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January 23 2016

January 25, 2016

    

 

 

23 January 2016

Newswire

Blog URL https://newswirefeed.wordpress.com/

 

US Science And Technology Leadership Increasingly Challenged By Advances in Asia

Wed, 01/20/2016 – 10:04am by National Science Foundation

http://www.ecnmag.com/news/2016/01/us-science-and-technology-leadership-increasingly-challenged-advances-asia?et_cid=5065911&et_rid=745316928&location=top&et_cid=5065911&et_rid=745316928&linkid=http%3a%2f%2fwww.ecnmag.com%2fnews%2f2016%2f01%2fus-science-and-technology-leadership-increasingly-challenged-advances-asia%3fet_cid%3d5065911%26et_rid%3d%%subscriberid%%%26location%3dtop

 

According to the latest federal data, the U.S. science and engineering (S&E) enterprise still leads the world. The United States invests the most in research and development (R&D), produces the most advanced degrees in science and engineering and high-impact scientific publications, and remains the largest provider of information, financial, and business services. However, Southeast, South, and East Asia continue to rapidly ascend in many aspects of S&E. The region now accounts for 40 percent of global R&D, with China as the stand-out as it continues to strengthen its global S&E capacity.

These and other data on the domestic and global S&E landscape can be found in the National Science Board’s (NSB) Science and Engineering Indicators 2016 (Indicators) report, released today.

“Indicators is a rich source of information on a wide range of measures that let us know how the United States is performing in science and technology,” said NSF Director France Córdova. “It gives us crucial information on how we compare to other nations in the areas of research and development, STEM education, and the development of our workforce. The report also provides state-level comparisons, insights into the representation of women and minorities in science and engineering, and insight into what the public thinks about science.”

 

China dominates Asian advances

The 2016 edition of Indicators highlights that China, South Korea and India are investing heavily in R&D and in developing a well-educated workforce skilled in science and engineering. Indicators 2016 makes it clear that while the United States continues to lead in a variety of metrics, it exists in an increasingly multi-polar world for S&E that revolves around the creation and use of knowledge and technology.

According to Indicators 2016, China is now the second-largest performer of R&D, accounting for 20 percent of global R&D as compared to the United States, which accounts for 27 percent.

 

Between 2003 and 2013, China ramped up its R&D investments at an average of 19.5 percent annually, greatly exceeding that of the U.S. China made its increases despite the Great Recession. Developing economies that start at a lower base tend to grow much more rapidly than those that are already functioning at a high level; nonetheless, China’s growth rate in this arena has been remarkable.

China is also playing an increasingly prominent role in knowledge and technology-intensive industries, including high-tech manufacturing and knowledge-intensive services. These industries account for 29 percent of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and for nearly 40 percent of U.S. GDP. China ranks second in high-tech manufacturing, where the U.S. maintains a slim lead with a global share of 29 percent to China’s 27 percent. While China plays a smaller role in commercial knowledge-intensive services (business, financial, and information), it has now surpassed Japan to move into third place behind the United States and the European Union.

China has also made significant strides in S&E education, which is critical to supporting R&D as well as knowledge and technology-intensive industries. China is the world’s number-one producer of undergraduates with degrees in science and engineering. These fields account for 49 percent of all bachelor’s degrees awarded in China, compared to 33 percent of all bachelor’s degrees the U.S. awards.

In 2012, students in China earned about 23 percent of the world’s 6 million first university degrees in S&E. Students in the European Union earned about 12 percent and those in the U.S. accounted for about 9 percent of these degrees.

University degree production in China has grown faster than in major developed nations and regions, rising more than 300 percent between 2000 and 2012; during the same period, the number of non-S&E degrees conferred in China also rose by 1,000 percent, suggesting that China is building capacity in all areas, not just S&E. The number of S&E graduate degrees awarded in China is also increasing. However, the U.S. continues to award the largest number of S&E doctorates and remains the destination of choice for internationally mobile students.

“Other countries see how U.S. investments in R&D and higher education have paid off for our country and are working intensively to build their own scientific capabilities. They understand that scientific discovery and human capital fuel knowledge- and technology-intensive industries and a nation’s economic health,” said Dan Arvizu, NSB chair.

 

Federal commitment wavering

At the same time that China and South Korea have continued to increase their R&D investments, the United States’ longstanding commitment to federal government-funded R&D is wavering. In 2013, government funded R&D accounted for 27 percent of total U.S. R&D and was the largest supporter (47 percent) of all U.S. basic research.

Indicators shows that Federal investment in both academic and business sector R&D has declined in recent years, reflecting the effects of the end of the investments of ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act), the advent of the Budget Control Act, and increased pressure on the discretionary portion of the federal budget. Since the Great Recession, substantial, real R&D growth annually — ahead of the pace of U.S. GDP — has not returned. Inflation-adjusted growth in total U.S. R&D averaged only 0.8 percent annually over the 2008-13 period, behind the 1.2 percent annual average for U.S. GDP.

“Decreased federal investment is negatively impacting our nation’s research universities,” said Kelvin Droegemeier, NSB vice chair and vice president for research at the University of Oklahoma. “Our universities conduct 51 percent of the nation’s basic research and train the next generation of STEM-capable workers. Federal support is essential to developing the new knowledge and human capital that allows the U.S. to innovate and be at the forefront of S&T.”

Americans support science

Despite ongoing challenges with federal investment in R&D, Americans have generally favorable views toward science, believing that science creates more opportunity for the next generation, that its benefits outweigh its risks, and that the federal government should provide funds for scientific research.

Additionally, despite declining public confidence in most U.S. institutions, Americans’ confidence in the scientific community remains strong. However, Americans take a dim view of our nation’s performance in K-12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education; most believe other countries are doing a better job. About half of Americans worry that science is making life “change too fast,” up from about one-third who expressed this concern a decade ago.

Americans remain divided on global warming, an issue that science informs but which cultural and other factors also heavily influence. However, a majority of Americans say they would prefer a focus on alternative energy sources over fossil fuel development. Eight out of ten say they would like to see more emphasis on fuel efficiency standards for vehicles and renewable energy development.

“Our country’s commitment to investing in R&D and in our higher education institutions has and continues to fuel our success,” said NSB chair Arvizu. “Other countries are emulating our model. We can view these advancements as opportunities for our global society to tackle complex problems, such as energy demands, food and water security, and disease. At the same time, we need to remain steadfast in our nation’s dedication to that which has served us so well: investing in people and their ideas.”

 

 

Fly a drone, go to jail? Drone operators first in LA to be charged with crimes

by Press • 21 January 2016    

http://www.suasnews.com/2016/01/fly-a-drone-go-to-jail-drone-operators-first-in-la-to-be-charged-with-crimes/?utm_source=sUAS+News+Daily&utm_campaign=ddb9d425af-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_b3c0776dde-ddb9d425af-303662705&mc_cid=ddb9d425af&mc_eid=ea2f95c862

 

Two people who allegedly flew drones near heliports in downtown Los Angeles and around Griffith Park were hit with misdemeanor charges, making them the first to be charged under new city restrictions banning the aerial devices within five miles of an airport, the City Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday.

