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June 6 2015

June 15, 2015


6 June 2015


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Failed State: Five Reasons Iraq Can’t Be Fixed

Loren Thompson


5/29/2015 @ 11:52AM 5,561 views


Recent setbacks suffered by Iraqi forces in the country’s contested Sunni areas have led senior Pentagon officials to question their courage. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the Iraqis “showed no will to fight” when ISIS moved to seize the Anbar provincial capital of Ramadi despite greatly outnumbering their enemy, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey observed that Iraq’s military wasn’t driven out of the city, “they drove out.” The reality, though, is that Iraqi forces had been fighting for over a year in Anbar with little support from Baghdad. So Marina Ottaway of the Wilson Center got it right when she told the Associated Press that the defeat at Ramadi was not a failure of courage, but a failure of politics.

Unfortunately, that assessment could be accurately applied to Iraq’s entire modern history, which began a century ago when European powers invented the nation without any real understanding of the region. That flawed beginning nearly guaranteed that Iraq would one day become a failed state, just like Lebanon, Libya, Syria and other Arab countries that the Europeans played a role in creating. The discovery of vast quantities of oil in Iraq may have delayed its dissolution by giving the central government the resources needed to impose order, but in the end Iraq will cease to exist. So a U.S. strategy focused on stabilizing the country is unrealistic. Here are five basic reasons why Iraq can’t be fixed.

Nonsensical Borders. The borders of Iraq were drawn hastily during World War One by Britain and France as part of an agreement to demarcate where their respective spheres of influence would be in the Middle East if the Ottoman Empire and its Central Power allies were defeated. France got the Levant and Britain got Mesopotamia, which became Iraq by kluging together three former Ottoman provinces centered on Baghdad, Basra and Mosul. That’s the reason why the borders consist largely of straight lines and sharp angles: the Europeans drew them with little regard to who lived where. So Iraq ended up with the makings of three nations within its arbitrary boundaries: Arab Shia in the south, Arab Sunnis in the northwest, and non-Arab Kurds in the northeast. British leaders realized the new state would probably be incapable of self-government, so they planned to run the place until an indigenous ruling class could be installed.

No National Identity. From the start the Brits favored relying on Sunni Arabs to carry out local administration, because they had come to comprise much of the Ottoman military’s officer corps in the area during four centuries of Ottoman rule. However, Shiite Arabs did not want to be ruled by Sunni Arabs — who they greatly outnumbered within the new state — and Kurds did not want to be ruled by Arabs. The Kurds rebelled against Baghdad’s authority continuously throughout the 20th Century, and once-submissive Shia became politicized after the Iranian revolution installed a radical Shiite theocracy in Teheran in 1979. So Iraq had no organic national identity at its inception, and the repressive steps Sunni autocrats took over the years to enforce their authority left the country ripe for dissolution when America invaded in 2003. The U.S. found itself defending a state for which the vast majority of citizens felt no real sense of loyalty.

Autocratic Tradition. Mesopotamia — the “land between the rivers” in Greek – has been home to numerous civilizations during its 8,000-year history, but it has never given rise to anything resembling a democracy. It is riven with ethnic, religious and tribal divisions that would defy management by even the most enlightened leaders, and there have been precious few of those. Simply keeping the Sunni tribes of the north and west in line has been a challenge for Baghdad’s rulers, and that has usually been achieved by giving them a disproportionate share of the spoils from autocratic rule, while the other 80% of the population was neglected or coerced. The current Shiite-dominated government has turned the tables on tradition by treating Sunnis the same way Shia once were, which explains why defenders of Anbar have gotten scant support from Baghdad. But there is nothing in Iraqi tradition indicating democracy is feasible, or even favored.

Systemic Brutality. Authoritarian rule has been the norm for most of human history, but that has not always meant the kind of state-sponsored brutality common in modern Iraq. Faced with a rebellion during the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam Hussein destroyed 2,000 Kurdish villages, killing up to 200,000 civilians; his predecessors had used mass deportations in an attempt to pacify Kurdish areas. Similar brutality was applied to Shiites in the south when they rose against Baghdad in the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm. So the widespread sectarian violence during the American occupation may have been new in form, but it was far from unprecedented in Iraqi history. When ruling classes repeatedly resort to mass brutality in enforcing order, they traumatize oppressed populations for generations, making it all but impossible for later rulers to bridge the communal divide in fashioning a unified state.

Pervasive Corruption. Iraq’s political culture is one of the most corrupt in the world. Transparency International, the global coalition against corruption, ranks Iraq 170th out of 175 countries in terms of the rapacity of its leaders and the extent of official corruption. Virtually every transaction of the government from construction contracts to military commissions to prisoner releases is tainted by corruption. A commission to investigate the extent of wrongdoing has calculated that up to $330 billion in public funds is missing as a result of malfeasance by officials. This continues a long tradition in which political leaders disbursed funds to strengthen ties with families, tribes and religious communities at the expense of the larger good. And as Patrick Cockburn observed in the British newspaper The Independent, “The system cannot be reformed by the government because it would be striking at the very mechanism by which it rules.”

Given these fundamental flaws, the real question isn’t whether Iraq has a future. Over the long run it is sure to disappear, at least in the sense that its borders will change. The real question is what will follow, and there the dangers are considerable. Anbar might become part of a jihadist caliphate. The Shias of the south might federate with overwhelmingly Shiite Iran to form a new disruptive force in the region. Kurdistan could become a radical state fomenting insurgency among Kurds in neighboring countries. Washington supports the current Iraqi state more because it fears what might follow than because it likes what it sees.

But a breakup need not lead to even worse conditions. Freed from the neglect of Shiite-run Baghdad, the tribes of Anbar might take ownership of the fight against ISIS. Shiite Iraq would possess the resources to sustain nationhood on its own, and thus might elect not to make common cause with the Persian government of Iran. And the Kurds of Turkey and Syria might view an independent Kurdistan as a homeland worth emigrating to, rather than a source of support for insurgency. Obviously, the key word in each of these scenarios is “might.”

The one thing that should be clear to everybody is that the ethnic and sectarian cauldron that Iraq has become today does not have a future. Making its preservation the centerpiece of American policy in the region is a prescription for defeat.



The rise and fall of Subway, the world’s biggest food chain

By Drew Harwell

May 30 2015


With 43,945 sandwich shops in 110 countries, Subway has become the world’s most ubiquitous restaurant chain, posting armies of “sandwich artists” in more American outposts than McDonald’s and Starbucks combined. Yet at the dawn of its 50th birthday, all is not well in the land of Jared and jingles about $5 footlongs. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

With 43,945 sandwich shops in 110 countries, Subway has become the world’s most ubiquitous restaurant chain, posting armies of “sandwich artists” in more American outposts than McDonald’s and Starbucks combined.

Yet at the dawn of its 50th birthday, all is not well in the land of Jared and jingles about $5 footlongs. Subway’s U.S. sales last year declined 3 percent, or $400 million, falling faster than any other of America’s top 25 food chains. The mega-deli was also knocked back to America’s third best-selling food chain for the first time in seven years.

Subway ascended over the last several decades on the back of broad American tastes, offering a healthy alternative for eaters leery of fast food, and at prices that made it unstoppable during the Great Recession. Even First Lady Michelle Obama praised Subway during a visit last year for “working to get kids excited about eating their vegetables.”

But the chain’s fast-rising rivals, like Chipotle Mexican Grill and Firehouse Subs, are beating Subway at the game it helped create, offering seemingly fresher, healthier, build-your-own meals.

Diners increasingly say they want to know their meat has been cut fresh, not peeled off wax paper; their meal heated by steamer, not microwave.

That’s led to what analysts say is one of the sub empire’s biggest threats yet: What Americans see as healthy has evolved. Subway hasn’t.

“The ‘Subway fresh’ has lost its appeal with consumers, because to them fresh has evolved to mean something very different,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of industry researcher Technomic. “More people have money to spend, and they’re choosing to spend a little bit more on better concepts where they get a better product. . . . Subway’s strategy has only been to open more stores, and ultimately those stores just cannibalize each other.”

Milford, Conn.-based Subway’s problems run close to those of fellow food king McDonald’s, the sagging-sales chain now launching a turnaround because of “challenging industry dynamics” and changing tastes.

But in some ways, Subway’s money-making challenges look even sharper than those of the Golden Arches. The average Subway sold $437,000 worth of subs, sodas and cookies last year, the smallest haul in half a decade, and about a fifth as much as the typical Mickey D’s, which pulls in $2.4 million per store.

Tricia Hetherington, the company’s director of research and development, said in a statement, “We’ll continue to evolve our reasonably priced, fresh, customizable sandwiches and salads to better meet our customers tastes and needs.” Subway, which is privately run and closely held, would not comment further.


Breaking out of Bridgeport

Subway debuted as Pete’s Super Submarines in Bridgeport, Conn., in the summer of 1965, when a Brooklyn-born 17-year-old named Fred DeLuca borrowed $1,000 from a family friend, a doctor named Peter Buck. De­Luca, an aspiring doctor who is now worth $2.6 billion, hoped slinging sandwiches would help him pay his way through medical school.

The duo slogged through several slow years of sandwich-

making until, in 1974, they started selling franchises under a new name, Subway. (One theory: The old name, on radio ads, sounded confusingly like “Pizza Marines.”)

In the decades that followed those first shops, Subway franchises have expanded, yeast-like, onto what seemed like every street and strip mall in America. By 2013, Subway was opening 50 new shops a week. Today, Subways serves nearly 2,800 sandwiches every minute, data from industry researcher IBISWorld shows.

Still owned by Doctor’s Associates, the founders’ holding company, Subway has opened inside hundreds of U.S. colleges, malls, military bases and other, less-predictable locations: a car showroom in California, a Goodwill thrift store in South Carolina, a church in Buffalo.

At 1 World Trade Center, a Subway housed in an American-flag-adorned trailer was hoisted floor by floor to serve construction workers building Freedom Tower. Franchise owner Richard Schragger, who beat out nine competing bidders for the honor, served hot dogs and ice cream along with the subs.

DeLuca, the chief executive, said last year that the chain wanted to add 8,000 new American franchises to their existing 27,000, an explosion on par with adding the combined store count of Taco Bell and Chipotle.

“We’re continually looking at just about any opportunity for someone to buy a sandwich, wherever that might be,” Don Fertman, the chief development officer, told the Wall Street Journal last year. “The closer we can get to the customer, the better.”

The chain got one of its biggest early boosts in Washington in 1977, when Larry Feldman, then an assistant minority counsel to the House Banking Committee, opened one of the earliest franchises near a House office building.

Feldman’s Subway Development Corp. has grown to 1,500 locations across the District and the mid-Atlantic states, and Feldman, the “secretary of sandwich,” has been called Subway’s most successful “development agent.”

“The reason Larry Feldman got such a huge territory was his basic answer was, ‘Yes. I will do that,’ ” DeLuca told The Washington Post in 2008. “It’s like free land. Here is a bunch of acres for your ranch, now go do it.”


