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July 9 2016

July 28, 2016


 

 

 

9 July 2016

Newswire

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

 

 

Is China’s Mysterious New Satellite Really a Junk Collector—or a Weapon?

07.05.16 12:01 AM ET

Davix Axe

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/07/05/is-china-s-mysterious-new-satellite-really-a-junk-collector-or-a-weapon.html?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Military%20EBB%207-5-16&utm_term=Editorial%20-%20Military%20-%20Early%20Bird%20Brief

 

The Chinese say the high-tech satellite they launched will clean up space debris, but its extendable robotic arm has some wondering whether it could have a more sinister purpose.

China just boosted a high-tech, mysterious new satellite into orbit. It might be a weapon. It might not be a weapon. There’s no way to be certain, either way—and that’s a problem for all spacefaring countries.

Especially the United States and China. Washington and Beijing are lofting more and more of these ambiguous satellites into orbit without agreements governing their use. In failing to agree to the proverbial rules of the orbital road, the two governments risk ongoing suspicion, or worse—a misunderstanding possibly leading to war.

The Roaming Dragon satellite rode into space atop a Long March 7 rocket that blasted off from Hainan in southern China on June 25. Officially, Roaming Dragon is a space-junk collector. Its job, according to Beijing, is to pluck old spacecraft and other debris from Earth’s orbit and safely plunge them back to the planet’s surface.

For sure, orbital debris poses a real hazard to the world’s spacecraft. In the summer of 2015, astronauts aboard the International Space Station—including two Russians and an American—sought shelter inside an escape craft when a chunk of an old Russian satellite appeared to be on a collision course with the station.

Luckily, the debris missed the space station. All the same, NASA and other space agencies have voiced their concern over the accumulation of manmade junk in space—and have taken initial steps to remove the most dangerous chunks.

Hence Roaming Dragon’s official mission. “China, as a responsible big country, has committed to the control and reduction of space debris,” Tang Yagang, a scientist with the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, wrote on the Chinese space agency’s website.

But the Roaming Dragon’s design—specifically, its maneuverability and its nimble, extendable robotic arm—mean it could also function as a weapon, zooming close to and dismantling satellites belonging to rival countries.

Stephen Chen, a reporter for the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post—which has historically has been critical of the Chinese central government in Beijing—quoted an unnamed “researcher with the National Astronomical Observatories in Beijing” calling into question the satellite’s purported peaceful mission.

“It is unrealistic to remove all space debris with robots,” the anonymous researcher allegedly stated, implying that Roaming Dragon would, in reality, be doing something else up there in orbit.

But there’s no way to prove that Roaming Dragon is a weapon until it actually attacks another satellite. And at that point, the world would surely have much bigger problems than mere spacecraft taxonomy, as an orbital ambush would almost certainly be a prelude to a much more destructive conflict on the surface.

“Space robotic arms, like many other space technologies, have both military and non-military applications, and classifying them as a space weapon depends on the intent of the user, not on the inherent capabilities of the technology,” Kevin Pollpeter, deputy director of the Study of Innovation and Technology in China Project at the University of California, San Diego, wrote in a widely cited 2013 research paper.

“China’s space robotic arm technology is thus a case study in the challenges of defining ‘space weapon’ and the difficulty in achieving space arms control,” Pollpeter added.

It’s an old problem, by space standards. Jeffrey Lewis, a strategic-weapons expert who blogs at Arms Control Wonk, pointed out in an email to The Daily Beast that NASA’s space shuttle, which first launched into orbit in a dramatic test in 1981, inspired the same worry in Moscow that Roaming Dragon could inspire in Washington.

Specifically, Russian analysts questioned the purpose of the shuttle’s famous “Canadarm”—the Canadian-made “Shuttle Remote Manipulator System” that prominently appears in many photos of the now-retired shuttle’s cargo bay. American analysts are not wrong to point out the potential military applications of Roaming Dragon’s robotic arm. But “the Russians said the same thing about the Canadian arm on the space shuttle,” Lewis told The Daily Beast.

As far as we know, the space shuttle, which last flew in 2011, never attacked another spacecraft. Nor, apparently, have any of the many other spacecraft that possess arms and maneuverability

The proliferation of these spacecraft underscores a failure on the part of the world’s governments to agree to orbital codes of conduct. “All the spacefaring countries are developing small satellites capable of conducting so-called autonomous proximity operations—and there are absolutely no rules about this,” Lewis explained.