City prosecutors allege that on Dec. 9, 20-year-old Michael Ponce flew a drone more than 400 feet above Griffith Park and within three miles of hospital heliports. Meanwhile, Arvel Chappell, 35, is accused of flying a drone Dec. 12 within a mile of the LAPD Air Support Division’s Hooper Heliport at the city’s Piper Tech building in downtown Los Angeles, also more than 400 feet from the ground.

According to prosecutors, an aircraft had to change course to avoid hitting the drone operated by Chappell.

In both instances, the drones were seized.

 

Ponce and Chappell each could face up to six months jail time and a $1,000 fine if convicted, prosecutors said. Their arraignments are set for Feb. 22, according to the City Attorney’s Office.

Ponce and Chappell are the first to be charged under restrictions adopted by the city in October that makes it a misdemeanor to fly drones within five miles of an airport without authorization, or to fly them more than 400 feet above the ground.

“Operating a drone near trafficked airspace places pilots and the public at serious risk,” City Attorney Mike Feuer said. “We’ll continue to use our new city law to hold drone operators accountable and keep our residents safe.”

Councilman Mitch Englander, who sponsored the restrictions, said some might view drone flying as “victimless,” but there could be “devastating” consequences.

“We saw firsthand what happened during a major brush fire where drones grounded firefighting helicopters,” he said. “A single drone can take down a helicopter or an airplane. If drones fly, first responders can’t.”

The city’s ordinance makes it unlawful to fly drones within a five-mile radius of an airport, limits drone use if it interferes with manned aircraft and requires that drones be flown within the operator’s line of sight.

The rules also prohibit using drones at night and flying them higher than 400 feet. Drones also cannot be flown within 25 feet of another person, except at take-off and landing.

http://mynewsla.com/crime/2016/01/20/fly-a-drone-go-to-jail-drone-operators-first-in-la-to-be-charged-with-crimes/

 

 

 

Pentagon Delays Cybersecurity Requirement for 10,000 Contractors

by Anthony Capaccio

January 20, 2016 — 5:00 AM EST

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-01-20/pentagon-delays-cybersecurity-requirement-for-10-000-contractors

 

The Pentagon has delayed for almost two years a requirement that as many as 10,000 companies show that they have systems to protect sensitive but unclassified information from cyber-attacks before signing new defense contracts.

“We got feedback from industry that they did not think they could fully comply Day One” with the demand that contractors document a fully operating access-authentication system down to the subcontractor level, Claire Grady, director of defense procurement and acquisition policy, said in an interview. “We want people headed in the right direction,” but “we probably overestimated what the state of the industry was.”

Congress mandated new cybersecurity rules as part of the Pentagon’s budget authorization in 2013 after repeated warnings from officials about hacking threats and successful incursions at companies including Lockheed Martin Corp., the biggest U.S. defense contractor.

An interim version of the rule, in effect since August, requires defense companies that get new contracts to report penetrations of their networks within 72 hours of discovery if those systems hold critical defense information. They also must report intrusions if the hacking degrades the contractor’s capability to provide critical support to the military or has the potential to do so.

 

Getting Cooperation

“The goal is to get people to report as quickly as possible” without fear of penalty, Grady said.

While that provision remains in effect, the requirement for contractors to document that they and their suppliers have systems to protect sensitive information was delayed until Dec. 31, 2017.

Hundreds of companies have indicated they are already in full compliance with guidance from the National Institute of Standards and Technology on safeguarding unclassified but controlled information, said Grady, who called it “basic cyber hygiene.”

“But not everyone is at the same place, so we want to make sure we were moving people toward where they need to be and not creating impediments,” Grady said.

Chinese-backed hackers have infiltrated the computer networks of airline, shipping and information technology companies responsible for transporting personnel and weapons for the U.S. military, according to a 2014 Senate Armed Services Committee review.

 

Attack on Lockheed

The Pentagon also said foreign hackers stole 24,000 U.S. military files from a defense contractor it hasn’t identified in a single incident in March 2011. In May 2011, Lockheed Martin suffered what it called a “tenacious” attack on its computer networks, though the company said no employee, program or customer data was lost.

Against this backdrop, the Pentagon in August put into effect the interim rule on rapidly reporting network penetrations, citing “the urgent need to protect covered defense information and gain awareness of the full scope of cyber incidents being committed against defense contractors.”

One of the challenges that led to extending other provisions of the regulation is meeting the standards institute’s rule requiring multifactor authentication for network access, Grady’s spokesman, Air Force Major Eric Badger, said in an e-mail.

 

Password Plus Code

Two-factor authentication, for example, means requiring two steps to log onto a computer or e-mail account. It typically involves entering a password and then typing in a one-time code sent to the user’s phone, or entering both a password and a fingerprint.

Prime contractors said they needed additional time to work with subcontractors in their supply chain to ensure that they can meet all the requirements, Grady said.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business lobbying organization, said the new rule has 109 security requirements, dozens of which would be “unrealistic and costly” for companies to implement quickly. The group pleaded for relief in a Nov. 20 letter to the Pentagon.

“Companies cannot simply flip a switch and automatically adhere to the new controls, as the interim rule apparently presumes,” Ann Beauchesne, a senior vice president for the organization, said in the letter. “The expense of complying with multiple new rules will be difficult for large firms and especially for small and midsize businesses.”

Companies shouldn’t use the additional time as an excuse to avoid better securing their networks and devices, said Anup Ghosh, founder and chief executive officer of cybersecurity company Invincea Inc.

 

‘Real Threat’

 

“Everyone wants more time, and when the next deadline comes out they’ll say the same thing again,” Ghosh said in an interview. “You can talk to a lot of small businesses that will tell you they can’t meet these deadlines. We need to address this because this is a real national security threat.”

There’s “absolutely no reason” for companies to put off using multifactor authentication for e-mail, Ghosh said. However, he said it’s impractical, if not impossible, for companies to verify the security of their entire supply chains.

While Grady said the new regulation has no specified penalties for a failure to report network intrusions or to do so in a timely manner, Ghosh said he’s concerned companies might be punished for reporting breaches by the Pentagon refusing to award them future contracts.

A better approach would be for the Pentagon to require companies to have software on their networks that reports attacks and other suspicious activity to Defense Department officials, which can than be analyzed, Ghosh said.

 

 

U.S. Air Force looks to increase armed presence on bases

Oriana Pawlyk, Air Force Times 8:22 p.m. EST January 20, 2016

http://www.airforcetimes.com/story/military/2016/01/20/us-air-force-looks-increase-armed-presence-bases/79076504/

 

The Air Force said Wednesday installation commanders will be authorized to implement three programs that grant some service members the right to carry weapons, giving their bases additional security.

