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October 29 2016

November 8, 2016





29 October 2016


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DigitalGlobe Acquisitions Speak to Changing Defense Market

By Sandra I. Erwin

Oct 17, 2016


DigitalGlobe three years ago survived a bruising corporate battle to secure its position as the Pentagon’s sole commercial provider of high-resolution satellite Earth imagery. The company has since been challenged to deal with dramatic changes in the defense market, and has moved to buy up other companies in an effort to supplement the imagery business with increasingly lucrative intelligence and analysis services.

Overhead satellites today can photograph objects on the ground that are smaller than a home plate on a baseball field, but that alone is not enough to satisfy defense and intelligence agencies’ demands for more complex data. The government has a growing appetite for services such as advanced software apps and intricate analysis of collected images. Satellite imagery providers like DigitalGlobe not only are under pressure to deliver “valued added” services but are also coping with the emergence of lower-cost competitors and the democratization of the remote-sensing market.

Longmont, Colorado-based DigitalGlobe made its most aggressive move into the government services sector last week when it announced its intent to acquire The Radiant Group, a Chantilly, Virginia-based company with deep ties to the intelligence community and the secretive National Reconnaissance Office that builds the military’s classified satellites. Access to NRO contracts is vital to DigitalGlobe as its primary customer, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, recently signed a “strategic purchasing” agreement with that office.

“We have to go beyond data to deliver more information-based products and insight to the government,” Tony Frazier, DigitalGlobe senior vice president of U.S. government solutions, told National Defense.

The $140 million acquisition would significantly boost DigitalGlobe’s services business. The Radiant Group projects about $100 million in revenue for 2016. Of DigitalGlobe’s approximately $700 million in projected revenue, $130 million is for services. The addition of Radiant could boost DigitalGlobe’s share of government work from about 65 percent of total revenues today to 75 percent.

The Radiant Group buy follows other takeovers of services-focused firms during the past two years. DigitalGlobe bought Spatial Energy, a company focused on analyzing complex geospatial information; and Tomnod, a business that specializes in using crowd-sourced information to add value to imagery.

“Radiant allows us to go much further,” Frazier said.

The geospatial intelligence business over time has broadened beyond data collection and analytics. A key asset that made Radiant Group an acquisition target is 400 employees with secret security clearances, including 250 software developers. This talent would allow DigitalGlobe to expand its turf beyond the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Radiant brings 80 new contract vehicles not just with NGA but also with the NRO, the Defense Intelligence Agency and U.S. Special Operations Command.

The software development and engineering workforce is crucial, said Frazier, as government agencies transition to cloud-based applications and applied data science to “realize the full power of imagery,” he said. “Analysts need to access data from the cloud.” The Radiant Group has been known in intelligence community for exploiting open-source software and cloud computing.

Established players in the remote-sensing business have been hit on multiple fronts in recent years. Commercial demand has slowed down. And small-satellite launchers are disrupting the market. “There are more providers of data,” said Frazier. What DigitalGlobe now needs to stand out is to be able to “produce more value from the data,” he said. “The government wants more answers, not more data.”

Intelligence agencies continue to rethink their approaches to buying technologies from the private sector. NGA last month announced several new initiatives to increase its reach into the commercial geospatial industry.

Congressional committees for years have been concerned about the perceived slow pace of innovation in the geospatial area. Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee during a September hearing pressed NGA Director Robert Cardillo to explain how the agency was stepping up efforts to monitor global flashpoints like Russian operations in eastern Ukraine, Iran’s compliance with last year’s nuclear deal and China’s development of new islands in the South China Sea.

Cardillo said the agency plans to shake up its longstanding methods of acquiring technologies. DigitalGlobe remains a “traditional partner,” he said, but NGA also is actively reaching out to commercial imagery suppliers dubbed “new space providers” such as Planet, formerly Planet Labs, Google’s Terra Bella, Black Sky Global and Earthcast.

The era of “multi-year, multi-billion dollar awards for decades types of service had their place and their time” but not any more, he said.

Just six years ago, NGA signed 10-year $7 billion deals with DigitalGlobe and archrival GeoEye Imagery Collections Systems to provide satellite images under NGA’s “enhanced view” commercial imagery program. A fiscal crunch slashed projected spending on imagery in half, and without enough work to keep two companies in business, DigitalGlobe and GeoEye merged in 2013.

NGA is working with the General Services Administration to set up a contract vehicle that is targeted at small companies. Cardillo said this vehicle will be available in early 2017. The plan is to move from long-term contracts to “swipe my government credit card to do some testing and some evaluation, some exploration of the interfaces” arrangements.

Planet, for instance, has dozens of very small satellites up in space that are scanning the globe. Under a new agreement with NGA, Planet will give the agency access to data from those satellites. “More importantly, what I’m excited about is beginning to apply algorithms and models against that data set to find out not just what you can image but what can you sense,” said Cardillo. “Think of a service that we could subscribe rather than a pixel flow.”

Cardillo said he supports DigitalGlobe making bigger inroads into services such as “algorithms and models” because that is what the government needs now. NGA just entered the seventh of a 10-year contract with DigitalGlobe and agency leaders have suggested those long-term deals are out of favor. “We negotiated that eight years ago,” when the industry was very different, Cardillo said. “Today in our conversations with these new space providers, there’s very little about square kilometers. It’s more about data sets and algorithms, and what kind of filter can they put on that screen to understand what’s happening.”

DigitalGlobe’s Frazier said the company is pursuing its own partnerships with nontraditional firms as it adapts to the realities of the government market. It teamed up with CosmiQ Works and NVIDIA in a venture called SpaceNet, a blend of commercial satellite imagery and labeled training data that is made available at no cost to the public. The goal is to encourage development of computer vision algorithms to automatically extract information from remote sensing data.

This is one way to generate new customers for satellite imagery, said Frazier. “People can build algorithms at no cost,” he said. “One of our goals is to help build ecosystems, encourage more providers of algorithms to help answer questions and create new demands for imagery.” The SpaceNet consortium, for example, organized an “image mining challenge” to engage developers and data scientists to automate the extraction of map features and indicators of activity from satellite imagery.

