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September 5 2015

September 8, 2015

 


 

 

5 September 2015

Newswire

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‘Force of the Future’: career flexibility, fewer moves

 

By Andrew Tilghman, Staff writer 2:06 p.m. EDT August 30, 2015

http://www.militarytimes.com/story/military/careers/2015/08/28/force-future-report-ash-carter-review/32476549/

 

A detailed blueprint for how to rebuild the military personnel system has landed on Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s desk.

The dozens of recommendations from the Pentagon’s top personnel officials would fundamentally change how the military recruits, pays, promotes and manages the active-duty force of 1.3 million troops, according to a draft copy of the report obtained by Military Times.

The so-called “Force of the Future” reform package aims to yank the Pentagon’s longstanding one-size-fits-all personnel system into the Information Age by sweeping away many laws, policies and traditions that date back as far as World War II.

The proposals are designed to address Carter’s concerns that the military and its antiquated personnel system will struggle to recruit and retain the kind of high-skilled force needed for the 21st century as the digital revolution continues to gather speed and momentum.

Carter is expected to review the 120-page report and publicly endorse the bulk of the recommendations by the end of September, according to several defense officials.

The proposals will cost money — for targeted pay raises for troops, to build massive new computer systems, to send troops to Ivy League civilian graduate schools and to create new offices with highly skilled employees, among other things. In total, the package of reforms might cost more than $1 billion a year, according to one defense official familiar with the plan.

In that sense, the proposals hitting Carter’s desk signal an abrupt change in the Pentagon leadership’s views on military personnel.

 

 

DoD’s ‘Future’ vision doesn’t overlook families

Just a couple of years ago, the top concern of the Pentagon brass seemed to be the soaring cost of people and the sense that per-troop spending growth was unsustainable and eating into funds for weapons systems development modernization.

That prompted Congress to cut annual military pay raises to their lowest level in generations.

But the new report includes no major direct cost-cutting measures. Instead, it is threaded with targeted pay raises, added benefits and modernization efforts for the new forcewide personnel system.

“We should stop thinking about our people as a cost center but rather as a profit center. They’re not an expense, they’re an investment,” Acting Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Brad Carson said in a recent interview with Defense News, a Military Times affiliate.

 

Carson, who has led the internal reform effort, acknowledged its costs but suggested they are a fraction of the $500 billion-plus annual defense budget and pale in comparison to many of the Pentagon’s other expenses.

“We’re talking about something that might be half the cost of an Ohio-class submarine, one-fifth the cost of a new aircraft carrier, the cost of a few fighter planes over time. … The amount we’re really talking about here would hardly supplant any other priority in the department,” Carson said.

“It’s harder than ever before to maintain a lasting technological superiority over our adversaries. But the thing that has always made us great, and will continue to make us great, is our people. … That will be our lasting competitive advantage,” Carson said.

The fast-tracked reform effort is controversial in some corners of the Pentagon, making it unclear whether the detailed proposals will take effect and have a lasting impact. The report, circulated internally on Aug. 3, is facing some pushback, especially among the military services, according to several defense officials.

A top concern among critics is the feasibility of adding programs that will cost billions of taxpayer dollars at a time when the department continues to face the unforgiving, if arbitrary, budget caps known as sequestration. And the effort to continue scaling back troops’ pay and benefits remains official Defense Department policy.

Some of the most far-reaching proposals in the reform package would require action from Congress; others could become reality with a stroke of Carter’s pen. And others would require support from the individual services as part of the annual military budget drill.

Defense officials caution that the draft copy still can change and that Carter will ultimately decide which proposals to approve. A final version is likely to emerge this fall.

Here’s a rundown of some key proposals outlined in the draft copy of the Force of the Future report obtained by Military Times.

 

New pay tables

The Pentagon should ask Congress for authority to fundamentally change the military pay system by creating new basic pay tables for high-demand career fields and allowing commanders to dole out merit-based cash bonuses to individual troops.

The aim is to address one of Carter’s top concerns — that today’s one-size-fits-all personnel system is incapable of competing for the best people in cybersecurity and other high-tech fields where the private sector offers far more lucrative compensation packages.

The specific proposal would create a pilot program allowing the individual services to “amend” the pay tables for five occupational specialties that face particularly intense competition from the private sector.

Moreover, the services should have authority to use some of their existing budgets for special pays and incentive pays to reward individual troops in other career fields for good performance. Current practice is to award such bonuses to entire career fields regardless of individual performance.

 

Repeal ‘up or out’

The Pentagon should ask Congress to suspend the federal law that limits the number of times an officer can be passed over for promotion before being forced to leave service. The aim is to make promotions based on experience and performance rather than time in grade. That means some officers would move up the ranks more quickly, while others may remain at the same paygrade for many years.

Removing those up-or-out caps could encourage officers to pursue nontraditional assignments or develop technical expertise without fear that their career progression will suffer.

Current rules generally give officers only a small window of time to earn promotion and force them to compete against their peers as defined by their “year-group,” or time of commissioning. That’s why today’s officers often hew to a very narrow career path to ensure they complete all tasks and assignments deemed desirable by a promotion board. Those who postpone such traditional requirements in the allotted time can be passed over for promotion and forced to separate.

Removing those time-in-grade caps would also allow officers to have longer careers.

 

Flexible ‘joint’ requirements

Officers should spend far less time earning their “Joint Officer Qualified” designation, a key to promotion under the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act.

Current rules force many officers to spend several years in a job specifically tagged as a “joint billet.” The policy stems from post-Vietnam era concerns that the individual services fostered a parochial culture that diminished the ability of the services to work together effectively.

But after almost 30 years, the new Pentagon report says it’s time to change those rules.

The Pentagon should ask Congress to change the federal law dictating joint requirements by expanding the definition of “joint” and removing minimum assignment tour lengths for such positions. That could lead to replacing the current Joint Duty Assignment List that enumerates thousands of specific jobs fulfilling the requirement and replace it with a system that allows officers to accrue points through a more flexible process in which various military missions technically can be approved as “joint.”

Even without congressional approval, the defense secretary could give the services new authority to waive the Joint Officer Qualified requirements for general or flag officers whose “promotion is based primarily on scientific or technical qualifications and for which appropriate joint assignments do not really exist,” the report says.

 

Career intermissions

The military should encourage closer ties with the civilian business community by creating 50 billets for both officers and senior noncommissioned officers to pursue tours with private-sector companies.

A “tour with industry,” or TWI, would be available to those in paygrades E-7 up through O-6. Such tours likely would focus on military career fields with prominent private-sector counterparts, such as logistics, program management or cybersecurity.

Many of those billets would be awarded to the best candidates, regardless of service affiliation. An additional active-duty service obligation of at least 1.5 years would be required for each year assigned to a TWI, a measure that would prevent officers from deciding to separate and immediately go work for that company as a civilian.

In a move designed in part to help retain female service members, the Pentagon recommends lifting the cap on the services’ Career Intermission Programs.

Currently existing as service-level pilot programs, these intermissions amount to sabbatical-style leaves of absence that are in many cases used as a form of family leave.

 

Technical career tracks

The reform plan recognizes that not every service member aspires to command positions; some prefer to hone their skills and practice them in the operational force for many years.

To accommodate those service members, the Pentagon’s reform effort calls for the creation of a technical career track. That would allow individuals to remain in their occupational specialty but no longer assume key developmental positions or compete for command. Instead, those troops would spend more time in the operational force or sharing their expertise as instructors at advanced training programs.

This would be less common in combat arms careers but may be widely used for pilots, lawyers, intelligence specialists, cyber warriors or others whose skills grow, rather than atrophy, with age.

These technical track troops would have promotions and pay raises determined through an alternative system. In effect, the report says, the current up-or-out system would be replaced by a “perform-or-out” system.

 

More civilian schooling

More officers should attend civilian graduate schools, according to the draft proposal.

The goal here is to diversify the officer corps’ education and provide the force with more nontraditional expertise in subjects such as technology, business management, public policy and foreign policy.

 

That would require a policy change to more broadly recognize civilian graduate degrees as fulfilling the “joint professional military education” requirements prioritized by promotion boards.

The draft report suggests a new benchmark that at least 30 percent of the graduate degrees earned by officers each year should be from a civilian institution. The report pencils in $64 million annually to cover increased tuition costs.

This proposal also suggests that the services offer to send more enlisted troops to receive undergraduate degrees if those service <FZ,1,0,51>members make additional commitments to return to the enlisted force to take on leadership positions as senior noncommissioned officers.

 

Fewer moves

Several recommendations in the report would give service members and their families more geographic stability. Today’s troops move about once every two and a half years, on average, and some top personnel officials believe that should be more like once every four years.

To that end, the report says, the services should develop options that grant troops their first choice of duty station in exchange for an extended service commitment, according to the report.

The duration of important leadership posts and management positions could extend to reduce turnover and encourage more long-term planning. Fewer joint billet requirements could reduce the need for frequent moves. And allowing highly-skilled troops to opt out of the command-preparation track would reduce their need to leave the operational force.

 

Culture changes

A key recommendation calls on the Pentagon to attempt a sweeping reevaluation of its own culture and try to shed the constraints of traditional bureaucracy. On a practical level, this would mean more telecommuting, desk “hoteling” and fewer cubicles.