Franchisee complaints

Subway’s spread was soon conquering a bigger target than America’s strip malls: its airwaves. The chain spent half a billion dollars in 2013 on promotional spots, more than such prodigious advertisers as Progressive or Budweiser.

The chain has excelled at sometimes-egregious uses of product placement: In a 2012 episode of CBS’s “Hawaii Five-O,” an actor called Subway “serious culinary fusion” and said its food would help him lose weight, adding, “It worked for Jared, and that dude was large.”

But the all-franchise chain has expanded largely through winning over new franchisees, who run (and fund) their stores mostly independently of the corporate office. The chain grew by 3 percent last year, opening two Subways a day.

The model is enticing for small-business owners because opening a new Subway can cost as little as $116,000, company estimates show — a tenth as much as opening a new McDonald’s.


Physician quality pay not paying off

By Sabriya Rice | May 30, 2015


While offering physicians bonuses for hitting quality benchmarks is popular, the incentive programs may not be worth the money.

Linking financial rewards to cost-effective management of patient care or reducing adverse outcomes has not produced the desired results, recent studies show. When it comes to physician pay, some experts are asking if healthcare organizations are moving in the wrong direction.

“The programs are often less effective than the designers hoped for,” said Jessica Greene, associate dean for research at George Washington University. She conducted two studies of an ambitious physician incentive program at Minnesota-based Fairview Health Services. “There is still so much we don’t know about how to design effective pay-for-performance programs.”

Behavioral economists and healthcare quality and management experts are urging provider organizations to take a second look at their payment models. Complex compensation designs, poor alignment of goals and lack of clearly defined, actionable measures can lead to failed efforts and unintended consequences, they say. Poorly aligned monetary motivations can even lead to difficulties with staff recruitment or retention and lead to over-focusing on one specific issue at the peril of other, more important ones.

Hospital and physician group leaders long have cited the difficulty of crafting physician payment models that encourage quality processes and outcomes while maintaining the incentive for high productivity. Experts are concerned that any new Medicare value-based system for paying doctors, which must be developed under recent legislation, will run into those same challenges, given the fledgling state of measuring the performance of individual physicians.

“The things that really matter in terms of medical quality are very difficult to measure,” said Dr. Michael Kirsch, a Cleveland-based gastroenterologist and author of a blog called MD Whistleblower. Value-based pay can drive healthy competition, but reliance on metrics that are easy to measure but don’t ultimately boost outcomes is “a clumsy response to fee-for-service.”

The science of measuring quality performance in healthcare is still in its infancy. Current measures are limited, and critics say linking them to compensation might be premature. Improvements seen on easily tracked process measures such as checklist use or giving discharge instructions may not lead to improvements in patient outcomes such as lower mortality and lower readmission rates.

About 40% of U.S. healthcare providers had some type of incentive linked to pay in 2013, and within that group an average of more than 4% of total compensation was linked specifically to quality metrics, according to the MGMA. In the coming weeks, the group is expected to release data from its latest physician compensation survey, including more than 70,000 providers and more than 4,100 physician groups.


MH Takeaways

Complex compensation designs, poor alignment of goals and lack of clearly defined, actionable measures can lead to failed efforts and unintended consequences.

Advocates of quality incentive pay say the programs have lifted the performance of some physicians and improved collaboration among clinicians. That was the case for Fairview Health Services, which rolled out an ambitious compensation program in 2010 when it tied 40% of clinician pay to performance on a suite of metrics required by state law. Increases in salary were based on how well the medical group performed overall on state benchmarks for diabetes, cardiovascular and asthma care, and for certain evidence-based cancer screenings.

Yet even with the promise of more money, the model “didn’t necessarily have an overwhelming impact,” said Valerie Overton, president for quality and innovation at Fairview Medical Group. It’s not that quality did not go up at all, she said. It’s just that it didn’t go up any more than market competitors that had not instituted such a program.

The Fairview payment model also was a source of “significant frustration” among staff, said Greene who, along with Overton, was one of the co-authors of the two studies on Fairview’s pay-for-performance effort.

Other studies on financial incentives have come to similar conclusions. In one, some primary-care physicians in New York were eligible to receive up to $200 per patient and up to $100,000 per clinic based on performance on evidence-based heart-care processes and outcome measures. But there were only small improvements despite the financial incentive, according to a 2013 report published in JAMA.

A program in which Houston clinics could receive twice the normal financial incentive given by Medicare for achieving cervical cancer screening, mammography and pediatric immunization targets also had little impact. “Despite considerable initial enthusiasm for the use of financial incentives for quality improvement, this study does not support the efficacy of this approach,” wrote the authors of a 2010 study of that program in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.

Researchers in another study examined 30-day mortality rates among more than 6 million patients who had acute myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure or pneumonia and underwent coronary-artery bypass grafting. The hospital-based, pay-for-performance program linked to Medicare payments did not reduce deaths. The authors of the 2012 article in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that expectations for similar programs “should remain modest.”


MH Strategies

Paying for performance

Create alignment between the business and payment models. Pay-for-performance can be difficult to sustain if the organization has not fully moved to value-based pay, says Valerie Overton of Fairview Medical Group

Identify the actual barriers to desired behavior and results, such as lack of knowledge, motivation or resources. Those fundamental insights can help establish whether a financial incentive is the right approach, says Dan Ariely of the Center for Advanced Hindsight

Simplify the model: Compensation programs riddled with complex mathematical formulas that are difficult for the average person to understand “typically don’t do as well,” says Dave Gans of the MGMA

Choose actionable interventions where opportunities for improvement are clear and achievable, says Emma Hoo of the Pacific Business Group on Health

Not surprisingly, when the CMS released its third year of 30-day readmission penalties last fall, quality researchers said that if only 769 of more than 3,370 U.S. hospitals succeeded in avoiding the fines, that program may not be achieving its desired goal of broadly improving quality of care.


“There is essentially no evidence that pay-for-performance works, and certainly no evidence that it works as it is being applied to American healthcare right now,” said Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, a professor at the City University of New York’s School of Public Health.

The tendency of pay-for-performance to “dangle money” before doctors has side effects. It turns the intrinsic professional and moral obligation of doing the best thing for the patient into a market transaction governed by price, and also requires excessive amounts of documentation and administrative costs. “If clinicians do have extra time, they should be focusing on real improvement and not just checking boxes to make pay-for-performance goals,” she said.

Still, there are lessons learned from the rollout of the value-based incentive programs. Fairview’s project revealed, for example, that the compensation model was most effective with the poorest-performing physicians. Those in the lowest third improved on average three times more than those in the middle group and almost six times more than those in the top-performing group. It also led to greater collaboration between clinicians who were forced to work together to boost clinic-wide performance.

Thoughtful application of the design of pay-for-performance models is one key to their success. Systems with complex mathematical formulas that are difficult to understand don’t do as well, said Dave Gans, senior fellow of industry affairs for the MGMA.

Indeed, last October, Fairview revised its model, which originally included complex formulas such as “a sliding scale of down to half the median income for performance between the 20th and 29th percentiles.”

Behavioral economists aren’t surprised by the poor initial results from healthcare’s pay-for-performance programs. Understanding the actual barriers to the desired behavior—such as lack of knowledge, motivation or resources—is crucial, said Dan Ariely, founder of the Center for Advanced Hindsight. His group studies how people make decisions and has looked at pay-for-performance in other fields such as education.

“Once you understand where the problem is, then you can try to solve it,” he said. “Pay-for-performance is a good idea for things where you can spell out exactly what success is.”


Windows 10 Arrives on July 29

By Stephanie Mlot

June 1, 2015 09:05am EST,2817,2485143,00.asp?mailing_id=1268432&mailing=whatsnewnow&mailingID=384DF63333AC781CF2EAE273B4E4F01D

Free for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 the initial OS release will be limited to PCs and tablets.


It’s official: Microsoft’s Windows 10 will be available on July 29.

Windows 10 Bug ArtBy the end of next month, Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users can upgrade to Windows 10 for free or buy a new PC with the new OS pre-installed.

The initial OS release will be limited to phones and tablets. A Windows 10 upgrade for Windows Phone 8.1 devices will vary by phone makers and carriers.

Starting today, those on Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 will be able to reserve an upgrade via a prompt that should appear in the PC’s taskbar. Click “Reserve your free upgrade” when it appears, add an email for confirmation, and you’re all set. When it’s ready, the upgrade will require 3GB of space.

Those who pick up a Windows 8.1 device before the end of July, meanwhile, can also take advantage of the gratis upgrade.

Redmond in September revealed the next version of Windows, jumping from 8.1 directly to 10. Earlier this year, the company highlighted some of the consumer features like Cortana on the desktop and the revamped Microsoft Edge browser.

“With Windows 10, we start delivering on our vision of more personal computing,” Terry Myerson, Microsoft’s executive vice president of operating systems, said in an announcement.

Designed to run on Redmond’s “broadest device family ever,” Windows 10 is compatible with Microsoft’s PCs, tablets, phones, Internet of Things, Surface Hub, Xbox One, and HoloLens—”all working together to empower you to do great things,” Myerson said.

This release marks the return of Microsoft’s Start menu, and promises faster overall speed with a quick startup and resume. Windows 10 is also, as the tech giant boasted, “the most secure platform ever.”

On July 29, users can start playing around with functions like Windows 10 Continuum to transition between laptop and tablet, and Windows Hello for a personalized greeting and no-password login.

And while Redmond has ditched its regular Patch Tuesday program, and has said that Windows 10 is the last major version of its operating system, the company promised “new innovations” over time. “Like Windows 10 itself, these updates will be free for the supported lifetime of your device,” Myerson said.



Stakes Are High for Domestic Drone Industry

by Press • 31 May 2015

Matt Grosack, Daily Business Review


This is a very exciting time for the small but ever growing fraternity of “drone lawyers.”

With the recent proliferation of advanced and inexpensive unmanned aerial systems—UAS, better known as drones—federal and state regulators such as the Federal Aviation Administration are scrambling to keep up with a rapidly innovating industry.

The previous two months alone have been a whirlwind in commercial drone law with new legal developments on an almost weekly basis.

However, even with domestic developments coming at a feverish pace, the U.S. drone industry may suffer from competition overseas as Canada, Europe and Australia embrace drone regulations that encourage innovation with reduced restrictions on commercial use.

The FAA’s position is a difficult one—ensure the safety of the world’s largest and busiest national airspace while also creating a regulatory framework liberal enough to keep drone innovators and operators stateside. With other countries willing to take risks and open their skies to drone innovators, the FAA may be feeling the pressure to quickly to achieve that goal.

This flurry of activity should come as no surprise: The nascent drone industry is ripe with economic opportunity and potential. According to an economic report by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International—a proponent for commercial drone use — the drone industry will be an $82 billion industry in 10 years, generating more than 100,000 new, high-paying technical jobs.

While the FAA stands by its policy of cautious integration, the report estimates that the U.S. economy leaks $27 million in economic impact for every day that rulemaking is delayed. What does this mean for the U.S. economy as a whole? The economic stakes are high and time is of the essence for a regulatory framework.