In the face of fresh competitive challenges at home, DigitalGlobe is looking to expand its non-U.S. sales. High-resolution imagery is a tightly controlled export and the regulatory hurdles can be significant. After submitting a license request in 1999, the company received approval in 2014 to sell images with a resolution of 25 centimeters, a step up from the previous export license that only allowed 50 centimeters.

Executives have been waiting for three years on a request to allow sales of the company’s native-resolution shortwave infrared imagery. DigitalGlobe SWIR imagery was used during Canadian wildfires to penetrate the heavy smoke, showing where the fires were burning. Current restrictions required the company to degrade the SWIR resolution, “effectively throwing out 75 percent of the data and needlessly reducing the firefighters’ decision-making confidence,” DigitalGlobe founder and chief technology officer Walter Scott wrote in a Space News op-ed.

“It’s time for the U.S. government to rethink the basic premise underlying commercial remote sensing regulation,” Scott argued. “The U.S. space technology edge has eroded, and satellite imagery is now available from dozens of countries.” Scott and other industry executives have advocated for an end to the current restrictive environment of “no, until foreign competition catches up,” to a permissive one of “yes, unless there is a compelling national security or foreign policy reason to deny approval.”


Government alleges former NSA contractor stole ‘astonishing quantity’ of classified data over 20 years

By Ellen Nakashima October 20 at 5:42 PM

Federal prosecutors in Baltimore on Thursday said they will charge a former National Security Agency contractor with violating the Espionage Act, alleging that he made off with “an astonishing quantity” of classified digital and other data over 20 years in what is thought to be the largest theft of classified government material ever.

In a 12-page memo, U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein and two other prosecutors laid out a much more far-reaching case against Harold T. Martin III than was previously outlined. They say he took at least 50 terabytes of data and “six full banker’s boxes worth of documents,” with many lying open in his home office or kept on his car’s back seat and in the trunk. Other material was stored in a shed on his property.

One terabyte is the equivalent of 500 hours’ worth of movies.

Martin, who will appear at a detention hearing in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on Friday, also took personal information about government employees as well as dozens of computers, thumb drives and other digital storage devices, the government memo said.

The government has not alleged that Martin passed any material to a foreign government, but contends that if he is released on bail he could do so.

A federal contractor suspected in the leak of powerful National Security Agency hacking tools has been arrested and charged with stealing classified information from the U.S. government, according to court records and U.S. officials familiar with the case. (Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

Though he lacks a valid U.S. passport, the government said Martin could still flee to a foreign government that might wish to help him. Prosecutors said he has communicated with unnamed people in Russian and in June downloaded information on Russian and other languages.

The prosecutors also said Martin had an “arsenal” of weapons in his home and car, including an assault-rifle-style tactical weapon and a pistol-grip shotgun with a flash suppressor.

In a complaint unsealed earlier this month, the government charged him with felony theft of government property and the unauthorized removal and retention of classified materials, a misdemeanor. The prosecutors said that when an indictment is filed, they expect charges to include “violations of the Espionage Act,” offenses that carry a prison term of up to 10 years for each count.

Prosecutors will argue Friday that Martin, 51, of Glen Burnie, Md., presents “a high risk of flight, a risk to the nation and to the physical safety of others,” and that he should not be released from jail.

“The case against the defendant thus far is overwhelming, and the investigation is ongoing,” said Rosenstein, Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary Myers and trial attorney David Aaron. “The defendant knows, and, if no longer detained, may have access to a substantial amount of highly classified information, which he has flagrantly mishandled and could easily disseminate to others.”

Continued detention without bail is necessary, prosecutors said, because of “the grave and severe danger that pretrial release of the defendant would pose to the national security of the United States.”

Martin’s attorneys argued in a memo filed Thursday that their client is not a flight risk and should be released under court-approved conditions pending trial. “The government concocts fantastical scenarios in which Mr. Martin — who, by the government’s own admission, does not possess a valid passport — would attempt to flee the country,” wrote public defenders James Wyda and Deborah L. Boardman.

Martin’s wife and home are in Maryland, they said. He has served in the U.S. Navy. “There is no evidence he intended to betray his country,” they said. “The government simply does not meet its burden of showing that no conditions of release would reasonably assure Mr. Martin’s future appearance in court.”

The government also alleged that Martin took a top-secret document detailing “specific operational plans against a known enemy of the United States.” Prosecutors did not name the enemy. The document, prosecutors said, contained a warning, in capital letters, that said: “This conop [concept of operations] contains information concerning extremely sensitive U.S. planning and operations that will be discussed and disseminated only on an absolute need to know basis.”

Martin was not involved in the operation, the government said, and had no need to have the document or know its specifics.

Another document found in his car contained handwritten notes describing NSA’s classified computer systems and detailed descriptions of classified technical operations, the prosecutors said.

In an interview before his arrest, Martin denied having taken classified material and only admitted to it when confronted with specific documents, prosecutors said. He had access to classified data beginning in 1996, when he was with the Navy Reserve, and that access continued through his employment with seven private government contractors.

The government alleged that Martin was able to defeat “myriad, expensive controls placed” on classified information.

They said the devices seized show he made extensive use of sophisticated encryption. He also used a sophisticated software tool that runs without being installed on a computer and provides anonymous Internet access, “leaving no digital footprint on the machine,” they said.

In August, a cache of highly sensitive NSA hacking tools mysteriously appeared online. Although investigators have not found conclusive evidence that he was responsible for that, he is the prime suspect, said U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. That is the event that set off the search that turned up Martin, the officials said.

In July, according to the prosecutors’ memo, he watched a video about how law enforcement authorities catch computer users who wish to remain anonymous on the Internet. “He has a demonstrated ability to conceal his online communications and his access to the Internet,” the prosecutors said.