“If China wants to build an inspector satellite to shadow one of our warning satellites, that’s just ducky as far as space law is concerned. In such an environment, even innocent programs will engender suspicion and initiate the basic arms race dynamics that threaten the use of space for everyone.”

That suspicion is already having a very real effect on the U.S. defense establishment. Growing ever more fearful of a possible ambush in space, in early 2015 Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work instructed John Hyten, the four-star general in charge of U.S. Air Force Space Command, to prepare his space operators and their satellites for a possible war in orbit.

But to a great extent, the paranoia is unjustified, according to Brian Weeden, a former Air Force space operator who is now a technical adviser to the Secure World Foundation in Colorado. “A lot of the so-called space weapons technologies that have been hyped by pundits or the media for decades are not actually very good weapons,” Weeden told The Daily Beast in an email.

For starters, it’s hard for a killer satellite to sneak up on one of America’s own spacecraft, what with NASA and the Air Force constantly monitoring Earth’s orbit via radar and telescope. “We would notice it maneuvering to match orbits with the target hours [or] days in advance,” Weeden said.

For that reason, “there are better, faster, or cheaper ways to accomplish the same goal” of knocking out a satellite, Weeden added.

Ground-based rockets, for example. The same boosters that propel satellites into orbit can, if aimed carefully, strike and destroy spacecraft in certain orbits. China famously tested a so-called direct-ascent satellite-killing rocket in 2007, striking an old weather sat and scattering thousands of pieces of debris—ironically, the same kind of debris Roaming Dragon ostensibly was designed to help clean up.

“I still worry a lot more about China’s direct-ascent ASAT,” Lewis said, using a popular acronym for an anti-satellite weapon.

Contrary to the South China Morning Post’s reporting, it’s entirely possible that Roaming Dragon is what Beijing claims it is—an orbital trash-collector. “It’s not crazy to think about trying to pull large pieces of junk out of high-traffic orbits, since those are potential sources of thousands of pieces of deadly smaller debris if the piece breaks up,” Gregory Kulacki, a space expert with the Massachusetts-based Union of Concerned Scientists, told The Daily Beast in an email.

And to China’s credit, it apparently has been fairly transparent about Roaming Dragon—more transparent, in fact, than the United States is with many of its own spacecraft. Weeden said Chinese officials could go a step further in reassuring the world about Roaming Dragon’s mission. “They could release details of its orbit and provide advance notification of any maneuvers. That would set a very good example for other countries testing similar capabilities to follow, including the United States.”

As long as there’s such a fine line between war and peace in space, bold acts of transparency are the only way to prevent suspicion and conflict. That applies to Roaming Dragon and any other satellite—be it Chinese, American, Russian, or other—that can transform from an instrument of science to a weapon of war with the flip of a few switches.

“We should probably try talking to each other about it,” Lewis advised.

 

Clash Brewing Over Congressional Proposal to Create Nimbler Military Commands

By Sandra I. Erwin

http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/blog/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?List=7c996cd7-cbb4-4018-baf8-8825eada7aa2&ID=2243&RootFolder=/blog/Lists/Posts&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Military%20EBB%207-7-16&utm_term=Editorial%20-%20Military%20-%20Early%20Bird%20Brief

 

As the House and Senate begin the process to reconcile vastly different defense policy bills, House Armed Services Ranking Member Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., hinted that he is weighing support for Senate language that would downsize the military command structure and require the secretary of defense to create nimbler organizations.

 

This is one of many provisions in the Senate version of the fiscal year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act that seek to overhaul the Pentagon’s civilian and military organizations. These reforms have long been advocated by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., as part of a broader effort to rewrite the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act.

McCain has pressed the case that current geography-based organizations are too rigid to respond to opportunist enemies like the Islamic State.

During a breakfast meeting with reporters July 6, Smith insisted that he has not yet made up his mind on whether he will support the Senate language on this matter, but suggested he would be inclined to back measures that flatten the military bureaucracy and give commanders more flexibility to respond to threats.

“I am intrigued by the possibility of going in this direction,” Smith said.

The White House firmly opposes the Senate language on grounds that it micromanages the military and creates additional bureaucracy.

Smith said he would weigh the objections raised by the Obama administration as the NDAA conference moves along. This is far from a “yes” or “no” answer, he said. “Does McCain have the exact right formula? Is the White House completely wrong in the criticism? No and no. But I think we have to move in that direction.”