The programs commanders may implement are the Unit Marshal, Security Forces Staff Arming, and Law Enforcement Officer Safety Act, the Air Force said in a release. The Air Force is focusing on new protocols following various mass shootings on installations, most recently, on a recruiting station and a Navy Reserve Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

“None of these programs gives the installation commander authorizations they didn’t already have the authorization to do,” Maj. Keith Quick, Air Force Security Forces Integrated Defense action officer, said in the release. “We are now formalizing it and telling them how they can use these types of programs more effectively.”

Quick said the service looked at active-shooter statistics across the country and many incidents “ended without police intervention because there was somebody there who had a concealed carry permit or somebody interdicted the active shooter.”

“These programs allow commanders the ability to arm additional trained airmen who could interdict before police arrive and are trained to stand down when police arrive,” he added.

The newest program, Unit Marshal, gives airmen permission to work with security forces to train them to open carry an M9 pistol in their duty location, the release said.

“We are calling it a subset of the security forces augmentee program,” Quick said. “The traditional augmentee program was established for security forces squadrons that didn’t have enough personnel to cover installation security and we would ask for personnel from other work centers across the base.”

 

 

While those airmen handpicked for the Unit Marshal program will not act as first responders in an event of an emergency, the squadron commander who “has a perceived threat” can request these airmen as additional security. Those under UMP will have proper use of force and weapons training, and will not engage “unless confronted directly by [an] active shooter.”

The second program, Security Forces Staff Arming, would enable more security forces members — who have the appropriate Air Force specialty code and who work in staff billets at the squadron, group, wing or major command — to carry a government-issued weapon while on duty with the approval of the installation commander.

This program is similar to the Law Enforcement Officer Safety Act program, the third sanctioned Air Force program; however, the LEOSA law applies to security forces members both past and present:

As with their civilian counterparts, LEOSA is designed to give some service members who have another day job, such as National Guard or Reserve members who work in law enforcement, the ability to carry personal weapons to their next location without violating other DoD or federal laws.

Members who can apply for a licenses under LEOSA are service members who are actively serving military members under Title 10 and Title 32, as well as separated or retired members as long as they meet the requirements and are cleared by both the Air Force and the contractor providing the license.

“This affects base personnel because we have given the option to the installation commander to allow security forces members to carry under LEOSA on the installation while they are off duty,” Quick said. “With installation commander’s approval, I could go to the commissary on Saturday and stay armed and concealed while conducting my business on the installation and leave. It’s not for work purposes.”

In October, Defense Secretary Ash Carter issued additional directives for better security at military recruiting stations and other small, remote facilities aimed at preventing another attack like this summer’s shooting in Chattanooga which left five service members dead.

Efforts in the Defense Department-wide directive called for more training alongside local law enforcement, accelerating use of extra “physical security enhancements,” and improving mass notification alerts meant to inform local authorities and other nearby military personnel when there are specific threats or attacks already unfolding.

 

 

Air Force launches first cyberspace weapons system

Amber Corrin, Senior Staff Writer 12:57 p.m. EST January 20, 2016

http://www.c4isrnet.com/story/military-tech/cyber/2016/01/20/air-force-launches-first-cyberspace-weapons-system/79064684/

 

The Air Force earlier this month reached full operational capability in its Air Force Intranet Control (AFINC) Weapon System, which service officials say is the first cyberspace weapons system to reach FOC status.

AFINC reaching FOC means that the system “is fully capable to serve as the top-level defensive boundary and entry point for all network traffic into AFINC,” according to an Air Force release. The system comprises 16 gateway suites whittled down from more than 100 regionally managed network entry points that were consolidated or replaced.

The system also consists of 15 nodes for the Defense Department’s classified SIPRNet network, more than 200 service delivery points and two integrated management suites. It’s all centrally operated by the 26th Network Operations Squadron (NOS), based at Gunter Annex in Montgomery, Alabama.

“As the first line of defense for our network, the 26th NOS team is responsible for more than one billion firewall, web, and email blocks per week from suspicious and adversarial sources,” Col Pamela Woolley, 26th Cyberspace Operations Group commander, said in the release. “Our network is under constant attack and it is a testament to the dedication of our 26th NOS team that our network reliability and traffic flow remains consistently high.”

The launch of AFINC comes amid an increased, service-wide emphasis on cyber. AFINC officially was designated as a weapons system in March 2013 by the Air Force Chief of Staff, reaching initial operating capability just over a year later. In April 2015, the Air Force launched its internal Task Force Cyber Secure, a service-wide effort to synchronize Air Force operations, governance and understanding of the cyber domain.

Last month, Air Force CIO Lt Gen William Bender said the task force underscores the fact that cyber has become pervasive in how the Air Force carries out its missions and business.

“It has been a tremendous success just by taking action and doing it. It was conspicuous, the absence and lack of discussion around cybersecurity,” Bender said Dec. 2 at the AFCEA Nova Air Force IT Day in Vienna, Virginia. “Now we have an ongoing dialog at highest levels, with the secretary, the chief, all of the [functional components]. We’re putting money against this and we have really changed the game for Air Force going forward.”

According to the Air Force, other cyberspace weapons systems besides AFINC include the Air Force Cyberspace Defense Weapon System, the Cyber Security and Control System Weapon System, the Cyber Command and Control Mission System Weapon System, the Cyberspace Defense Analysis Weapon System, and the Cyberspace Vulnerability Assessment/Hunter Weapon System.

 

China Finally Centralizes Its Space, Cyber, Information Forces

The changes will give China more confidence in its ability to deter and compel adversaries.

By John Costello for The Diplomat

January 20, 2016

http://thediplomat.com/2016/01/china-finally-its-centralizes-space-cyber-information-forces/

 

On December 31, China’s Central Military Commission (CMC) announced its most recent and substantial military reform yet. The change, which created a separate Army leadership organ, a Rocket Force, and a “Strategic Support Force,” amounts to the culmination of a year of monumental change for China’s national security infrastructure. In many ways the move came as no surprise to long-time China watchers and analysts. PLA scholars have been calling for a separate Army leadership organization for years. The Rocket Force (PLARF) is essentially a renamed 2nd Artillery Corps (PLASAF), upgraded to be equal to the other services and was also a widely expected move, intended as both a strategic signal to the West and as force development measure to increase China’s intermediate and long-range missile capability. Both measures are clear-cut and expected. The odd one out is the Strategic Support Force (SSF).

Information on the newly created independent branch is scarce, but semi-official sources indicate that it will comprise space, cyber, and electronic warfare forces. More interestingly, these sources suggest that it will integrate and consolidate intelligence, communications, and technical reconnaissance with cyber warfare and electronic warfare to create an information dominance force.

Rumors and calls for large-scale military reform have been batted around for years but were never given any serious thought until Xi Jinping took power in 2012. In the years following Xi’s ascension, the party made limited changes to the military, instead focusing on updating China’s strategic guidelines and purging the military of corruption. That changed in 2015 when Xi announced a series of unprecedented organizational reforms, which would reorganize China’s leadership organs, the four general departments (staff, logistics, equipment, and political), transform China’s antiquated military-region system into five joint “theaters” or battlezones, and change its antiquated procurement structure.