To support their argument that Martin poses a danger to the community, they noted that in late July, he went to Connecticut to buy a “Detective Special” police-package Chevrolet Caprice. While searching his house, the FBI also recovered 10 firearms, only two of which were registered, the government said. Prosecutors said a loaded handgun was found in a case on the floorboard of the Caprice, in violation of Maryland law.

Martin’s wife, Deborah Vinson, was “very upset” to learn about his arsenal, prosecutors said, and asked the FBI to take custody of the firearms because she was afraid that he would kill himself if he “thought it was all over.”

If Martin had taken the classified material “for his own edification, as he has claimed, there would be no reason to keep some of it in his car, and arm himself as though he were trafficking in dangerous contraband,” prosecutors said.



Air Force Chief Sees Decades of More War Operations | Oct 19, 2016 |

by Oriana Pawlyk


The U.S. Air Force’s top officer said he expects the high pace of war-related operations to continue for decades to come.

“We’ve been deploying now for 15 years,” Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said. “We’ve probably got 15, 20 years to go.”

His comments came Wednesday at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, during a spouse and family forum hosted by Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James.

While fewer airmen are deploying, the time they spend away is increasing — driven in part by missions related to the air war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, a resurgent Russia and China’s increased military activity in the Pacific.

Rising Deployment Times

On average, enlisted airmen deployed for 132 days and officers for 128 days in 2015, up from 110 days and 93 days, respectively, in 2013, according to an analysis by Air Force Times.

Goldfein last month announced an initiative to deploy airmen in teams of three or more, rather than dispatching them individually.

“I’m concerned that over the past 15 years, we have migrated into sending too many single airmen into combat,” Goldfein said at the time. “While we will never be the service that says, if you want an airman, you get an entire squadron — because that’s not what the nation needs, we need to be a little more flexible than that — I think the pendulum has swung a little too much to individual airmen.”

Continued deployment demands put pressure on the Air Force’s goal of a 1:2 deploy-to-dwell time, or six months deployed and one year at home. In 2015, no career fields increased from the 1:2 mark, with all but six keeping rates of 1:3 or lower, according to Air Force Times.

Family Programs

Goldfein asked a panel of military family advocates how efforts such as the Exceptional Family Member Program are catering to families when loved ones are deployed.

“Is there anything in our system that actually reaches out to a deployed spouse, or is a deployed spouse really looking at the exact same process as a couple that’s together?” he said.

Air Force Lt. Col. Andy Cruz, the 14th Medical Group deputy commander, responded, “I know from a base level that the key spouse program at the base I just came from works along with the airmen, family readiness center … to develop different programs monthly. ”

Panel member Dr. Ed Tyner, deputy director of the Defense Department’s special needs program, said, “At our level at OSD, we’ve done several trainings on doing warm handoffs,” using the term to describe when a primary care provider personally introduces a patient to a behavioral health specialist. “But again, it’s probably only going to be if the family member comes in and asks for it, because they won’t always know [the program exists],” he said.


Cyber threat center growing in its integration role as it enters year 2

By Jason Miller | @jmillerWFED

October 20, 2016 5:32 pm

The Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center has been in place now for a little more than a year.

Tonya Ugoretz, the director of the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center (CTIIC), said the center is maturing to meet the assorted needs of government from senior executives to chief information security officers to program and mission leaders.

“As an integration center, everything we’re doing is in partnership with the rest of the community and that includes our analyses. We are not adding another voice to the many agencies who may publish analyses on cyber threat issues. What we are integrating is the intelligence community’s coordinated assessment of cyber threat issues,” Ugoretz said on Ask the CIO. “Analytically, when decision makers want to know what do we collectively assess is going on, who do we collectively assess is behind something, CTIIC is the one who brings together the community on cyber threat issues to provide that integrated assessment. That doesn’t mean we are watering it down to a lowest common denominator that everyone can agree on. What it means is we bring the community together and we are very clear and transparent about what we can agree on and with what level of confidence. But also importantly what we disagree on and why, and what are the gaps in our understanding that collectively as a community we can address to help us increase our confidence in what we assess.”

Tonya Ugoretz is the director of the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center.

Ugoretz said the first year of the CTIIC focused on filling the gaps in the sharing of cyber threat intelligence and building the relationships across government.

President Barack Obama created the CTIIC in February 2015. By September, the center launched its initial efforts with Ugoretz as director and a host of detailees from across the intelligence, Defense and civilian agency communities.

Ugoretz said the CTIIC has been building capacity across its three lines of business:

Building awareness—CTIIC is taking the sharing of information further than just making sure someone sees the information, but actually understands what it means. “When we identify new threat information that we feel is significant, we have to ensure we are explaining to customers why we are highlighting it. We do that by working very extensively with our partners in other cyber centers to add context,” she said. “Our analysts anticipate and address those questions on the front end. They really work the phones. They reach out and coordinate with all their counterparts within the community. What we do is build products that address all those questions so we are not only highlighting new threat information, but we’re also saying ‘here’s a way to think about it and here’s how to place it in a broader context so you see where it fits in the bigger story.'”

Integrating analysis—The center is trying to break the habit of looking at cyber information in isolation. Ugoretz said threats and vulnerabilities are best understood if agencies also understand the motivations, intent and capabilities of the cyber hackers. “Our analysts look at working with a very broad community of counterparts in the U.S. intelligence community who look not only at technical information and cyber specific activity, but they also work with regional analysts, leadership analysts and people who understand the geopolitical context in which these state actors are acting and in that way through our analysis, try to give a fuller picture of what’s happening,” she said. The CTIIC also helps coordinate information when the government is responding to a cyber attack. The President’s policy directive 41 issued in July details where the center fits in when the government responds to a cyber incident.

Identifying opportunities—The line of business continues down a similar path as integrating analysis where the CTIIC broadens the view of a cyber incident. Ugoretz said the center will help the White House and Defense Department understand the options in responding to an attack. “The goal is to help inform decision making so pulling all those inputs together and presenting them in a way what leads to what we call ‘decisionable decisions.’ What’s challenging too in this newer field of cybersecurity is to always have decision makers feel comfortable thinking through what will be the impact of this action,” she said.