Enemies like ISIS demand an unconventional response, he said. Smith is a fan of how former Joint Special Operations Command chief Gen. Stanley McChrystal organized teams to fight al-Qaida. “I was always impressed by his line that ‘it takes a network to defeat a network.'”

The U.S. military operates six geographic commands and over the years these organizations have become bloated and inefficient, Smith said, agreeing with McCain’s view. “We have too many mid and high-level managers,” he said. “They are not providing value added. We need to consolidate.”

McChrystal was able to “grab the assets from different parts of the Department of Defense” to deal with the threat at hand, he said. “We need to do that with cyber,” Smith said. “McChrystal was given wide latitude to do that against al-Qaida.”

In the current fight against extremist groups, he added, “We need to be able to get out of the CENTCOM or SOCOM command structure.”

Smith predicts change will not come easy. “It requires adaptability that most bureaucracies are hostile to,” he said. “I would like to see the possibility of infusing that type of flexibility to respond to the threat.”

The Senate’s version of the NDAA would eliminate five positions among general officers or admirals commanding combatant commands. It requires that the grade of an officer serving as the commander of a service or functional component command be no higher than lieutenant general or vice admiral. The bill directs the secretary of defense to create six “cross-functional teams” to take on high-priority missions.

The White House has pointed out that the Pentagon already is a proponent of using cross-functional teams, and the Senate bill only creates more administrative burdens. Obama issued a statement strongly objecting to the language, arguing that it “would undermine the secretary of defense’s ability to exercise authority, direction, and control over the department. The provisions would blur lines of responsibility and control over resources within the department, and would require the issuance of numerous unnecessary and burdensome policies, directives and reports.”

The administration contends that the Senate bill “undermines the secretary’s ability to create effective cross-functional teams, which are already an extremely common feature of the way the department is organized today.”

McCain recently praised McChrystal’s transformation of the Joint Special Operations Command and compared it to similar reforms now unfolding at the National Security Agency and the CIA.

 

“The premise is simple. To succeed against our present and future challenges, we need flatter, faster moving and more flexible organizations,” McCain said during a June 29 hearing.

McCain rebutted the administration’s pushback as “bizarre.” The legislation is being “attacked for undermining the secretary’s authority when the legislation would do the opposite,” said McCain. “The secretary would identify the missions of the teams, pick their leaders, approve their membership and direct their efforts.”

In testimony, McChrystal spoke about the “power of the cross-functional teams” he stood up in 2003 when he took over the Joint Special Operations Command. “Probably the best special operations force ever fielded,” he said. “On paper we had everything we needed to succeed — quality people, generous resourcing and aggressive, thoughtful strategies. And yet in Iraq, we were losing.”

McCain’s reforms do not weaken the Pentagon, as the administration argues, said James Locher, senior fellow in the Joint Special Operations University. He said the Senate language “gives a broad mandate from the Congress, but then leaves it to the secretary of defense to identify which areas he’s going to create mission teams in. And he can disestablish those teams when they’ve served their purpose.”

The president has threatened to veto the bill if it includes the Senate language on combatant command reorganization, but it is early to predict what could happen, as there are other, even more contentious items in the NDAA that are being negotiated.

Smith said the NDAA conference can be expected to last through the summer. “I’m optimistic that we will get something done.”

The outcome of the NDAA debate could upend an ongoing Pentagon initiative to realign forces to combat ISIS. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said June 20 that he is working with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford on a high-level plan to “develop a trans-regional network approach to counterterrorism.”

The goal is to tap into existing organizations in different geographic commands to provide “first response,” and to give U.S. Special Operations Command “coordinating authorities” to work across geographic divisions.

“We have to change how the Defense Department works and is structured, to ensure better trans-regional and trans-functional integration and advice,” said Carter. “Right now, the responsibility for integration among the combatant commanders and combatant commands reposed in the secretary of defense is inadequately supported by the formal authority of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” he added. “That’s why, in some of our proposed improvements to the 30-year-old Goldwater-Nichols Act, we want to clarify the role and authority of the chairman to, among other things, help the secretary of defense synchronize resources globally for daily operations around the world.”