Regulatory Limbo

South Florida’s economy should also be concerned with the existing regulatory limbo. With drone manufacturers (including Coral Springs’ UrbanDrones), drone program and operating system developers (including Miami’s Animusoft), and multiple other businesses seeing the advantage of drone technology, the drone industry now represents an important segment of the start-up revolution that has been taking hold in South Florida.

Miami’s public sector is also pushing the drone agenda with Miami-Dade County Commissioner Juan C. Zapata leading an effort to create a drone and robotics hub near the Miami Executive Airport. Likewise, Miami Dade College is investing in drones and plans to offer a comprehensive drone educational curriculum once the school receives the requisite FAA approval. In short, South Florida is invested in drones. However, the current regulatory uncertainty is essentially a “no-fly” mandate for many commercial drone operators who would otherwise be contributing to their local economies and advancing the drone industry.

So what needs to be done to move things along? Quite a lot, unfortunately. The FAA is under congressional mandate to “develop a comprehensive plan to safely accelerate the integration of civil unmanned aircraft into the national airspace” by September of this year according to the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.


Not Totally Bleak

While most legal experts anticipate that the FAA will not meet Congress’ deadline due to lack of funding and the requisite staffing, the outlook is not totally bleak. In February, the FAA released its small UAS Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, or NPRM, which represents the agency’s long-awaited first pass at a regulatory framework permitting the routine use of drones in the national airspace. Among other requirements, the newly proposed rules would allow drones under 55 pounds to be used commercially during daylight hours so long as the drone remains in its operator’s direct line-of-sight.

Despite this apparent progress, some commercial drone proponents find these proposed rules too onerous and unfriendly to innovation. For example, even to test or use drones under the requirements of the NPRM, existing FAA rules require commercial operators to petition the FAA for an exemption from the existing domestic ban on commercial drone use. An operator must then apply for and obtain a separate certificate of authorization to inform the relevant air traffic control authority of each commercial use. While the FAA is diverting more manpower and funding toward expediting the application process, the backlog of applicants is exponentially increasing with the market demand, and applicants routinely wait months for FAA approval.

Sharp criticism of FAA’s delays and policies from the drone industry has prompted a quick reaction. Just two months after the NPRM, the FAA introduced its Pathfinder Program which allows certain companies (including CNN and drone startup PrecisionHawk) to experiment with drones beyond visual line-of-sight.

As of April, the FAA is also streamlining the legal requirements for commercial drone use by: offering summary grant procedures for Section 333 exemptions, offering “blanket” COA approval to existing Section 333 exemption holders who comply with certain safety protocols and relaxing the certification requirements for commercial drone pilots. While these are welcome overtures from the drone industry’s perspective, many still believe that the FAA is not doing enough to stay competitive with more liberal rules abroad.


‘Gap Filler’

Legislators in Washington seem to share this concern. Last month, Sens. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, and John Hoeven, D-North Dakota, introduced the Commercial UAS Modernization Act—a regulatory “gap filler” for commercial use and testing of small drones pending finalized rules from the FAA. Though not a substantial departure from the operating restrictions in the NPRM, the legislation would further simplify the commercial use application process. Generally speaking, operators would be able to use and test drones commercially so long as they carry general liability insurance and pass an “initial aeronautical knowledge test” at one of the FAA’s six drone testing facilities.

The proposed legislation is just a recent example of the call for more liberalized domestic drone policies—a development the drone industry argues is essential for a strong domestic presence. With the attractiveness of commercial drone use and testing abroad and the FAA’s looming September deadline, the next few months may prove to be equally chaotic (and exciting) for the developing field of drone law.

Read more:



In South Africa:- 18 Myths About the New Regulations for Drones

by John Gore • 1 June 2015


On 17 May 2015 new regulations for operating RPAS (drones) in South Africa were announced. These new regulations take effect from 1 July 2015. There has been some confusion about the regulations, giving rise to myths that are now going viral.

This article addresses some of the common myths going around about the new drone regulations for South Africa. Here each myth is exposed by the facts.


Myth: All Drone Operators Must Have a Pilots Licence

Not true… The drone operator does not need a pilots licence if he is operating for private or hobby use. The RPL ( Remote Pilots Licence) is only required for commercial, corporate and non-profit use. The RPL is 10x less complex and time consuming as a full sized PPL licence.


Myth: The RPL Drone Pilot Licence will Cost R150 000 , Similar to Full Sized PPL

Not true… This crazy figure was invented, and later published in the media, as some started to believe the nonsense. The true cost of the RPL licence is nowhere close to that of a full size PPL. How much will it cost then? Indications are a few hundred Rands for the online theory exam (only 1 exam for RPL), and a few hundred Rands for the practical skills test, plus a few hundred Rands for final application (with proof of completion) for the actual RPL licence. 100 Rand = US $8.15


Myth: A Medical Class 4 is Required to Fly a Drone

Not true… The new drone regulations allow for medical self assessment, and do not require a medical certificate for drones smaller than 20kg (larger than 20kg is not yet possible).

If you need to fly B-VLOS (beyond visual line of sight) or if you fail the medical self assessment, then only do you need to do a full medical class 4. But for the majority of drone pilots: simply complete the self assessment.


Myth: The Requirement for English Language Proficiency is Racist and Stupid

Not true… English is the standard language required in aviation world wide. The test is done to ensure you are able to communicate in English.


Myth: No Flying Closer Than 50m from People – So I Can Not Film People?

Not true… The regulations allow private and commercial pilots to fly closer than 50m from people if those people are part of the operation and under the control of the drone pilot. So you certainly can fly close to people under your control, but can not fly close to public or people not under your control.

Also, commercial drone operations will be able to get special permission to fly close to people to accomplish their work, and this will be described in the operations manual, including mitigation of risk.


Myth: No Flying Closer Than 50m from Buildings – So I Cannot Film Buildings?

Not true… The regulations allow private and commercial pilots to fly closer than 50m from buildings if the owner of that building has given permission for that. But you can not fly close to buildings where you do not have permission from the owner of the building.

Also, commercial drone operations will be able to get special permission to fly close to buildings to accomplish their work, and this will be described in the operations manual, including mitigation of risk.


Myth: No Flying Closer Than 10km from Airport – Rules Out Most Towns and Cities

Not quite true… The regulations allow commercial pilots with an air band radio, and approved ROC to fly closer than 10km from airports, provided they communicate with the ATC in controlled airspace. Also, commercial drone operations will be able to get special permission to fly close to airports to accomplish their work, and this will be described in the operations manual, including mitigation of risk.

Private (hobby) drone pilots will not be able to fly closer than 10km from an airport, even if the airport gives them permission this is not allowed in the new regulations. So if you see a drone flying just about anywhere in a town or city, if its not a licensed commercial drone with clear registration marks, chances are its an illegal private operator.



This is nothing new, as model aircraft have also for a long time been restricted from flying closer than 5nm (9.3km) from any airports. Special flying fields have been approved by the SACAA for members of SAMAA (SA Model Aircraft Association) to use under controlled conditions. These fields often fall within the 5nm limit from airports, but are allowed under special permission.


Myth: Drones can Fly up to 400 Feet above the Ground

Not entirely true… All private drones may only fly under RVLOS, which is a bit more restrictive than VLOS. RVLOS means the private drone may only fly as high as the highest object within 300m lateral distance of the drone. In other words: as high as the trees or towers in the area. Often this would be much lower than 400 feet allowed in VLOS.

Only commercial drone pilots can fly in VLOS (up to 400 feet AGL).


Myth: Drones are Cheap , Small and Easy to Fly

Not true… While the consumer market is flooded with small and cheap drones, that does not mean all are small and cheap. Many commercial drones are quite a bit larger, and many weigh between 5-20kg, and could cause substantial damage when they crash.

While most drones are easy to learn to fly, much like its easy to learn to drive a car, but the systems that make them so easy to fly are often just cheap consumer grade components, and are prone to failure. The higher end systems are generally more reliable, but are also prone to failure if not built and maintained to a high standard.

Too often new pilots are drawn in to a false sense of control, after they learn to fly basic movements in just a few minutes. But when a GPS system fails (for example under a bridge or between trees) the pilot suddenly realizes he does not have the skill to fly manually. Taking the time to learn to fly properly, and without relying on GPS and stabilizers, makes a far more competent pilot.


Myth: Full Sized Aircraft Always Fly above 500 feet Anyway – So There is No Chance of Collision with Drones

Not true… Full sized aircraft actually often fly lower than 500 feet AGL (above ground level). Police choppers and air ambulances often fly low, and take off and land just about anywhere that is safe for them to do so. Crop sprayers and game capture aircraft fly low almost all the time for their work. Once you start to look up every time you hear an aircraft overhead, you may be surprised at just how often that aircraft is flying very low.

It is the responsibility of the drone pilot to give way to manned aircraft. Some make use of a spotter to help identify low flying aircraft in the area, and help with situational awareness.


Myth: A Drone is Just a Model Aircraft with a Camera on it

Not true… In fact many drones do not have cameras or any such sensors. Simply removing the camera from a drone does not suddenly make it a model aircraft. The key difference between a drone (RPAS) and a model aircraft is what it is used for.


Myth: An RC Helicopter or RC Airplane Can Not Be a Drone – Model Aircraft Have Been Around for Many Years


Not true… Some try to hide behind this , and falsely claim that their model aircraft are not drones are all, so the new regulations to do not apply to them. But the regulations clearly define RPAS (drones) as separate from model aircraft. 3 types are drone pilot license are available: Multirotor Drones, Fixed Wing Drones and Helicopter Drones. The key difference between a model aircraft and an RPAS (drone) is what the intended use is.

Model Aircraft are only for recreational purposes, and can not be used commercially. Model aircraft can not be registered with SACAA, and are very restricted as to where they can be operated legally.


Drone Regulations Are Much More Restrictive than Model Aircraft Regulations

Not true… Actually the regulations for RPAS (drones) are much LESS restrictive than the regulations for model aircraft. RPAS can be operated just about anywhere (with commercial licence), and can be operated at night (model aircraft may not fly at night). Model aircraft may not be operated for commercial purposes, but RPAS (drones) may be used commercially (with correct licenses).


The New Regulations Must Then Also Apply to Paper Airplanes and Toys

Not true… The regulations clearly define toys as separate and do not fall under the new regulations for drones (RPAS) or model aircraft. Toys are “designed or intended for use in play by children.”


I Will Then Simply Classify my DJI Phantom (or similar) as a “Toy

Not true… The regulations already clearly classify RPAS (drones), model aircraft and toys. The DJI Phantom (or similar) certainly is an RPAS (drone), and can not be classified as a toy, or a model aircraft.


The SACAA Will Never Be Able to Enforce This – Nobody is Going to Catch Me Anyway

Not true… The SACAA has indicated they have an enforcement plan, and an education plan to ensure the public and SAP police and other enforcement agencies are aware of, and empowered to enforce, the new regulations.