As the CTIIC enters its second year, Ugoretz said she has several goals, including ensuring the staff is documenting its processes and they are as effective and efficient as possible.

“We are already thinking ahead because we are a multi-agency center and we do have a proportion of detailees so how do we do succession planning, how do we pass down institutional knowledge and how do we clearly document our processes, and even some of these things that we do and don’t do that we’ve all internalized here, but may not be written down on a piece of paper?” she said. “Another is expanding our ability to reach more customers with our work. Right now as we’ve been growing, we’ve been focusing on doing a version of a product and trying to put that out. But as we build capacity and have more resources in terms of personnel and production and the whole tail that helps support all the important pieces of producing quality analytic products, we want to look at how do we reach other parts of the community who may not have access at their desktops to highly classified information or who work other functional or regional missions that aren’t specifically cyber, but who would benefit from knowing this activity that maybe the actor they follow in another context is doing.”

Ugoretz said the CTIIC did a lot of outreach in year one and will do even more in year 2 to reach that broader community.

Another second year priority relates back to PPD 41 and information sharing to make sure the right agencies have the right data to make cyber related decisions.

Ugoretz said the center also will continue to work on a common taxonomy called the cyber threat framework, and metrics.

“We want to ensure we in the community and hopefully outside the community aren’t using different terminology when we are describing different types of activity by threat actors. Hopefully what that will enable us to do is compare apples to apples and do some meaningful trend analysis over time so that we can see when we do get questions about whether activity is increasing or decreasing or if things are moving in a certain way, we can give really well informed answers to those questions,” she said. “We have counterparts in the Office of the National Intelligence Manager for cyber here at ODNI who have really been the lead within the community and with partners in pushing this concept forward. They are developing a framework that will be available publicly at the unclassified level that hopefully folks can use and I don’t think there’s any assumption that it’s one size fits all.”


Meet the Air Force’s ‘ultimate battle plane’ and your new close-air support

By: Stephen Losey, October 25, 2016 (Photo Credit: Airman Kai White/Air Force)


HURLBURT FIELD, FLORIDA – In the not-too-distant future, when ground troops call for close-air support, the ‘Ghostrider’ and its deadly arsenal could come to their rescue.

The AC-130J Ghostrider is set to be the most heavily-armed gunship in history, bristling with 30mm and 105mm cannons, AGM-176A Griffin missiles, and the ability to carry Hellfire missiles and GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs.

But that’s not all.

Some day in the future, the Ghostrider could even be equipped with a high-energy laser.

That’s right. Lasers.

When it hits the battlefield in a few short years, the Ghostrider will be the most heavily armed gunship in history – a badass plane providing close-air support to U.S. troops on the ground and delivering withering firepower that will send enemies running for the hills.

Aircraft such as the F-35 and A-10 may be the focus of headlines, arguments on Capitol Hill between brass and lawmakers, and viral videos pulsing with hard rock. But despite drawing a fraction of the attention, the AC-130 and all its variants have been workhorses of the past 15 years of war. 

They rained down fire on the Taliban and al-Qaida during the early days of the Afghanistan war, and fought in many more battles there over the years. They supported ground troops during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, as well as in subsequent clashes, such as the battles of Fallujah. They conducted raids on Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi’s forces during the civil war there in 2011. And as the military’s focus gradually turned to the Islamic State militant group, the AC-130’s guns were trained on ISIS fighters, vehicles and oil trucks in places such as Raqqa, Syria.

Since it first flew to war during Vietnam, the AC-130 has destroyed more than 10,000 trucks, the Air Force says. The AC-130J is the fourth generation of this model, and will eventually replace the aging U and W variants – and it’s a virtual certainty that it will be loitering above the battlefield, wherever Americans are fighting, for decades to come.

The AC-130W Stinger II has a 30mm cannon, precision-guided munitions, and the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb. The AC-130U Spooky has 25mm, 40mm and 105mm guns. And the now-retired AC-130H Spectre had 20mm, 40mm and 105mm cannons. But until now, no gunship has had this combination of multiple high-powered cannons and precision-guided munitions.

On Sept. 6, an AC-130J Ghostrider lifted off from a runway at Hurlburt Field, Florida, and flew northeast to the range at nearby Eglin Air Force Base.

Sitting on the range was an old, lone tank used for target practice. The crew of the Ghostrider trained its newly added 105mm cannon – basically a Howitzer mounted in the plane’s belly – on the tank and opened fire, striking the tank several times.

The test was a success, the Air Force said, and a major milestone on the path to the AC-130J achieving initial operating capability, which is expected to come in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2017.

‘A bomb truck with guns’

The Ghostrider is a Lockheed C-130J that’s been heavily modified until it practically bristles with weaponry – so much so that Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold, former head of Air Force Special Operations Command – famously called it “a bomb truck with guns” and “the ultimate battle plane” in 2015.

Walking through the cargo bay of the 130J, the sheer amount of firepower on display quickly becomes apparent. After leaving the cockpit, one first encounters the block 10 30mm cannon – an automatic weapon that can fire up to 200 rounds per minute, each roughly the size of a Coca-Cola bottle, out of the left side of the plane.

“Each round blows up with the equivalent [blast] of a hand grenade,” said Maj. Jarrod Beers, a weapons system officer on the AC-130J, on Sept. 7. “And there are plenty of them on the aircraft.”

The 30mm brings a lot of flexibility to the Ghostrider’s crew. Not only is it trainable, making it easier to aim at a target without having to reorient the entire plane, but its ammunition feeds in from two different chains. This can give the Ghostrider plenty more of one kind of ammo to shoot – but it can also allow airmen to quickly switch to a second kind of ammunition if they need to take out a different threat.

“It’s a very capable, and very awesome weapons system,” Beers said.