When introducing the SSF on December 31, Xi Jinping was fairly vague, giving no concrete detail as to what role it will actually play, simply stating that it is a “new-type combat force to maintain national security and an important growth point of the PLA’s combat capabilities.” Yang Yujun, the spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense (MND), was even more circumspect, simply stating that the SSF will play a “strategic, fundamental, and supportive” role to China’s military.

The name of the force betrays nothing as to its mission, the official PLA dictionary entry for “strategic support” gives no added value, and the MND’s spokesman’s description was comically self-evident. Chinese “bureaucratese” aside, Xi’s description of the force at least offers some insight – “new-type forces” is often a by-word for units that use advanced technology and are heavily “informatized.”

The only quasi-official commentary we do have, from the state-media associated Global Times, is in line with Xi’s description, at least. According to these military experts, the Strategic Support Force will consist of space, cyber, and electronic warfare units and will be critical to China’s ability to maintain information dominance in wartime. The experts suggest that the Strategic Support Force will be responsible for building a force to ensure military use of the space, cyber, and electronic domains and to provide support for the kind of integrated joint operations mandated in the PLA’s new reform guidance and 2015 defense white paper.

Song Zhongping, a former Second Artillery Corps Officer and military theorist, describes the SSF as a fifth service, stating that it will comprise space, cyber, and electronic warfare units. The cyber force would consist of hackers focusing on attack and defense, the space forces would “focus on reconnaissance and navigation satellites,” and the electronic warfare force would focus on “jamming and disrupting enemy radar and communications.” According to Song, this would allow the PLA to “meet the challenges of not only traditional warfare but also of new warfare centered on new technology.”

Yin Zhuo, a retired PLA Navy (PLAN) admiral, suggests that the SSF’s mission will include tracking targets, reconnaissance, targeting information, managing space-based navigation systems, and space reconnaissance. Song Zhongping suggests that technical reconnaissance, intelligence, communications, etc. – basically C4ISR capability – will also form a part of the SSF, as these disciplines “cannot be separated from information warfare.”

This commentary should be taken somewhat seriously. It appeared in state-associated media, and the articles themselves appeared and remain on the Ministry of Defense’s website. While not an official endorsement, the media environment surrounding military reforms has not been hospitable to erroneous rumors. The fact that these articles have been allowed to persist may be an indication that if not wholly correct they are in the ballpark. They do align with the little detail that Xi did give and solve key problems in China’s military.

If this thinking is correct, then, what role would the SSF play in China’s defense establishment?

Strategic Deterrent Triad

First and foremost, the SSF will most form the space and cyber legs of China’s new strategic deterrent “triad” of nuclear, space, and cyber forces. In 2013, Science of Strategy noted these as “major domains.” Space and cyber domains, in particular, are referred to as “strategic pillars.” The more authoritative 2015 defense white paper makes this distinction official, stating that China will develop forces in these “critical domains” of nuclear, space, and cyber. Establishing the Rocket Force for nuclear and the Strategic Support Forces for space and cyber dovetails with China’s evolving national security strategy, and gives the CMC a clear line of control towards these forces, which will possess China’s most powerful military weapons.

The Strategic Support Force is intended strike at the vulnerable areas of modern “high-tech” militaries: their military networks. Long-range, complex military networks are the foundation of network-centric warfare and precision guided munitions, the core components of modern warfare. Formed by space and cyber infrastructure that are interconnected through electronic signals – or the electromagnetic domain, these military networks depend on control of the three spaces in which the SSF is intended to operate. Denial of space, the electromagnetic spectrum, or cyber networks each present powerful obstacles to any military’s ability to project power, execute long-range strike, or command forces. The denial of all three together, however, would yield a net effect amounting to the total domination of information on the battlefield. In this regard, space, cyber, and the electromagnetic domain constitute an “information center of gravity” (CoG) of modern warfare. China sees the United States as particularly vulnerable if this CoG is denied, believing that the U.S. military is over-reliant on its global C4ISR infrastructure and its military networks are exposed through its sustained, expeditionary deployments. Some Chinese researchers have even referred to the United States military as a “no satellites, no fight” military. The Strategic Support Force is intended to build a capability to fight and win in these domains as part of a grander strategy of information denial and strategic deterrence.

Integration of these forces also allows for more mature “second strike” capability after the outbreak of conflict. As I have mentioned elsewhere, the cyber domain is effectively closed in the aftermath of a “first strike” cyber-attack. Traditional vectors for cyber-attack, like the open Internet, will close as each country elects to cut off their access to the wider world as a form of self-protection. The ability to leverage space-delivered cyber-attack, or “smart jamming” will be key to continuing an information operations attack against enemy targets. Second, targeting the wireless links between networks will also be key, and that requires investment and development in electronic warfare capabilities.

The SSF will be key in centralizing and coordinating China’s myriad military cyber efforts. More than any other entity, the PLA cyber mission has been plagued by “multi-headedness” (头注意), with competing interests and overlapping missions. The CMC has most likely centralized cyber espionage, attack, and defense into one cyber force under the SSF. This is a measure intended to increase synergy between espionage and attack units, whose mutual access can be used for strategic subversion – of electric grids or financial systems, for instance – and mutual tools can be used for better cyber tradecraft. Both missions can benefit from sharing best practices, tools, personnel, talent, and tradecraft. Deconflicting cyber operations between cyber missions is also essential to making China’s cyber force more effective and lethal, and to fundamentally reducing the discovery of any intrusion or reconnaissance.

The SSF may also provide an additional benefit by “cleaning up” the PLA’s cyber forces. According to Western media, the PLA has been one of the major perpetrators of cyber-crimes and cyber theft emanating from within China. Whether these efforts are state-directed or not, the continuous revelations of their hacking efforts have proven to be a political liability; this move will streamline command and control and transparency, and give the CMC greater political control over the units that do this sort of work. Notwithstanding this, the move may allow for greater oversight and coordination by reducing the bureaucratic distance between military leadership, different commands, and cyber operators themselves. This has the potential to tighten up tactics, techniques, and procedures, limit moonlighting, and result in a more professional cyber force.

The SSF may be integrating the PLA’s intelligence apparatus with its communications, cyber force, and space forces, thereby merging strategic C4ISR units into one force. China has consistently indicated that a major limiting factor to expansion of state interests and military combat effectiveness has been the lack of a robust global intelligence infrastructure like that of the United States’, one which China also sees as key to its current military strategy of “local wars under informatized conditions.” Corralling and consolidating informatization forces, intelligence units, and space ISR units will bridge this key technology gap by building a force capable to field, support, and defend an expansive C4ISR system. The PLA believes that this will primarily allow for greater control of the information battlespace on the friendly side, and greater defense against attack. Moreover, the expanded intelligence enterprise will fundamentally enable expeditionary operations far afield from China’s home territory.