“Increasingly, research shows that employees thrive in a variety of office settings designed to maximize creativity and collaboration, either by creating quiet spaces or open-floor plan meeting places,” according to the draft report.

More broadly, the Pentagon should create an internal social network inspired by LinkedIn. Budgets would be adjusted to offer “micro-grants” for local offices or low-level commands to develop new ideas or support new training programs.

The Defense Department headquarters would encourage more “small temporary groups or distributed networks to assemble for high-intensity, short-duration, cross-disciplinary projects to solve a problem collaboratively (e.g., ‘hackathon’ model), competitively (‘innovation contests’), or virtually (e.g., crowdsourcing),” according to the report.

Those efforts would be coordinated by a newly created “Defense Innovation Network” staffed to support the military components.

 

Broader diversity

The report recommends new ways to improve diversity — not just in terms of gender and race but also professional diversity.

To reduce professional homogeneity, the Defense Department should set a forcewide goal that at least 25 percent of the members sitting on command selection and promotion boards should be from outside the specific competitive category under selection. In other words, officers would be evaluated in part by other officers from outside their immediate branch or career field.

The services also should conduct a series of mock promotion boards that are race- and gender-blind. Stripping all photos, names and pronouns from promotion packets and then analyzing the outcome will help the services identify any subtle biases that might exist in the current system.

 

New ‘people analytics’

A key pillar of the Force of the Future plan is the creation of vast new Pentagon-level central computer system to track detailed information about military personnel. One piece would be a multi-component personnel tracking system that would make it far easier for troops — and all of their records — to transfer between the active and reserve force or serve in nontraditional assignments elsewhere in the Defense Department.

 

Another part of the data modernization effort would be creation of a new Office of People Analytics to help consolidate and standardize the data currently scattered across a stove-piped, service-level record-keeping system that has changed very little since the 1980s.

Combined with new testing and evaluation methods, the OPA would provide information to help leaders answer important questions such as: Are the best and brightest troops staying in the military or leaving? What are the most effective retention tools? How effec<FZ,2,1,51>tive are training programs? What qualities or skills are a predictor of success in a military career?

 

Refining recruiting

The personnel reform proposals would fundamentally change both how the military finds new entrants and the incentives directed toward street-level recruiters.

The services should launch pilot programs that offer cash rewards for recruiters based exclusively on the number of their recruits who successfully complete the first two years of service. In the same vein, recruiters should receive no credit for recruits who fail to complete initial training.

One option that will be on the table is the creation of an “enterprise recruiting system” that would coordinate all of the military services and the civilian sector, allowing those components to share information and pass along recruits among one another.

The recruiting process also should include a new battery of tests to provide a more complete picture of individual recruits, their existing skills and strengths.

Those tests would go beyond the current Armed Forces Vocation Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB, largely considered a measure of academic-style intelligence, or “cognitive” abilities.

The report says new tests should include “non-cognitive” traits that are more subtle but also contribute to future success, such as motivation, discipline, social skills and resilience, according to the recommendations.

Providing recruiters more special pays and incentives will cost money. But the report suggests that would be offset by savings derived from better recruits who don’t wash out at the same rate. A 1 percent reduction in first-term attrition would save the Defense Department close to $100 million annually, the report says.

 

‘Historic’ changes

Many defense experts express some doubt about the reforms and Carter’s ability to get Congress to support them.

While this Congress has backed other reform efforts — for example, significant changes to the military retirement system — this particular effort comes in the lame-duck phase of the Obama administration and lawmakers will soon be anxious about next year’s elections, making votes on controversial issues unlikely.

The “Force of the Future” proposals are far more ambitious than any others in recent memory, noted said Richard Kohn, who teaches military history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“It’s really its historic,” Kohn said in an interview after reviewing the draft copy of the report obtained by Military Times.

“It’s been almost 25 years since the end of the Cold War and this is the first real attempt by the Defense Department to compete in the labor force for the recruiting, retention and development of people” whom the military needs, he said.

Staff writer Karen Jowers contributed to this story.

 

 

Friendly “Gremlins” Could Enable Cheaper, More Effective, Distributed Air Operations

http://www.doncio.navy.mil/CHIPS/ArticleDetails.aspx?ID=6787

By DARPA News – September 1, 2015

 

For decades, U.S. military air operations have relied on increasingly capable multi-function manned aircraft to execute critical combat and non-combat missions. Adversaries’ abilities to detect and engage those aircraft from longer ranges have improved over time as well, however, driving up the costs for vehicle design, operation and replacement.

An ability to send large numbers of small unmanned air systems (UAS) with coordinated, distributed capabilities could provide U.S. forces with improved operational flexibility at much lower cost than is possible with today’s expensive, all-in-one platforms—especially if those unmanned systems could be retrieved for reuse while airborne. So far, however, the technology to project volleys of low-cost, reusable systems over great distances and retrieve them in mid-air has remained out of reach.

To help make that technology a reality, DARPA has launched the Gremlins program. Named for the imaginary, mischievous imps that became the good luck charms of many British pilots during World War II, the program seeks to show the feasibility of conducting safe, reliable operations involving multiple air-launched, air-recoverable unmanned systems. The program also aims to prove that such systems, or “gremlins,” could provide significant cost advantages over expendable systems, spreading out payload and airframe costs over multiple uses instead of just one.

“Our goal is to conduct a compelling proof-of-concept flight demonstration that could employ intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and other modular, non-kinetic payloads in a robust, responsive and affordable manner,” said Dan Patt, DARPA program manager.

The Gremlins program seeks to expand upon DARPA’s Request for Information (RFI) last year, which invited novel concepts for distributed airborne capabilities. It also aims to leverage DARPA’s prior success in developing automated aerial refueling capabilities, as well the Agency’s current efforts to create advanced UAS capture systems for ships.

The program envisions launching groups of gremlins from large aircraft such as bombers or transport aircraft, as well as from fighters and other small, fixed-wing platforms while those planes are out of range of adversary defenses. When the gremlins complete their mission, a C-130 transport aircraft would retrieve them in the air and carry them home, where ground crews would prepare them for their next use within 24 hours.

DARPA plans to focus primarily on the technical challenges associated with safe, reliable aerial launch and recovery of multiple unmanned air vehicles. Additionally, the program will address new operational capabilities and air operations architectures as well as the potential cost advantages.

With an expected lifetime of about 20 uses, Gremlins could fill an advantageous design-and-use space between existing models of missiles and conventional aircraft, Patt said. “We wouldn’t be discarding the entire airframe, engine, avionics and payload with every mission, as is done with missiles, but we also wouldn’t have to carry the maintainability and operational cost burdens of today’s reusable systems, which are meant to stay in service for decades,” he said. Moreover, gremlin systems could be relatively cost-efficient if, as expected, they leverage existing technology and require only modest modifications to current aircraft.

To familiarize potential participants with the technical objectives of the Gremlins program, DARPA has scheduled a Proposers Day on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, at DARPA’s offices in Arlington, Virginia. Advance registration is required through the registration website: http://ow.ly/Rvhyd. Registration closes on Friday, Sept. 18, 2015, at 2:00 PM Eastern.

The DARPA Special Notice announcing the Proposers Day and describing the specific capabilities sought is available at http://go.usa.gov/36ARH. Email inquiries should be sent to DARPA-SN-15-72@darpa.mil.

 

The Gremlins program plans to explore numerous technical areas, including:

— Launch and recovery techniques, equipment and aircraft integration concepts.

— Low-cost, limited-life airframe designs.

— High-fidelity analysis, precision digital flight control, relative navigation and station keeping.

 

Proposers are encouraged to explore these areas as well as other technologies that could help the program achieve its goals. To maximize the pool of innovative proposal concepts, DARPA strongly encourages participation in these events and subsequent solicitations by non-traditional performers, including small businesses, academic and research institutions, and first-time government contractors.

 

 

 

China’s President Xi Solidifies Power with Overhaul of Military

by Bloomberg News

August 31, 2015 — 12:00 PM EDT

Updated on September 1, 2015 — 12:21 AM EDT

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-08-31/china-said-to-plan-overhaul-of-military-as-xi-solidifies-power-ie043vht

 

President Xi Jinping will as soon as this month announce the most sweeping overhaul of the Chinese military in at least three decades, moving it closer to a U.S.-style joint command structure, people familiar with the matter said.

The blueprint would unify the army, navy, air force and strategic missile corps under one command, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the proposal hasn’t been released. The plans call for thinning the ranks of officers and traditional ground forces, helping elevate the role of the navy and air force, to better project force in a modern conflict, they said.

It would also consolidate the country’s seven military regions to as few as four, one of the people said.

Xi is preparing to unveil the proposal in the wake of Thursday’s World War II anniversary parade in Beijing, which will showcase his authority over the People’s Liberation Army and China’s growing clout in the region. The plan to mold the military into a force that meets Xi’s goal of being “able to fight and win a modern war” has been delayed for months as anti-graft investigators swept up dozens of current and retired generals, referring the PLA’s former top general to prosecutors in July.

Xi “mainly employed the anti-corruption campaign in the military to form his absolute command over the army, so that his military restructuring plan can press ahead after being initially stalled,” said Yue Gang, a retired colonel in the PLA’s General Staff Department. “Now, his authority in the army is solid enough for him to flesh out his vision to transform the military and set it on a path to emulate the U.S.”