Toward the aft end of the plane, also aiming left, is the block 20 105mm cannon. The Ghostrider originally wasn’t meant to have the 105mm, which was also mounted on the older AC-130U Spooky model, but Heithold insisted on adding it, telling reporters last year, “I want two guns.”

The 105mm cannon shoots rounds that weigh 50 pounds apiece – with more than 32 pounds of explosive – and are about 2 ½ to 3 feet long, Beers said. To illustrate what kind of a boom it delivers, some of the Army’s howitzers also fire 105mm shells.

“It’s literally an artillery weapon that we decided to shoot down from the sky, instead of up from the ground,” Beers said.

But that massive boom also recoils the gun back 49 inches, with 14,000 pounds of force – easily enough to instantly kill an unfortunate crew member caught behind it. For that reason, a safety cage was built around the 105mm cannon to keep airmen away from danger.

Beers said the airframe of the AC-130J is stronger than it normally would be so that it can handle the fatiguing effect of such massive recoil. But, he said, the crew is careful not to shoot both the 30mm and 105mm at the same time, since that would double up on the stress and recoil.

But the crew feels the recoil nonetheless. For example, an AC-130U pilot with the 4th Special Operations Squadron, who asked that his name not be used, said sustained bursts of his plane’s 25mm Gatling gun – which can fire 1,800 rounds per minute – actually pushes the nose to the right.

“As pilots, we need to counteract that force to make sure the gun stays where it needs to shoot,” the Spooky pilot said. “You can definitely feel the 105 when it shoots. It’s a huge recoil from the 105, but definitely the 25mm is the most significant recoil that we feel up front.”

The AC-130J will carry 80 105mm rounds, and can fire more than 10 rounds a minute, Beers said, and the plane’s crew can also use the controls to aim it at targets.

AFSOC spokeswoman Erica Vega said in an email that the successful Sept. 6 test of the 105mm was to make sure systems worked together so the gun can safely fire.

“Future tests will look more into actual vs. expected accuracy and other system performance standards,” Vega said. “We should learn a great deal more from those tests, and that will contribute to the aircraft’s overall effectiveness, and in turn, better prepare it for IOC.”

Between the 30mm and the 105mm cannons is the MOP, or Mission Operator Pallet – two stations, one for WSOs like Beers and one for an enlisted sensor operator, each with multiple video screens and instruments controlling the array of cameras and sensors that help the crew target, and another control used to fire weapons. It uses some instruments borrowed from the F-35, which Beers said helps save money.

“This is the zoom stick, and this is the boom stick,” Beers said, gesturing first to the control on the left and then to the control on the right.

Beers demonstrated how he uses the “zoom stick” to turn the plane’s cameras 360 degrees and toggle between a standard view and infrared, switch the infrared’s polarity, and tweak the image for better resolution. He pointed it toward a light pole far off in the distance on the tarmac and zoomed in – and zoomed, and zoomed, and zoomed again, until a tiny red bulb on top of the light pole filled the screen, pixelated and shimmering beneath the thermal heat radiating up.

“That’s as good as it’s going to get right now because of the thermals,” Beers said, “That doesn’t look good on the ground, but in the air, it’s a pretty darn good picture.”

From the MOP, crew members must absorb a massive amount of information for their situational awareness – where friendly troops and aircraft are, where enemies and their vehicles are, where civilians are – using radio communications, emails, targeting data, and video beamed in from other sources, such as command headquarters.

“It’s a pretty formidable arsenal, and we haven’t even gotten to the Griffins yet,” Beers said.

The AGM-176A Griffin missiles are the centerpiece of the Ghostrider’s precision-strike package – and part of what makes it truly stand above its predecessors. The plane carries 10 Griffins, which are essentially half-scale Hellfire missiles that are laser-guided, with a fragmentation warhead and a GPS backup to ensure it lands on target. Each Griffin stands nose-up in a roughly 4-foot-tall tube mounted in its tail. When it’s time to fire, the Griffin is electrically launched out of the back of the plane, pops out its fins, and orients itself into the windstream. When it’s far enough away, its rocket motor fires and it “goes screaming off past the plane,” Beers said.

“It’s nuts, it’s the coolest thing ever,” Beers said.

Master Sgt. James Knight, left, an aerial gunner with the 18th Flight Test Squadron, performs a pre-flight inspection at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, July 29, 2015.

But those missiles – being precision-guided munitions – are much more expensive than the 30mm or 105mm shells, Beers said. So they’re typically reserved for the highest-priority targets that must be hit with the greatest accuracy. The AC-130J also can carry Hellfire missiles and GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs.

All the various weapons on board allow the crew to gradually escalate the amount of force used to meet the threat.

“So, [we] take out the smaller targets with the 30, then escalate up to the 105, and even the 250-pound glide munitions [GBU-39 bombs] as we go up,” Beers said.


Frickin’ lasers

And it could get even cooler. At the Air Force Association’s conference last September, Heithold declared, “I want a high-energy laser on an AC-130J gunship by the close of this decade.”

“This isn’t Star Wars stuff, folks,” he continued. “The technology is ripe for doing this. I’ve got the space, I’ve got the weight, and I’ve got the power.”

Heithold floated the idea of first using a laser — possibly mounted in place of the 105mm gun – in a defensive capacity, to take down an enemy missile fired at the AC-130J. But eventually, Heithold said, he envisioned using it for offense, to disable enemy aircraft or other vehicles. Such a laser could have come in handy during the 1989 capture of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, he said. During that operation, four Navy SEALs died in the process of destroying his boat and airplane to keep him from escaping.

“Wouldn’t it have been nice had we had a high-energy laser on an AC-130 that would have simply zapped some point on that airplane?” Heithold said at AFA. “Disable the aircraft and nobody knows it happened until they go to use it, because nobody heard anything and nobody saw anything. You haven’t spooked anybody, you’ve simply disabled the aircraft.”