Finally, the SSF is also likely a key move in weakening the influence of the Army. Before the recent reforms, PLA Army units existed at two echelons: Regional “operational” units based under the former military regions, and “strategic” national-level units that handled broader topics like space, cyber, and electronic warfare. These units constitute some of China’s most advanced “new-type” capabilities: information management, space forces, cyber espionage, cyber-attack, advanced electronic warfare, and intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance. These national units operated under the previous Army headquarters, the General Staff Department and General Armament Department, which also doubled as a de facto joint headquarters for operations and equipment issues, respectively.

Reducing Army Influence

In the same ceremony that announced the PLARF and SSF, the CMC established the People’s Liberation Army Land Forces leadership organization, which effectively abolished the previous Army headquarters. One of the major objectives of reform has been to reduce the power and influence of the Army, which has dominated the PLA since its creation in 1949. Although it may seem counterintuitive, a key step in doing that is to create a separate Army headquarters distinct from a joint headquarters.

However, in creating a new Army headquarters, the Army was split between its two echelons: CMC was essentially faced with handing over strategic capabilities to the newly formed Army headquarters – which runs counter to reducing its power – or keep the units directly under the CMC. The move left the strategic-level units as orphans without an administrative, support, or command organization. Classifying these units as a new “independent branch” gives them leadership and an administrative organ run directly by the CMC and solves this problem. The Army likely retains control over the lower-echelon units like standard combat arms divisions. The move aligns with the CMC’s intention to refocus the Army towards land defense and would also be consistent with new strategic guidelines, which besides seeking to limit the power and influence of the Army, also give greater development to the “new-type forces” strategic units represent, and simplify command and control.

The People’s Liberation Army is taking an approach quite different from that of the U.S. military, in which each service builds its information warfare forces and then integrates them at the joint combatant commands. Instead, the PLA is creating an entire military service branch dedicated to information warfare, comprising space, cyber, and electronic warfare units that will form a core around which the other services will operate in the information domain. These forces are intended to integrate with the other service branches under joint commands within the PLA’s newly created Military Theaters, or “Battlezones,” the PLA’s version of the U.S. military’s regional combatant commands.

Under the PLA’s new strategic guidelines, the services are responsible for building capabilities, not unlike the U.S. military mandate to “man, train, and equip.” Creating a separate service for information warfare should be seen as a top-down force-building measure, intended to give the Central Military Commission a much more powerful hand to shape capabilities in the space, cyber, and electronic warfare domains. According to the reform guidelines, the training and recruitment process for personnel and the procurement process for equipment will be subject to greater transparency and oversight, and will be more heavily directed by the CMC.

Overall, these changes will give China a growing confidence in its ability to deter and compel adversaries, which may lead to a more aggressive stance overall. A core limiting factor to China’s expansion of state interests has been its underdeveloped information support infrastructure and confidence in its ability to provide a credible conventional deterrent against an advanced military fighting force, such as that of the United States. The Strategic Support Force seems to be squarely aimed at addressing these two issues, and its establishment should be viewed as a concrete indication of China’s commitment to expanding its global influence and desire to challenge – and fight, if necessary – the global status quo when it is a threat to China’s rising influence and national interests.

John Costello is a research analyst at Defense Group Incorporated.  He is a Navy veteran and former DOD analyst.  

 

Kerry Acknowledges ‘Skepticism’ Over Iran Deal, Says U.S Will Be Watching

by Abigail Williams and Phil Helsel

http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/iran-nuclear-talks/kerry-acknowledges-skepticism-over-iran-deal-says-u-s-will-n501506

January 21, 2016

 

Some of the billions of sanctions relief Iran will now reap could go to groups labeled terrorist organizations, Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday.

Iran will receive approximately $55 billion after debts following the implementation of an internationally brokered nuclear agreement, Kerry said. On Saturday, the U.N. nuclear agency said it confirmed the country had complied with the deal’s terms.

“I think that some of it will end up in the hands of the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] or of other entities, some of which are labeled terrorists,” Kerry said in an interview on CNBC. “To some degree, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that every component of that can be prevented.”

“But I can tell you this: right now, we are not seeing the early delivery of funds going to that kind of endeavor at this point in time,” Kerry said. “I’m sure at some point some of it will, but that has never made the difference in what is happening there.”

Iran was labeled a state sponsor of terrorism in 1982. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force “is the regime’s primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting terrorists abroad,” according to a 2014 State Department report on state sponsors of terrorism.

Kerry said in an interview later Thursday that “Now, if we catch them funding terrorism, they’re going to have a problem with the United States Congress and with other people, obviously.”

Kerry told CNBC that Iran spends $15 billion annually on its military, compared to the $80 billion spent each year by U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, and the $130 billion spent on defense by the Gulf state community.

“So it’s so incredibly disproportionate that I believe that working with our Gulf state partners — which we are going to do and which we are upgrading — we have the ability to guarantee that they will be secure, that we will stand by them even as we look for this potential of a shift in behavior,” Kerry said.

It had been reported that Iran stood to gain $100 billion from the implementation of the nuclear agreement, in which international sanctions were to be lifted in exchange for Iran rolling back its nuclear program.

But the Treasury Department and an analysis by the intelligence community estimates Iran would only receive $55 billion “because a large chunk of it is already committed to China, to other countries, through loans and long term commitments that have been made,” Kerry said in the interview.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has criticized the nuclear agreement, and on Sunday he warned that “Iran has not relinquished its aspiration to obtain nuclear weapons.”

Kerry told CNBC he met with Netanyahu Thursday and “of course we have a different opinion on this, and I respect completely Israel’s perception of the threat that Israel faces.”

“I think there is still a skepticism on the part of some,” Kerry said. “We acknowledge that, but we have the strongest security relationship with Israel on a day to day basis that has ever existed and I believe Israel will tell you that.”

“Our day to day work with Israel is extraordinary and with other countries in the region,” Kerry said.

Also Thursday, a U.S. Marine who was one of four Americans held by Iran who were freed in a prisoner exchange also announced Saturday returned to Michigan. U.S. officials have said that agreement was not directly linked to the nuclear deal.

A fifth American held in Iran was also freed Saturday, but his family has said he was released separately from the agreement that led to the release of the other four U.S. citizens, which included jailed Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian.

 

 

DOD official: World faces ‘Terminator conundrum’ on AI weapons

https://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/dod-official-world-faces-terminator-conundrum-on-421094/

22 January, 2016

| BY: James Drew

| Washington DC

 

The US military faces a “Terminator conundrum” when it comes to artificially intelligent killing machines, including armed UAVs and loitering munitions.

The Department of Defense (DOD) does not field such weapons today, says one senior military official – but the technology is nevertheless close at hand, and other nations might press forward.

Speaking at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC today, vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Gen Paul Selva says there should be a national and global debate on “AI” weapons for air, land, sea and undersea combat.

“We have proven that we can build and field unmanned underwater vehicles, unmanned surface vessels, unmanned wheeled vehicles, and remotely piloted air vehicles,” he says. “We can actually build ‘autonomous’ vehicles in every one of those categories.

“That gets us to the cusp of a question about whether or not we are willing to have unmanned autonomous systems that can launch on an enemy. What happens when that thing can inflict mortal harm and is empowered by artificial intelligence?”

