approved as part of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s draft 2016 defense authorization bill, which came as the full House began debate on its version of the budget legislation.

The Senate committee’s bill sets guidelines for $613 billion in defense funding next year and was touted as a “reform bill” by committee chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

“This is not about how much we added or subtracted,” he told reporters Thursday. “We have to reform, or else we will lose what little confidence taxpayers have in us now.”

The Senate bill calls for sweeping reforms in defense acquisition policy and civilian personnel staffing. (A previous reported incorrectly said otherwise.) McCain said changes approved by the committee would save $10 billion in annual spending, money that would be reinvested in training and modernization accounts.

But the most ambitious plans in both the House and Senate versions of the defense bill are dramatic changes to the military’s current 20-year, all-or-nothing retirement system, which leaves roughly 83 percent of troops with no benefit when they leave the ranks.

The Senate plan follows recommendations from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission earlier this year, which called for a blended retirement system with reduced payouts for 20-year troops and 401(k)-style investments to all service members’ Thrift Savings Plan accounts.

Under both the House and Senate plans, troops would receive a 1 percent automatic federal deposit to those investment plans and receive up to a 5 percent government match to their own contributions.

The Senate plan would vest after two years of service. It would also end the government match after 20 years of service, a concession House lawmakers included in an effort to calm critics who worry the moves could hurt retention.

While the change would provide new retirement benefits for most troops, other proposals by the Senate would strip away other existing compensation.

For example, committee members went along with Pentagon requests to trim back growth in housing allowances, potentially leaving troops with higher out-of-pocket rent costs.

Under that initiative, military leaders could reduce housing allowance growth in coming years to a level that eventually leaves troops with payouts that cover only 95 percent of average housing costs.

Officials have said that would help pay for other service priorities. But critics say it would amount to a pay cut, one potentially harmful to military families’ finances. House lawmakers rejected the idea in their draft of the bill.

The Senate also approved only a 1.3 percent pay raise for troops next year, below the 2.3 percent expected growth in average private-sector wages. House members said they prefer the higher raise, but left out of their bill specific legislative language to mandate it.

White House officials have said that barring congressional intervention, they intend to set the 2016 pay raise at 1.3 percent, a move that could save DoD $4 billion over the next five years. But advocates have blasted that plan, saying it will increase the “pay gap” between troops and their civilian peers.

The Senate committee approved its bill by a 22-4 vote. One of the “no” votes was cast by Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the committee’s ranking Democrat, who largely praised the legislation but said he could not support plans to use temporary war funding to get around mandatory federal spending caps.

Republican defense leaders in both chambers have supported making available about $90 billion in overseas contingency funds as a way to avoid the caps without simultaneously raising nondefense spending.

House Democrats have promised a difficult floor fight over that issue, but Reed would not commit to voting against the Senate authorization bill when it comes to a full vote in his chamber.

Instead, he said he’s still hopeful that an alternate plan may emerge. Lawmakers in both chambers have expressed support for repealing the federal spending caps for much of the last four years, but have failed to find a realistic compromise.

No timetable has been set for when the defense authorization bill will come to a full vote in the Senate. The House was expected to wrap up its work on the legislation Friday.

The two chambers will have to reconcile differences on the military pay and retirement provisions in a conference committee before a final compromise bill can go to President Obama to sign into law.


GAO: Pentagon has ‘challenges’ training drone pilots

By Julian Hattem – 05/14/15 06:33 PM EDT

Pilots who remotely control drones for the Army and Air Force may not be getting the training they should be, the Government Accountability Office said on Thursday.

“The Army and the Air Force face challenges ensuring that the pilots who remotely operate their unmanned aerial systems (UAS) complete their required training,” the GAO, which acts as Congress’s investigative arm, said in a report.

In particular, the GAO found that the branches did not have enough pilots, which has forced those among the ranks to skip some training in order to fulfill their mission.

An analysis of some Air Force records, for instance, found that just 35 percent of drone pilots
completed all of their required training. Pilots in those units told GAO that they were not able to finish their training because “their units had shortages of UAS pilots.”

In 2014, the GAO found that the Air Force did not have as many drone pilots as it needed, and the new report confirmed that the shortages are ongoing. The Air Force has begun taking action on some recommendations the GAO made at the time, it said, though has not implemented any of them fully.