Maj. Brian Pesta, right, 1st Special Operations Group Detachment 2 pilot, and Maj. Jason Fox, 18th Flight Test Squadron pilot, look out the left window during the delivery flight of Air Force Special Operations Command’s first AC-130J Ghostrider.

Beers agreed that a silent laser would be a great weapon to have at his disposal.

The laser would “give us an advantage, and be able to just take out a truck from miles away, without nobody knowing,” Beers said. “I’m looking forward to trying them out.”

Heithold has also suggested buttressing the plane’s capabilities with small drones to help it fight in heavy cloud cover. When targets are under thick clouds, he said, the 130J can’t identify and hit them. But if the plane could launch a drone from its rear tubes, instead of the usual missile, Heithold said it could fly below the clouds and target the enemy.

Beers also said a drone could help in mountainous terrain, or in areas with heavy fire that would otherwise endanger the 130J.

“So now I’m not risking myself and my crew in order to go in and prosecute that target,” he said. It would “give us an advantage over previous generation gunships at that point.”


A lighter aircraft — but at what cost?

But there’s more than just its weaponry that makes the Ghostrider remarkable. It’s lighter, faster and more efficient, Beers said, and burns 25 to 30 percent less gas than legacy aircraft. It flies at a top speed of about 362 knots, or 416 miles per hour – well above the roughly 300 mph top speed of the AC-130U. The AC-130J can fly a maximum range of 3,000 miles and up to 28,000 feet in the air – about twice as far, and roughly 3,000 feet higher than the AC-130U.

A big part of what makes the Ghostrider more efficient is its six-bladed propellers, which provide more thrust and allow it to carry more ammunition or fuel. 

But the increased efficiency may come at a price, however. The AC-130J was dinged by the Pentagon’s weapons testers, the Office of the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation, in a 2013 report for having lighter armor than its predecessor, the AC-130U. The report said the AC-130U’s armor protects aircrew stations, personnel, ammunition and critical systems against a 37mm high-explosive incendiary round at a range of 10,000 feet, or about 3,000 meters.

Staff Sgt. Derek Watson, a special missions aviator with the 1st Special Operations Group Detachment 2, inspects a wing of an AC-130J Ghostrider during a pre-flight inspection at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Feb. 2, 2016.

The AC-130J’s armor, on the other hand, protects primary crewmember positions and oxygen supplies against a 7.62mm ball projectile at 100 meters, the report said. The armor on the AC-130J also doesn’t cover the Mission Operator Pallet, which weapons testers said should be considered a primary crewmember position and protected.

When asked about the tester’s armor concerns, Vega said in an email, “The final AC-130J will have adequate defensive systems [and] features to fulfill its designed role. As the aircraft approaches IOC, all systems will be finalized and adjustments made.”

In another email, AFSOC spokesman Michael Raynor said, “Lt. Gen. [Brad] Webb [current AFSOC commander] has gone on record saying there are no trade-offs being made with security of the crews.”

In the J’s cockpit, a series of multi-function electronic displays has replaced the old analog dials that used to clutter up the view of pilots and navigators. So, instead of having, say, a physical weather radar in front of a navigator’s face, whether or not he needs it, crewmembers can call up only the most pertinent digital instruments such as radar and collision avoidance systems or hide unwanted instruments with the ease of flipping through an iPad app.

“Looking at this is crazy,” said Beers, who previously served as a navigator on older planes like the C130E/H. “This is a totally spaceship type of thing up here. The plane has a lot more ‘go,’ it’s quieter, it’s more comfortable inside, the air conditioning is better, which allows us to be better for the guys” on the ground.

And Beers is champing at the bit to put this plane into action to protect his fellow service members.

“The biggest thing for me is to make sure the guys on the ground get home OK,” he said. “That’s really what makes it worth it at the end of the day.”



Game Over: GAO Protest Reveals Cost Was Deciding Factor in B-21 Contest

By: Valerie Insinna, October 25, 2016


WASHINGTON — Eight months ago, the Government Accountability Office shot down Boeing’s protest of the government’s decision to award the B-21 bomber contract to competitor Northrop Grumman. With the Tuesday release of its 52-page decision, the public now can read why.

The gist of GAO’s argument, which redacts all pricing and technical information, was that Northrop’s offering met the technical specifications at a price much lower than Boeing’s proposal.

“Significant structural advantages in Northrop’s proposal — specifically, its labor rate advantage and decision to absorb significant company investment — also strongly impacted the outcome of this essentially low-price, technically acceptable procurement,” the office said in its conclusion. “Northrop’s significantly lower proposed process for the LRIP phase created a near-insurmountable obstacle to Boeing’s proposal achieving best value or to Boeing’s protest demonstrating prejudice in the cost realism evaluation.”

The Air Force in October 2015 awarded Northrop the contract to develop and produce its newest bomber, now designated the B-21 Raider. Northrop beat out a Boeing-Lockheed Martin team for the two-pronged contract that covers the engineering, manufacturing and development phase of the program as well as the first five low-rate initial production lots.

According to the GAO decision, Boeing argued that the Air Force did not effectively measure the risk of Northrop’s bomber. The company contended that if the service had followed definitions set in the request for proposals, Northrop would not have met four out of seven unnamed technical capability subfactors. Boeing also stated that Northrop’s proposal was “inherently high risk” with regard to certain requirements in a way that should have rendered its offering unacceptable.  

GAO shot down those claims, saying its review found the Air Force evaluated Northrop’s bid in a way that was “reasonable and consistent” with the RFP.

Boeing also alleged that the service overestimated the price of its own offering and relied too heavily on independent government estimates.


Again, the GAO disagreed.

“We see no error in the Air Force’s rejection of supporting cost data presented in Boeing’s proposal, or its upward adjustment to Boeing’s proposed EMD costs,” it wrote.


The office noted that both Northrop’s total weighted price and total estimated price were lower than Boeing’s. Although Boeing calculated that its proposal price had been overestimated by a dollar amount that was redacted in the report, even if Boeing’s proposal was adjusted by that figure it would have not been enough to topple Northrop, which would have nabbed the contract on the basis of its lower total weighted price.