 

Asset Image

Northrop Grumman X-47B is a proposed carrier-based UAV that would be armed and largely autonomous, but the human operator would make any decision to employ weapons.

Selva says the technology is already here, with rudimentary AI systems monitoring day-to-day bank transactions and mining large volumes of data. But there are ethical, political and laws-of-war questions that must be answered before these types of weapons enter combat, he says.

“I call it ‘the Terminator conundrum’,” he says. “That’s a debate we need to have, I would argue nationally and internationally, to answer if we as humans want to cross that line.”

The US government has initiated and then cancelled several UAV and missile programmes that would have autonomously identified and destroyed targets based on “hard-coded” decision metrics.

“They are robotic, but not intelligent. There is a significant difference,” Selva says, adding that true AI machines could study targets and track them, but the final decision to launch weapons should remain with humans. “That’s about as far as I’m willing to go at this point,” he says.

High-profile technologists such as Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have come out against AI weapons, saying they could spell disaster for humanity.

Concerns about armed robots entered popular culture with The Terminator movie in 1984, but became a more pressing worry when the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-1 Predator UAV was armed with the AGM-114 Hellfire missile in 2002.

 

Rogers: Cyber Command capabilities at ‘tipping point’

By Sean Lyngaas

Jan 21, 2016

 

National Security Agency director Adm. Mike Rogers expects a maturation of government offensive and defensive cyber capabilities.

More than five years after its inception, U.S. Cyber Command is at a “tipping point” in maturing its offensive and defensive cyber capabilities, said Adm. Michael Rogers, the command’s head.

“The capacity and capability is starting to come online,” Rogers said Jan. 21 at an Atlantic Council event in Washington.

The Pentagon’s cyber mission force, which is slated to reach about 6,200 personnel, is developing more “tangible” capabilities “that you will see us start to apply in a broader and broader way,” added Rogers, who is also National Security Agency director. Cyber Command has built this capacity in part by drawing on the NSA’s technical prowess.

The NSA in 2016 will increasingly focus on bolstering the cyber defense of weapons systems, Rogers said.

“We need to move beyond a focus on the network structure into how do we get into systems and platforms, because they have every bit as much level of vulnerability in many ways as our traditional backbone network structure,” the admiral said.

Rogers’s prioritization of cybersecurity in weapons systems is typical of the consistent alarm expressed by defense officials that tools pushed out to soldiers are vulnerable to hacking. Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s top acquisition official, has made cybersecurity in weapons a key piece of his latest round of acquisition guidance to the department.

It may take time for funding to catch up. Of the $3 billion the Air Force Space Command spent last fiscal year on cybersecurity, for example, not a single penny went to weapons’ IT security.

 

‘A whole lot more’ OPM-style hacks coming

2016 will be an important year for the NSA. In the coming weeks, the agency will unveil what is likely its biggest organizational overhaul since the late 1990s.

The reorganization will include changes to the agency’s workforce and innovation strategies, Rogers said last month. The revamp will also include efforts to greater integrate the agency’s twin missions of foreign intelligence gathering and information assurance, he said Jan. 21. “I don’t like these stovepipes” of activity currently residing in the NSA’s Information Assurance Directorate, walled off from the agency’s Signals Intelligence Directorate, Rogers added.

The NSA chief touched on cyber incidents affecting civilian agencies and the private sector.

The OPM hack, and the big breach of health insurer Anthem Inc., demonstrated that “data is increasingly a commodity of value all on its own,” Rogers said. Given the rising value of data, he added, “what you saw at OPM…you’re going to see a whole lot more” of in the future.

Rogers also weighed on the use of encrypted communications, which has been a contentious topic in Washington. “Encryption is foundational to the future,” he said. “So spending time arguing about, hey, encryption is bad and we ought to do away with it – that’s a waste of time to me.”

 

 

Scientists predict big things for the tiny CubeSat: ‘a satellite in a shoe box’

Produced by Claudio Rosmino

21/01 08:46 CET

 

“We are developing one unit cube satellite for a remote sensing mission, which means that the satellite has to take pictures of Earth.”

Tiny satellites the size of a small cube, jam-packed with the most advanced nanotechnologies: is this the future of Space missions?

To find out, we went to Tallinn, Estonia, where students at the Mektory Space Centre are preparing the launch of their first nanosatellite.

Nanosatellites – tiny cubes of 10cm x 10cm x 10cm, full of nanotechnologies — are going to be more and more important in the future of space exploration, from Mars missions, to the surveillance of asteroids, which could potentially be dangerous for our planet.”

Also known as CubeSats these tiny satellites open up a whole world of possibilities for those who want to explore space.

Their potential is being seized upon by everyone from big space agencies, to small groups of students, such as those at the Mektory Space Centre, at Tallinn’s University of Technology, Estonia.

Marta Hang, is the CubeSat Programme assistant at the centre.

“I would have never thought that I can build a satellite in my life, because I have always thought that only NASA is building satellites. But no. I can do it in my own university, also,” she said,

Tashi Dolma Gyeltshen, a Masters student in Industrial Engineering is also working on the project. She added:

“We are all coming from different backgrounds in this project and we work as a team, and all of us put in so much effort.”

 

Preparation for work in the space industry

The Mektory nanosatellite programme is an international university initiative being worked on by students and professors, in association with space and technology industries.

Its goal is to prepare students for working in the space industry.

They are currently working on their first space mission.

Mart Vihmand, the head of the Mektory Space Centre outlined the project:

“We are developing one unit cube satellite for a remote sensing mission, which means that the satellite has to take pictures of Earth.”

This type of satellite can fit in the palm of your hand and weighs between 1 and 10 kilograms. It is low-cost because it is largely based on existing electronic components.

The launch of the student-made nanosatellite is likely to take two more years of work, as Vihmand explained:

“From the project plan until the completion of the satellite takes 3 years, of which 80% of the time is usually meetings and design behind the computer.

“Actually, when you start to produce this final piece that is going to fly in space, then the machine puts it together, in a certain environment, and places the components within 1 minute.”

CubeSats deliver into orbit a high concentration of nanotechnologies that you can even build using a 3D printer, as they do in Tallinn.

CubeSats have also caught the attention of the European Space Agency, which wants to send these tiny satellites deeper into the solar system.

Roger Walker coordinates ESA’s CubeSat efforts at the Agency’s technical centre in the Netherlands.

“Computers have themselves been shrinking over time, going from a computer that would be the size of a room to something which you now see on your mobile phone,” he said.

“In the space industry we see that satellite functions have been shrinking from something the size of a washing machine to now something the size of a CubeSat, basically a satellite in a shoe box.”

In addition to being valuable educational tools, CubeSats are fit for a wide range of applications. For instance, as an affordable test for in-orbit technologies, or to carry out observations and measurements in space.

“There is a complete satellite functionality inside this box; so you have the possibility to generate power with solar panels, distribute the power internally, communicate with the ground station on Earth and also to run experiments and transmit the data back down to ground again,” Walker added.