The Ministry of National Defense didn’t respond to a faxed request for comment.

 

Unified Command

The plan would set out the details of the Communist Party’s endorsement of a joint military command in November 2013. The new system — which includes a joint command at both the regional and national level — would replace the region-based structure that emphasizes the army and predates the country’s founding in 1949 at a time Communist soldiers were clashing with Japanese invaders and Nationalist troops.

Chinese military officers stand in a line during a rehearsal ahead of the September 3 military Such a command system is seen as necessary to improve communications and coordinate modern forces across the various arms of the military. The organizational changes would aid China’s shift from a land-based military to one able to project force far from its coastline.

“The PLA is currently a territorial muddy-boots military focused on defending the rule of the Communist Party against all enemies foreign and domestic with limited ability to fight jointly,” Andrew Scobell, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation in Arlington, Virginia. “With growing attention to China’s increasingly overseas interests, the U.S. model is very appealing.”

 

Maritime Reach

The effort to adopt a U.S.-inspired command comes as China extends its maritime reach and the world’s two largest economies face increasing friction from the shipping lanes of East Asia to cyberspace. The Obama administration is considering cyber retaliation against China or other countries it believes have sponsored hacking attacks on corporate or government computers in the U.S., people familiar with the matter said.

The PLA’s last major overhaul — carried out under Deng Xiaoping in 1985 — reduced the number of military regions to seven from 11 and resulted in the dismissal of some 1 million soldiers. In its annual report to the U.S. Congress in May, the Pentagon said creating joint-command entities “would be the most significant changes to the PLA’s command organization since 1949.”

The changes would include merging the General Logistics and General Armaments departments, the people said. The defense ministry’s focus would be directed more toward administrative and diplomatic matters while the number of non-combat personnel and institutions would be scaled back, they said.

 

Nationwide Drills

The PLA began practicing the use of a joint-command system during a series of nationwide military exercises that began last month. It had an army of 850,000, compared with 398,000 people in the air force and 235,000 in the navy, according to figures released in 2013, the first time China confirmed the relative size of the branches.

In July the party expelled Guo Boxiong– the PLA’s retired top general — on suspicion he abused power and took bribes either directly or through family members. It was the highest-profile case bought against top brass since Xi took power in 2012, with generals accused of everything from embezzling public funds to selling ranks.

Phillip Saunders, director of the Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs at the U.S. National Defense University in Washington, said the difficulty in integrating the various forces is a weakness for the PLA now in conducting combat operations.

“Setting up joint command and control mechanisms is intended to fix that,” he said. “However, it took the U.S. military years to really learn how to communicate between the services and conduct real joint operations. It will likely take the PLA even longer.

 

 

 

Air Force Official Predicts Private Launches for Military Satellites

Outsourcing launches and even some space-based operations may be inevitable


http://www.wsj.com/articles/air-force-official-predicts-private-launches-for-military-satellites-1441058551?mod=pls_whats_news_us_business_f

By Andy Pasztor

Updated Aug. 31, 2015 8:30 p.m. ET

 

 

PASADENA, Calif.—Budget pressures increasingly are pushing Pentagon planners to consider outsourcing satellite launches, routine military communication links and even some space-based surveillance operations to industry, a senior Air Force official said Monday.

Projecting reliance on straight commercial-style purchases in coming decades, Maj. Gen. Robert McMurry told a conference here that vendors ultimately would be paid for providing specific space services to the military rather than the military underwriting development, testing and deployment of government-owned systems into orbit as it traditionally has done.

Such drastic changes will take many years, Gen. McMurry predicted in remarks to the meeting sponsored by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. The Air Force’s No. 2 uniformed acquisition official for space sketched out a long-term trend that he described as necessary and probably inevitable.

In his remarks and answers to audience questions, Gen. McMurry appeared to go further than his superiors in embracing commercial solutions, similar to the strategy adopted by U.S. civilian space leaders to outsource cargo deliveries and astronaut transportation to the international space station.

In the long term, Gen. McMurry said, “I see us buying space lift” to blast satellites into orbit “like we buy airline tickets,” though he noted “that’s a little extreme.” But he said that airline passengers don’t “go through the kind of [quality assurance checks] we do for our beloved satellites.”

The drive toward greater military use of commercial space assets has been building, and now has strong advocates throughout the military and industry. Wanda Sigur, head of Lockheed Martin Corp. ‘s civil space business, told the conference that industry, for instance, is looking for ways to combine manned space exploration with commercial applications.

Similar synergy also could be important for military applications, she suggested. A goal, she said, is to change current business practices by getting companies to “start making money in space,” even when “it’s not just a government project.”

Gen. McMurry’s analogy between airliners and rocket blastoffs has been embraced by others. Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of Space Exploration Technologies Corp., told the conference, “We want to be launching rockets like airlines fly airplanes,” reducing both costs and risks.

In a brief interview, Gen. McMurry said today’s launch practices are “not as desirable” as moving to an alternate system that considers blasting satellites into orbit as “just a service” and aims to make it “as inexpensive as we can get.”

Without a transformation to acquire routine space capabilities at a lower cost, Gen. McMurry said in his speech, the U.S. military may end up lacking the resources, for example, to develop its own next-generation satellites designed to foil cyberattacks or other hostile moves by adversaries. The military spends more than $3 billion a year on satellite launches alone.

Some Air Force and Pentagon brass previously indicated a desire to revamp space acquisitions by switching to larger constellations of smaller government-owned satellites, leasing more bandwidth on commercial satellites and introducing competition into the launch business. Many hundreds of satellites operated by commercial entities are already in orbit, but so far the U.S. military has made limited use of those spacecraft.

Under all scenarios, however, the military would continue to own and control the most capable spy satellites and other sophisticated hardware intended for strategic applications. The military also relies on satellites for uses such as voice and data communication and weather observation.

Some current Air Force satellites focused heavily on tactical users still cost billions of dollars apiece, and the overall price tag for an individual launch using the traditional Pentagon acquisition system can exceed $500 million.

Faced with such outlays and anticipated simultaneous cuts in military space budgets, Gen. McMurry made it clear that he and the entire leadership of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center are girding for sweeping changes.

If launch volume picks up significantly in future years, such operations will be seen more as everyday occurrences. That, in turn, would mean turning over more of the responsibility of launching satellites to commercial entities to allow the military to focus on more pressing or difficult issues, he predicted.

“That’s going to be hard for us,” Gen. McMurry told the conference, because the Air Force has traditionally kept tight reins on launch providers. But “it doesn’t meant that it [won’t] work” as envisioned, he said.

Underscoring the controversial aspect of his remarks, Gen. McMurry later said, “I’m not fully reconciled to the idea I’m just buying a service” by placing a satellite on a commercial launch provider. But on balance, he said, that may be the technique to ensure the Air Force spends its limited personnel and budget resources on other priorities requiring greater hands-on direction and oversight.

 

How the Iran Deal Could Complicate U.S. Efforts to Prevent a Nuclear Breakout

Michael Eisenstadt

August 31, 2015

http://warontherocks.com/2015/08/how-the-iran-deal-could-complicate-u-s-efforts-to-prevent-a-nuclear-breakout/

 

President Obama has often stated, regarding Iran’s potential nuclear weapons ambitions, that “all options are and will remain on the table” and that the United States would be able to deal with such an eventuality because “we preserve all our capabilities … our military superiority stays in place.” Administration officials have likewise claimed that the inspection regime agreed to in the nuclear deal with Iran would increase America’s insight into Iran’s declared nuclear infrastructure, greatly enhancing the effectiveness of a military strike should it someday be deemed necessary.

Further scrutiny, however, raises questions regarding whether political and military dynamics set in train by the nuclear deal with Iran will in fact make preventive military action an even more problematic, and therefore unlikely, option for the United States.

This could influence Iran’s future proliferation calculus. The nuclear deal, if implemented fully, could place major constraints on Iran’s ability to undertake a breakout from declared, or possible covert, facilities for 10 to 15 years. But as these constraints are lifted (or circumvented before then by Iran), the temptation to pursue a breakout could be strengthened. Several factors will influence Iran’s decision-making on this matter; foremost among these is Iran’s assessment of the risk of attempting a breakout.

Because it is unclear how the sanctions “snapback” mechanism might work in practice, it is especially important that the nuclear deal be backstopped with a threat of force if it is to be viable. Iranian doubts about the credibility and efficacy of the U.S. military option could, however, undermine the long-term sustainability of the agreement. So what impact will the deal have on this option?

Political Calculations, Military Assessments

The political context created by the nuclear deal will have a major impact on Washington’s calculations regarding the use of force in response to an attempted Iranian nuclear breakout. The Obama administration, perhaps its successors, and key U.S. allies are likely to become deeply invested — politically and economically — in Iran, and will be loath to abandon this path. Open-ended diplomacy will be the preferred option of the European Union, the P5+1, and much of the international community in response to perceived Iranian violations. If forced to choose, most will likely rather choose to live with an Iranian bomb than risk the political and economic consequences of military action.

A preventive strike could therefore jeopardize America’s relationship with key allies and broad segments of the international community, though the context surrounding an attempted Iranian breakout will have a significant effect. And if Iran’s actions take the form of ambiguous or incremental actions (i.e., a “crawlout” or a “sneakout“), military action will be even harder to justify internationally.