Thus, GAO said Boeing could not demonstrate that the Air Force had demonstrated competitive prejudice — a situation where the company would have won the contract if not for the government mismanagement or wrongdoing.


It’s the Raider: Air Force unveils name of new B-21 bomber

While much of the document was redacted, the decision sheds light on many interesting aspects of the competition. After the companies submitted their proposals to the Air Force in 2014, the service found both offerings technically unacceptable and held eight rounds of discussions where the competitors worked through deficiencies, although the GAO noted that some risk still remained with each proposal.

Those discussions failed to resolve questions about ​both Boeing and Northrop’s cost estimates for the EMD phase of the program, which Air Force found to be overly optimistic when compared with its own independent government estimates. Even after eight rounds of talks, neither company was able to put forward a proposal that could be considered realistic with respect to the majority of the cost categories.

But while Northrop increased its own estimates, Boeing kept its own cost data at the same level, the GAO said. And, partially because Northrop offered to pay for certain expenses internally on its own dime, the company was able to keep EMD costs below Boeing’s throughout the duration of the discussion process.


DHS Is Drawing Up ‘Strategic Principles’ for Internet of Things


By Joseph Marks

Staff Correspondent, Nextgov

October 25, 2016


The Homeland Security secretary is working with law enforcement and private companies to prevent massive distributed denial of service attacks.

U.S. officials believe the cyberattack that interrupted Twitter, Netflix and other websites Friday has been mitigated, Homeland Security Department Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement Monday.

DHS held an information sharing conference call with 18 major communication services providers the day the distributed denial of service, or DDoS, attack occurred, Johnson said.

DDoS attacks involve hacking into unsecured computers and other internet-connected devices, then using those devices to flood a site with more requests and commands than it can handle. Friday’s attack targeted Dyn, a company that provides web optimization services to numerous major internet companies.

Johnson confirmed security researchers’ reports the Friday attack used a type of malware called Mirai, which targets connected devices such as webcams and entertainment systems, and was earlier used to attack the website of cybersecurity reporter Brian Krebs and a French internet service provider.  

The DHS cyber operations hub, the National Cybersecurity Communications and Integration Center, is working with law enforcement and private companies on ways to combat the malware, Johnson said.

DHS is also working on a set of strategic principles for securing connected devices, known as the internet of things, which will be released in coming weeks, he said.

The internet of things has grown exponentially in recent years but the security of those devices has lagged, Joshua Corman, director of the Atlantic Council’s Cyber Statecraft Initiative, told reporters in a conference call today.

Many connected devices carry known software vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers, but consumers either don’t know how to patch those vulnerabilities or, in some cases, aren’t able to, he said.

On an individual level, those vulnerabilities—a connected refrigerator sending out spam emails, for example—are not particularly dangerous, he said. When those vulnerabilities are taken in aggregate, however, they can do great damage as the Dyn attack showed. 

“There’s a strong instinct to focus on safety critical [systems] where bits and bytes meet flesh and blood,” Corman said. “The cognitive dissonance from this particular set of attacks is you can’t neglect lower-priority devices.”


US wants Mexico under grid security pact before year’s end

By John Siciliano • 10/25/16 8:04 PM


The Obama administration is scrambling to make Mexico by the end of the year a full-fledged member of a North American industry pact that works to defend the electric grid from cyberattacks.

The reason for the eleventh-hour move to include Mexico in the cybergroup is likely a result of the contentious presidential election and the administration’s goals of creating a North American clean energy grid. Such collaboration would be far less likely if Republican nominee Donald Trump gets into office with his walled-off vision for the U.S., said a senior industry official. But it would benefit Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who said at last week’s final debate that an integrated North American grid with Mexico would be a priority if she were elected.

“There is always a risk when you have democracies go through their elections,” said Sergio Marchi, president and CEO of the Canadian Electricity Association, who hosted a meeting Monday at the Canadian embassy in Washington between officials from the two nations on the need for greater collaboration.

“New administrations bring new priorities,” Marchi said in an interview with the Washington Examiner. “We’re hoping that whoever becomes president that when we look at energy and environment from a North America perspective that we continue to build bridges between us and not erect walls or divisions.”

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The meeting focused on greater collaboration on electricity with a focus on new cybersecurity and reliability standards being developed by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, or NERC, which is a standards-making body overseen by federal energy regulators.

The group’s CEO, Gerry Cauley, addressed the event on Monday, where he discussed moving ahead soon to begin the process of including Mexico under the reliability organization’s mandatory cybersecurity standards, which Canada and Marchi’s members are already participants in. Marchi’s group is the lead trade association of Canada’s power industry and is involved in U.S. regulatory proceedings that affect how electricity flows between the shared north-south border.

The new talks with Mexico underscore a significant expansion of the standards due to the growing threat of cyberattack that all three countries face and the expanded trade of electricity across borders.

That was something that President Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto discussed during a meeting in Ottawa in June.

The Ottawa meeting “pushed us further down in terms of deepening our bonds and our synergies at a time when a lot of headwinds around the world are blowing against collaboration,” Marchi said.


Clinton won’t side with Dakota pipeline protesters

By John Siciliano • 10/28/16 11:04 AM

“The first concern is that we continue this march,” he said. “I like to think that we can become more than just the North American Free Trade Area and become a North American community with a community increasingly of shared values and shared ambitions.”

Energy Department officials at the meeting discussed a visit to Mexico City last week where grid collaboration and bringing the country under NERC’s security and reliability standards topped the agenda.

Marchi, who is privy to the NERC process as a member of the organization, said “they’re hoping for Mexico to sign onto the reliability standards before the end of the year, which would be great.”

Cauley discussed the timeframe at the Monday meeting at the embassy.

“Gerry also talked about how important it is to further integrate Mexico … and that our sector is the only sector in all of North America that has mandatory standards when it comes to reliability,” Marchi said. “So he talked about how important it is to strengthen that and that Mexico is part of the story.”