My Clients Don’t Care – I Will Still Have Lots of Business Without an RPL Drone Licence

Not true… Clients will not want to take on the additional risk of employing an unlicensed drone pilot. It will also become very difficult to get proper insurance cover for unlicensed commercial drone pilots. Clients will seek out seasoned professionals with proper licenses and paperwork, as well as good insurance and public liability cover.


The Drone Licence is Going to Be Impossibly Hard and Complicated to Get

Not true… Some have already started working on complying to the new regulations for commercial drones, and have already achieved many of the requirements. The process may very well have teething problems, and it could be that the first few applications take months to process. Effort will be required, and serious business people will put in the required time and resources to operate legally.

These are just a few of the myths out there, creating a lot of confusion for drone owners and members of the public. For a clear explanation of the new drone regulations in South Africa, and the process to comply, visit: (an unbiased and fact driven information service for all interested in drones).



AOPA:- Unmanned aircraft encounters increasing


by Press • 31 May 2015

By Jim Moore


Nearly 200 encounters with unmanned aircraft, ranging from amusing to chillingly dangerous, were reported to the FAA between February and November of 2014; a list published by a New Orleans television station May 26 documents the growing use of drones—authorized and otherwise—and their infiltration of the National Airspace System.

The U.S. Coast Guard reported that a DJI Phantom quadcopter operated by a photographer flew over the admiral’s residence at Diamond Head Lighthouse on Nov. 8, though no property damage or National Airspace System penetration was noted. But many of the reports documented on the list published May 26 by Fox 8 News, a copy of which was sent to AOPA on request, detail more troubling encounters: unmanned aircraft flying much higher, in some cases near manned aircraft, airports, or navigation aids.

The reports were collected by various FAA facilities (most of them relayed through air traffic control, according to an FAA spokesman), and show a steady increase from just one report in February 2014 to 41 reports in July and August of 2014. The FAA is working to establish a systematic process for collecting these reports. So far they have been supplied by flight crews and public safety agencies on their own initiative. The FAA redacted the names and telephone numbers of those filing reports, a spokesman said, and “anything related to national security,” but the reports are otherwise unaltered.

One report details unmanned aircraft activity being conducted on a runway in Joplin, Missouri, while the airport also hosted normal operations, though no notam was published for the unmanned operation. The person filing the report investigated and was told the activity was apparently illegal, and the operation ceased after the airport manager was notified. At least one aircraft in the pattern for the runway requested a different runway.

That same month, a report filed in Oklahoma documented an aircraft taking evasive action to avoid a small unmanned aircraft at 4,800 feet; the unmanned aircraft was described as two feet wide and black, with a camera attached. The pilot who took evasive action reported that the drone came within 10 to 20 feet of a collision.

Such near-misses were the exception, though several reports document unmanned aircraft operating well inside controlled airspace. In many cases the intention of the operators is unknown, though at least one military drone (a small, hand-held model) flew onward after losing data communication with the ground station. “The UAS last known altitude 650 feet, SW bound with a fuel exhaust time of approx 40 minutes. Expected to remain in the restricted area,” the report, filed Oct. 24 in Columbus, Georgia, states.

In another case, operators lost control of an unmanned aircraft being used to record a high school football game in Madison, Mississippi, and it flew into controlled airspace. Local police investigated the incident, which resulted in no property damage or injuries, though that unmanned aircraft was spotted a mile from an airport by a passing pilot.

AOPA has long advocated for safety above all when it comes to unmanned operations, stressing the need for all aircraft operators to be able to “see and avoid” other aircraft at all times, whether the pilots are on the ground or in the air. AOPA participated on the FAA’s Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Aviation Rulemaking Committee, which started meeting in 2008 to develop recommendations for the agency to integrate UAS safely. In 2009, the committee recommended that small UAS operators be required to keep the craft in sight and take training. In April, AOPA submitted formal comments on proposed rules, asking the FAA to limit commercial-use UAS to 400 feet agl to mirror the regulations already in place for model aircraft. AOPA asserted that lowering the ceiling for UAS from the FAA’s proposed 500 feet to 400 feet would add a “small buffer between manned and unmanned operations in most areas.”

The FAA is testing a smart phone application for unmanned aircraft operators designed to help them avoid dangerous or illegal operations; a link to that app, currently in testing, is posted online along with other information about current regulations, limitations, and other aspects of unmanned aircraft operations.

The AOPA Air Safety Institute offers a free online course, Unmanned Aircraft and the National Airspace System, to educate pilots on the different types of unmanned aircraft and how to safely coexist. AOPA has also joined with unmanned aircraft organizations to support the “Know Before You Fly” education campaign.


A Deadly Mistake: Don’t Underestimate ISIS in Cyberspace

Tobias Feakin

June 1, 2015

The nature of ISIS’s online presence is intended to do three things. Firstly, and most importantly for the longevity of its existence, it’s intended as a mechanism to attract and recruit members to its ranks. Secondly it’s a means through which ISIS aims to strike fear into the hearts of all that come across its frequently gruesome propaganda. Both objectives are well documented, but a third dimension to the ISIS presence online is emerging: their attempts to use cyberspace for offensive purposes.

By “offensive” I don’t mean delivering cyber attacks that involve some kind of kinetic impact, but rather I refer to attempts to use the cyber domain to disrupt services, damage reputations and reveal sensitive data.

Over the past five months we’ve seen an uptick in offensive cyber activities by groups claiming an association with ISIS. In January U.S. CENTCOM Twitter and YouTube accounts were suspended after CyberCaliphate—a group claiming to support ISIS—had hacked into both, defacing them with pro-ISIS messages. While the hacks didn’t have a direct impact on CENTCOM’s operations, they were certainly embarrassing and akin to acts of ‘hacktivism’ we’ve seen from groups like Anonymous. Following up in February, the same group hacked into Newsweek and, of all things, Taylor Swift’s twitter account, defacing both with pro-ISIS messages and sending threatening messages to President Obama.

In March a group claiming to be the Islamic State Hacking Division published on a list of photos, names, addresses and branch of U.S. service personnel, which it claimed was taken from US military data servers. Accompanying the data was a statement from the group:

“With the huge amount of data we have from various different servers and databases, we have decided to leak 100 addresses so that our brothers in America can deal with you…Kill them in their own lands, behead them in their own homes, stab them to death as they walk their streets thinking that they are safe.”

In April we saw the most significant effort from a group purporting to be part of ISIS. The group managed to orchestrate a complete three-hour blackout of the French channelTV5Monde. They hacked into all 11 channels run by the company, along with its website and social media outlets. While the attack took place, the hackers placed documents on TV5Monde’s Facebook page, which they claimed were identity cards and CVs of relatives of French soldiers involved in fighting ISIS, accompanied by threats against the troops themselves. The Islamic State Hacking Division again claimed responsibility.

What this attack illustrated was the group’s increased degree of sophistication. There had clearly been an amount of pre-attack planning, including a degree of social engineering that had gone on in order to completely shut down the stations computer systems.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen terrorist groups utilize the power of online systems and networks in their operations. In February 2010 Rajib Karim, an IT employee for British Airways (BA), was arrested for terrorism offenses. Having been in contact with radical preacher, Anwar al-Awlaki, he explained that he had access to BA’s servers and could erase all the data, causing massive disruption and financial loss of £20 million per day. Luckily he was arrested before he was able to carry out any kind of nefarious activity. Giving evidence at a UK House of Commons hearing on Cyber Security in 2013, Thomas Rid was asked the question, “Why hasn’t al-Qaeda carried out a cyber attack on a national infrastructure delivery point?” He replied that “al-Qaeda are too stupid… You need skills and intelligence. Right now militants don’t have that.” But ISIS, or at least those claiming to support the group, are now looking to take their cyber offensive to the next level.

Should we be worried about the self-styled CyberCaliphate and the potential for ISIS to launch highly sophisticated attacks against sensitive networks, similar to the STUXNET virus that was unleashed on Iran? At present, despite a clear elevation in capability, the answer would be ‘not yet’. Attacks of the magnitude of STUXNET require a level of financing, highly-skilled personnel and human intelligence gathering that an organization such as ISIS simply can’t . The more likely scenario is that we continue to see websites defaced and social media accounts hacked.

But that’s no reason to be complacent about ISIS’ capabilities and its intent. The cyber domain provides the group with a low-cost means of harassing their enemies and publicizing their cause. They’ve demonstrated an ability to utilize modern technology and unleash effective propaganda; and they’ve proven attractive to ‘tech savvy’ youngsters. With their successful take down of a major television company, confidence will have increased and the next attack will be planned with greater ambition. There’s no reason that ISIS won’t work to mature what has so far been a successful strategy and capability. In many ways this reflects what we’re seeing in the broader cyber threat environment: the cyber domain is becoming a key part of offensive operations for any group, be it a government, criminal organization or terrorist group. Over the last five months ISIS have shown us that they are pushing to close the knowledge and capability gap when it comes to offensive cyber operations. We’d be wise to keep a close watch.


US Air Force eyes next-gen electronic warfare, not Boeing jets


WASHINGTON, June 1 | By Andrea Shalal


The U.S. Air Force on Monday said it aims to meet electronic warfare needs using next-generation aircraft such as Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35 fighter and a new long-range bomber, rather than older planes like Boeing Co’s EA-18G Growler.

Air Combat Command Commander General Herbert Carlisle said the F-35 offered “some pretty impressive” electronic warfare capabilities – consisting of jamming enemy signals to make it easier for warplanes to bomb targets on the ground and other offensive actions – though he gave no details.

Carlisle said a bomber for which a contract will be awarded in coming months, and the associated “family of systems” to be rolled out in coming years, would also give the Air Force new electronic warfare capabilities.

“With the limited (budget), you’ve got to think harder about buying brand new legacy airplanes versus the next generation as we go forward,” Carlisle told reporters after an event hosted by the Air Force Association booster group.

The comments come as Boeing is trying to secure enough orders to keep its F/A-18E/F and EA-18G fighter lines running in St. Louis. Congress is poised to add funding for 12 more jets, but the budget measures have not yet been finalized.

The Navy order, together with a likely Kuwait order for 28 jets, should keep the production line open into 2019.

U.S. Navy officials have said they have enough Boeing EA-18G Growlers to meet their own needs, but that a Navy-led study of the needs of the other services could generate demand for more of the jets for the Air Force and Marine Corps.

However, neither of the services have endorsed that view, and a Navy-led study of the joint needs has not been released.

Carlisle said he had not been fully briefed on the study, which was completed this spring, but his preference would be to opt for newer, next-generation aircraft like the bomber or F-35.

Carlisle said he expected the Air Force to pick a winner in the bomber competition in July or possibly August.

Boeing and Lockheed have teamed up to compete against Northrop Grumman Corp, builder of the B-2 bomber, for a contract valued at $50 to $80 billion.

Lieutenant General Jon Davis, the top Marine in charge of aviation, has also expressed skepticism about the need for more Growlers, citing the capabilities offered by the F-35. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Christian Plumb)


The Iraqi Army is Too Exhausted to Fight

Iraq’s army grows smaller by the day. Sectarian militants are picking up the slack.