Senior policy analyst Linda Robinson, of the Rand Corp., said Dunford is pushing hard to implement this proposal. Dunford’s vision is to increase reliance on the U.S. Special Operations Command to coordinate counter-ISIS campaigns, Robinson told National Defense. “What’s going to make it more successful bureaucratically is the heavy role of the chairman and the joint staff in orchestrating this. Then it becomes less of a food fight with different combatant commanders perceiving they are being elbowed by the others.”

 

 

Pentagon Seeks Nearly $2.6B in Reprogramming Request

Aaron Mehta, Defense News 7:31 p.m. EDT July 6, 2016

http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/policy-budget/budget/2016/07/06/pentagon-seeks-nearly-26b-reprogramming-request/86781858/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Military%20EBB%207-7-16&utm_term=Editorial%20-%20Military%20-%20Early%20Bird%20Brief

 

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has submitted its reprogramming request to Congress, with roughly $2.6 billion in funding shifts targeted.

The request, signed off by comptroller Mike McCord on June 30, will now need to be weighed by Congress.

In broad strokes, the reprogramming features the following pots of money:

•$1.174 billion in fiscal 2016 appropriations

•$54.8 million in fiscal 2016 overseas contingency operation (OCO) fund

•$583 million from the Defense Working Capitol Fund towards operations and maintenance requirements

•$155 million among various fiscal 2015 appropriations

•$499 million in fiscal 2015 OCO funding

•$128 million among various fiscal 2014 appropriations

Inside the fiscal 2016 increases, the Army gets a boost of $267 million. Included in that is $21 million in funding for testing and procurement on the Hellfire Longbow L7A missile and $1 million for the an engineering study for the Enhanced Heavy Equipment Transporter System (E-HETS), but the majority of the funding goes to support for the service’s Long Haul Communications program.

That funding has to come from somewhere, and for the Army, it’s primarily by dropping $207.5 million from personnel costs. Much of that savings comes from lower-than-budgeted Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) average costs.

The reprogramming brings the Navy a boost of $476 million, including $129 million to boost flying hours for pilots. It also features $7 million to address depot level repair of components for Advance Arresting Gear (AAG) and Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) on CVN-78, as well as $4.6 million to complete certification for the Submarine Rescue Diving and Recompression System Transfer Under Pressure (TUP) capability.

As with the Army, the Navy found significant savings on personnel this year, freeing up $85.3 million. The Navy also freed up $40 million for F-18 funding due to a delay in the FY 2016 contract award for Infrared Search and Track (IRST) low rate initial production 2 (LRIP 2) contracts.

The US Air Force gained $273 million, including $10 million to support the aging UH-1N helicopter fleets, $7 million to support maintainenance at ICBM sites, and $6 million for the Space Mission Forces initiative, which seeks to improve the training and organization of airmen focused on the space domain. It also requests $10 million in a new start effort to procure the PGU-48/B weapon for the F-35A joint strike fighter, a sign that the long-delayed jet is close to going operational. The Air Force expects that funding stream to include $4 million each in its fiscal 2018 and 2019 budget requests.

Roughly $54 million is being sought to increase research and development efforts for the Air Force, including $23.9 million to keep the Air Force’s next-generation fighter program, referred to as “Next Generation Air Dominance” by the service, on schedule to support a 2017 milestone.

The funding is needed to keep “identifying and/or eliminating candidate technologies early in the analysis process to ensure more effective use of planned air superiority investment, and to ensure the Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) incorporates an accurate capability picture. If funds are not received, [Next-Generation Air Dominance] activities will not be able to remain on schedule to support the FY 2017 [Material Development Decision],” according to the reprogramming note.

For the Air Force, the reprogramming shifts around $86 million in delayed aircraft procurement and maintenance, largely due to overperforming systems not needing as much work as expected.

Roughly $3 million was saved because of delays to the Guardian Angel Air-Deployable Rescue Vehicles (GAARV) program, due to “suitability issues found during testing. The fielding decision has been pushed to the 4th quarter of FY 2017 to allow time to resolve these issues.”

Intriguingly, the reprograming includes a plus up of $9.2 million for procurement on a classified Air Force program. Another $9 million are reprogramed under the research and development heading. The Navy also shifted $20 million from a classified program marked as “LINK PLUMERIA.”

 

 

Why investment in space companies is heating up

By Samantha Masunaga

July 7, 2016, 3:00 AM

 

It used to be that the only way to get to outer space was through the government.