At the Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, drone training squadrons are staffed at just 63 percent of planned levels, which the GAO claimed is a “key reason” that there are shortages of pilots across the Air Force.

Additionally, the office confirmed a March Army review that found that most pilots in some Army units did not complete their required training tasks in fiscal 2014, and fretted that status reports don’t require updates on drone pilot training.

“[A]s a result, the Army does not know the full extent to which pilots have been trained and are therefore ready to be deployed,” it said.


Rasmussen Reports

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


Bottom of Form

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Proposals on how to deal with the nation’s illegal immigration problem come in a variety of forms.

Americans have told us that the most effective ways to stop the problem are penalties against employers who hire illegal immigrants and against so-called “sanctuary” cities that refuse to arrest those here illegally.

Supporters of President Obama like his plan to protect up to five million illegal immigrants from deportation, although that one’s not popular with most voters. Hillary Clinton vows to speed the amnesty process if she’s elected president.

Congress is now debating a lesser-known one, whether to encourage illegal immigrants to join the military as a path to citizenship. Most voters think that’s a good idea.

But voters believe even more strongly that gaining control of the border is more important than legalizing the status of undocumented workers already living in the United States, even if it’s necessary to use the military on the border. 

The U.S. military is planning eight weeks of exercises this summer in several southwestern states – dubbed Jade Helm 15 – but it has some voters wondering if the federal government has martial law in mind.

Despite this lack of trust in the federal government and a federal appeals court ruling that the National Security Agency’s mass collection of Americans’ phone calls and e-mail is illegal, voters are actually more supportive these days of the NSA’s actions. It seems security trumps privacy in the minds of most Americans.

But opposition to Obamacare’s requirement that every American have health insurance is over 50% for the first time in months.

Senate Democrats were in the odd position this week of stopping an effort to give Obama more power, in this case to negotiate international trade deals. Americans are conflicted on free trade. Most think the government doesn’t do enough to protect U.S. businesses, but at the same time they think those businesses will do better against foreign competitors with a wide-open market.

Americans are also more likely now to see free trade as a job killer.

The president’s daily job approval ratings remain in the negative teens. 

Most voters believe the next president is likely to be a Republican

At the same time, 57% also think Hillary Clinton is likely to be elected to the White House next year.  
But what if Michelle Obama challenges Clinton for the Democratic nomination? 

The first lady’s been talking about the sorry state of race relations in this country in recent days, and Americans share that concern. More disturbing is that a plurality (44%) believes race relations are getting worse.

Many sociologists argue that the breakdown of the family in the black community has led to problems in the inner city. Americans believe even more strongly these days in the importance of a child growing up in a two-parent home and that children who grow up in a home with both parents have an advantage over other kids. 

Many parents these days can’t or won’t help their children pay for college, though, the way parents did in the past. Several prominent Democrats are championing the idea of debt-free college, and a lot of Americans agree the government should pay for those who can’t afford to go to college.

More adults think it’s a good idea for everyone to get additional schooling after high school, even though they’re less convinced that they were several years ago that a college degree is worth what you pay for it.

After all, just 28% believe most college graduates have the skills needed to enter the workforce.

Republicans and Democrats remain tied on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot. The parties have now been tied three times in the past 10 weeks, with the GOP slightly ahead the other seven weeks. But the gap between the two generally has been two points or less most weeks for well over a year now.

In other surveys last week:

Only 28% of Likely U.S. Voters think the country is heading in the right direction, but that’s the way they’ve felt for the last three years.

— Five years ago, the nation was focused on the disastrous BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and now the federal government has given the okay for deepwater drilling to resume nearby.  Voters are closely divided on the wisdom of this decision, but most still favor deepwater drilling in general.

— A sizable number of Americans feel the New England Patriots should be stripped of their most recent Super Bowl win because of the “Deflategate” findings.

— Secretary of State John Kerry visited Russia this week for the first time since the Ukraine crisis began last year 
to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and other top officials. Negative opinions of Putin remain high among U.S. voters

— Cellphones are everywhere, and scarcely a day goes by when we’re not subjected to sharing someone else’s calls whether we want to or not.  What does America think about this – nuisance or fact of life?


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