May 31, 2015


The lighting seizure of the Iraqi city of Ramadi by the Islamic State doesn’t just represent the loss of one of the last government-held population centers in Sunni Muslims areas of the country, but it laid bare the notion that Iraq’s government is capable of facing the existential threat posed by the Islamic State’s highly disciplined troops.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter infuriated his Iraqi allies last Sunday when he blamed the loss of Ramadi on the Iraqi Army’s unwillingness to fight, a bold and accurate statement by a U.S. official, perhaps the most candid and realistic I’ve heard from a U.S. official in the 12 years I’ve been covering Iraq. As harsh an assessment as that might have been, it still doesn’t come close to recognizing the myriad of problems that any coalition hoping to free much of Iraq and Syria—where the Islamic State now controls three provincial capitals spanning two countries—must address.

About a month before Ramadi fell, in an effort to bring a realistic tenor to the debate about when an operation to liberate Mosul might begin, I pointed out that Iraq had perhaps 10,000 combat effective troops spread among three special forces units and that beyond that, the Iraqi security forces lacked training, equipment, leadership or even the basic logistical competence to put men into combat and supply them with ammo, food and water, let alone coordinate operations in a coherent manner. Worse yet, I wrote that these effective units were exhausted after a year of being plugged into every military need that arose around the country. In the wake of Ramadi, I realized that I’d grossly underestimated their fatigue and flagging morale, as evidenced by their flight from Ramadi at the height of a battle. Today, the Iraqi government would be lucky if 5,000 of its effective troops are still in fighting shape.

Sec. Carter was correct in claiming that most Iraqi army units lack a will to fight, but in light of the horrible mismanagement, leadership and logistical support offered to an Iraqi army unit in combat compared to the professional and disciplined approaches of their opponents in the Islamic State, it’s almost unfair to point it out. The troops in Ramadi, a mix of trained but battered and exhausted elite units, local police and Sunni tribal fighters were not resupplied with food, water or ammunition. Requests for air support—which already go through an overly cumbersome process before the U.S.-led coalition will act—went unnoticed or ignored, and most of the units in Ramadi were unable to coordinate with one another because of deep-seated distrust among units composed of soldiers from different sects. Every group was answering to its own Iraqi government officials and militia commanders, who together represent the most incompetent, venal and cynical people I have ever encountered in my life.

Contrast the performance of Iraqi troops, whose officers continue to steal their salaries, fail to deliver the basics in terms of food, water and ammunition or provide any confidence that there is a cohesive plan that means the units on your flanks will hold their ground and not leave without warning, with that of the Islamic State. I have studied countless hours of combat footage of the group and discussed these videos with half a dozen experts on light infantry tactics and irregular warfare. The analysis is always the same. Islamic State fighters always have ammunition, they have backpacks of food and water, they maneuver to contact, seemingly aware of the maxim that the best way to stop someone from shooting at you is to shoot at them, and they integrate heavy, medium and light weapons together in a way that close resembles the American military’s combined arms doctrine, with the role of air support played by armored Humvees loaded with explosives and driven by suicide bombers.

I’ve heard it over and over again. “They’re just better fighters,” said one American former Special Forces officer. “They have fire discipline. They cover each other’s advances. They keep moving. The Iraqis do none of these things.”

In Kurdistan, the peshmerga, engage in daily combat much more successfully with the Islamic State in northern Iraq but they are fighting from a series of fixed and fortified positions that much more effectively integrate coalition air support. The Kurds, after initially being rocked back by the lightening fast maneuver warfare of the Islamic State, have essentially stabilized their lines in a way other Iraqi forces cannot replicate. The Kurds also maintain stronger unit cohesion—despite internal divisions that might well splinter in the future—because they’re literally defending their homeland

Read more:


China is not the only country reclaiming land in South China Sea

By Walter Pincus Reporter June 1 at 6:16 PM 


It’s time to get the facts straight on the military activities of all countries in the Spratly Islands before Washington intensifies its confrontation with China over Beijing’s intentions.

The headlines have been about China’s reclamation of some 2,000 acres from the South China Sea over the past 18 months and building military facilities on them.

Walter Pincus reports on intelligence, defense and foreign policy for The Washingon Post. He first came to the paper in 1966 and has covered numerous subjects, including nuclear weapons and arms control, politics and congressional investigations. He was among Post reporters awarded the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting. View Archive

Less attention has been paid — except by the Chinese — to smaller but similar reclamation and military construction efforts over the years and currently by Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia, related to islands they claim in the Spratlys.

Taiwan, for example, has claimed Itu Aba Island since 1955, one of the largest in the Spratlys. It served as a Japanese submarine base during World War II and today tankers carrying most of China’s imported oil pass nearby.

In 2008, Taiwan announced a new 3,900-foot airstrip had been completed on the island that would support search and rescue operations. It also could support military aircraft, as Taiwan’s president proved that year when he landed in a C-130 transport plane.

The island now has a radar station, meteorological center and permanent troop support facilities for a Taiwanese marine unit.

More recently, Taiwan has begun a modest reclamation effort near the airstrip, which may be part of a proposed $100 million port designed to handle frigates and coast guard cutters.

Vietnam also has been expanding its holdings in the Spratlys, which lie just seven miles east of Taiwan’s Itu Aba Island and were first occupied in 1975. On Sand Cay and West London Reef, Vietnam has been reclaiming land from the sea to build military facilities but at about one-tenth the size of China’s project.

West London Reef’s eastern sandbank has been expanded by two square miles and work on a harbor facility is underway, according to a study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). On the southern portion a fourth structure is joining three multi-story military facilities. Another is going up in the northern portion.

A surveillance facility sits at the eastern side of Sand Cay with a heliport next to it. The Vietnamese are also constructing a pier and a complex of defense structures, including what may be artillery emplacements bunkers, according to the CSIS .

On the Spratly Island of Zhongye Dao, the Philippine government has had a military airstrip since 1975 known as Ranudo Air Field. The Philippine air force announced in June 2014 that $11 million had been allocated to upgrade the 4,200-foot runway and navy port facilities. Aside from the air field, which has been able to accommodate C-130s since 2002, the island has a military detachment and small civilian population.

Malaysia is also in the Spratly picture. In early 2013, the Chinese held naval exercises near James Shoals, a reef some 50 miles off Malaysia’s Borneo state of Sarawak, which Malaysia claims and is considered part of the Spratlys. In October 2013, Malaysian Defense Minister Hishamuddin Hussein announced his country’s plan to establish a marine corps that would be stationed at a new naval base to be constructed at Bintulu in Sarawak.

On Saturday, at the International Institute for Strategic Studies Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter acknowledged, “It’s true that almost all the nations that claim parts of the South China Sea have developed outposts over the years . . . of differing scope and degree.”

Although Carter described China as “one country [that] has gone much further and much faster than any other,” he added, “We also oppose any further militarization of disputed features.”

Carter meant China and everyone else, but that may prove difficult for the United States to accomplish.

As the defense secretary pointed out, as Asian-Pacific “nations develop, as military spending increases, and as economies thrive — we expect to see changes in how countries define and pursue their interests and ambitions.”

The United States, for example, is increasing its military presence in the area, though its mainland is 7,000 miles away and its closest states, Alaska and Hawaii, are 4,500 and 6,000 miles away respectively.

On Wednesday, Carter pointed out the “tremendous” U.S. forces already in the region: more than 350,000 military and civilian personnel, nearly 2,000 aircraft and 180 naval vessels.

On Saturday, he said, “As the United States develops new systems, [the Defense Department] will continue to bring the best platforms and people forward to the Asia-Pacific.”

Meanwhile, the Chinese in their military white paper released Tuesday took a different view of the U.S. presence and its activities. In the paper, Beijing took aim at “some external countries” — no names mentioned — that “are also busy meddling in South China Sea affairs,” along with “a tiny few [who] maintain constant close-in air and sea surveillance and reconnaissance against China.”

Should Americans be surprised that China says it is reorienting “from theater defense to trans-theater mobility,” from solely “offshore waters defense” to “open seas protection” and moving from “territorial air defense to both [air force] defense and offense?”

The Defense Department’s report on China’s military, released May 8, calmly says, “China seeks to ensure basic stability along its periphery and avoid direct confrontation with the United States in order to focus on domestic development and smooth China’s rise.”

If true, it appears that Carter will prove correct when he said Wednesday in Hawaii: “We will remain the principal security power in the Asia-Pacific for decades to come.



IRS Risks Data Breach Repeat While Expanding Online Services

Jun 2, 2015 10:00 AM EDT


One of the Internal Revenue Service’s early forays into interactive service was halted last month after the agency said identity thieves had accessed past tax returns of 104,000 people.

by Richard Rubin


The IRS’s initiative to expand online services for taxpayers makes it more likely that the U.S. tax agency will be hit by “hackers and other fraudsters,” the agency’s inspector general said Tuesday.

One of the Internal Revenue Service’s early forays into interactive service was halted last month after the agency said identity thieves had accessed past tax returns of 104,000 people.

The IRS provided updated numbers Tuesday, showing that about 13,000 fake tax returns have been filed using that information, with an estimated loss of $39 million to the government.

Though the data breach didn’t compromise the IRS’s core systems, it marked a significant setback for the agency’s efforts to cut costs and mimic financial services companies.

“Even security controls that may have been adequate in the past can be overcome by hackers, who are anonymous, persistent and have access to vast amounts of personal data and knowledge,” Russell George, the inspector general, told the Senate Finance Committee during a hearing on Tuesday.

The data breach involved a “get transcript” function on the IRS’s website. Taxpayers had to submit personal information, such as their Social Security number, date of birth and tax filing status. Then they had to authenticate that information with so-called out-of-wallet information, such as their monthly mortgage or car payment, according to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.


Identity Thieves

Past tax returns are especially valuable to identity thieves because they allow them to create plausible fake tax returns that mimic a real return, evade computerized anti-fraud filters and then direct the refund to a prepaid debit card.

The identity thieves, who George said used Internet domains in Russia and other countries, were able to bypass the safeguards repeatedly and the IRS stopped the application on May 21. Several agencies are investigating the incident and the IRS is contacting the affected taxpayers.

“Your agency has failed these taxpayers,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, said to Koskinen.

Not all 104,000 thefts led to fake tax returns because some of the legitimate taxpayers had already filed returns or because IRS computers rejected the returns as suspicious.

“The IRS is not and will never be exempted from this constant threat,” Hatch said. “In fact, there is reason to believe the IRS will be more frequently targeted in the future.”


$5 Billion

The most recent data breach is a fraction of the identity theft problem facing the IRS. According to George’s testimony, the IRS lost more than $5 billion to refund fraud in 2013.

George’s prepared testimony questioned the IRS’s data-security efforts and said the agency hasn’t implemented 44 recommendations from his office. For example, he said the agency could do a better job terminating unused accounts and limiting shared accounts.