Cybersecurity must remain a priority, Marchi said. “In other words, the electricity companies and grids are one of the highest targets for hack attempts.”

The industry is being “pushed to spend more money on technology and more money on … experts” to defend against the attacks, and greater collaboration between the U.S., Canada and Mexico is part of that defense strategy.

“Security and sharing of information is absolutely the first line of defense,” Marchi said. He said the continent can’t afford to deal with the security threat like playing “a hand of poker, you know, you keep your cards close to the vest and a faceless look.”

“But we can’t play poker with cybersecurity,” he said. “We need to share what is happening, what technologies are we using so that we might all be more intelligent and effective individually.

“So, those would be the … issues as we look to the election results, which have been captivating to say the least,” he said. “Those are some issues that we think about once the dust settles and the administration begins to work of the people.”

Marchi also said the Canadian power industry wants to have its own presence in Mexico because of the growing trend of collaboration, and it plans to set up a Mexico contingent of his trade group there.

The focus between Mexico and Canada will be on clean energy development, recalling the collaborative agreement the countries signed in June to derive 50 percent of their energy from low-carbon, low-emission power plants by 2025.

Canada’s power sector will be lobbying for building six transmission lines across the U.S. and Canadian border to begin moving more electricity from Canada’s hydroelectric dams to expand renewable energy across North America.

“We have 35 lines that connect the north-south grid now and there are six in development,” Marchi said. “If we complete those six, it will increase the capacity of export flows by 50 percent, which is a sizable number.”


Clinton, Trump have options to break SECDEF glass ceiling

By: Lawrence J. Korb and Carly Evans, October 25, 2016 (Photo Credit: AP photos)

Editor’s note: The following is an opinion piece. The writers are not employed by Military Times and the views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of Military Times or its editorial staff. 


One of the most important decisions the next president will make is who to appoint as defense secretary. With the military still engaged in actual war-fighting and shows of force around the globe – and despite spending more on national security than at any time since World War II – many military leaders and their congressional supporters claim the Pentagon does not have sufficient funds to maintain its required force structure or necessary level of readiness or modernize its nuclear and conventional forces. The next secretary will face a host of challenges across a broad spectrum. 

Hillary Clinton has promised that, if elected, she will insure that at least half of her cabinet will be made up of women. Since women have already held two of the three top national security posts – secretary of state and national security adviser – it would be more than appropriate for her to break the glass ceiling in the Pentagon by appointing a woman to the post, particularly as women play an increasing role in the armed forces. 

If Donald Trump is elected, he too should consider appointing a qualified woman to the post. 

One of the critical attributes any nominee can bring to the Pentagon’s top spot is actual military and combat experience. This will enhance credibility within “The Building” when it comes to issues ranging from force deployment to the needs of combat veterans to controlling the increasing cost of military compensation, or even the challenges faced by military families. It will bring an informed point of view to a president who has never served. 

This point was emphasized recently by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, himself a military veteran, who served under both Republican and Democratic presidents. In a recent Wall Street Journal piece, he noted that “neither candidate has seriously addressed how he or she thinks about the military, the use of military force, the criteria they would apply before sending that force into battle, or broader questions of peace and war. Based upon what each candidate has said and done, who can we trust with the lives of young Americans in uniform?”

In addition, if the new secretary has legislative experience, it would help her deal with the Congress, particularly the armed services and appropriations committees that play an increasingly critical role in determining the size and shape of the annual defense budget.

Fortunately, both parties have candidates who more than fit these criteria: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst. 

Gabbard, who serves on the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committee in the House, has been in elected office in the state, local or federal level for most of the past 16 years. She has served as a legislative aid for Sen. Daniel Akaka, a fellow Hawaiian Democrat who left office in 2013. 

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, joined fellow lawmakers and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America advocacy group in April in a rally to urge Congress to protect funding for the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

But more important, she has interrupted her service in elected office on two occasions when, after enlisting in the Hawaii National Guard, she twice volunteered to deploy to Iraq – once as an enlisted soldier and again in 2009, after earning her commission, as a platoon commander. 

Gabbard continues to serve in the Hawaii National Guard, where she has obtained the rank of major. Her fitness for the top job in the Pentagon was emphasized in a recent article critical of Democratic elected officials for abandoning the legacy of John and Robert Kennedy and not trying to end the wars in the Middle East. Adam Walinsky, Robert Kennedy’s speechwriter, points out in a piece for Politico that the one exception is “the marvelous Democratic member of Congress, Tulsi Gabbard, a reservist who has twice deployed to Iraq and knows of what she speaks.”

Ernst, the junior senator from Iowa and is the first woman elected to Congress from that state, serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee and has also held elected office at the state and local level. In addition, she spent 23 years in the Army Reserve and Iowa National Guard, retiring in 2015 with the rank of lieutenant colonel. She commanded the largest battalion in the Iowa Army National Guard and spent 14 months in Kuwait and Iraq in 2003-04 as a company commander, driving more than 400 supply convoys from Kuwait into Iraq.

In addition, Ernst has previously volunteered in support of battered and abused women and children, often going to hospital or safe house to give comfort. She would bring credibility and experience to dealing with the issue of sexual abuse in the military. 

Either of these female combat veterans and legislators would bring more to the Pentagon’s top spot than most of the men who have held this post for the past 70 years. The next president should consider appointing either one regardless of party; the last two Democratic presidents have appointed Republicans to the Pentagon’s top spot. 

Of course, this assumes Gabbard and Ernst can support the new president’s national security policies. Clinton could not go wrong appointing Ernst, nor would Trump make a mistake appointing Gabbard. This would not only break the glass ceiling in the Pentagon, but send a great signal to the women who play an increasing role in our military, and to the country, that partisan politics should not impact our military or defense policy.

Lawrence J. Korb, a retired Navy captain, served as an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration. Carly Evans is a public policy master’s degree candidate at The George Washington University’s Trachtenberg School, where she specializes in national security and foreign policy.


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