Historically, the United States has tended to prioritize avoiding war over its nuclear nonproliferation commitments. This was certainly the case regarding the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea. It remains to be seen whether this will be the case with Iran. The U.S. invasion of Iraq — justified in part by concerns about nuclear proliferation — is the exception that proves the rule, as America’s post-invasion hangover would seem to make another preventive war over weapons of mass destruction less likely.

Such political considerations and priorities are likely to weigh at least as heavily as military considerations on any future decision regarding preventive military action. Regarding these military considerations, the picture is decidedly mixed.

While the nuclear accord with Iran may provide invaluable insights into its declared nuclear infrastructure, Tehran is more likely to attempt a nuclear breakout using undeclared covert facilities. Here, the contribution of the nuclear deal may be far less significant than what is claimed by administration officials.

Moreover, while the nuclear deal — the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2231 — confers advantages and creates opportunities for the United States (and its allies), it also complicates future non-kinetic and kinetic military options vis-à-vis the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

An Increasingly Complex Intelligence Picture

An attempted Iranian nuclear breakout would most likely use covert facilities, and not the declared facilities inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Accurate and timely national intelligence would be needed to detect movement toward a breakout, and to direct IAEA inspectors to suspect sites. What is the likelihood that these intelligence capabilities will “stay in place” in the years to come?

New Collection Opportunities

The opening of Iran to foreign visitors and businessmen and the likely increase in Iranian trade delegations traveling outside the country will create intelligence recruitment and collection opportunities for U.S. and allied intelligence agencies. One key question is how willing the United States and its P5+1 partners will be to accept risk in conducting sensitive intelligence operations directed against Iran’s nuclear program, under the new circumstances created by the nuclear deal. Even if Washington proves unwilling to engage in high-risk operations, allies not constrained by the nuclear accord will likely be more active, and will share their findings. Iranian counterintelligence will certainly recognize this, however, and counter it with denial and deception operations to confound foreign intelligence services.

Sustaining Focus

U.S. intelligence assets (and policymakers) are now focused intensely on Iran, and this is likely to remain the case, especially if Iran continues with its destabilizing regional behavior. But the United States has finite intelligence resources, and future crises in the Ukraine, East Asia, or elsewhere might force Washington to divert assets to respond to what may be considered more immediate needs in accordance with the priorities of the day — especially if Iran seems to be complying with the nuclear accord. Similar dynamics paved the way for past intelligence and policy failures, including Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the post-2011 rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Much will depend on Iran’s policy choices, the international security environment, and the foreign policy priorities of future U.S. administrations.

Cyber-spying

The JCPOA envisages the possibility of assistance from the European Union and P5+1 countries (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, plus Germany) to Iran to protect its nuclear infrastructure against sabotage (Annex III, paragraph 10). This may help Iran entice world-class information technology (IT) consultants, firms, and state entities to help it thwart the kind of cyber-spying that is a prerequisite of offensive cyber operations (although the employment of foreign IT specialists also entails risks for Iran). Indeed, it was a Belarus-based firm working for an Iranian state entity that discovered the Stuxnet malware. The JCPOA may thus enable Iran to more effectively counter foreign cyber-spying, greatly complicating U.S. and allied efforts to detect future Iranian clandestine nuclear activities. This may also deny the United States and its allies of offensive cyber options — perhaps the most potent non-kinetic means of disrupting an attempted Iranian breakout, at a time when U.S. kinetic options may be narrowing (see below).

Industrial “Clutter”

Covert above-ground facilities “hidden in plain sight” may be more difficult to detect and characterize in the future due to the lifting of sanctions and the consequent proliferation of large infrastructure and industrial projects. Many key facilities tied to Iran’s former clandestine nuclear program were located above ground, including the Kalaye Electric centrifuge research and development facility and the Parchin explosives test site. Iran is likely to continue this practice for practical reasons, as it would be too expensive and troublesome to locate all of its covert nuclear facilities underground. (This would not be unprecedented: The United States had suspected for well over a decade that North Korea had a uranium enrichment program but did not know about its centrifuge plant at Yongbyon — a closely watched site — until the plant was shown to a delegation of former U.S. officials in 2010.) The presence of numerous civil industrial projects near possible covert nuclear facilities also raises the potential for civilian casualties, including foreigners, a possibility that would likely constrain U.S. military action.

Inspection No-Go Zones

If the United States or other countries obtain information regarding possible covert facilities in Iran, it will be necessary to conduct inspections to verify these reports. The elaborate procedures outlined in the JCPOA for visits to suspicious sites could create substantial obstacles to timely access. And by repeatedly stating that IAEA inspectors will not be allowed to visit military sites, Iran has set a very high bar for access. Consequently, the United States and the IAEA will likely demand access to such facilities only rarely, given the potential for friction and tension this could entail, creating sanctuaries where proscribed activities can occur beyond the prying eyes of inspectors.

The ability of the IAEA to follow-up on intelligence reports regarding clandestine activities will be greatly diminished if disunity or diverging interests among the European Union and the P5+1 undermine the efficacy of the monitoring arrangements described in the JCPOA. For instance, in the event that IAEA inspectors are denied access to a site, five of eight members of the Joint Commission established by the JCPOA need to agree on a means to resolve the IAEA’s concerns (Article 78). If they are unable to do so, due to political differences, the inspection effort will likely languish. This is what happened in Iraq in the late 1990s, when diverging interests among the P5 eventually hamstrung United Nations weapons inspections and efforts to resolve remaining questions about Iraq’s possible residual weapons of mass destruction capabilities (i.e., possible stocks of the chemical agent VX).

Enhanced Defense and Retaliatory Capabilities

The JCPOA will almost certainly enable Iran to strengthen its defenses and its retaliatory capabilities.

Strengthened Air Defenses

In April, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree authorizing the sale of the S-300 surface-to-air missile system to Iran, and following the passing of UNSCR 2231, Russian officials stated that Moscow will go forward with the deal. The transfer of the S-300 would make a preventive strike by the United States or Israel against Iran a more complicated, risky, and potentially costly undertaking. However, the S-300 is in the inventory of several U.S. partners and allies, and presumably the U.S. military is therefore well acquainted with its capabilities and vulnerabilities.

Broader Proxy Options

The infusion of cash that will occur following the lifting of sanctions will also enable Iran to broaden and deepen its ties to its Lebanese, Syrian, Iraqi, Afghan, Pakistani, and Yemeni Shiite proxy militia allies, potentially expanding its retaliatory options using members of these groups. In the future, Western intelligence agencies will need to focus not only on Iranian and Hizballah operatives, but on the entire array of actors that now make up Tehran’s “foreign legion.”

Larger Missile Forces

UNSCR 2231 calls on Iran not to undertake activities involving ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons for eight years, though existing sanctions and the Missile Technology Control Regime have been, by and large, ineffective in preventing Iran from making progress in this area. At any rate, Iran has stated that it does not consider these restrictions to be binding. Thus, Iran will likely continue producing short- and medium-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs and MRBMs) at its current production rate of around 50 a year for the latter, which means that in the next 10 to 20 years, Iran could more than double the size of its current inventory of about 800 missiles. This will stress regional missile defenses and dramatically increase the size of an Iranian retaliatory strike. Iran, moreover, is free to continue its development and production of land attack cruise missiles, which are not addressed directly in the deal. Given these trends, the threat posed by Iran’s missile forces may eventually outstrip the capabilities of missile defenses in Israel and the Gulf.

Harder, Deeper Underground Facilities

If Iran opts to once again build covert nuclear facilities in the future, it may hide some “in plain sight” in industrial areas or on military bases, while locating key facilities in underground sites. Iran’s approach to protecting critical nuclear infrastructure has evolved from relying on above-ground facilities protected by heavy air defenses (such as the research reactor at Arak), to shallow cut-and-cover type underground facilities protected by an overhead concrete burster slab (such as the enrichment facility at Natanz), to more deeply buried facilities (such as at the enrichment facility built into a mountain at Fordow) located about 300 feet below the surface. Future underground facilities are likely to be located at sites that are even better protected and deeper than the current underground facilities at Natanz and Fordow, and while such a significant undertaking would be difficult to hide, it should be kept in mind that the United States missed the construction of major nuclear facilities elsewhere in the past.

Defeating the Massive Ordnance Penetrator?

Fordow probably represents the outer limits of what America’s current generation of conventional deep penetrator munitions can take on. Indeed, the original Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) had to be redesigned as initial assessments reportedly concluded that it would not be effective against Fordow, and the Air Force has requested funding for an additional round of MOP upgrades. Moreover, Fordow is hardly the deepest underground nuclear facility that has been built. In the 1960s, China started work on Project 816 — an underground plutonium production reactor built 450-600 feet below the surface of a mountain in Szechuan province and designed to withstand nuclear strikes and magnitude eight earthquakes. Work on the project was halted before it was completed, however, due to the ebbing of the Soviet threat.

Shell Games, Hardening, and Burrowing

Iran has multiple options when it comes to hardened and buried sites. It has hundreds of general-purpose underground bunkers and facilities that it could use for clandestine nuclear activities, playing a shell game with foreign intelligence services, which would have to determine which ones are being used for proscribed purposes. Or it could burrow deeper, building special-purpose, hardened, deeply buried facilities. Because Iran is an earthquake zone, it is a world leader in the development of ultra-high performance (super-hard) concrete, and it has a great deal of expertise and experience in building underground facilities (perhaps with help from North Korea, another leader in this area).