If the IRS had implemented those recommendations, it would have been more difficult for thieves to enter the system. He stopped short of saying the breach could have been prevented.

Data security is especially important, George said, as the IRS expands its online efforts. According to George’s statement, the IRS is planning a secure messaging pilot program in 2016 “that will lay the foundation for a broader taxpayer digital communication rollout in the future.”

Congress has been cutting the IRS budget, and Koskinen has pitched expanded online services as a way the agency can conserve resources and serve taxpayers.


Accelerate Deadlines

In addition to asking for more money, Koskinen said Congress could expand the agency’s ability to hire well-paid technology workers and accelerate the deadlines for employers and others to file information returns that can be used to check against filed tax returns.

The get-transcript application served 23 million taxpayers this year and the agency would have been “much less efficient” without it, Koskinen said. IRS call centers and walk-in offices were jammed during the 2015 tax filing season.

In his testimony Tuesday, Koskinen showed few signs of veering from that path.

“We must balance the strongest possible authentication processes with the ability of taxpayers to legitimately access their data and use IRS services online,” Koskinen said in his written statement. “The challenge will always be to keep up with, if not get ahead of, our enemies in this area.””


Bill would ban microbeads from soaps and body washes

By Lydia Wheeler – 05/26/15 02:53 PM EDT


Senate Democrats have introduced legislation to protect the Great Lakes from the small plastic microbeads used in body washes, soaps and other personal care products to exfoliate the skin.

Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) unveiled the Microbeads Free Waters Act of 2015 on Tuesday, a bill to phase out the manufacturing and sale of microbeads found in household products.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) introduced the bill earlier this month in the House. If passed, the legislation would amend the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to prohibit, starting Jan. 1, 2018, the distribution of a cosmetic that contains synthetic plastic microbeads.

In a news release Stabenow said these microbeads get through water treatment facilities and end up floating in the nation’s Great Lakes, where they build up as plastic pollution and are often mistaken by fish for food.

“Microbeads seem like a nice way to get extra ‘scrub’ in your soap, but they pose a very real danger to our Great Lakes,” the co-chair of the Senate Great Lakes Task Force said. “Researchers are finding these bits of plastic building up in our lakes, rivers and streams. When we see these kinds of things are threatening our Great Lakes and potentially threatening fish populations, we need to take swift action.”

A report by the State University of New York in Fredonia found anywhere from 1,500 to 1.1 million microbeads per square mile in the Great Lakes, the world’s largest source of freshwater.

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill) are co-sponsoring the legislation.

Sen. McCain To Kendall: 10 Years Of ‘Absolutely Outrageous Overruns & Failures’

By Colin Clark     

on June 02, 2015 at 5:01 PM


WASHINGTON: Sen. John McCain wants the four services chiefs to have more power to buy weapons efficiently and cheaply. Frank Kendall and his colleagues who oversee Pentagon acquisition, technology and logistics (ATL) have made it pretty clear they don’t think that’s a good idea.

So I asked the chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee today what message he had for Mr. Kendall about the sweeping set of acquisition reforms in its version of the annual defense policy bill, the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act. In particular, what about the increased powers it would grant the service chiefs?

“I say to them I’d be glad to provide a long list of programs and the cost overruns associated with those programs, the absolutely outrageous overruns and even failures completely of various programs for the last 10 years. Future Combat System –– we’ve never seen a single result. The [USS] Gerald R. Ford: $2.4 billion overrun and that overrun is not over yet,” McCain replied at an event hosted by the American Action Forum. “Anybody who believes, as they seem to in ATL, that the status quo is satisfactory [–] they’re not reflecting the concerns of the taxpayers of America.”


As Breaking D readers know:

◾The heads of the four armed services would get much increased control over weapons programs and requirements, something outgoing Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno has pushed hard for. The Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD) — in particular the undersecretary of acquisition, technology and logistics — will lose some power.

◾The services will be punished for poor performance and must ensure they know about changes in requirements, cost and schedule. In the event of a Nunn-McCurdy breach, the services will have to pay a 3 precent penalty to a rapid prototyping fund overseen by OSD. Also, oversight of the program would shift to OSD until the program is back on track.

As things stand, the military leaders of the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force decide what the weapons they buy need to be able to do. Those are called requirements. The services often don’t think those requirements and their implications all the way through, especially the Army. That can be a major cause of cost overruns, schedule delays, and ultimately cancelled programs, as the Army has discovered time and again over the last two decades.

But it’s not the services that do the canceling. They seem incapable of taking that step, perhaps because the services manage weapons programs after they come through the requirements process and have a great deal invested in the programs, culturally and fiscally. When they goof, the Undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics has complete legal authority to take the programs over and run them. And it’s usually someone at the top of the chain of command — think Bob Gates — who turns to the services and says — that’s enough: Shut it down.

Add to that the fact that Kendall and his colleagues believe they have begun to turn around the Pentagon’s acquisition system. The F-35 is in better shape. The Army hasn’t made any big mistakes lately. Air Force costs have actually come down for three years in a row. To say the ATL folks have little confidence in the services’ ability to do a better job would be an understatement.


But as Sydney’s piece about Navy Secretary Ray Mabus made clear today, the services are gunning for OSD money. The pot is going to shrink and everyone wants everyone else to lose.

As Sen. McCain told me this afternoon: “We are not eliminating ATL. What I think you are seeing is a classic turf fight in the Pentagon.”



Cut ‘Pure Overhead,’ Navy Sec. Mabus Says: DFAS, DLA, DOT&E

By Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.

on June 02, 2015 at 3:45 PM


WASHINGTON: In what looks very much like an opening shot in a fundamental fiscal battle between the four armed services and the Office of Secretary of Defense, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus came right out today and said we should preserve fighting forces by cutting Defense Department agencies that are “pure overhead,” His prime candidates? The testers who make sure the services’ weapons actually work; the Defense Logistics Agency that buys supplies like fuel; and — the particular target of the SecNav’s ire — the Defense Finance and Accounting Service.

Don’t cut my budget, cut the other fellow is a standard Washington plea in times of tightening budgets. Ray Mabus himself has repeatedly urged cost-cutters in Congress to spare the services and target the Defense Department’s independent agencies and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. But I’ve never heard him name names before. While the politically savvy SecNav stopped short of explicitly saying any particular agency should be cut, he was outspoken, even passionate, about which agencies were specific examples of the “pure overhead” he said should be cut in general.

“If you want to look at real money, 20 percent of the Pentagon budget — 20 percent, one dollar out of every five — is spent on the ‘fourth estate'[:] the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the defense agencies, the organizations run by the undersecretaries,” Mabus told the audience at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “Pure overhead. Pure overhead. And they’ve grown far faster than the services.”

“There’s this thing called DFAS, Defense Finance and Accounting Service,” Mabus continued. “They write our checks. We tell them who to write the checks to, we tell them how to write them for, and they write the checks. Last year they charged us $300 million” for that service. (DFAS is a “working capital” agency funded largely by fees paid by other parts of the Defense Department).

That’s paying for something the Navy Department could do itself, Mabus implied. “We’ve got our own finance system, we’ve got our accounting system,” he said. “[But] we may not even have a shot at a clean audit because DFAS cannot tell us how they spent our money. Nine out of 10 of their internal controls have been found not to be effective. We cannot count on their data — that we gave ’em!”

So, I asked Mabus when moderator MacKenzie Eaglen opened the floor to questions, are you advocating the abolition of DFAS?

“Nice try, Sydney, on getting me into deep trouble,” Mabus replied. When the laughter died down, he said, “I think we should take a look at whether we need certain functions.”

“In theory, you ought to be able to do stuff DoD-wide and it should save [money], you should be able to consolidate stuff,” he continued. “In practice, it just doesn’t work very well.”

Consider another independent agency, he offered unsolicited. “The theory is that the Defense Logistics Agency can buy fuel cheaper if they buy it for everybody at once,” He said. “Well, the thing of it is we use different aircraft fuel than the Air Force because we operate in the maritime environment and they don’t. We use different fuel for our ships than anybody else. So it’s really not these big bulk fuel purchases, it’s service-specific fuel purchases” — just routed through another agency.

“The theory behind DLA is great,” Mabus said. “It’s unclear if it saves us anything.”

(DLA is another working capital fund agency, and part of the fee the services pay it goes to a kind of rainy-day fund to hedge against future spikes in oil prices, so a direct comparison of cost per barrel is tricky).

“If you do things DoD-wide, it usually goes to the lowest and slowest common denominator,” Mabus concluded, “whereas if you let the services compete, if you will, you tend to get things faster, you tend to get things done quicker.”

The Navy Secretary even had an unkind word for the Pentagon’s independent testing process. (He didn’t name names here, but the key player is the congressionally-mandated Director of Operational Test & Evaluation, DOT&E, which most on Capitol Hill consider a vital watchdog agency). “Testing proves that testing works,” Mabus said, but not necessarily much more. “We spend sometimes hundreds of millions on these tests and it’s unclear what the tests are telling us.”

DOT&E has been explicit in telling the Navy its controversial Littoral Combat Ship can’t stand up to enemy fire. But Mabus argued the testers refuse to account properly for LCS’s ability to avoid being hit in the first place and for the Navy’s plan to protect it with larger warships in any high-threat zone. To meet the tester’s standards for LCS survivability, he said, “you need a destroyer” — a ship more than four times the cost. If the Navy could afford to build destroyers for every mission, it wouldn’t have invented the Littoral Combat Ship in the first place.

In general, Mabus argued the services’ programs shouldn’t get second-guessed so much by the Office of the Secretary of Defense. On many programs, “senators and congressmen want to know why is this running over, why is this system not performing the way it should, and a lot of times we don’t have control of it,” Mabus said. “There’s no responsibility, there’s no accountability.”

The solution is to simplify the “spaghetti plate” structure of the defense acquisition system, with its redundant service and OSD processes, Mabus said. He’d also like to give the uniformed service chiefs a larger role, a controversial position shared by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno.

There’s a long backstory here. The Navy Department has been notoriously independent and resentful of Defense Department oversight ever since 1947. That’s why we had an infamous “revolt of the admirals” in 1949 but not a “revolt of the generals.” Many saw the very idea of merging the War Department and the Navy Department into a single agency as an Army bid for greater control. The turf wars continue today, in subtler ways. In recent years, for example, while most of my Army, Air Force, OSD, and defense agency contacts have moved to the Defense Information Systems Agency’s centralized Enterprise Email, adopting new addresses ending in a standardized “,” the Navy and Marines stubbornly stick with “” and “”

But rather than be parochially Navy, Mabus make clear he knows where his best potential allies lie. He made sure to appeal to the other armed services. When you’re under pressure to make big cuts, “the easy thing, the very, very easy thing [is to] take a BCT (Brigade Combat Team) from the Army, take an air wing from the Air Force, take a carrier strike group from the Navy when times get tough,” he said. “That affects the warfighter very directly. What we ought to be a lot better at is doing overhead, things that don’t affect the warfighter, things that don’t add value.”