At the ESA’s radio-testing facility, a Cubesat called QARMAN is being examined.

This year (2016) it will be used to test re-entry technologies and heat-shield materials.

But the future for these tiny satellites is even bigger. In 2020 an ESA-NASA mission is expected to begin, which is designed to impact and redirect an asteroid.

It will be a small-scale test to prevent such a threat to our planet.

“We are studying CubeSats for scientific and exploration purposes in deep space and one of those missions would be piggy-backing on the asteroid impact mission,” Walker explained.

“Those CubeSats would be taking observations of the asteroid before and after a NASA spacecraft comes in to impact the asteroid itself.”

 

Exploring the Moon and Mars

These tiny spacecraft can have multiple applications as the process of miniaturisation is unstoppable.

CubeSat developments can go from space debris removal to commercial telecom services.

In the coming years, they will also be embedded in exploration missions to the Moon and Mars

The cheaper costs of their production and launch are provoking more and more interest in CubeSats within the space industry.

Their capacity not only as exploration tools, but also as tools of inspiration, is extremely valuable.

“The younger generation now growing up, they will be the ones to figure out what to do with this technology in the best way,” predicted Walker. “And we will probably see things, which we never saw or even thought of before.”

Student Tashi Dolma Gyeltshen was excited at the prospect of the launch.

“I just can’t wait for it to happen, for our CubeSat to be launched. It will be a great achievement for every one of us,” she said.

While Vihmand added:

“We are making more people capable of doing things for space and also preparing them for the bigger missions.”

Marta Hang has big hopes for the project.

“I also hope that our university will build a bigger satellite and, why not bring one of our students to the moon one day. Why not?”

 

Introducing… Destination Mars

This year on Space we’ll be following a mission called ExoMars. It’s the first to look for direct signs of life on the red planet.

The first of two spacecraft launches in just a few weeks’ time, and we have exclusive access to the team behind the project.

This is Destination Mars

Jorge Vago, one of the Exomars Project Scientists at the European Space Agency (ESA), outlined the mission.

“Mars is a cold, frigid desert, with a very thin atmosphere, that gets bathed in cosmic radiation and intense UV light. It is not a place (where) you want to be.

“In March, a Russian Proton rocket is going to send our first spacecraft to Mars. We want to solve the mystery of methane on Mars. And a second mission, which will go a few years from now, has a rover and an instrumented surface platform, as well.

“We really are going for traces of life with the Exomars programme. Once the rover is on Mars, it will encounter fine dust, very challenging for locomotion, and rocks. So, dust, fine dust is not our friend in this mission.

“It is technically hard, it is scientifically very ambitious and also programmatically it is not often that two agencies get together to do missions on another planet.”

 

After OPM Hack, Pentagon to Store and Secure Sensitive Security Clearance Docs

By Jack Moore

12:44 PM ET

NEXTGOV

http://www.nextgov.com/cybersecurity/2016/01/after-opm-hack-pentagon-store-and-secure-sensitive-security-clearance-docs/125338/?oref=nextgov_breaking_alert

 

In the continuing aftermath of the massive hack of sensitive records stored by the Office of Personnel Management, the Obama administration announced today it’s shifting the responsibility for conducting background investigations of sensitive personnel to the Defense Department

In the future, files containing personal information on security clearance seekers — the same type of information netted last summer by purported Chinese hackers –will be stored and secured on Pentagon systems, officials say.

OPM is turning over its responsibilities for conducting background investigations to a newly created National Background Investigations Bureau. OPM currently conducts about 95 percent of all checks government wide, including 600,000 full-scale security clearance investigations each year.

The head of the new office will be appointed by the president and still report to the head of OPM. However, the office’s IT systems will be “designed, built, secured and operated” by the Pentagon, according to a fact sheet released by the administration.

“This approach will leverage DOD’s significant national security, IT and cybersecurity expertise, incorporating security into the fundamental design of the systems, strengthening the security of the data environment, and providing robust privacy protections,” the fact sheet said.

The administration’s forthcoming fiscal 2017 budget request will seek an additional $95 million for IT development, according to the fact sheet.

The new office will have a dedicated senior privacy official “to advance privacy-by-design as the new entity is stood up and new IT systems are developed,” the fact sheet stated.

OPM came under fire last summer after it was revealed the agency’s antiquated IT systems did not allow sensitive data to be encrypted and that lax sign-on controls may have allowed cyberintruders to penetrate further into the agency’s systems.

The efforts to update the security of the background check process come after a 30-day “cybersecurity sprint” launched by U.S. Chief Information Officer Tony Scott last summer. Agencies were ordered to immediately plug critical cyber vulnerabilities, identify high-value systems and implement more secure sign-on measures.

Since the hack, OPM had been working on a multiyear plan to modernize its IT infrastructure, although those efforts were criticized by the agency’s inspector general for poor planning and unreliable cost and schedule estimates.

There’s no word yet on how quickly the new office will be opened. The administration plans to establish a transition team to work on a migration plan.

The changes were announced in a White House blog post signed by a bevy of top administration officials including Scott, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, acting OPM Director Beth Cobert, acting Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Marcel Lettre and White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Michael Daniel.

Last summer, hackers stole personal records of more than 21.5 million current, former and prospective federal employees and contractors stored on OPM’s systems. After the hack, officials convened a 90-day review of the security clearance process.

Even earlier, lawmakers has raised concerns about the quality of OPM’s background investigations, citing potential missed red flags in the checks of National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and Navy Yard gunman Aaron Alexis.

In 2014, the Justice Department sued USIS, OPM’s largest private background check contractor, for allegedly failing to conduct proper quality reviews of cases. The company settled the case with the government last August, agreeing to forego at least $30 million in payments by the government.

 

 

Get Ready for Dissolvable Brain Sensors

By Ed Yong

The Atlantic

January 20, 2016

NEXTGOV

http://www.nextgov.com/health/2016/01/get-ready-dissolvable-brain-sensors/125264/?oref=ng-dropdown

 

“I just took out a bullet from the back of a guy’s head an hour ago,” says Rory Murphy.

As a neurosurgeon at the Washington University School of Medicine, Murphy “deals with brain trauma all the time.” Between bullets, blunt forces, and blood clots, traumatic brain injuries kill around 50,000 people in the United States every year. These kinds of injuries often cause the brain to swell, which constricts the flow of blood and oxygen, and can lead to permanent damage.

So surgeons like Murphy need reliable ways of monitoring the pressure inside their patients’ skulls. Sensors exist, but they are large, clunky, and must be removed once the patient has recovered.

Together with a team of engineers, Murphy is developing a better option: a dissolvable pressure sensor. Thinner than the tip of a needle, it can be left in a patient’s brain to take accurate readings for several days, before completely disappearing. You don’t need to remove them because there’s nothing to remove. They just get absorbed into the body.

These dissolvable sensors come from the lab of John Rogers from the University of Illinois. He specializes in creating flexible electronics, including electric socks for the heart, temporary tattoos that double as medical sensors, and curved cameras based on the eye.