Future covert facilities could be protected by super-hard concrete, and located at much greater depths than Fordow, placing them beyond the reach of existing conventional penetrator munitions such as MOP. It took nearly a decade to develop MOP. Therefore U.S. decision-makers should view the next generation hard deep buried target defeat munition as an urgent priority. Whether such munitions, enabled by precision placement, nanotechnologies, hypersonic penetration velocities, and innovative fuze designs, will be able to defeat future hard deep buried targets remains to be seen. It would be imprudent, however, to simply assume that they will be able to do so; future buried facilities may be so deep, and hardened to such a degree, that current and future penetrators will be rendered ineffective. In the near term, technology trends pertaining to burrowing and hardening technologies appear to favor the bunker builders.

A major unknown in dealing with hard deep buried targets is whether it would be necessary to penetrate underground facilities to disable or destroy them, or whether the massive shock wave created by penetrator munitions would functionally disable delicate equipment in an underground enrichment plant or reactor or render the facility unusable. To a great extent, this could depend on intangibles and unknowns, such as the real-world performance of the munitions, the nature of the geological structures located over the facilities, and the degree to which Iran is able to successfully dampen these underground facilities to absorb or mitigate shock and vibration. (For instance, the former NORAD headquarters in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado sits on giant springs that were intended to absorb shock waves from nuclear strikes).

What Does the Future Hold?

The political context created by the nuclear accord will have a decisive impact on any future debates regarding preventive action and would likely deter the U.S. from undertaking military action, though military-technical trends are also likely to greatly influence the U.S. decision calculus, if Iran were ever to move toward or attempt a nuclear breakout.

The foregoing assessment shows, however, that in the military arena, as in other competitive domains, nothing ever “stays in place.” Thanks in part to the nuclear accord, 10 to 20 years from now, America’s ability to detect and ferret out a clandestine Iranian weapons program may be improved in some areas, but diminished in others. Preventive action will likely be more complicated, risky, and costly. And future Iranian covert underground facilities may be beyond the reach of the current generation of conventional penetrator munitions such as the MOP, though new means of defeating deep buried facilities are undoubtedly being developed. Whether these will be game changers, remains to be seen.

The nuclear deal with Iran could therefore complicate U.S. efforts to deter, detect, and prevent a future Iranian nuclear breakout, while buying Iran time to counter some of America’s most potent capabilities. This could have a decisive impact on Iran’s nuclear decision calculus, and affect America’s ability to deter a future Iranian nuclear breakout. The Obama administration should be concerned about this, though in its zeal to sell the nuclear deal with Iran, it shows no sign of acknowledging the significant risk inherent in its Iran policy, which future administrations and future generations of Americans may have to live with.

 Michael Eisenstadt is Kahn Fellow and Director of the Military and Security Studies Program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

 

 

As Drones Flood US Skies, States Are On A Legal Collision Course

September 1, 2015 By Kaveh Waddell National Journal

http://www.defenseone.com/technology/2015/09/drones-flood-us-skies-states-are-legal-collision-course/120002/

 

Three years after it was tasked with developing a set of rules for commercial drone operators, the federal government still has not finalized drone regulations, instead doling out more than 1,000 exemptions to allow businesses to fly drones in the meantime.

Tired of waiting on Washington, states are moving to develop their own drone rules. But many of the laws that states are proposing and passing may end up conflicting with what the federal government eventually comes up with.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the past two years have seen 26 states pass legislation concerning drones. The laws range widely in their treatment of drones, from the mildly limiting to the extremely restrictive.

On one end of the spectrum is California, a state often at the vanguard of developing civil-liberties and consumer-protection rules. California’s state legislature last week sent a bill to the governor that would make it illegal to fly a drone within 350 feet of the ground over private property without consent, a rule opposed by technology companies such as Amazon and Google, which have plans for delivering goods and Internet access by drone.

But most of the state-passed drone laws to date have been less restrictive. Some states looking to create privacy safeguards have taken smaller steps toward fighting drone-equipped peeping Toms. Other states target specific industries or use-cases: Louisiana’s drone law concerns agriculture, while Tennessee’s governs drone flights over prisons. And a handful of states have passed legislation to outlaw using drones for hunting or interfering with hunters.

The patchwork of drone laws makes commercial users nervous.

“The federal government needs a framework that allows robust innovation and research. If local lawmakers move first and create artificial statutory restrictions, ill-considered laws like the California bill may drive jobs and innovation over the border and overseas,” said Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, which represents thousands of tech companies.

Hopeful commercial drone users such as Amazon have also railed against the federal government for making it difficult for them to develop and test drone systems in the United States. Earlier this year, The Guardian reported on a secret Amazon drone-testing site in Canada that the company turned to for lack of opportunity at home.

As the proliferation of drones continues to accelerate this year, almost every state has considered legislation to govern how they can be used, whether by law enforcement, businesses, or the public. Forty-five states have considered more than 150 drone-related bills in 2015, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Meanwhile, the federal government is in the midst of parallel processes to come up with national drone regulations.

The main overseer of the nation’s airspace, the Federal Aviation Administration, is in charge of studying safety aspects of commercial drone flights and is finalizing a set of safety rules for commercial users. A draft of its proposed rules was announced in February, and FAA officials have said they expect to be finished by mid-2016.

But the FAA says its mandate stops at safety and security. It claims privacy issues, which have dogged the idea of widespread drone flights, remain the purview of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an agency in the Commerce Department.

NTIA recently began a series of meetings that will bring together stakeholders in federal drone rulemaking to settle on voluntary drone privacy guidelines. But a privacy advocacy organization filed suit against the FAA soon after the agency announced its safety rules, arguing that the FAA’s mandate to come up with a “comprehensive” set of drone regulations requires it to draw up privacy regulations as well.

Some members of Congress have also wandered into the fray, with proposals to restrict where drones can fly for safety reasons, require geofencing technology to keep drones away from sensitive sites like airports, and even temporarily create a full set of rules for drones that would govern their use until federal agencies finalize their regulations.

Recent data from the FAA that revealed a growing number of “close calls” between drones and commercial airliners has added to the urgency of lawmakers in statehouses and in Washington. According to the agency, there have been nearly 700 pilot sightings of drones so far this year, about three times the total number of sightings in 2014.

 

 

Even if Congress fails to block Iran deal, it can still affect implementation

By Walter Pincus Reporter September 1 at 11:20 AM 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/even-if-congress-fails-to-block-iran-deal-it-can-still-affect-implementation/2015/09/01/b1be2064-4e62-11e5-902f-39e9219e574b_story.html

 

The Obama administration’s fight to prevent Congress from blocking the Iran nuclear deal may be won, since there appear to be enough Democratic votes in the House and the Senate to sustain a presidential veto of any resolution of disapproval.

But continued political skirmishing could affect the White House’s broader goal, which is to make certain the deal works.

Several GOP presidential candidates have threatened to “terminate this deal on day one,” as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker did again Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Walker said he was sending a “clear message today” to the rest of the world that if he won the White House, tough sanctions would be imposed on Tehran. And he warned America’s negotiating partners and other nations that start dealing with Tehran: “If you want to do business, you have got to decide, are you going to do it with Iran or are you going to do it with America?”

Walker’s proposal to Iran, he said, would be to “get rid of your illicit nuclear infrastructure.”

Meanwhile, Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) have a pending bill to authorize a 10-year extension of the Iran Sanctions Act, which expires next year. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said last month that the sanctions extension would be brought up and passed after the debate on the nuclear pact.

Iranian officials have said that extending the authorization for sanctions could be considered a violation of the agreement.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) has threatened to withhold the U.S. contribution for fiscal 2016 to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) if Congress does not get to see the side agreement between Iran and the IAEA on examining Tehran’s past nuclear activities.

Congress has been privately briefed on that agreement, which some U.S. officials have read. But the administration does not have the papers, under a standing IAEA rule to keep such deals confidential between the agency and the countries involved.

In the next two weeks, while debating the resolution of disapproval, Congress could take up a suggestion by Orde Kittrie, a professor of law at Arizona State University, writing in the Wall Street Journal. He proposed that lawmakers could, as part of the resolution, “specify what changes would be needed to meet congressional requirements.”

Kittrie also said, “Our negotiating partners should not be surprised if Congress takes the less drastic step of returning it to the president for renegotiation.”

That picks up an idea Corker floated in an Aug. 17 Washington Post op-ed. “Congress should reject this deal and send it back to the president,” he wrote.

Menendez has suggested that Congress disapprove the deal but authorize continuation of the current Joint Plan of Action, which provides Iran with a $700 million-a-month lifeline, as new provisions are negotiated.

Neither Menendez, Corker nor AIPAC had any suggestion as to how President Obama could get Iran and the other world powers that negotiated the deal — Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia — to reopen talks.

There are, however, some noncontroversial steps Congress could take as it carries on its debate on the agreement.

“The Senate or House could choose to form a new task force on Iran Deal Compliance, or the Senate could reconstitute the Arms Control Observer Group or strengthen the National Security Working Group to cover these issues,” wrote Sharon Squassoni, director of the proliferation prevention program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

As the deal goes forward, such groups could look at issues like regional security, support for terrorism and human rights, Squassoni added.