Japan government eyes urban drone ban

by Press • 3 June 2015


Tokyo (AFP) – Japan plans to ban the public from flying drones above residential areas and at night, as it scrambles to legislate after a device was found on top of the prime minister’s office in April.

According to draft regulations the government revealed Tuesday, drone flying would be prohibited in Japan “except during daytime”.

Only operators who are deemed to have taken sufficient safety steps will be able to use drones near airports and in residential areas, the regulations say.

Anyone wishing to fly high-spec unmanned aircraft would be required to obtain a licence.

The use of drones has exploded in many parts of the world over the last couple of years, particularly amongst media and hobbyists.

Tokyo said it wanted to create an environment where “operators can use small-scale drones in a flexible manner” if they take certain safety measures, recognising the device’s usefulness in farming, as well as collecting information during natural disasters.

The government said it would like to submit legislation during the current session of parliament, which is expected to last until August.

The move comes after a Japanese man was arrested about a month ago for allegedly flying a small drone carrying traces of radioactivity onto the roof of the prime minister’s office.

It also comes amid growing alarm in some quarters about safety after drones have been flown over populated areas.

Last month, police arrested a 15-year-old boy for suggesting online that he might fly a drone over a crowded festival in Tokyo after giving him several warnings for flying and attempting to fly a device near tourist spots.

There have been no reported instances of anyone being killed or suffering serious injury from drones in Japan.

In contrast, an elderly man died after a 700-kilogramme (1,540-pound) kite plunged from the sky into a crowd at a festival earlier this week.


VirtualAirBoss, NASA UTM and CAW to Coordinate UAS Flights at Coastal Trident exercise

by Press • 3 June 2015


Grand Forks, ND – June 2, 2015 — SmartC2 Inc. announces that the VirtualAirBoss™ integrated with the NASA UTM system will participate in an experiment with the Center for Asymmetric Warfare (CAW) to coordinate flights of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) during threats and emergencies at the Coastal Trident 2015 field exercise in the Port of Hueneme, CA in early June.

Alan Jaeger, director of the Center for Asymmetric Warfare, is participating with VirtualAirBoss and NASA’s Parimal Kopardekar, Manager of the Safe Autonomous System Operations Project, to demonstrate connectivity of the VirtualAirBoss to NASA’s Unmanned aircraft systems Traffic Management (UTM) program, or UTM system, during this field exercise involving state, local and federal agencies responding to simulated regional threats and emergencies.

“Coastal Trident is the perfect environment to evaluate this convergence of extensive expertise in emergency and threat response, with the cutting edge technology of VirtualAirBoss and NASA’s new UTM. Unmanned aircraft (UAVs) will play an increasing role in damage evaluation and crisis response, and coordinating drones in the airspace will be vital,” says Stuart Rudolph, President of SmartC2, who is participating from the private sector. “The feedback provided by the Coastal Trident users who are coordinating flights during this scenario will improve our technology moving forward.”

More than 90 local, state, and federal emergency response agencies will collaborate with the Port of Hueneme to conduct the annual Coastal Trident Regional Maritime Security and Response Exercise, and along the Southern California Coast near and around the Port of Hueneme in the first two weeks of June 2015. The full scale exercises involve a variety of air, land, and sea operations as well as testing a number of technologies related to maritime operations. The exercise activities are designed to test threat and emergency response plans, processes, and systems, along with command and control procedures.

The Maritime Advanced Systems & Technology Laboratory (MAST) is a collaborative research facility. MAST is dedicated to fostering leading edge technology innovation in the port and maritime environment in partnership with the Port of Hueneme.

A MAST Technology Expo and Open House will occur on 10 June, 2015 at Port Hueneme, and in addition to a variety of technologies focused on port and maritime security the MAST Expo will feature a panel of subject matter experts discussing their technology vision for Maritime Safety and Security. Stakeholders are encouraged to register for the seminar and Expo at


About Coastal Trident and CAW

The Coastal Trident Program was established by the Port of Hueneme and in collaboration with the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Asymmetric Warfare as a comprehensive training, experimentation, and exercise program for the Port of Hueneme. Since its inception in 2007, Coastal Trident has evolved into a regional maritime security and response program, enabled by operational evaluation of leading-edge technology systems, with participation by over 100 agencies, and organizations.



How Investors Can Play Commercial Drone Takeoff

by Press • 3 June 2015



Commercial drone usage in agriculture, industrial inspection and public safety will take off after favorable U.S. government regulations are announced by late 2016, becoming a “multibillion-dollar” market by 2020, forecasts Piper Jaffray in a research report.

Piper Jaffray estimated the commercial drone market at about $650 million in 2014. If U.S. regulators open up the skies to commercial drones by late 2016, “we believe the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) commercial market can grow 30%-plus for the next several years and become a multibillion-dollar annual market opportunity by 2020,” said the report.

The use of commercial drones is largely banned in the U.S., though the Obama administration has granted exemptions on a piecemeal basis. E-commerce leader (NASDAQ:AMZN) has been testing drone-based, product delivery systems. Archer Daniels recently joined a growing list of companies, including and AIG, with approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to test drones for commercial use.

While military applications of remotely-controlled, UAV systems already have created a multibillion-dollar industry supported by Department of Defense spending, Piper Jaffray says commercial usage will be driven by venture capital funding flowing to startups. Among privately held companies to watch, says the report, are consumer drone maker 3D Robotics and Canada-based Aeryon Lab.

San Diego-based 3D Robotics has raised over $99 million in four rounds of funding. Google Ventures has invested startups Airware and Skycatch, the report says.


China’s DJI Leads

China-based DJI Innovations, also privately held, is the world’s No. 1 maker of consumer drones.

“Currently there are only a few pure-play ways to take advantage of the growing drone market from an investor stand point,” said Piper analyst Troy Jensen in the report. “Companies including AeroVironment (NASDAQ:AVAV), Delta Drone, Northrop Grumman (NYSE:NOC) and Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT) are ways to gain exposure to drones, but most of these companies are generally focused around military applications.

“Investors could also take an indirect approach to the drone industry and invest in the larger chip and component part suppliers to these drone companies. InvenSense (NYSE:INVN), IXYS (NASDAQ:IXYS), Ambarella (NASDAQ:AMBA), GoPro (NASDAQ:GPRO) and TransDigm Group (NYSE:TDG) are companies that provide gyroscope chips, cameras or other components to civil, commercial and military drone manufacturers.”

Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) aims to launch a solar-powered UAV system to provide high-speed Internet access in emerging markets. Facebook acquired U.K.-based drone maker Ascenta last year, while Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) bought Titan Aerospace in 2014. Ascenta is part of the project, formed by Facebook and telecom companies.

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Meet the New Generation of Robots for Manufacturing

They are nimbler, lighter and work better with humans. They might even help bring manufacturing back to the U.S.

By James R. Hagerty

June 2, 2015 11:08 p.m. ET

A new generation of robots is on the way—smarter, more mobile, more collaborative and more adaptable. They promise to bring major changes to the factory floor, as well as potentially to the global competitive landscape.


Robots deployed in manufacturing today tend to be large, dangerous to anyone who strays too close to their whirling arms, and limited to one task, like welding, painting or hoisting heavy parts.

The latest models entering factories and being developed in labs are a different breed. They can work alongside humans without endangering them and help assemble all sorts of objects, as large as aircraft engines and as small and delicate as smartphones. Soon, some should be easy enough to program and deploy that they no longer will need expert overseers.

That will change not only the way an increasing number of products are made. It could also mean an upheaval in the competition between companies and nations. As robots become less costly and more accessible, they should help smaller manufacturers go toe to toe with giants. By reducing labor costs, they also may allow the U.S. and other high-wage countries to get back into some of the processes that have been ceded to China, Mexico and other countries with vast armies of lower-paid workers.

Some of the latest robots are designed specifically for the tricky job of assembling consumer-electronics items, now mostly done by hand in Asia. At least one company promises its robots eventually will be sewing garments in the U.S., taking over one of the ultimate sweatshop tasks.

“Robots are going to change the economic calculus for manufacturing,” says Hal Sirkin, a Chicago-based senior partner of Boston Consulting Group. “People will spend less time chasing low-cost labor.”


The changing face

Today, industrial robots are most common in auto plants—which have long been the biggest users of robot technology—and they do jobs that don’t take much delicacy: heavy lifting, welding, applying glue and painting. People still do most of the final assembly of cars, especially when it involves small parts or wiring that needs to be guided into place.

Now robots are taking on some jobs that require more agility. At a Renault SA plant in Cleon, France, robots made by Universal Robots AS of Denmark drive screws into engines, especially those that go into places people find hard to get at. The robots employ a reach of more than 50 inches and six rotating joints to do the work. They also verify that parts are properly fastened and check to make sure the correct part is being used.

The Renault effort demonstrates a couple of trends that are drastically changing how robots are made. For one, they’re getting much lighter. The Renault units weigh only about 64 pounds, so “we can easily remove them and reinstall them in another place,” says Dominique Graille, a manager at Renault, which is using 15 robots from Universal now and plans to double that by year-end.

Researchers hope robots will become so easy to set up and move around that they can reduce the need for companies to make heavy investments in tools and structures that are bolted to the floor. That would allow manufacturers to make shorter runs of niche or custom products without having to spend lots of time and money reconfiguring factories. “We’re getting away from the [structures and machinery] that can only be used for one thing on the factory floor and [instead] using robots that can be easily repurposed,” says Henrik Christensen, director of robotics at Georgia Institute of Technology.


Built to collaborate

Another big trend at work: The Renault robots are “collaborative,” designed to work in proximity to people. Older types of factory robots swing their steel arms with such force that they can bludgeon anyone who strays too close. Using sonar, cameras or other technologies, collaborative robots can sense where people are and slow down or stop to avoid hurting them.

These types of innovations aren’t limited to the auto industry. ABB Ltd of Switzerland, Boston-based Rethink Robotics Inc. and others have recently introduced robots designed to help assemble consumer-electronics items, among other products. These new robots are designed to work close to people and handle small parts, rather than doing heavy lifting or welding or painting.

Another aspect of doing more delicate work is the robots’ ability to sense whether parts are being assembled correctly, something that wasn’t possible with previous generations of clumsier robots. At a trade show in Germany in April, Kuka Roboter GmbH showed one of its robots installing a tube inside a dishwasher. Kuka’s robot uses “force torque” sensors to judge whether a part is in the right place. “The robot is able to wiggle it into place like a human would,” says Dominik Bösl, Kuka’s innovation manager.

This delicacy is allowing robotics to spread into a wider variety of industries. At a plant in Wichita, Kan., due to open in November, JCB Laboratories will use robots to pick up syringes, fill them with medications and snap on caps, among other tasks. The production line, designed by ESS Technologies Inc. of Blacksburg, Va., involves three robots from Japan’s Fanuc Corp. The robots will be five to six times faster than the people who now do the work, says Brian Williamson, president of JCB, owned by Fagron NV of Rotterdam.