Those days are long gone, as the commercial space industry becomes increasingly crowded with companies geared toward such diverse goals as launching small satellites and mining the moon for minerals.

This has made the commercial sector increasingly active for investors. A January report from aerospace consulting firm the Tauri Group found that space start-ups have attracted more than $13.3 billion of investment, including $5.1 billion of debt financing, since 2000. Nearly two-thirds of that investment funding has come in the last five years.

The Times spoke with Chad Anderson, managing director of Space Angels Network, about the growing interest and what’s next for the industry. Space Angels Network is a New York-based investor in early-stage private space companies, with virtual offices in Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Zurich, Hong Kong, Stockholm and London, and investor members all over the world.

The investor group has completed deals with outfits like Planetary Resources, a Redmond, Wash., company that intends to mine asteroids for minerals, and Planet, a San Francisco firm that launches small satellites to gather images of the Earth. The typical investment is $500,000 to $1 million.

Here is an edited excerpt.

It seems like every few months a new commercial space company makes its debut. What’s driving that?

Low-cost access to space, hands down.

All of the growth has come, really, over the last 10 to 12 years, so in my mind, it’s all riding on the back of SpaceX. In 2009, they had their first successful launch, Virgin [Galactic] got their first significant funding, and it was sort of on from there.

I think that people look at SpaceX and its lower prices and that is a big piece of the puzzle. But another piece that I think people overlook is that they simply publish their pricing. They say, ‘Here’s this rocket, here’s how much cargo we can carry to what orbit and here’s how much it costs.’

That really changed the game and so once there was access to space and you knew the price of it, suddenly people could say, ‘Oh it cost me $200,000 to launch my small satellite. I have a really good idea. I could build a business from that.’

Tell me about the origin of Space Angels Network.

We’ve been around since 2007. The idea then was to bring some credibility to the sector. We started off as a typical angel group and a handful of successful businesspeople that had put money in space ventures, and they did some good work to build credibility through those formative years.

As the industry has ramped up, we have grown into it. We went from 20 members in 2012 to 220 today. It’s really 100% year-over-year growth in membership for the last three years.

What do you look for when investing in companies?

We’re invested in 34 companies to date and we look for a lot of things that a typical angel or VC [venture capitalist] would look for. Space is a high-tech industry, but we’re still looking for really great teams, really big bold ideas, people that can work effectively in a dynamic landscape. We’re looking for people with ambitious business plans, but a practical route to near-term revenue.

I think a common misconception is that space has really long development times and is really capital intensive, but I’m not so sure that’s true. I think that’s true probably for launch companies but there’s a lot of different companies in space, from satellites to software to observation to other things, that’s less true for.

Are there particular areas of interest?

It’s a dynamic maturing market, there’s a lot going on. And we really look at it … in sort of three geographical regions –terrestrial, in-space and planetary. It’s really based on where the value is directed.

So terrestrial is like launchers and satellites. Most of the benefit is for Earth. In-space are things that are built or manufactured for space in space. And then planetary markets provide value to other surfaces like the moon and Mars, which are getting more interesting.

Space Angels has invested in that entire spectrum. There’s a lot of interest from VCs in the terrestrial markets because those are existing markets that are being disrupted. There’s no question about “Is somebody going to pay for this thing?” because they are. It’s more “Are there entrepreneurs doing this better, faster, cheaper?”

Space Angels Network recently invested in Astrobotic Technologies, a company competing for the $30-million Google Lunar X Prize, that intends to take payloads to the moon. Why return to the moon?

We landed but we didn’t do much. There’s a ton of interest in spending more time on the moon compared to 24 hours at a time.

I think that there’s a lot of opportunities for infrastructure development. People have referred to it as the eighth continent, and there’s a lot of resources on the moon that can be used to go deeper into space. Getting out of the Earth’s gravity is 99% of the issue. If you can launch from the moon … it doesn’t take much fuel or energy to get anywhere, so you can basically explore the solar system from that point.

 

Where do you see the commercial space industry going in the future?

The potential is crazy. You talk to people who were around and starting businesses in the Internet boom, and they talk about how similar it feels.

I think that the investors and members of Space Angels that are getting involved in this … see it as getting in at the ground floor of a new industry. They’re really looking to invest in the next Microsoft while it’s still a group of guys sitting around a computer lab. It’s nice to see it coming together, but we’re really just scratching the surface.

 

What’s Next for Drone Warfare?