Under current law, the White House must already supply a variety of reports on the Iran accord to Congress, so it would be useful if there was a joint House-Senate panel or some special group to receive and go over them.

For example, the president must report to Congress within 10 days of receiving “credible and accurate” information about a “potentially significant breach or compliance incident by Iran,” and say how that breach is being cured.

In addition, every 90 days, the president must certify that Iran is “transparently, verifiably, and fully implementing the agreement, including all related technical or additional agreements.” The certification must also include that “Iran has not directly supported or carried out an act of terrorism against the United States or a United States person anywhere in the world.”

Every six months, the president must file a broader report covering Iran’s nuclear program and compliance with the accord. Among other items, it must include any “delay by Iran of more than one week in providing inspectors access to facilities, people, and documents in Iran as required by the agreement,” as well as “an assessment of whether any Iranian financial institutions are engaged in money laundering or terrorist finance activities, including names of specific financial institutions if applicable.”

The Iranians have not ignored U.S. criticism.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has supported the nuclear deal but warned: “The enmity of Zionists and Americans toward the Revolution and the Islamic Republic has not diminished. . . . The hostile and overt objectives of enemies are quite clear in their words and writings and nobody should forget that the enemy front, fully armed, has taken positions against the nation and the country.”

Obama, speaking to a Jewish group on Friday, also said that the enmity between the two countries is likely to persist.

“Being for this deal does not involve pie-in-the-sky hopes about Iran. We will retain all the tools that we have to go after them,” the president said. “. . .­ This deal doesn’t solve all the problems about Iranian behavior. . . . Not even close.”

 

 

“President” Trump, Build Us A Digital Wall

August 31, 2015

Daniel Gouré, Ph.D.    

http://lexingtoninstitute.org/president-trump-build-us-a-digital-wall/

 

Donald Trump catapulted to the top of the list of Republican presidential candidates based on his stance on illegal immigration and, in particular, his call to build a wall along the U.S. southern border and somehow make Mexico pay for it. Trump has taken an enormous amount of “flack” for his views on immigration policy and some for his proposal to build a wall.

While the idea of controlling our borders is a good one, building a 1200 mile wall is the wrong way to achieve this objective. A physical barrier along the length of the U.S.-Mexico border would be expensive, difficult to maintain and by itself ultimately ineffective. Without continuous surveillance of the fence itself, and appropriate, agile and informed response forces, even the greatest physical barrier can be circumvented. In addition, a physical fence would not be feasible along much of the northern border with Canada. Other measures and technologies will be required. In the end, they are likely to be both more effective and efficient, reducing the overall cost for securing the border.

The right approach is to build a digital wall consisting primarily of land-based sensors supported by airborne and at-sea ISR assets. This system would not only detect actual attempts to cross into the U.S. and track people, vehicles, aircraft, drones and boats, but could look across the borders and out to sea to provide early warning of hostile activities. Over time, it would provide persistent surveillance and in-depth knowledge of the physical and human environments on both sides of the border. An integrated surveillance system along the entire border would provide tactical intelligence to Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents and aerial units and strategic intelligence to a host of government agencies at the state and federal levels.

Such a system already exists. Israel has built an integrated, multispectral digital surveillance system along each of its borders, including westward into the Mediterranean. Yes, there are fences. But these are primarily to prevent inadvertent border crossings and to provide evidence of hostile intent. The fences themselves have intrusion detection sensors. The heart of this digital wall is an array of sensors – radar, cameras, motion and electronic emissions detectors – that surveils everything that moves along the border on land, sea and in the air including aircraft, drones, boats, vehicles, individuals and even animals.

I recently saw this system in operation along Israel’s border with Gaza. At a base several miles from the border, in a command center filled with work stations, young Israeli soldiers watch a defined sector of the border. Sophisticated radars provide persistent surveillance and initial detection day/night and in all kinds of weather. When something is detected, high resolution optical sensors are employed to more accurately determine the object’s identity. The soldiers watching on their screens can call on additional assets, including mobile patrols and even robots, to track or intercept the potential threat. They also can send live video directly to patrols along the border. The number of sensors and their operating ranges in each sector depend on that area’s specific physical characteristics. The Israeli Air Force and Navy provide equally sophisticated surveillance of their respective domains shared with the land forces as needed.

The Department of Homeland Security tried other ways of watching the borders, primarily using sensors in aircraft and drones, with little success. Now, after several false starts (anyone remember the Secure Border Initiative?), CBP last year began a project to build a series of electronic surveillance positions – Integrated Fixed Towers (IFTs) – along the Arizona-Mexico border. Data from the IFTs and other sensor systems will be fed into command and control centers. Together with remote sensors, airborne surveillance and mobile patrols with mast-borne radar and optical systems on their vehicles, the result could be similar to that achieved by the Israeli border surveillance system. It should be noted that Israeli radar systems are a critical component of the IFT surveillance suite.

 

The IFT program, if properly deployed and employing the right suite of sensors could minimize the need for massive, field barriers or walls. Groups of illegal immigrants or drug smugglers, even single individuals, aircraft, drones, ultralights and boats, could be detected well before they reached the border and tracked when they cross, allowing CBP to plan their interception.

Candidate Trump should promise that on his first day in office he will sign an executive order directing the Department of Homeland Security to begin a Manhattan-style project to build a digital wall along all our borders. Physical barriers still will be needed, particularly in highly populated areas, in order to manage the rate at which people and vehicles cross the border. But like with Israel, most of the border will need only a simple fence backed up by a full array of sensors.

– See more at: http://lexingtoninstitute.org/president-trump-build-us-a-digital-wall/#sthash.WllBXCmy.dpuf

 

Who’ll keep track of all those drones in flight?

by Press • 1 September 2015

http://www.suasnews.com/2015/09/38227/wholl-keep-track-of-all-those-drones-in-flight/?utm_source=sUAS+News+Daily&utm_campaign=895b4a6d42-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_b3c0776dde-895b4a6d42-303662705&mc_cid=895b4a6d42&mc_eid=ea2f95c862

By Mark Pomerleau

With the increased proliferation of smaller aircraft, or hobby drones, that are capable of flying under traditional radar, more unmanned aerial systems will be crowding the skies — and existing air traffic control systems won’t be able to track them.  NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration have begun working with several partners in both the public and private sector to integrate and monitor drones in the airspace.

As one of the big players in the integration of drones into the national airspace, NASA has provided research and prototype methods for UAS traffic management systems, or UTMs, which would monitor drones vis-à-vis the traffic system established for traditional airline transportation.

Lockheed Martin has also developed a UTM.  Mike Glasgow, who is the firm’s aviation services chief architect, told GCN that  Lockheed UTM aims to provide UAS pilots with a flight service similar to that used by commercial and private pilots.  Based on the flight services framework, it would “allow UAS operators to report where they are operating and [make] that data available to pilots and other airspace users.”

Lockheed’s UTM works with those government and commercial drones that have received special exemptions from the FAA to fly.  First deployed in January, Lockheed’s UTM allows UAS operators to report where they will be operating. It then alerts other general aviation pilots in the area that these drones will be flying. Eventually, Lockheed wants to create a system in which pilots file flight plans and integrate an Adverse Condition Alerting Service that would send out emails or alerts with potential changes in flight plans or in flight paths.

Commercial use of drones is currently banned by the FAA unless the agency grants a special exception.  But drones weighing less than 55 pounds can be considered “model aircraft” under the law — hobbyists my freely pilot such devices so long as they keep the drone in sight, fly no higher than 500 feet and stay at least five miles away from airports. These hobbyists are not required to file flight plans or NOTAMs.  Glasgow, who is also a Lockheed Martin fellow, said Lockheed’s system was designed to be used by virtually anyone, but noted the problems associated with operators who can fly virtually without oversight.

NASA’s UTM prototypes will be rolled out under four builds, or phases, between August 2015 and March 2019.  The first build, the agency said, “will create, analyze and manage trajectories and constraints that enable operations by an interactive system. The focus will be on geo-fencing, altitude ‘rules of the road’ and scheduling of vehicle trajectories.”  The first build focuses on rural operations that include operation

According to Glasgow, the fundamental difference between Lockheed’s efforts and NASA’s is that Lockheed is “focused on deploying operational capabilities as quickly as possible as they become ready,” while NASA is working on a multiyear effort to prototype.  “[NASA’s] building a UAS traffic management prototype, basically vet concepts and show how it could work,” he said, boiling down the difference as research vs. deployed operational capabilities.

NASA and the FAA have also partnered with others in industry to find ways to monitor thousands of new objects flying in the busiest and safest airspace.

For example, Amazon has proposed a segregated airspace below 500 feet, which “will buffer sUAS [small UAS] operations from current aviation operations. It will also buffer lesser-equipped vehicles from highly-equipped vehicles able to safely perform BLOS [beyond line of sight] missions.”  The plan segregates the airspace outlining certain aircraft to operate in airspace below 200 feet, between 200 and 400 feet and between 400 and 500 feet.