Using robots also will reduce the risk of human error or contamination, he says: “They’re very precise, they don’t get tired, and they only do things they’re told to do.” The robots will eliminate two jobs, Mr. Williamson says, but the workers can be redeployed to other tasks.

Fender Musical Instruments Corp. uses Fanuc robots to apply polyester and urethane coatings to guitars at a plant in Corona, Calif. A spokeswoman says the robots apply coatings faster and more consistently than people could and allow people at the plant to “focus on areas that are more crucial to the overall look, feel and sound” of the instruments. Those tasks include designing, buffing and assembly.

Some in the robotics industry see machines moving into even more industries. Per Vegard Nerseth, ABB’s global robotics chief, expects increasing demand for robots from makers of watches, razors, toothbrushes and toys. He also thinks robots could help make muffins in local bakeries, slice vegetables and meat, and wash windows.

An Atlanta startup, SoftWear Automation Inc., which last year attracted $3 million of venture capital, has developed robots that the firm says can sew garments. The company hopes the robots will allow some clothing production to move back to the U.S. from low-wage nations.


Robots everywhere?

But some caveats are in order for this rosy picture.

Though the U.S., Europe and other high-wage areas should benefit from these trends, they won’t have the field to themselves. China also is investing heavily in robots as its wages soar and its population ages. For now, China has just 30 robots per 10,000 manufacturing employees, trailing South Korea (437), Japan (323), Germany (282) and the U.S. (152), according to the International Federation of Robotics, a trade group. But the federation projects that the total number of industrial robots being used in China will exceed that of North America next year. IHS Technology, a research firm, projects that robot sales in China will surge to about 211,000 units in 2019 from 55,000 last year.

Competition among manufacturing nations isn’t only about robots, of course. Other factors that determine where things are made include taxes, regulation, availability of skilled workers and suppliers, energy costs and willingness to make long-term investments. At a minimum, though, investing in robots and using them effectively will be a price of staying in the global manufacturing game, says Mr. Sirkin of Boston Consulting Group. So even nations that rely on low-cost labor today will be forced to explore robotics or risk losing even more jobs.


Even if robots allow manufacturing to relocate, the impact on the workforce itself will be mixed. Greater use of robots means fewer people are needed on factory floors; those doing routine tasks requiring little education are most vulnerable. Yet even highly automated factories create or sustain jobs in design, engineering, machine maintenance and repair, marketing, logistics and other services.

What’s more, robots will have to make further strides in the years ahead to allow a major shift of electronics and other assembly work to migrate from Asia to the U.S. and Europe.


Speed restrictions

One problem is that today’s collaborative robots frequently have to slow down or stop whenever people veer into their paths, disrupting production. Take the case of Baxter, a friendly looking two-armed collaborative robot from Rethink.

The company introduced Baxter with huge fanfare three years ago. Yet Rethink has sold fewer than 1,000 of the robot, which is mainly used for such simple tasks as moving materials, picking up parts, and packing or unpacking boxes. In part, that’s because the robot’s speed is restricted by safety considerations.

Rodney Brooks, chairman of Rethink and a renowned robot developer, says Baxter has been a “tremendous learning experience” and has helped manufacturers and others see the potential of collaborative robots. In March, Rethink unveiled a new robot, Sawyer, which the company says will be up to twice as fast as Baxter, depending on the application.

Another hurdle is creating robots that can come closer to matching people’s fine motor skills in manipulating materials and small parts. For all the advances in recent years, robots have trouble dealing with soft or floppy things, such as cloth or bundles of electrical wire.

“Anywhere you manipulate flexible materials, that’s a very challenging task for robots,” says Julie Shah, an assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. People use “tactile feedback,” Dr. Shah says. If something doesn’t feel quite right, they adjust. Robotic science is only starting to deal with that challenge.



FAA to name adviser to handle ‘crush’ of industry drone queries

by Press • 3 June 2015

By David Morgan


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Aviation Administration said on Wednesday that it would place a higher priority on integrating drones into the national air space by appointing a senior adviser to coordinate relations with industry and other outside stakeholders.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said the new position would deal with what has become “an absolute crush” of outside interest from the private sector and allow safety regulators within the agency’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) integration office to concentrate on crafting new regulations for commercial drone use.

He said the aim was to put “more resources” on drone integration “to elevate its profile within the agency.”

The job, which has not yet been filled, is the latest in a series of FAA actions to enhance its accommodation of commercial drones in the face of mounting pressure from Congress and private industry.

The FAA, which hopes to have final drone regulations in place by the start of 2017, has also taken steps to broaden the corporate use and testing of drones on a case-by-case basis.

“It’s almost an external focus on how we can ensure that we’re being responsive to industry and the global community, while at the same time actually getting the work done that’s getting things into the air space system,” Huerta told reporters at an aviation forum in Washington.

The change essentially splits in two the position of former FAA drone office manager James Williams, who recently retired.

The new senior UAS adviser will report to FAA Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker and have broad scope to deal with the public, the aviation industry, state and local governments, members of Congress and others.

“We wanted it to be at a sufficient level that it could play this coordinating role across all of the parts of the agency as well as across the industry,” Huerta said.

A job posting for the senior adviser’s position, which closed May 29, included a salary range of $123,700 to $174,200.

Williams’ regulatory duties will also be elevated within FAA. The new drone office director, who has yet to be named, will report to Margaret Gilligan, associate FAA administrator for aviation safety. Williams reported instead to the agency’s flight standards director.

Huerta told reporters that the UAS integration office will retain its concentration on rulemaking and the granting of interim exemptions from a near-ban on commercial drones.

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China suspected in massive breach of federal personnel data

By Ken Dilanian and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, The Associated Press 7:45 p.m. EDT June 4, 2015

WASHINGTON — China-based hackers are suspected of breaking into the computer networks of the U.S. government personnel office and stealing identifying information of at least 4 million federal workers, American officials said Thursday.

The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement that data from the Office of Personnel Management and the Interior Department had been compromised.

“The FBI is conducting an investigation to identify how and why this occurred,” the statement said.

The hackers were believed to be based in China, said Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican.

Collins, a member of the Senate intelligence committee, said the breach was “yet another indication of a foreign power probing successfully and focusing on what appears to be data that would identify people with security clearances.”

A U.S. official who declined to be identified said the data breach could potentially affect every federal agency. One key question is whether intelligence agency employee information was stolen. Former government employees are affected as well.

“This is an attack against the nation,” said Ken Ammon, chief strategy officer of Xceedium, who said the attack fit the pattern of those carried out by nation states for the purpose of espionage.

The information stolen could be used to impersonate or blackmail federal employees with access to sensitive information, he said.

The Office of Personnel Management is the human resources department for the federal government, and it conducts background checks for security clearances. The OPM conducts more than 90 percent of federal background investigations, according to its website.


The agency said it is offering credit monitoring and identity theft insurance for 18 months to individuals potentially affected. The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents workers in 31 federal agencies, said it is encouraging members to sign up for the monitoring as soon as possible.

In November, a former DHS contractor disclosed another cyberbreach that compromised the private files of more than 25,000 DHS workers and thousands of other federal employees.

DHS said its intrusion detection system, known as EINSTEIN, which screens federal Internet traffic to identify potential cyber threats, identified the hack of OPM’s systems and the Interior Department’s data center, which is shared by other federal agencies.

It was unclear why the EINSTEIN system didn’t detect the breach until after so many records had been copied and removed.

“DHS is continuing to monitor federal networks for any suspicious activity and is working aggressively with the affected agencies to conduct investigative analysis to assess the extent of this alleged intrusion,” the statement said.

Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, called the hack “shocking, because Americans may expect that federal computer networks are maintained with state of the art defenses.”

Ammon said federal agencies are rushing to install two-factor authentication with smart cards, a system designed to make it harder for intruders to access networks. But implementing that technology takes time.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., said the government must overhaul its cybersecurity defenses. “Our response to these attacks can no longer simply be notifying people after their personal information has been stolen,” he said. “We must start to prevent these breaches in the first place.”

Associated Press writers Donna Cassata, Alicia A. Caldwell and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.



OPM Says Massive Data Breach May Affect 4 Million Federal Employees


By Aliya Sternstein

June 4, 2015 49 Comments


The Office of Personnel Management is informing 4 million current and former federal employees about a hack attack that could have compromised their personal details.

The malicious activity discovered in April marks the fourth network intrusion of an organization holding sensitive records on personnel with possible access to classified information. OPM, alone, has been attacked by hackers twice during the past year.

About a month after detecting the most recent OPM incident, government officials learned employee personal information had been breached.

A Department of Homeland Security governmentwide intrusion detection and prevention system has been probing OPM systems and the Interior Department’s “shared services” data center for a certain type of malware. The Interior data center provides many agencies governmentwide with contracting, financial, and human resources services.

DHS added information about the traits of the malware, or “signatures,” to EINSTEIN, the governmentwide network monitoring system. In this incident, EINSTEIN was deployed to “identify the presence of a cybersecurity incident affecting” OPM’s IT systems and Interior’s shared services center.

DHS “cyber incident response teams were deployed to identify the scope of the potential intrusion and mitigate any risks identified. Based upon these response activities, DHS concluded at the beginning of May 2015 that OPM data had been compromised,” Homeland Security officials said in a statement.

The FBI is investigating how the incident transpired and the motive.

It’s the latest in a string of high-profile cyber breaches to hit government.

Last March, hackers reportedly from China broke into some OPM databases containing information on security-clearances holders.

In December 2014, OPM alerted more than 48,000 employees to a breach at KeyPoint Government Solutions, which conducts background investigations of federal employees seeking security clearances. And in August 2014, USIS, formerly a large provider of background checks, revealed its systems had been breached, potentially exposing information on 25,000 employees. OPM subsequently canceled work with the company.

Unclassified networks at the State Department and the White House were breached sometime last fall. The White House copped to a breach in October. The State Department said a month later its networks had also been infiltrated.

OPM officials say that while enhancing system security safeguards, they detected the cybersecurity incident in April. It is unclear when the hackers actually struck, but OPM officials said “the intrusion predated the adoption of the tougher security controls.”

OPM has since added more protections, by among other things, restricting remote access for network administrators and blocking network administration functions remotely. The agency also is deploying “anti-malware software across the environment to protect and prevent the deployment or execution of tools that could compromise the network,” OPM officials said.

It is unclear if the assailants are still inside the network.


“Protecting our federal employee data from malicious cyber incidents is of the highest priority at OPM,” OPM Director Katherine Archuleta said in a statement early Thursday evening. “We take very seriously our responsibility to secure the information stored in our systems, and in coordination with our agency partners, our experienced team is constantly identifying opportunities to further protect the data with which we are entrusted.”

The FBI and DHS have shared an information bulletin about the attack with the private sector.

OPM says it will send notifications to the affected individuals. “Since the investigation is ongoing, additional PII,” or personally identifiable information, “exposures may come to light,” OPM officials cautioned.

Affected past and current employees will be offered free 18-month credit monitoring, as well as $1 million worth of identity theft insurance and recovery services through CSID.


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