John Loh and Ronald Yates, Special to Defense News 12:48 p.m. EDT July 7, 2016

The Air Force, once reluctant to accept unmanned drones as part of its combat force, now recognizes their value for missions such as surveillance and isolated attacks that are better suited for unmanned than manned aircraft. But, the Air Force needs to replace the hodgepodge of drones in its inventory with a force optimized to meet future scenarios in which they can excel. The next evolutionary step for remotely piloted aircraft — RPAs, as the Air Force calls them — is to refine their roles and operational concepts better, and put them through normal DoD requirements and acquisition processes and incorporate them as an integral part of the Air Force structure.

The Air Force operates Predator and Reaper RPAs, the first generation of unmanned strike aircraft. Most are flown from Creech Air Force Base near Las Vegas. B-1 bombers and manned aircraft have also flown sorties on precision strikes against terrorist targets in the Middle East. The rush to get large numbers of RPAs quickly to surveil and attack terrorist threats in Iraq caused impulsive decisions.

Consequently, this force was thrown together more like a neighborhood pick-up team, not designed or procured through a rigorous requirements-based acquisition process nor positioned optimally for missions they fly. Now, the Air Force finds itself with RPAs and mission-control centers not well suited to the challenges they will face in the future.

Experience has shown that RPAs fill a critical need in warfare. Their characteristics of endurance, long range, continuous surveillance of broad and narrow areas, and immediate on-call precision attack of small, high-value targets in low-threat airspace make them preferable to manned aircraft in many scenarios.

The way forward should be to design, develop and procure the next generation of RPAs to perform missions in which RPAs have shown their advantages over manned aircraft while not trying to perform missions better suited to manned aircraft. The domain for this next generation of RPAs is vast, and it need not conflict with the domain of manned aircraft, a contentious aspect that has impeded their acceptance and future roles. Manned and unmanned combat aircraft can coexist, but to operate in synergy, they must be designed to take advantage of the strengths of each.

There is no shortage of scenarios well suited to this next generation of combat RPAs. Obviously, their current effectiveness can be improved with all-weather stealth technology, longer endurance, better sensors, larger payloads and connectivity to the global “info-sphere”. With these improvements, they can cover targets in other regions where terrorists congregate, such as North Africa, Yemen, Somalia and Southwest Asia. Further, with an optimized vehicle, RPAs can be incorporated into war plans against aggressive nation-state adversaries.

 

Next-generation RPAs can also be the foundation for enforcing international truces and treaties. They can provide continuous, high-resolution surveillance of important facilities to detect activity that could violate agreements, and immediately strike targets.

Establishing no-fly zones over contested areas is a viable alternative to nation-building. The continuous no-fly zones over Iraq for twelve years after the First Gulf War in 1991 demonstrated their effectiveness as a deterrent to further warfare. No-fly, no-drive zones patrolled with RPAs and manned aircraft can detect and strike any air or ground target, obviate the need for “boots on the ground”, and maintain air dominance over the area.

In the same vein, new, optimized RPAs would be the best choice for tracking activity and exerting U.S. influence in hot spots such as the Ukraine, Taiwan Straits, North Korea, Spratley Islands and Central America.

A new fleet does not require new infrastructure. Today’s RPAs have capable ground-based flight and mission-control facilities, and robust, jam-resistant data links. Fortunately, programs are already underway to upgrade them such that fielding a new force of RPAs would require little, if any, additional capabilities. And, the global info-sphere of space-borne, networked communications already exists to link RPAs in any region of the world.

The current fleets of Air Force RPAs were bought hastily to meet the immediate demands of counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are unsuited for future world-wide scenarios. The Air Force now has an opportunity to put together an orderly program to replace the current RPA inventory with RPAs designed and developed from the outset for future roles and missions in which they can excel.

The Air Force is reconstituting its development planning process to be responsive to DoD’s push for acquisition reform under its Better Buying Power initiative. The service has done well in planning the development of manned aircraft. The same logical, disciplined development process should be applied to the next generation of combat RPAs. The result will yield the right combination of manned and unmanned combat airpower to ensure air dominance for any future contingency across the full spectrum of conflict.

Retired Gen. John Loh is a former Air Force vice chief of staff and former commander of Air Combat Command. Retired Gen. Ronald Yates is a former commander of Air Force Systems Command and Air Force Materiel Command.


 

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