Another aspect of monitoring UASs is the ability to establish geofences, or electronic barriers that prevent aircraft from flying into a particular region.  At a recent NASA UTM conference, proposers demonstratedhow users approved for a flight plan must enter a valid geofence into the UTM system prior to take-off.  While there are several software programs and add-ons that are capable of geofencing, these tools are valid only for users that are required to file flight plans, which excludes model aircraft users.  Additionally, some experts have warned that geofence software could be susceptible to hackers.

http://gcn.com/articles/2015/08/31/drones-utm.aspx?m=1

 

 

LRS-B Details Emerge: Major Testing, Risk Reduction Complete

By Aaron Mehta 11:26 a.m. EDT September 2, 2015

http://www.defensenews.com/story/breaking-news/2015/09/02/new-air-force-bomber-testing-stealth-wind-test/71572050/

 

WASHINGTON — The two designs competing to be the US Air Force’s next generation bomber have undergone extensive testing by the service and are far more mature than previously known, to a level nearly unheard of in the Pentagon before a contract award, Defense News has learned.

The designs also feature significantly improved stealth capabilities when compared to the B-2 and still feature plans for future certification of nuclear weaponry and the ability to be optionally manned.

Considered one of the US Air Force’s three top acquisition priorities, the Long Range Strike-Bomber (LRS-B) program has been kept primarily in the dark as the service weighs two competing proposals, one from Northrop Grumman, and the other from a team of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. A contract award is expected soon, with indications it could come before the end of September.

On Tuesday, the Air Force held a meeting with outside stakeholders laying out new details on the secretive bomber. According to two individuals with knowledge of the meeting, the service has conducted far greater testing of the bomber designs than is normal for a pre-award program.

One source said the Air Force officials who briefed made it clear that both designs are “very mature,” having undergone wind tunnel testing and extensive survivability tests to evaluate the design from all angles. However, neither design has actually flown, both sources said.

Final requirements on the program were locked down in May 2013, the source said. Since then, the two design teams have been developing and testing their systems, while the service has been focused on doing extensive risk reduction.

A second source cited the Air Force briefers as saying that those designs are very different from each other, with widely different teams on subsystems such as the engines, electronic warfare suites and comms systems. Most of those subcontractors will not be announced when the winner is picked, the second source understands.

“[There is] much greater fidelity than we’ve ever seen before for a pre-EMD program,” the first source said. “It’s really different. They’ve spent a couple years doing these tests.”

The source quoted an official as saying risk reduction has been done “down to the access panels.”

“The risk reduction is done. The designs are technically mature. And we’re ready to move,” that same official reportedly said, adding that the bomber program has the “highest level of maturity I’ve seen in an aircraft build.”

The testing, unusual this early in the acquisition process, is in part because the bomber program is being handled by the Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO), a small group inside Air Force acquisitions which handles secretive programs such as the service’s X-37B space plane.

As its name implies, the RCO follows a different acquisition path than the rest of the service, with more freedom in how it procures technologies. The decision to let them take lead on the program was made back in 2011 under then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, following a review of what went wrong with a previously aborted bomber program.

The RCO’s involvement also adds an interesting twist to the long-standing Air Force claim that the bomber will draw from existing technologies. Some observers believed the Air Force might use off-the-shelf commercial tech to help keep the price down, but the RCO has access to existing technologies that most people may never have heard of.

“We’re about three years more downstream from where EMD contracts normally are,” the first source said. “They’ve decided to award at a much higher level of maturity and design where they’ve done a lot of thinking about how to transition to EMD … and that might be a legacy of the RCO approach.”

The briefers avoided giving details about when or how they might select the winning company, but did offer some general insights into the future of the program:

•When the contract is awarded, it will come in two parts — an EMD contract that is cost-plus incentive free, and an agreement on the first five low-rate initial production lots that is fixed-price incentive free. Those first five lots will cover the production of 21 bombers.

•Shortly after the contract is awarded, the service will share details on the development costs for the program. Operations and sustainment cost estimates, however, won’t come until Milestone C, down the road.

•The bomber design will have a robust electronic attack element on board

•Although the bomber will not be nuclear-certified from the get-go, it will have nuclear-strike software and hardware produced on the very first aircraft. The certification process requires having five identical production models with the same configuration and software, so do not expect nuclear certification to come until the service has enough models produced so it can do the nuclear certification without halting other test requirements.

•The plan is still for the bomber to be optionally manned. However, first flights will be manned, and it is unclear if the ability to do unmanned operations will be built into the early production models or added later. The first source indicated that capability is not a “short term priority.”

•The service remains focused on using an open-architecture approach which will allow future additions to be made with less costs.

Both sources said the Air Force officials are claiming a significant improvement in low observability from the B-2, with multiple references made to improved materials that were not available when the Spirit fleet was designed.

As to size, the briefers were apparently cagey. However, they did apparently indicate that a UCLASS-size design was too small and the B-2 design was too large.

“The words and body language were that it’s not as big as the B-2,” the first source said. “But so much is driven by engine technology.”

The second source agreed but said that a smaller plane doesn’t necessitate a smaller range if the service is willing to trade payload for range. Notably, the service briefers apparently downplayed payload gross weight and instead emphasized the ability to carry multiple types of munitions — selectability between large and small weapons.

A third source, who was not in the meeting but has knowledge of program discussion, believes a design could feature “about 20 percent less payload and 20 percent less range” than the B-2. That source also believes that whichever team wins will produce a flying-wing design, perhaps similar to the UCLASS designs put forth from Boeing and Northrop.

Overall, the sources agreed, the meeting gave attendees a sense that the US Air Force has a much better handle on the bomber program than had been expected. This is important given that members of Congress are already lining up to demand greater oversight on the program.

“They were determined to show competence, and they succeeded, in my mind,” the second source said. “This is a well-run program. They were very mindful of the cost issues and were determined to get in front of that.”

 

The Curse of the Obama Doctrine

Take each of the Middle East’s crises — they will all get worse before they get better.

By David Rothkopf

September 3, 2015

http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/09/03/the-curse-of-the-obama-doctrine-middle-east-arab-world/

 

The Middle East is the place that introduced us to the idea of known unknowns and unknown unknowns. But even in a region that’s now swirling with more uncertainty, mystery, and doubt than ever before, there are nonetheless a few key known knowns. Examining them produces a picture of a deeply unsettling and dangerous tomorrow. It also reminds us that at a time of justifiable celebration in the White House over the Iran deal the president will likely leave behind a map of the region in which that victory is surrounded everywhere by defeats and setbacks whose negative consequences may only grow worse.

What are the known knowns? First, we know that the Iran deal will happen. It’s all over but for the shouting, and there will surely be plenty of that. But the president will prevail over Congress, and the deal will go into force. Next, as we look around the Middle East we know, the region is in worse turmoil than it has been at any time in modern history. Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya are in the midst of conflicts that could redefine the very nature of each of them as nations. The spillover from those conflicts is burdensome and threatening to neighboring states like Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. The Israel-Palestine conflict is at an ugly impasse. Egypt seems sure to struggle further. The Gulf States are being increasingly drawn into and threatened by the region’s conflicts. And Afghanistan, not part of the Middle East technically but bordering Iran, also seems heading for further crisis.

But I would argue another known known is that this grievous situation is not going to get better anytime soon. Do the exercise yourself. Project out five years from now: Is it likely Syria will have stabilized? Is it likely Iraq will have? Yemen? Will Libya? In recent weeks, I’ve posed these questions to various experts from the U.S. military and diplomatic community and from the countries within the region itself. Their response was always that in all these cases it’s more likely than not that turmoil will persist — not only for the next five years, but quite possibly for much, much longer than that.

These experts might all be wrong about one or two of these cases. But it seems unlikely they are wrong. But here’s the one known unknown you can take to the bank: The Middle East is in a period of protracted crisis and instability, and, as we have seen with each passing day, the collateral damage and knock-on effects grow worse. While Syria is already the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, having endured more than four years of war, with hundreds of thousands dead and more than 7 million internally displaced, many more months and years of war will clearly only exacerbate that. Some 6 million are at severe risk of famine in Yemen. Libyans crowd onto small rubber rafts and pack into boats in the often vain hope of making their way to Europe. Refugee camps are posing a potentially unsustainable burden in Jordan and Lebanon. Unrest is begetting more unrest. One U.S. military leader told me that the Islamic State was reducing its recruitment efforts because it did not need them — more would-be extremists were volunteering. Continuing in the same vein, try the thought experiment yourself: Do you consider it more or less likely that extremism will add to the number of countries in crisis in the next five years? In North Africa? Sinai? Saudi Arabia? Afghanistan? How will falling oil prices exacerbate this? The meddling of a reenergized Iran?

As bad as all this portends for the Middle East, the current trajectory of these crises now is starting to pose more material and significant threats to the United States, our allies, and other major powers worldwide. I am not just talking about the spread of so-called foreign fighters or extremists returning home to places like Europe and North Africa, real as that likely lingering problem may be.

For example, Europe’s current refugee crisis is only going to get worse in this scenario. The countries most seriously impacted will be those in Europe’s south, already economically weak and likely only to be weakened further by a coming global economic slowdown. As refugees pour in, what is the inevitable reaction? Nationalist and right-wing parties will gain as they play on the anxieties of local populations who fear the economic and social impact of the waves of new arrivals. One of the beneficiaries of this will be a current patron of those parties — Vladimir Putin. He would like to see a weakened European Union, and his friends in France’s National Front and Italy’s Northern League and other such groups are his ticket to pushing back against the progress of EU integration and the strengthening of EU institutions. The Middle East refugee crisis in this respect is not only a potentially destabilizing burden for Europe, it is also, therefore, a threat to the Atlantic Alliance and a boon for a troublemaker like the Russian president.