For all these products, Rogers shunned fancy materials like graphene and used classic, cost-effective ones like silicon, instead. He simply played with the thickness and structure of these materials, so that rather than rigid, brittle wafers, he ended up with bendy, floppy sheets.

In 2012, he used similar tricks to make “transient electronics” that disintegrate in water after a given time. A silicon chip will do that anyway, given enough water and a few millennia. But by printing circuits thinly enough, Rogers can speed up that process to a matter of hours or days. That would be great for making medical implants that are only needed temporarily. For example, Rogers created a dissolvable heater that could burn away a bacterial infection in mice, before spontaneously vanishing once the animals were healthy.

When Murphy read about these electronics, he was enthralled.

“I thought they would be perfect for what we do,” he says.

Together, the duo refined Rogers’s original designs into a clinically useful pressure sensor. It consists of a membrane made from PLGA, a polymer regularly used in medical devices, suspended in a frame of silicon and magnesium. The pressure of the surrounding fluid causes the membrane to bend, which changes the electrical resistance of an adjoining silicon sensor.

The whole device is then wrapped in a watertight polymer that gradually erodes over a few days, setting the lifetime of the sensor. (In their earlier work, Rogers’s team used silk; that’s impractical here, since silk absorbs water and would swell, pushing against the membrane in the sensor.)

When Murphy implanted the device in rats, he found that it’s as accurate as the best pressure sensors on the market. It’s also cost-effective, since it uses traditional materials with no precious metals. And most importantly, it seems to be safe. It didn’t trigger any inflammation or immune responses while it was intact, or after it had dissolved.

Nor should it.

“The materials we chose include very small amounts of things like magnesium and silicon, which are recommended parts of the daily diet,” says Rogers. When they dissolve, their concentrations are so low that they are hard to track against the background of the same substances already in an animal’s body.

Next, the team will test their sensors in pigs, and carry out further studies to convince regulators that the devices are completely safe. If things go well, Murphy hopes to start clinical trials in human patients within three to five years.

In the meantime, Rogers wants to make improvements, especially around power and connectivity. Currently, the sensor is wired to a secondary implant placed under the skin in a less vulnerable part of the body. The implant then wirelessly transmits the sensor’s data to an external source, while also receiving wireless power. The sensor and its wires will disappear completely, but for now, the secondary implant is only 85 percent degradable. Rogers thinks he can reach 100 percent.

“We think we can get it to 100 percent,” says Rogers.

“There is a huge unmet need to develop implantable devices that can achieve continuous monitoring of the body, to aid clinical decision making and ultimately improve patient quality of life,” says Jeff Karp from Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Although Rogers, Murphy, and their colleagues have risen to that challenge, “it will be important to determine how long the system can work for and how to calibrate measurements with changes in the biological response to the implanted materials.”

Indeed, Rogers wants to make the sensor far more durable. Currently, it persists for a few days at most.

“We want to over engineer it so it lasts longer than what physicians want. We want four to five weeks, and we’re not there yet.”

His team have also adapted their sensors to measure temperature, pH, and flow rates, as well as pressure. They should also be able to tweak the devices to detect specific molecules. And they could be implanted into many other body parts, like the heart or abdominal cavity.

Rogers is also moving from detecting to delivering. For example, he’s working on dissolvable electric stimulators for treating nervous injuries.

“If you can stimulate a peripheral nerve in the right way, you can stimulate the healing process,” he says. “And after everything has healed, you don’t need to go back in to do an extraction. We’re quite far along the path for that.”

 

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

 

Bottom of Form

Saturday, January 23, 2016

It isn’t just Donald Trump. A whole lot of voters are angry at the current policies of the federal government. Can you blame them?

After all, most still agree with former President Ronald Reagan that “government is not to solution to our problem; government is the problem.” But Republicans and unaffiliated voters are much more critical of government than Democrats are.

Voters have been calling for across-the-board government spending cuts for years, but few expect that to happen.

No wonder voters want to cut the size of government – and their taxes – when 69% believe most government contracts are awarded to the company with the most political connections rather than one that can provide the best service for the best price.

Americans have long felt, too, that government workers work less hard but earn more pay and have more job security than those in the private sector.

Many like President Obama and Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders continue to complain about the growing difference in income between rich and poor in America and want the government to do something about it. But most voters think less government involvement in the economy rather than more is a better way to close the income gap.

Is Sanders’ candidacy for real as some recent polls suggest? Our latest monthly Hillary Meter finds that most Democrats still think Hillary Clinton will be their nominee this year, but the number who say she is Very Likely to win the nomination has fallen below 50% for the first time ever.

Following Sarah Palin’s endorsement and with just over a week to go until the Iowa caucus, Republican voters are more strongly convinced than ever that Trump will be their party’s presidential nominee, according to our newest weekly Trump Change survey.

Despite the budding bromance between Trump and Vladimir Putin, Rasmussen Reports polling suggests that more bad news about the Russian leader isn’t likely to translate into more bad news for the GOP front-runner.

Voters in general don’t think much of Palin and see her endorsement of Trump as more harmful than helpful to his candidacy. But for Republicans and conservative voters in particular, the intended audience as the Iowa caucus nears, a Palin endorsement is a plus.

Sixty-two percent (62%) of Democrats say Obama’s endorsement of one of the presidential candidates would be important to their vote, although that includes just 26% who say it would be Very Important. 

The U.S. Supreme Court announced yesterday that it will review the legality of the president’s decision to protect up to five million illegal immigrants from deportation. Twenty-six states have sued to stop that plan, and most voters continue to oppose Obama’s amnesty effort

Views of the president’s job performance are up slightly in recent days to the low negative teens. We’ve seen a similar pattern at the beginning of the past several years.

Looks like there’s an uptick in voter optimism, too, as we’ve found in the previous three Januarys. Thirty percent (30%) now say the country is heading in the right direction. Not that that’s much to write home about.

Blacks remain much more likely than whites and other minorities to believe the United States is headed the right way.  Yet even after seven years of having the first black president in office, Americans are more dubious than ever that Martin Luther King’s dream of equal opportunity has been achieved. Blacks are the most skeptical.

Confidence in race relations in America continues to fall, with hopes for the future at their lowest level yet. Unlike most questions related to race, there isn’t a wide difference of opinion between blacks and whites. Other minority Americans are the least pessimistic.

As election season moves into full swing, voters are closely divided over whether one- or two-party rule is better for Washington, D.C.

Everyone is talking about the candidates, but they don’t often look as closely at the actual electoral process. Do voters think elections in this country are the best they can be? 

In other surveys last week:

— The residents of Flint, Michigan are dealing with the repercussions of lead-contaminated drinking water, but the vast majority of Americans consider their home water supply quite dependable.

— Still, one-out-out-of-three adults (34%) say they keep some water stored away in the event their water supply is cut off for some reason.

— This year’s Academy Award nominations are being criticized by a number of prominent blacks for the lack of diversity among the nominees. But for most Americans, the Oscars just aren’t that big a deal

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