Deteriorating conditions will help other potential bad actors, troublemakers, or rivals.

Deteriorating conditions will help other potential bad actors, troublemakers, or rivals. Extremists looking to destabilize our allies in the Middle East will — and they will — seek new regions into which they can extend their influence, as they are already doing in Africa and Southeast Asia. Iran most certainly will. Not only will they get the vaunted windfall of sanctions relief. Better yet for them, they will get the ties the end of sanctions will bring. The tens of thousands of business people who will travel to that country in search of deals will return home to the EU, Asia, and the United States, press for more openness in the relationship, and advocate on Iran’s behalf. They will gain a whole new cadre of champions and with them greater status and leverage. Their sales of oil will also strengthen dependencies on them, notably with countries like China and India.

Speaking of China, as a big consumer of Middle East oil, the country will also gain leverage in the region (becoming a major obstacle to putting further pressure on Iran). Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” strategy is already strengthening ties not only across Southeast Asia but also with key countries bordering the Middle East, like strategically important and mercurial Pakistan, and is bringing China more influence in Afghanistan.

Many of the factors that have led the world to this point are endemic to the countries in crisis — including failed regimes, bad governance, economic mismanagement, greed, corruption, historical trends, new technologies, and the cultivation of extremist views. But it cannot be denied that a contributing factor has been the policies of the Obama administration. President Barack Obama and those around him have, for reasons understandable in the context of the failures and missteps of George W. Bush’s administration, sought to disengage from the Middle East. They have argued that the United States should leave these problems for others to resolve. They have suggested that if there were no clear paths to victory against potential threats, we should not undertake containing them. They suggested the problems would burn themselves out or that unnamed others would, despite decades of history to the contrary, resolve them. In the name of prudence and caution and a desire to avoid past errors, they have embraced a less-is-more foreign policy that was predicated on the idea that the world and America would be better off if the planet’s sole superpower were more reticent, less engaged, and more hesitant not just to use force but to leave it unclear whether we would use force or not. In fact, I am not sure I blame anyone so much as I blame the ideas underlying this policy, ideas that crop up periodically in America that we can leave the business of the world to others and not pay a price.

Syria was the great test case of this approach. When it was clear that the use of chemical weapons “red line” had been crossed (repeatedly), Obama considered action and then thought better of it. While Syrian President Bashar al-Assad murdered his people and then other extremist groups compounded the problem with their own brand of mayhem, we contemplated action, but we focused more on finding excuses not to act than we did on finding effective measures we and others could take that might actually improve the situation. There were no easy paths forward, no clear good guys among the warring factions, and no ways we could be assured of satisfactory outcomes. Perhaps most important was the calculation that if we took no action or very little action, it would not be a problem that impacted us or our allies in any material way. Of course, this last calculation has proven to be profoundly wrong. That the humanitarian costs of our inaction have been so grievous only compounds how wrong this thinking was and makes it all the more poignant. Now, however, virtually any future we can reasonably imagine for Syria makes the extravagant tragedies of today and the recent past seem small by comparison to the suffering and upheaval likely to come.

I recall once talking to Gen. Andrew Goodpaster, former top aide to Dwight Eisenhower both in World War II and when Ike was president. We were talking about the debate over the dubious intelligence that led to the Iraq War. He scoffed and said Eisenhower would have had little patience for the discussion, because as an experienced leader he knew intelligence could often be wrong or hazy. He cited an instance when in 1944 Eisenhower was told to ignore German activity near the Ardennes Forest. Two weeks later, the Battle of the Bulge began. He spoke to me about the doubts that leaders had to deal with and work through, reminding me that Eisenhower had drafted the letter apologizing for the failure of D-Day before that giant risk was undertaken. He noted that great leaders often took action because they had to, even when their options were poor and the outcomes were in doubt, because only through action could they forestall worse outcomes and create the possibilities that might ultimately bring them to victory.

Cautious and unimaginative leaders never create such chances. And while they may avoid catastrophes like the Iraq invasion, they also open the door to unintended consequences that actually make their situations materially worse. (Even if they were not the authors of the problems they created, even if they could not solve them single-handedly, and even if it would be better, more just, or reasonable that someone else took the lead.) Further, and sometimes through repeated application of the same brand of caution, they compound their errors. Getting out of Iraq too quickly helped foster the conditions that led to the creation of the Islamic State, as did the failure of the United States to act — or to effectively lead a collation in acting — in Syria. Coming to the fight against the Islamic State too late and half-heartedly when we did has not helped. The chaos in Syria and Iraq has now profoundly impacted Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and indeed everywhere that the Islamic State has sewed its poisonous seeds. And it has empowered Iran greatly.

As a result, even a well-intentioned, potentially positive step like the Iran deal — when placed in the context of a region in turmoil — can have profoundly negative consequences if it upsets the regional balance of power. It further makes already apprehensive neighbors more apprehensive and can trigger actions among those states predicated on growing anxiety (that we played a role in exacerbating), among other things.

History, the war in Iraq, and countless other factors have brought the Middle East to where it is today. But what is also quite clear is that, in conjunction with those things, the abrogation by the world’s leading power of its leadership responsibilities has contributed to the contemporary tragedy we are witnessing. Moreover — and more importantly — it is setting the stage for a future in which future U.S. leaders may be asked to take risks far greater than those Obama sidestepped in order to contain the cascading consequences of his inaction, inexperience, and his overabundance of caution.

 

Rasmussen Reports

 

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

Bottom of Form

Saturday, September 05, 2015

These are tense times racially, and Americans don’t think President Obama and some other top officials are helping with their repeated criticism of the police.

Many hoped the election of the first black president in 2008 would help heal the racial division that has plagued this country for much of its history, but nearly half of voters think Obama has driven the races further apart instead.

Only 17% believe most politicians raise racial issues to address real problems anyway.
  Seventy percent (70%) think they talk race just to get elected.

Perhaps the most visible manifestation of racial division these days is the growing tension between the police and black Americans, especially those in the inner city. Following the recent murders of white police officers in Texas and Illinois, 58% of voters think there is a war on police in America today.

Sixty percent (60%) believe comments critical of the police by some politicians make it riskier for police officers to do their jobs.  Most voters also think the media is overemphasizing shootings by the police and making cops’ jobs more dangerous.  

Meanwhile, 72% of all Americans have a favorable view of the police in the area where they live.  Just 13% think most deaths that involve the police are the fault of the policeman.
 

Seventy percent (70%) of voters believe the level of crime in low-income inner city communities is a bigger problem in America today than police discrimination against minorities.  

Increasing problems in the inner city including rocketing murder rates have prompted a number of politicians to call for more government funding aimed at low-income Americans. However, most Americans continue to question the effectiveness of federal poverty programs and think too many are already dependent on the government’s dime.  

The president’s overall monthly approval fell to a low for the year in August. His daily job approval ratings remain in the negative mid-teens.

Voters still think the president and Hillary Clinton agree on most things, but they’re less confident now that Obama will endorse Clinton to be the next Democratic presidential nominee.

Voters give the edge to a candidate who would raise taxes only on the rich over one who promises to oppose all tax increases. 

Speaking of candidates, “The Donald” has moved even further ahead in Rasmussen Reports’ latest Trump Change survey. 

Trump on Thursday pledged not to run as a third-party candidate if he doesn’t win the Republican presidential nomination. That’s good news for the GOP since over a third (36%) of Likely Republican Voters say they are likely to vote for Trump if he’s a third-party candidate, with 18% who are Very Likely to do so.

Trump has seen a surge of support in part because of his tough talk on illegal immigration and has pulled the GOP field in his direction. Eighty percent (80%) of voters believe illegal immigration is a serious problem in this country, with 50% who describe it as a Very Serious one. By comparison, 63% say global warming is a serious problem, with 35% who view it as Very Serious.

A new study has found that 51 percent of immigrant households used at least one welfare program in 2012 versus 30 percent of native-born households. This echoes concerns voters expressed to Rasmussen Reports in a recent survey: 80% have a favorable opinion of immigrants who come to the United States to work hard, support their families and pursue the American Dream, but far fewer (54%) now believe that’s the agenda most immigrants have in mind.

Trump is scheduled to hold a rally with fellow Republican hopeful Ted Cruz in Washington, D.C. next Wednesday to protest Obama’s nuclear weapons deal with Iran.

The president appears to have enough votes in the Senate to cut Congress out of the loop when it comes to the Iranian agreement. But voters still strongly believe that Congress should sign off on any deal with Iran before it takes effect.

Only 34% think it’s even somewhat likely Iran will uphold its end of the deal.

In other surveys last week:

— Just 26% of voters think the country is headed in the right direction, a finding that has been trending down for several weeks now.

— As with other highly-publicized shooting incidents in recent years, most voters see the recent murder of two on-air journalists in Virginia as a mental health issue rather than a need for more gun control.  Many wonder though what can be done to stop shootings like this.

— It’s back-to-school time across the country. But how do Americans feel about the schools these days and the graduates they are turning out?

Most Americans continue to lack confidence in the Federal Reserve Board to keep interest rates down and expect to pay higher rates next year.

— Just 18% of voters think the federal government should be responsible for the official naming of landmarks and prominent geographic features in America.

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